Arizona State Football: Power Ranking the Sun Devils' 5 Best NFL Prospects
The sleeping giants of the Pac-12 woke up last weekend in Tempe, Ariz.
The Arizona State football team's vaunted defense gave way to Coach Todd Graham's high-octane offense. The defense was no slouch either—it registered nine tackles for loss, four sacks, a forced fumble and recovery, and three interceptions including a 46-yard pick-six from Alden Darby.
The not-good-enough-for-Sunday players lit the gridiron ablaze and forced everybody to take notice of a team that single-handedly dismantled an elite football program and destroyed a coach's career in one fell swoop.
After such an outing, will there be Heisman talk for the studs on the Sun Devils sidelines?
No, but fret not, gentle reader. This football program thrives on being the underdog and going unnoticed by the media. Due to the extreme temperatures in the desert city of Tempe, Ariz., the Sun Devils rarely, if ever, play a home game before bedtime on the East Coast.
In the 2013 NFL draft, a record zero players were drafted, and although many were invited to training camp, only Brandon Magee was signed to an active NFL roster, signing with the Cleveland Browns.
Here are the power rankings of the Sun Devils' best NFL prospects after the first month of the 2013 season.
Will Sutton: Defensive Tackle
The 2012 Pat Tillman Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and consensus All-American is still the Sun Devils' most NFL-ready player despite reports of sluggishness and adding "bad weight."
The 6'1", 305-pound redshirt senior out of Corona, Calif., is out to prove his doubters wrong. Through four games, he has 13 tackles, nine of them solo and 2.5 for a loss of 10 yards. He also had a sack and a fumble recovery last weekend against USC.
It is safe to say that Sutton is just getting warmed up to dominate the Irish this weekend before going on to repeat his stellar junior season.
Draft Projection: Round 2
Marion Grice: Running Back
Marion Grice has moved up this list—quickly.
Grice, one of the nation's best junior college running backs out of Blinn Community College in Houston, Texas, committed to coach Todd Graham and the Sun Devils and became a cornerstone of Graham's "left lane, hammer down" offense.
He led all running backs with receiving touchdowns at the end of last season. In 2013, he not only leads all running backs with receiving touchdowns but leads all players with 12 total touchdowns, and that even includes a bye week.
Grice is the prototypical player in Graham's offense and is breaking out of the three-headed running back committee that thrived last season. In his last seven games, Grice has scored an astounding 18 touchdowns, 13 rushing and five receiving.
In 2013, he is only averaging 3.9 yards per carry and 64 yards per game, but what is the most amazing statistic is that he scores a touchdown every 7.3 times he touches the ball.
Draft Projection: Round 3 (unless he maintains his three touchdowns per game average, in which he could go as high as the first round).
Alden Darby: Safety
Alden Darby loves playing USC.
He added his seventh and eighth career interceptions to his resume last weekend along with another pick-six; his last one was against USC last year.
Darby, a Lott IMPACT Trophy finalist was named the Player of the Week after his seven tackles, forced fumble and recovery to go along with with two interceptions.
The 5'11", 195-pound senior out of Long Beach, Calif., is undersized, but his heart, desire and drive are not. This year, he leads the team in interceptions, pass breakups and passes defended while his 19 tackles, 13 solo, are third-best on the team.
Draft Projection: Round 6 or 7
Taylor Kelly: Quarterback
Redshirt junior quarterback Taylor Kelly out of Eagle, Idaho, is having a breakout season in just four games in 2013. He caught fire last year after losing at USC last November and hasn't cooled off yet.
Since that chilly November day at the Coliseum, in his past seven games, Kelly has thrown 19 touchdown passes and only four interceptions. He has averaged 296.4 yards per game over that span, completing 65.3 percent of his passes and flaunting a 159.92 quarterback rating.
This season, Kelly has thrown for 300-plus yards in every game, and his 11 passing touchdowns are tied for 11th in the FBS while his 1,370 total yards rank him at No. 8. He leads the No. 7-ranked passing offense, averaging 358.8 yards per game and the 12th-ranked overall offense averaging 44.3 points per game.
Oddly enough, last season, when Kelly threw an interception, a loss was guaranteed. However, this year, the Devils have only lost when Kelly has thrown two picks—on the road against No. 5 Stanford.
I highly doubt that Kelly will forego his final season at Arizona State unless he blows the doors off the competition from here on out.
Draft Projection (2014): Round 5 or 6
Draft Projection (2015): Round 2 or 3
Carl Bradford: Linebacker
Carl Bradford, the 6'1", 243-pound redshirt junior out of Norco, Calif., is having a devil of a season. Playing out of the "Devilbacker" position, Bradford and his crazy hair are getting noticed.
Bradford's 2012 campaign was All-America-worthy with 81 tackles, including 20.5 for loss. That number alone broke the top 10 in school history. He tallied 11 sacks, three forced fumbles, two recoveries and even tacked on an interception.
Much like his counterpart, Will Sutton, Bradford started slow but is now in complete beast mode. He leads the team in sacks, tackles for loss and quarterback hurries. His 14 solo tackles also place him at No. 3 on the team.
Bradford is yet another player who will only get better, not only through the remainder of this season, but also as team captain next year when Sutton is gone.
Draft Projection (2014): Round 6 or 7
Draft Projection (2015): Round 4 or 5
David is the Featured Columnist of Arizona State Athletics for B/R. Follow him on Twitter at @asudave.