NFL Draft always a crapshoot for all but the best Razorbacks

Hunter Henry /

It seems to happen every year. The “draft experts” create unfulfilled expectations among the Razorbacks fans concerning where and when Hogs will be taken in the draft.

Every year the storyline seems to be how one or more Razorbacks “slip” in or even out of the draft. That may be more perception than reality, but that’s certainly how I felt Saturday when I checked in with the litany of names scrolling across the bottom of the TV screen.

Maybe, I just turn a deaf ear to the lower projections of the draft gurus and only take note of the more positive opinions about the Hogs’ perceived ability? I’m not sure, but after San Diego drafted tight end Hunter Henry early in the second round on Friday, it seemed like Christmas would get here before another Hogs’ name would be called.

Three rounds later, finally, there was some relief when Buffalo selected Jonathan Williams in the fifth round, and shortly thereafter Seattle drafted Alex Collins.

From what I had read and heard, I figured they would surely have been picked up late in the third round and if not then, at least in the fourth. But it is a different day for running backs in the NFL. Only the very best are viewed as prized possessions.

Williams, by medical hardship, and Collins, who entered the draft as a junior, could have returned for another year at Arkansas, but who is to say if it would have helped their draft status or not? If they had not proven themselves by their work the past three seasons, I’m not sure what they could have done with another year.

In the sixth round, a pair of Razorback seniors went off the board when Tennessee selected guard Sebastian Tretola and Jacksonville drafted quarterback Brandon Allen. Based on reports, this seemed late for both, but then again how much of the blather we hear before the draft is based on solid information and how much of it is just speculation?

To be fair, it seems that the pre-draft information reported on the first two rounds proved to be fairly accurate, but after that, it seems to me the experts who speculate on the draft seem to play to the crowd they are speaking to at the moment. They know there will be no accountability for what they say because once all the sure-fire players are taken in the first two rounds, it’s all a guess anyway. Why not make the home-crowd happy for their players leading up to the draft?

Perhaps the biggest disappointment for Hogs fans was that junior tackle Denver Kirkland was not drafted at all. Word did begin to spread Friday that Kirkland might not be drafted. He only had a so-so performance at the NFL Combine, and he did play hurt for some of his senior year leading to some unexpected struggles, no doubt, detected by scouts on video.

It’s anyone’s guess how things will work out for Kirkland or really any of the Hogs other than Henry, who will get a guaranteed contract as a second-round pick and a signing bonus in the $3 million range based on players drafted in a similar spot in the recent past. Being drafted is no guarantee unless you are selected in the top four and sometimes five rounds.

Williams and Collins could be on the cusp of guaranteed money, but that is not the norm for fifth-round picks. Usually the only guaranteed money for players after the fourth round is the signing bonus.

Based on 2012 numbers, fifth-round players received around $175,000 in bonus money, falling to around $50,000 in the sixth round. The money is probably better today, but that gives an idea. Free agents generally do get signing bonuses in the $4,000 to $12,000 range. Kirkland may be at the higher end.

The NFL rookie minimum pay in 2015 was $405,000, divided over a 17-week pay period if he makes the team roster. NFL players do get per diem for expenses during training camps, but do not begin getting a salary until the season starts. If a player remained on an eight-man practice squad for all of 2015, he earned $112,000. On average, Canadian Football League players make considerably less than NFL practice squad players.

If Kirkland makes the Raiders or another NFL team’s roster, leaving Arkansas early will be more than worth it. However, if he doesn’t make a roster or at least a practice team, he’ll be another guy without a degree. Certainly, he would be able to try to make a team again next summer, but a year out of football will not help his chances.

Had Kirkland come back for his senior season, he would have been an all-conference candidate, and depending on the type of season he and the Razorbacks had, he possibly could have been in line for All-American honors. That would have helped his draft status for next year. Though he plays a different position, Kirkland could have been the Trey Flowers for this year’s team, receiving the lion’s share of publicity.

Kirkland didn’t let Arkansas coach Bret Bielema fully explain the benefits of returning for his senior year to him and his family when he signed with an agent shortly after Arkansas’ Liberty Bowl victory. That information along with a better assessment of his draft potential might not have changed Kirkland’s decision. He would have been more informed, however.

I hope Kirkland becomes a success story like Jason Peters, who also went undrafted, but became one of the top offensive linemen in the NFL in recent years. Peters underachieved at Arkansas, bouncing from defensive end to defensive tackle and finally to tight end. Kirkland had a much more productive college career as a three-year starter than Peters. Maybe, he will find similar success.