FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Deatrich Wise Jr. wasn’t afraid to make some bold proclamations during his various appearances at SEC Media Days last week.
While in Hoover, Ala., with Arkansas coach Bret Bielema and two teammates, Wise guaranteed that he would record at least 13 sacks this season. The senior defensive end declared the 2016 Arkansas defense is the best he’s been part of in Fayetteville, and added that he thinks the Razorbacks’ defensive line is as good as any in the SEC — or the country.
And why shouldn’t Wise ooze with confidence? His eight sacks last season all came during the final seven games, leading his coaches to happily assert that the proverbial light had finally been flipped on for the mega-talented defender.
Wise played as a true freshman in the Razorbacks’ 2012 season opener against Jacksonville State — recording two tackles and a sack — but suffered a season-ending injury, resulting in a medical redshirt.
He showed flashes of his immense talent over the next two seasons but never consistently put it all together. That was the result, Bielema said, of his many scattered commitments.
Wise was involved with a fraternity and — for his first few years on campus — also threw for the Arkansas track team.
In addition to not reaching his full potential on the gridiron, Wise’s grades suffered.
“I sat him down and just simply (said), ‘Hey, do you want to be just involved in a lot of different things or do you want to be great at a few things?’” Bielema recalled. “We talked about taking a few things off his plate.
“The result is he could probably be one of the most premier linemen.”
Wise enters 2016 as not only an unquestioned starter on the Razorbacks’ defensive line, but also as a potential first-round NFL draft pick. ESPN.com draft experts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay both listed Wise among their top 30 overall prospects for 2017 earlier this summer.
“It felt real great,” Wise said of the early draft buzz. “Growing up as a child and watching games … it makes for a great feeling to see I could reach that.”
First, though, he’s got a senior season at Arkansas to get through, and based on his comments and attitude at SEC Media Days, Wise is feeling great about that, too.
“One-hundred percent,” Wise responded when a reporter asked if he could match his 13 career sacks in the upcoming season alone.
Only four players in Razorbacks history have finished a season with 13 or more sacks. The most recent Hog to accomplish the feat was Jamaal Anderson, who recorded 13.5 sacks in 2006.
The school record for a single-season is 14, achieved by Henry Ford and Steven Conley in 1993 and 1995, respectively.
Wise told another reporter that he believed this to be the best Arkansas defense since he arrived on campus in 2012.
It should be noted here that the 2014 Razorback defense ranked top-10 nationally in both scoring defense and total defense, allowing 19.2 points and 323.4 yards per game that season. It was the first time in more than 20 years that a Hog defense was top-10 in either category.
Wise also said this year’s Arkansas defensive line should be on par with any other.
“I believe we can compete with the best of the best D-lines in the SEC and in the nation,” Wise said.
Preseason media days are notorious for hyperbole, so a whole lot of what gets said during those events must always be taken with a grain of salt.
But given Wise’s explosion late last season, he’s undoubtedly feeling confident. And that can only be a good thing for Arkansas.