We are less than 24 hours from the start of the NFL draft and while Arizona State lacks any players who scream ‘Star,’ there are a few Sun Devils who have a chance to make a living playing professional football.
Here is a breakdown of who those players are, what they do well and what they need to work on, and a prediction for where their next stop on the gridiron might come.
One of the two most likely Sun Devils to be drafted this weekend (Keelan Johnson), Magee is an intriguing prospect because of his fantastic college statistics and undisputed leadership qualities. But several questions remain about whether or not Magee can play at the next level.
Strengths: Magee is solid in pass coverage, particularly in a zone scheme. He moves well for a linebacker and is intelligent. Understands defensive schemes and situations. Disciplined in regards to penalties. Leadership skills are unrivaled.
Weaknesses: Struggles wrapping up due to his incredibly short wingspan. Magee’s arm length was measured at 28.68 inches and he was the only linebacker at the combine whose arm was shorter than 31 inches. He is undersized and an injury risk. Magee can over-pursue in the run game and I often wonder if it is because he knows he must hit guys hard in order to bring them down (which goes back to him not being able to wrap on his tackles).
Best Fit: Magee profiles as a weak-side linebacker in a 4-3, Cover 2 scheme. He can also play on a team like the 49ers or Saints that relies on their linebackers in the middle-zone a lot. Ultimately Magee is going to have to make an impact on special teams first in order to get a chance to play on defense. Bears, 49ers, Saints, Buccaneers, Panthers.
Round Projection: 6-7 round.
Prediction: Chicago, Round 6, 20th pick (188 overall)
Johnson stepped up last season in a much-improved Sun Devil secondary. He was named a team captain and was often the last line of defense, particularly against the run, where he is a better tackler than his counterpart Alden Darby.
Strengths: Physical player, athletic freak. Johnson has all of the tools a safety needs at the next level from a physical standpoint. He improved as a pass defender in 2012 and showed an ability to run with quicker tight ends. Has a knack for the big play.
Weaknesses: Consistency. Coaches in the NFL are going to want to know why Johnson took so long to blossom at Arizona State. He is still raw in terms of playing time and he, like much of the Sun Devil defense, has a tendency to over-pursue or bite on first moves in both the run and pass game.
Best Fit: A team that has strong leadership at the position. Johnson showed he is willing to learn when Todd Graham brought a more teaching-minded mentality to the team last fall. Steelers, Seahawks, Titans, Patriots.
Round Projection: 6-undrafted.
Prediction: New England, Round 7, 29th pick (235 overall)
Marshall was lost in the mix when Todd Graham arrived at Arizona State. One moment he was destined to become the most prolific running back in school history, and the next moment he was the third option in a loaded backfield. While this killed his draft stock, I actually believe it helped his pro prospectus.
Strengths: Powerful back with a lot of experience, but not a lot of miles over the last year thanks to the aforementioned arrival of Graham. Marshall has a nose for the end zone. He has great hands out of the backfield and understands when to release from pass blocking and get open. Also a good pass blocker. Runs with good pad level and doesn’t dance.
Weaknesses: Butterfingers cost him a lot of his playing time last season. Never regained the trust of his coaches, which has to worry NFL staffs. While he has great burst, his top-end speed isn’t elite. Style better suited for a zone-blocking scheme, which limits the number of teams who could have interest.
Best Fit: I’m going to come right out and say this, and it’s something I’ve been saying for a long time; Cameron Marshall will be a very good NFL running back. In the right system, he can flourish (systems mean more than you think in the NFL). He belongs in a zone scheme, and I think there are two teams who would be ideal; Houston and Green Bay. Texans, Packers, Seahawks, Redskins, Jaguars.
Round Projection: Undrafted.
Prediction: Signed minutes after the draft by Houston, breaks camp third on the depth chart, eventually passes Ben Tate for second and in two seasons, Arian Foster too.
Hubner was fantastic as a punter for the Sun Devils. The problem with the draft is, unless Jacksonville needs a punter, only the top two or three are drafted. I think Hubner is the third-best punter eligible (LSU’s Brad Wing, UCLA’s Jeff Locke), but I doubt three are drafted this year.
Strengths: Big leg with good accuracy. Hubner did a nice job pinning opponents last season for the Sun Devils. In fact, an easy argument can be made that he was the only consistent member of Arizona State’s special teams unit in 2012. He is also a physical specimen for a punter and could be used as a weapon in fake punt situations.
Weaknesses: Didn’t handle kickoffs last season; this doesn’t mean he can’t, but nobody has seen him do it in games, at least recently. Punters are only valued in drafts if their last name is Lechler (or, like I said, if Jacksonville thinks they need another one).
Best Fit: Teams who don’t have a proven commodity at the punter position. Bills, Browns, Eagles, Titans, Raiders.
Round Projection: Undrafted.
Prediction: Free agent signing by the Eagles (Chip Kelly saw a lot of Hubner in Tempe, and he was great in that game).
There are a few more former Sun Devils who should get invites to training camp, including Deveron Carr, Rashad Ross and Jamal Miles. None of the players have shown the ability or consistency to stick at the NFL level so far, but that doesn’t mean one or two of them won’t surprise everyone and one day make an impact at the highest level of professional football.