Rob Malara

Two Devils Selected in 2016 NFL Draft


Two Arizona State Sun Devils were selected during this past weekend’s 2016 NFL Draft, giving head coach Todd Graham nine players drafted during his four seasons in Tempe. Among the selections were one player who had participated in the NFL Combine in February, and another who had recently been collecting buzz as a late round sleeper.   

As Saturday’s seventh and final round came to a close, both Christian Westerman and Devin Lucien would be preparing to head to their new team’s rookie mini-camps.  And as a rainy Chicago day transitioned into night, seven more of their Sun Devil teammates would be receiving the opportunity to perform on Sundays in the fall as undrafted free agents.

Heading into the weekend, Westerman was expected to be the first Sun Devil off the board, and that was exactly the case. Depending on which draft expert referenced, the former ASU starting left guard received somewhere between a second and fifth round grade.  

After being passed on by multiple suitors with needs at the guard position in the third and fourth round, Westerman would finally hear his name called late in the fifth round as the 161st  overall pick by the Cincinnati Bengals where he’ll join former teammate Marcus Hardison (selected in the fourth round by the Bengals in the 2015 NFL Draft) not to mention veteran linebacker and former Devil Vontaze Burfict.

Westerman’s new position coach Paul Alexander had a glowing review of his future pupil,“when he’s the toughest guy in the draft I usually put a nice box around him. In this division, you gotta be. It’s not for the feeble. You watch the film. And my best thing is I shake a kid’s hand I look him in the eye and I judge the percentage that he would kick my ass. And if I feel he’d really destroy me, then I like him.”

One of the biggest questions heading into the draft was the future of quarterback Christian Hackenberg. With projections all over the place for the young-signal caller, the New York Jets pulled the trigger on him in the second round. With the current situation in New York, Hackenberg has a chance to compete for early playing time.

Yet, while many were disappointed not to hear running back / wide receiver D.J. Foster’s name called during the seven round draft, some were surprised to see the New England Patriots select their second wide receiver with their final pick, 225th overall of the draft in Sun Devil Devin Lucien.  Aplayer Pro Football Focus had been beating the drum for over the past few weeks as it’s site’s top sleeper draft prospect.  

The former UCLA transfer joins an offense that values flexibility at the receiver position and welcomes Lucien’s 6-foot-2, 195-pound frame to a position group looking to increase its size and presence on the outside.  While flush with playmaking wide receivers in the slot, the Patriots were looking to add a deep ball presence to complement the likes of All-Pro pass catchers Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman.

Lucien’s late-season production, sure-handedness, and his 4.49-second time in the 40-yard dash at ASU pro day helped add to his draftability.  He looks to be a player who is improving his abilities at the right time as he heads to New England.

Disappointment quickly turned to jubilee for Foster on Saturday when he was informed he would be offered a contract as an undrafted free agent with the same Patriots team that had previously selected his teammate earlier in the day.  A team that has had recent success finding contributors from those not selected from the draft pool whether it was former Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Bulter or David Andrews who ended up a starter by year’s end last season.

Quarterback Mike Bercovici was among 19 undrafted free agents to sign with the San Diego Chargers.  A team that, similar to the Patriots, promoted four such players to their initial 53-man roster in 2015.

The Buffalo Bills were frequent visitors to Tempe during the draft process to look at multiple Sun Devils, so it was no surprise when they offered wide receiver Gary Chambers a contract.  A late bloomer in Mike Norvell’s offense, the big-bodied Chambers thrived on third down catching passes in the middle of the field.  Much his former teammate Lucien, he’ll provide the opportunity for the Bills to add some size at the position.

Perhaps the surprise of all Devils signing with teams after the draft was offensive tackle Billy McGehee with the Atlanta Falcons.  Landing his first career start in the 2015 season opener against Texas A&M, McGehee would go on to start an additional 11 games at right tackle the rest of the season as one of the Devils most improved players from the start of spring camp to the bowl game in January.

Todd Graham’s defense, while suspect at times for the numbers of big plays allowed throughout the past few season, has caught the eyes of those in NFL front offices with the number of sacks, interceptions, and tackles for loss it has produced.  To this point, three more Devils were scooped up by teams after the draft.

Defensive tackle Demetrius Cherry, who appeared in 25 contests with the Devils, will be joining new head coach Chip Kelly with the San Francisco 49ers as one of 19 additions over the weekend by draft or free agency.  While he wasn’t a full-time starter with the Devils (just 8 in his career), his 6-foot-6, 300 pound frame is one former Sun Devils defensive line coach Scott Brown should be excited to work with.  Brown had previously coached Sun Devil standouts the likes of Carl Bradford and Will Sutton during the Dennis Erickson regime.

Antonio Longino recorded the most quarterback pressures of any FBS linebacker during the 2015 college football season, according to Pro Football Focus.  Should he make the Bengals initial 53-man roster, he’ll follow the path of fellow undrafted free agent Vontaze Burfict who completed the task following the 2012 NFL Draft.

Cornerback Lloyd Carrington endured a ruthless senior year in Tempe as passing offenses continually shredded the ASU secondary week after week during Pac-12 play.  Starting each and every one of the Devils 26 games over the last two seasons, Carrington was the only standout among the ASU secondary as the 2015 season came to a close.  But it might be his special teams experience that lands him a roster spot with the Washington Redskins when camp comes to a close in August.

While the 2016 NFL Draft witnessed a drop-off in Sun Devil selections after four were selected a year ago, it’s important for head coach Todd Graham that he continue to produce draftable talent both because it means his staff can develop the talent it recruits, but also as a selling tool for high schoolers and junior college players. At the other side of the spectrum, while undrafted free agents clearly aren’t a given to succeed in the NFL, but nearly 30-percent of rosters were made up of such acquisitions during the 2015 NFL season.

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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