Rob Malara

Sun Devil Trio heads to NFL Scouting Combine

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The NFL Scouting Combine takes place this weekend in Indianapolis and among the seniors and underclassmen who have made themselves available to the NFL Draft, 45 of those were invited to join the festivities  from the Pac-12 Conference.  The defending conference champions Stanford lead the way eight players headed east followed by seven from USC.  Three players invited from the roster of the 2013 Pac-12 South champion Sun Devils; seniors Will Sutton and Marion Grice, as well as junior Carl Bradford, will join their fellow conference participants in the pool of the top talent available through the eyes of NFL talent evaluators.

It comes as a surprise to some that other members on the ASU roster didn’t join them.  That list includes senior linebacker Chris Young, not to mention long-time starters in offensive lineman Evan Finkenberg and cornerback Osahan Irabor.  But as always with the NFL, it is a numbers game, and the 2013 ASU roster didn’t have the star-power of the likes of the Cardinal or the Trojans.

Below we look at the current status of those who you’ll get the chance to see as part of the NFL Network’s coverage from February 22-25.  Where do they rank currently among their peers and what got them there?

 

Will Sutton, Redshirt – Senior, Defensive Tackle

CBS Sports Overall Rank: 64 / Position Rank: 7 / Projected Round: 2-3

Going into the 2013 season Sutton, the reigning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year looked to be a shoe-in first round pick after deciding to return for a final season for the Devils.  He was coming off one of the best seasons put in by a defensive player in the history of Sun Devil football this side of Terrell Suggs.  He was used at multiple spots along the defensive front line and constantly found himself in opponents backfields racking up sacks and tackles for loss along the way.

He was called upon to become a better run defender in order to hold the Devils line at the point of attack against the bigger/physical teams on the schedule in 2013.  And with that has come the critique by some that the weight he gained was bad weight and hindered his numbers.

But he has been questioned all season for his added weight and his decline in production among counting statistics.  But NFL front office people will dig deeper and look at the tape of a player who was asked by the defensive coaching staff to line up either in-between the guard and tackle as a 3-technique or outside the tackle as a 5-technique to use his skill set that includes great hand skills and leveraging ability.   It is because of these skills and this aggressive style of defensive play that Sutton become one of just two players to ever be awarded with the Pat Tillman trophy twice in the conference.

While he is shorter than the average NFL interior lineman by an inch, he will more than likely be called upon to continue to do what he has excelled at through his time during the Graham Era, as a gap penetrator.  While he weighed in at 315 pounds at the combine, a team running a 4-3 defense might snap him up and see him as a poor man’s Geno Atkins of the Cincinnati Bengals, a player he’s been compared to multiple times over the past two seasons.

In order for him to fit his current draft prediction pre-combine as a second round pick, he’ll have to show that the Stanford game was a product of being consistently double-teamed and chopped on the majority of running plays.  He’s a momentum player who will make multiple big plays when he gets hot and has a chance to win one-on-one battles.  If teamed with a bigger defensive tackle in the right scheme he really has the potential to put up solid production early on in his NFL career.

 

Photo by Jeff VintonCarl Bradford, Redshirt – Junior, Outside Linebacker

CBS Sports Overall Rank: 67 / Position Rank: 7 / Projected Round: 2-3

Bradford become one of the last of the 26 players to declare early for the NFL Draft last month, surprising even his own head coach as Todd Graham eluded to during his 2014 Signing Day press conference.  It should be stated that while Bradford had a year left of eligibility, the redshirt junior did obtain his degree this year in Criminal Justice.

The loss of Bradford, one of the marquee players on the Devils aggressive defense, will be one of the toughest spots to fill going into the 2014 season falling just behind that of Sutton along the defensive line.  While much like Sutton, his counting stats dipped on the field in 2013 after a breakout 2012 season, Bradford was still a game-changer at the Devilbacker position.

As a former fullback coming out of high school, Bradford seemed custom built for the position from the first day of spring camp as a sophomore back in 2012 under first year coach Todd Graham.  His explosion off the ball thanks to his impressive first step quickness and his ability to lineup at multiple spots in the Devils hybrid base fronts wreaked havoc on opposing Pac-12 defenses over the past two seasons.  Be it lining up with his hand in the ground off the end, or crashing in on a zero blitz, Bradford will make his hay in the next level as a pass rusher finishing his college career with 21.5 sacks and 43 tackles for loss in 26 games.

Some draft grades have been affected by his average height at 6’1.  But his athletic ability and weight room track record should set the stage for what could be one of the better combine performances by a Sun Devil in recent memory.  If he performs as expected on the bench, in the cone drills, and in all measurements of his leaping ability, he has the potential to get drafted right around his teammate Sutton, if not eclipse him.

 

Photo by Jeff VintonMarion Grice, Senior, Running Back

CBS Sports Overall Rank – 162 / Position Rank – 13 / Projected Round: 5

This year’s draft class is loaded at the running back position, especially coming out of the Pac-12.  Ka’Deem Carey will be one of the highest drafted after leading college football in rushing in 2012 and finishing second this past season.  He’ll be joined by standouts Bishop Sankey, Tyler Gaffney, Silas Redd, and De’Anthony Thomas.  Each of these players, much like Grice will have something to prove in the workouts.

Grice was sailing to his first 1,000 yard season before injuring his left leg.  Grice, a Hornung Award finalist thanks in part to his versatility as a running back, led the team in touchdowns and all-purpose yards.

But we should stop right there and honor the fact that while missing the Territorial Cup, Pac-12 Championship game, and the Holiday Bowl he was still able to put in the best all-purpose season by anyone in school history in nearly 65 years.  He was the only player in the nation to gain 400 yards or more rushing, receiving, and on kick returns.  His hands are one of his biggest assets, as are his numbers when he got his touches, especially out of the backfield totaling 14 touchdowns receiving during his two seasons in Tempe.  In fact, although sharing time in the backfield through the first half of the 2012 season he finished fifth in school history with 39 touchdowns.

While he may not have the fastest 40-time at the combine his intangibles may win a team over into selecting him a bit earlier than expected.  He won the hearts of his team and the fan base when he came back to play in the 2012 Holiday Bowl after the tragic murder of his close friend just days before the final game of the season, going on to have one of his finest days statistically in a maroon and gold uniform.

He needs to show scouts that the injury that also forced him to miss the Senior Bowl is healed up, and let his tape and workout do the talking.  As of this week his mock draft value has him being selected within the first twenty players at his position, or somewhere around the fifth round.

 

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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