Rob Malara

Sun Devils at the Combine

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The next step in the 2015 NFL Draft process for the likes of Jamil Douglas, Marcus Hardison, Damarious Randall, and Jaelen Strong continues this week as the four former Sun Devils compete with the likes of 319 other former student athletes at Lucas Oil Stadium as part of the 2015 NFL Combine.  Draft prospects began arriving to Indianapolis, Indiana (host of the festivities for the seventh consecutive year) as early as Monday and Tuesday.  Strong, the highest projected member of the Sun Devil foursome, and a representative of a group of 74 underclassmen, looks to become the highest drafted Sun Devil in recent history since Terrell Suggs was drafted tenth overall by the Baltimore Ravens back in the 2003 NFL Draft .

The Pac-12 as a whole ranks third among the big five conferences with 44 players taking part of the festivities, with the SEC leading the way once again with 69 players being represented.  The Sun Devils four players representing the 2014 roster, trailed the likes of Oregon and USC (7), Stanford (6), UCLA and Utah (5) who among the group totaled 30 of the 44 former Pac-12 student athletes.

It can be overwhelming watching the hours of coverage leading up to the workouts shown throughout the course of the next five days on NFL Network, so we thought it might be helpful to give you a brief overview of what you need to know about each player leading into the events.

Jamil Douglas

  • On-field workout: Friday
  • NFLDraftScout.com Projected Round: 6

While Douglas played left tackle during the 2014 season, the consensus is that he will begin life as a professional football player where he was recruited to play originally as a Sun Devil, at either guard position.  Scouts and analysts will be looking at how he overcomes his shorter than average arm length as a lineman, one of the main reasons he projects as a guard.  However his 40 collegiate starts at all four positions outside of center with ASU will no doubt help teams project where he could fit early on as a backup.

Marcus Hardison

  • On-field workout: Sunday
  • NFLDraftScout.com Projected Round: 4

Opened some eyes both during the Senior Bowl, both at practice and during the game.  And that’s saying something when you are overshadowed by the likes of former Washington defensive tackle Danny Shelton.  ESPN analyst Todd McShay named Hardison in his Top-10 list of players improving their draft stock thanks to his Senior Bowl performance.

Going into the combine, he’s a guy NFL talent evaluators look at as a projectable player in a 3-4 scheme due to his size, arm length, and athleticism.  He will have his chance to shine in pass rush drills, and could show he’s a sleeper as an interior pass rush threat in this draft.  He also has the potential to run one of the better 40-times in his group of defensive tackles.

Damarious Randall

  • On-field workout: Monday
  • NFLDraftScout.com Projected Round: 6

Much like Strong, the productivity in his two years under the guidance of Todd Graham are observable on the resume of Randall.  Recording 177 tackles, 6 interceptions, 12 pass break-ups, and countless open field tackles during his 22 starts at safety in the Sun Devils attack-style defense.  While he doesn’t have the size of others in his group (Cody Prewitt of Ole Miss or Chris Hackett of TCU), he has a chance to run a very competitive 40-time, and show his play-making ability to dominate in the speed turn drill.  It will be here, along with the 40, where Randall will show off his athleticism as a former Junior College corner back.   ESPN’s Mel Kiper had Randall ranked third among all safeties on his big board leading up to the Combine.

Jaelen Strong

  • On-field workout: Saturday
  • NFLDraftScout.com Projected Round: 1-2

There’s not much to add here that hasn’t already been said by others as Strong has been the most talked about of the Sun Devil prospects since he declared back in December before the bowl game.  He recently hired RocNation Sports,  founded by Jay-Z, to represent him, so that tells you everything you need to know about the buzz at the moment, for the former Sun Devil star receiver who will also be the youngest Sun Devil in Indianapolis.

As a two year starter, the tape is there for evaluators, playing in 2014 against some very solid Pac-12 corners in 2014, the likes of Marcus Peters (Washington), Alex Carter (Stanford), Ismael Adams and Anthony Jefferson (UCLA), Steven Nelson (Oregon State), Greg Henderson (Colorado).

But as an underclassmen, he has some catching up to do if he plans to reach his potential of being a first day pick for a team.  The reason has more to do with the system, than anything else.  As seniors who had good all star game performances/practices have a leg up in the face time department with those calling the shots as well as the media pundits.  By not being eligible for the Senior Bowl or East West Shrine game, he may have slid down below a few receivers at this point.  But there’s still plenty of time in the process between the Combine, Pro Day, and private workouts.

NFL.com’s Mike Mayock recently stated Strong is in his mind a “second-round pick who could evolve into a late first-round pick if teams fall in love him.” This helped to fuel Strong’s comments on Twitter, recently stating “can’t wait to prove everybody wrong.”

A good performance on Saturday could add millions to his first professional contract if he can ease the concerns on his straight line speed and his ability to separate.  Most evaluators agree that he doesn’t need to run a sub-4.5.  But needs to get as close to a 4.6, while acing his broad and long jumps, not to mention running a clean gauntlet drill.

Recent history shows NFL teams are always looking for receiving talent early in the draft.  Five receivers went in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft.  Kiper currently has six in his latest mock draft with Strong on the outside looking in.  How he handles the next few days could determine whether or not he can propel above fellow big bodied wide receivers in the class like Louisville’s DeVante Parker, Central Florida’s Breshad Perriman, Oklahoma’s Dorial Green-Beckham, and Michigan’s Devin Funchess.

If we learned anything during the 2014 season, it’s that teams are willing to be patient with bigger wide receivers as long as they are receptive to coaching, just ask Carolina’s Kelvin Benjamin.  Teams are learning you don’t have to be a blazer to succeed at the next level as there have been five players in the last decade that have run at best a 4.6-40 at the Combine, only to go on to at least one 1,000-yard receiving in their career.

About Rob Malara

Rob Malara

Rob Malara is a 2002 Sun Devil grad having spent the majority of his time in Tempe as a football, basketball, and baseball season ticket holder and front row inhabitant. A member of the Football Writers Association of America, he hosted the ASU Devils podcast and was its sub-optimal technical producer through its lifespan. Currently the president of the ASU Alumni Association's Northern Colorado Club, he is part of a family of maroon and gold residing in Fort Collins with his Sun Devil wife and nearby Sun Devil sister.

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