State of the Hogs: NFL Draft

Bret Bielema will help with draft coverage for the NFL Network and may get to talk about several Arkansas players. Here's some early draft analysis from the Arkansas football coach.

Bret Bielema can't be on the road recruiting, so he'll try a new gig this weekend as guest analyst for the NFL Network's wrap-up coverage of the draft in Chicago.

Bielema grew up near Chicago in Profitstown, Ill.,, so he'll probably see a few of his favorite places in the Windy City after arriving on Friday. He's pumped about the possibility of some of his Arkansas players becoming prime topics, per the usual.

Per the usual is correct because Bielema has long been a college coach who has had something to crow about on draft day. He's tops among active college head coaches with at least 10 years of experience with 30 drafted players. He's in his ninth year combined at Wisconsin and Arkansas.

Bielema has solid theories on why. First, it's a style of play fit. Bielema runs pro systems on both sides of the ball. And, they physical nature of the way his teams practice and his heavy emphasis on strength and conditioning development along with nutrition mean his players are able to handle the NFL regimen of a long season.

Clearly, Bielema's system produces offensive linemen. He dove into that topic Wednesday at a media opportunity that was primarily to wrap up spring drills. The way his system matches with the NFL was one of the questions he loved.

“I think, twofold, first our offensive scheme does,” Bielema said. “There is no doubt in my mind. We've had to do these recruiting battles now with spread offenses versus our offense and the numbers, especially wide receiver because, you know, the numbers, some teams throw the ball a crazy amount of times, so obviously a guy has to have a number of catches.

“But the articles and the NFL personnel that have come out supporting pro-style play and what it means, engagement and ability it has on them to come in and play and play for a long time in the NFL is gained a lot of weight. Defensively, I think, obviously we run a pro-style defense as well. But I think it goes more into how we train and how we practice.

“When NFL teams come watch us practice, they repeatedly make comments of how enjoyable and how good it is to evaluate a team like ours. We do things like them. We play physically at the line of scrimmage, we play with great detail in the back end.

“Our kids are trained and traditionally just put together a little better. I remember when Kiero went out last year to Seattle, I called him just one a random day and I tried to reach out to all the rookies that were in camp because I knew they were getting a little ... and he said 'coach, I've been in the cool tubs every day.' Because when we got here I started making every player in the two-deep get in cool tubs. Well, they don't like it. It's about 45 degrees.

“But it's been proven to give your bodies a recovery that's better than not. He said he'd been the only player that had gotten in the cool tub every day since camp started and he was the only rookie that was drafted, out of the seven rookies drafted, he was the only one practicing. All the other ones had become injured. I right away use that with our players. 'Hey, we're giving you tools here that can propel you in the future as well.''”

Several Arkansas players have a chance to be called in the draft, which begins Thursday night. Defensive end Trey Flowes has been rated as a top 100 prospect by several draft analysts. Others with a chance to be taken are linebacker Martrell Spaight, tight end A.J. Derby, defensive tackle Darius Philon, cornerback Tevin Mitchel and punter Sam Irwin-Hill.

“I wish our guys the best going into the draft,” Bielema said. “I have fielded a lot of calls. It's kind of nice to be back on some of the GMs and head coaches and scouts that I know around the league as we build this roster up a little bit.

“My first year here there were obviously a lot of players that went, seven or eight that year, but I didn't really know them.   And then last year to get a number of players drafted and then this year I think we will have a number of well. 

“Also the NFL Network invited me to join them on Saturday. So I am going to be able to do that and hopefully have a couple of our guys drawn maybe while I am on the air.  That has always been kind of a neat experience for me.

“This is my third time doing that so.  I didn't realize that until Brett pointed it out and I read that article that I didn't realize of any coach who has been a head coach for 10 years or less that I have had the most players drafted than anybody.  I thought that was a pretty nice statement for our coaching staff and Ben Herbert and our strength and conditioning because I think that/s what sets us apart more than anybody else.”

Bielema enjoys those calls from the NFL general managers and coaches. There have been plenty of discussions on Flowers, one of the leaders of last year's 7-6 squad. Flowers had a chance to leave after his junior year, but elected to return for his degree and more development. That's what makes it sweeter for Bielema to see his stock rise in the last couple of months with the NFL brass.

“Trey in particular I think it's been fun,” Bielema said. “About nine o'clock at night, a week ago, two weeks ago, the GM of the Cardinals reached out to me. I've had several players he's evaluated and drafted in the past.

“It was kind of 'what do you think? We're out to dinner with this guy, presents himself the right way.' My comment to him was if Trey Flowers was on the stock market, I'd buy as much stock as I could buy. I think his better days are in front of him.

“Never redshirted. Kind of plays multiple positions. Plays stand-up outside 'backer, I think some people are evaluating him as a true defensive end, others more as a rush. The one thing that people love him on film is he's relentless. He's a high motor guy. He did test out as well, I think he was a leader in three categories at the combine. So he tests well. Didn't obviously run that well (at the combine) but ran well when he came here for pro day.”

Spaight led the SEC in tackles after learning the weakside linebacker spot under coordinator Robb Smith.

“Martrell Spaight and AJ I think would be the next two guys who have a chance to get drafted,” Bielema said. “I think teams either love them or they're just kind of on their radar.

“Heard from teams that have drafted our tight ends in the past and they want to know where I see AJ and where he fits and again here's a guy that played tight end for one year. Also tried to sell the fact that realistically he could be your third quarterback on any given Sunday. Those guys are always arguing about roster spots and something like that,guy could truly get you out of a game. Very smart, very intelligent. Martrell Spaight, he'll join me tonight in Fort Smith, he's receiving an award. Tlaked to Martrell earlier today. I said I can't wait for you this weekend and he was like 'Man, I can't wait for you!' He automatically threw it right back on us, which is Martrell to a T.

“He's a great team guy. I think people saw last year on film he's very powerful, very quick and sudden in space. And also between the tackles. To lead the SEC in tackles speaks a lot about what he is. Again, another really good test guy and a great interviewer.

“Really, other than that, those three would probably be our highest ranked three. I think Brey Cook has a very good chance of getting picked up maybe in the later rounds. I do think there's a chance Tevin Mitchel as well. Also Sam Irwin-Hill. And I got two calls on Cam Jefferson just in the last 48 hours.”

Philon skipped his last two years at Arkansas to try the NFL.

“Darius, little bit different process because people are going to make projections,” Bielema said. “I do think his best football is without a doubt in front of him. He got really big at the combine, didn't run well, then kind of trimmed it down al ittle bit, which happens when you put on a lot of weight in a hurry. I think it will be a team that recognizes the talent on where he's going to be.”

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