We’ve spent time talking on our podcast and written many words for months now, both on the website and through social media, about the hype surrounding the likes of former Sun Devils Jaelen Strong and Damarious Randall leading into the 2015 NFL Draft. The wait is nearly over for each of head coach Todd Graham’s biggest scores out of his 2013 recruiting class. Both players secured at that time from the junior college ranks. Both players exhibited as shining beacons of how the Sun Devils program can develop players in a short amount of time and prepare them for the pro game. While each player has his own unique story, it will be fascinating to see where each player lands be it on Thursday night when the NFL Draft conducts its first round, or on Friday night when rounds two and three take place.
It’s been a long road for Sun Devil fans watching the draft since the start of the new millennium. When a combined nine ASU players were drafted back in 2000 and 2001 there was reason to think NFL talent would continue to ooze out of the program as Bruce Snyder time ended and Dirk Koetter’s began. Unfortunately it would be another seven years before a Sun Devil draft class would approach those numbers as the 2008 class saw five players drafted under Dennis Erickson’s watch.
That’s what makes the upcoming draft so interesting. It could mark the first time since 2008, and only the second time in 14 years that a Sun Devil team witnesses more than three of its players drafted. Now that isn’t to say ASU hasn’t been represented on Sundays, with 23 players being employed by teams in 2014. But more so it’s just been a long road for some of these players to get there as undrafted free agents.
This weekend could change the course however. The 2015 Draft could begin to install confidence into NFL front offices that players selected from Graham coached teams are pro ready. Whether it’s as a starting wide receiver in the case of Strong, or in Randall’s case as a starting free safety, these two players have the chance to break the decade long streak of no Sun Devil being drafted in the first round.
Leading up to the draft it’s been an interesting story-line developing for both Strong and Randall. With his statistical production over his two years as a Sun Devil, teamed with his eye-popping workout at the 2015 Scouting Combine, it seemed like a no-brainer that Jaelen Strong would hear his name called on the first day of the draft, leading Strong to accept an invitation to this years festivities held in Chicago.
Strong’s resume exhibits the check marks you are looking for out of an impact wide receiver in todays college game. But this years draft, albeit a week one in terms of top-end overall talent, is stocked with highly talented wide receivers. And while the flavor of the month has changed in mock drafts conducted since January, Strong due to no fault of his own, has always seemed to find himself dropping each and every week since February. Whether it was due to receivers being taller than him, faster than him, or having better bills of health, respected draft gurus just always seemed to pick others in the class over him. That’s has helped to build a chip on his shoulder if his comments on social media are of any representation.
Why do people love to spread the bad news about you and never the good.
— Strizzy (@JaelenStrong) April 4, 2015
This is what the draft process has evolved into. Players constantly seeing their stock soar and plummet outside of what they proved both in their collegiate careers, at the Scouting Combine, and through workouts. This phenomenon, thanks in part to disinformation sent out through team sources to media outlets and blog sites to help cover the tracks of teams to purposely to show disinterest in players high on their draft boards, or conversely to show interest in players lower on their boards forcing other teams to reach on players earlier in the draft than they would have liked to.
Where does Damarious Randall fit into all this? Heading into the Scouting Combine he was certainly a player thought of as a top-10 safety in the draft. Since he worked out at Indianapolis however his draft stock has continued to rise to the point where some media members have predicted him as the best safety in the draft, according to NFL Network’s Mike Mayock and SI.com’s Peter King. It should also be noted that King has stated the Philadelphia Eagles could just as easily pick Strong over Randall with the 20th overall selection in the draft. His playmaking ability is easy to observe through watching his ASU highlight reel. For teams looking for a free safety with ball skills, the list is short of 2015 draft eligible players who compare.
Damarious Randall from Arizona State is "by far the best cover safety" in the draft, Mike Mayock says, and will be the first safety drafted.
— Les Bowen (@LesBowen) April 23, 2015
But that’s just it. There are so many mock drafts available now. Twenty years ago it there were just a few publications out there that projected an entire draft where now days every major site that covers the NFL, let alone the independent blog sites have their say in all picks from Thursday through the end of Saturday. As a reader, it’s hard to disseminate what’s accurate thought out information, and what is baloney put up there at the whim of the writer. Has the mock draft included: potential trades? Scouting bias of conferences or specific schools? Or is it simply generalizing specific team needs? These question help lead to the answer of why these mock drafts skew the results from one site to the next. It’s not so much that these sites produce baloney to receive hits, it’s just that social media wants to take quotes from these sites and post them as if they are the gold standard.
That’s why it’s important to take this all in context in terms of the gravity of Randall and Strong going so high in this draft, whether its the 20th pick overall, or both being selected in the second round. When combined with two other fellow Sun Devil teammates to likely be drafted in defensive lineman Marcus Hardison and offensive lineman Jamil Douglas, this more than likely will be the most players selected in the highest rounds we’ve witnessed in quite some time. Whether or not they have a greater initial impact than the likes of recent Sun Devils draftees like Brock Osweiler (drafted in 2012) and Will Sutton (drafted in 2014), remains to be seen next fall.
Will Strong or Randall join the likes of Erik Flowers, Todd Heap, Adam Archuleta, Levi Jones, or Terrell Suggs on the list of Sun Devils drafted since 2000? We’ll find out tomorrow at 5pm.