Tyler Bray, Tyler Wilson on Rise
By BJ Bennett
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From the combine on, this is money-time for draft prospects, the proverbial redzone of the selection process. There, both Bray and Wilson are quite comfortable.
The SEC's two leading passers from a year ago are among the top quarterback prospects for the 2013 NFL Draft. Both Tyler Bray and Tyler Wilson just completed standout careers, though their final seasons were, in some ways, a disappointment as their two teams combined to go a putrid 3-13 in conference play. Bray and Wilson leave Tennessee and Arkansas, respectively, right as new head coaches come in.
An underclassman who decided to forgo his senior season of eligibility with the Volunteers, Bray is preparing for the next level amidst questions about his maturity. A handful of off-the-field issues at Tennessee have raised eyebrows, as have, however, his physical abilities. Bray measured 6'6'', 232 pounds at the NFL Combine and has the arm strength to throw into any window. In an era where dual-threat quarterbacks are becoming all the rage, Bray is a prototypical pocket passer with remarkable upside.
"There are a lot of questions about maturity and off-the-field decision-making. I just want to move past that and get to the on-the-field stuff. I've grown up," Bray said to reporters at the combine. "I did it to myself. If I had never been a part of it, I wouldn't have to answer for it. It's time to move forward. I'm here to win games."
In Bray's one completely-healthy season, he topped the SEC with 3,612 passing yards and ranked second in touchdowns with 34. As he went, most times went the Volunteers. His value to his team can be measured in the fact that in Tennessee's five victories, Bray compiled a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 19-to-1 and a passer rating of 182.99. Bray completed 65% of his passes with 25 touchdowns and two interceptions against unranked opponents, struggling some with a 51.6% completion percentage, nine touchdowns and ten interceptions versus ranked foes.
The angle of his ability scouts may be most interested in: the powerful zip on his passes.
"You're never going to be perfect with your throws, so there is always room for improvement. But I feel like I can make every throw," Bray added. "I feel I'm ready. I've done a lot in college, didn't win a lot of ball games, but I put up some pretty good numbers for the SEC and the SEC is a little bit under the NFL."
Another quarterback who accumulated gaudy figures in college football's toughest conference is Wilson, a fifth-year senior whose ride at Arkansas was a wild one. After leading the Razorbacks to eleven wins in 2011, Wilson and the Hogs entered this past fall with championship expectations. A scandal involving head coach Bobby Petrino derailed the season before it started and the team spent the year struggling to find footing. Though his production slipped, scouts are still quite high on the 6'2'', 218 pound Wilson. He was, perhaps, the most consistent of the throwers through Senior Bowl workouts. Wilson has been working with former Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke of the IMG Academy.
"I believe Tyler belongs in the first round, that's my personal opinion" SouthernPigskin.com weekly game picker Weinke told Jim Corbett of USA Today. "His arm is as good as some of the big boys, if not better in some cases."
Wilson's interception totals more than doubled from 2011 to 2012, though his completion percentage and passing touchdowns per game remained roughly the same. Part of the chaos of the transition from Wilson's junior to senior seasons was that Arkansas was at their best when he was more involved two years ago, with the in-state product averaging over six more throws per game in the Hogs' eleven victories. Last fall, Wilson averaged 29 passing attempts in the Razorback's four wins and 40 in their seven losses.
Through both turmoil and triumph, Wilson has forged his skills.
"I know where I stack up and a number of things I can bring to an NFL team. I think I'm worthy," Wilson concluded.
Bray and Wilson are preparing for the upcoming NFL Draft while dealing with similar storylines. Neither player finished their collegiate careers as they would have wanted. Despite some inconsistencies, both are climbing up big boards as April approaches. Bray's stock is rising through round two and beyond. Wilson has been rumored as a potential first round pick of the Buffalo Bills or Arizona Cardinals. From the NFL Combine on, this is money-time for highly-touted draft prospects, the proverbial redzone of the selection process. There, both quarterbacks are quite comfortable. Over the past two years Bray and Wilson combined to throw 56 touchdowns to just two interceptions when at or inside their opponent's 20 yard-line. In the eyes of executives, we're at that point now.