Burks projected as late first-round NFL Draft pick

Treylon Burks / Photo: ArkansasRazorbacks.com

It’s Christmas Eve for the NFL with the clock ticking down for the start of 2022 NFL Draft, held this year in the heart of the Las Vegas strip.

Just a short time ago, that would have been a “no no” for the league that for decades attempted to publicly distance itself as far away from gambling as possible, but in many ways there is not a bigger gamble than the Draft where an organization puts millions of dollars on the table for what is essentially unproven talent.

Certainly much time and great expense has gone into scouting and collecting as much information on hundreds of draft prospects as possible, but as much as the experts think they know about each of the young men whose names will be called over the weekend, the draft remains a gamble.

That’s what makes it so fun and exciting. Who will be the league’s next set of stars, and unfortunately which players will ultimately be a bust?

There are no crystal balls here. My insight or foresight is no better than any other half-interested bystander. As primarily an observer and fan of the college game, the draft doesn’t enchant me as much as it does others, but I am interested in seeing which former Razorbacks are selected and where they will get a chance to extend their playing careers.

Three or four former Hogs have a shot at being drafted over the next four days with several others in the running to garner free-agent opportunities to make their dreams come true.

There is no exact science for pinpointing or projecting who or when a player will be taken outside of the first several picks, which usually get worked out ahead of time, but it is safe to say that Treylon Burks will be the first Razorback drafted, possibly in the latter half of the first round. Most draft prognosticators are slotting him around the 25th or 26th pick in the draft. Possible landing points could be Green Bay or Tennessee?

Burks (6-3, 225) has a world of ability and big hands, but is still considered a bit raw in his route running by NFL standards. His 4.55 speed as timed at the NFL combine isn’t as fast as what might have been expected, but he plays as fast in his pads as he runs in warmup clothes, according to his former head coach Sam Pittman.

At Arkansas, Burks played in 32 games in three seasons with 30 starts. He caught 146 passes for 2,399 yards and 18 touchdowns while rushing 38 times for 222 yards and a touchdown.

The Warren native is the most dynamic Razorback to enter the NFL since Darren McFadden, but Burks is more powerfully built than McFadden was who had relatively slender hips and legs for an NFL back.

Burks is a character guy, who keeps his head down and makes play after play. If he can stay healthy, I think he’ll have a long career as NFL standards go. He is conscientious and will only improve as he matures in the league.

The wait for the Hogs next player to be picked will likely be a long one. Graduate transfer defensive lineman John Ridgeway is the next Hog slated to be taken in the fifth or sixth round.

Ridgeway played in 12 games with 11 starts for the Hogs in 2021. He had 39 tackles, 11 solo, four for loss, two sacks and a quarterback hurry. He feels the one season at Arkansas was well worth it.

The 6-6, 327-pound nose guard provided a solid and nasty anchor for the Razorbacks in the middle of their 3-2-6 defensive formation. His play helped the Hogs to a solid 9-4 season.

Big and athletic, Ridgeway is a player some team will give a chance, but his technique is only mediocre, according to scouting reports, and he doesn’t play consistently low enough to make the most of his size and power.

Pittman courted Ridgeway to play another year for the Hogs after transferring in from Illinois State last year. No doubt he could have benefitted some from another year of collegiate coaching and another year of experience in the SEC trenches, but it’s impossible to say that another year would have made Ridgeway’s draft stock any better. His heart wasn’t in another year with Arkansas, so it’s probably best he moved on.

The two former Hogs most likely to hear their name called next are cornerback/safety Montaric Brown (6-0, 190) of Ashdown and end/linebacker Tre Williams (6-5, 255), a grad-transfer from Columbia, Mo. Several prognosticators have them slotted for the seventh and final round, but once you get that deep everyone is just guessing. So many variables come into play that anything could happen.

I like Brown. He has moxie and is tough, but he’s going to be taxed with defending the best athletes the NFL has to offer. Brown had 34 starts in 42 games with the Hogs. In four seasons, He had 133 tackles, 77 solo, four for loss, two forced fumbles, seven interceptions and 23 pass breakups.

Williams is a heady, cagy player with good quickness and aggressiveness, but he’ll be making the move from rush end to linebacker, which isn’t exactly an easy transition at the game’s highest level. He played 12 games in 2021 starting each of them. He had 28 tackles, 11 solo, 6.5 for loss, six sacks and half dozen quarterback hurries.

Other Hogs who might not be drafted but could be looking forward to free-agent opportunities are All-American and All-SEC linebacker Grant Morgan (5-11, 230), offensive tackle Myron Cunningham (6-6, 325), long snapper Jordan Silver (6-1, 235), and offensive guard Ty Clary (6-4, 315).

As time goes by with Pittman as the Hogs head coach, it will be interesting to track how his Hogs do in the NFL Draft. Pittman’s recruiting is getting better and better as his tenure at Arkansas extends. That should mean more Razorbacks will get the chance to make their dreams come true in the NFL in the near future.