Forget about the holidays, it's bowl season for Arizona State football. Holidays are typically a time for people to be thankful, and for Arizona State, it's also a time to be thankful for those players who will make their decisions on going to the NFL.
The Sun Devils recently participated in their last formal practice before the upcoming Holiday Bowl in San Diego, Calif. on December 30 against Texas Tech and the speculation is resurfacing on whether or not Devil backer Carl Bradford will take his talents to the NFL.
ASU's Todd Graham said Carl Bradford has sent his paperwork into NFL advisory committee, but he would be shocked if Bradford did not return.— Doug Haller (@DougHaller) December 19, 2013
Bradford was named second team All-Pac-12 after posting 55 total tackles, and leading the team with 8.5 sacks and 18 tackles for a loss through 13 games and now he wants to see where scouts project him to land in the upcoming draft. But the consensus seems to be that he will return for his senior year.
Not only will he wait for his draft grade, but he needs to discuss the decision more in depth with his family because he has the luxury of already having his degree.
Bradford also said he wants to really look within himself to see if he's ready mentally for the next level. Seemed legitimately undecided.— Tyler Lockman (@TylerLockman) December 20, 2013
Graham says all indications from Bradford are that he will return for senior season.— Tyler Lockman (@TylerLockman) December 19, 2013
The mock drafts have placed him anywhere between the late second and fifth rounds, but we all know that he is an athletic monster and the NFL combine would more than likely boost his draft stock.
Bradford has been one of the most reliable anchors on the Sun Devil defense and he has taken advantage of Will Sutton being double teamed in the trenches. The Norco, Calif. native is still flourishing this season despite a drop in numbers because he does more off the ball. Not to mention he took the nation by surprise last year when he finished fourth on the team with 81 tackles, including 20.5 for a loss, 11.5 sacks and three forced fumbles.
Some people are even talking about how much Bradford could flourish in the pros.
Arizona State expects Carl Bradford to return for another season...this disappoints me. Love his motor, aggressiveness.— NFL Draft Tracker (@NFLDraftTracker) December 20, 2013
Scouts have speculated using Bradford as either a linebacker or a defensive end, which makes him more valuable. He told Devil's Digest the following.
"The devilbacker just fit my personality. It fit my physical ability, so I just ran with it. I started to develop myself after that. I trained with coach Griswold in the off-season, studied in the film room, and really got to know the position inside and out."
Strength and conditioning coach Shawn Griswold was quoted in October saying "Carl [Bradford] has got a chance [to go pro], but he will come back next year as a senior." Bradford will have an extensive offseason regimen if he decides to return for one more year now that he is already an elite defender in the conference, and returning may be all it takes to be a lock for a second round pick (or even higher).
UCLA's Anthony Barr (63 tackles, 20 TFL, 10 sacks) is a hybrid as well and he is projected to be a top ten pick and his 6-foot-4, 250-pound frame doesn't hurt either. The two Pac-12 foes put up similar numbers over the last two years, so three inches is a primary reason why Barr is a first round lock compared to Bradford.
Why are we comparing these two athletes? Well for starters, both Barr and Bradford were top ten in the NCAA in tackles for loss and sacks last season. They are also both converted linebackers (thanks Dennis Erickson for moving him to the defensive side), but Barr used his final year of collegiate eligibility to mature and develop under UCLA's pro-ready 3-4 defensive scheme.
Will Sutton stole almost all of Arizona State's defensive national attention and there were times people forgot how good Bradford really is at getting to backfield and that he has above average coverage ability. Next year, Sutton will be gone, as will cornerbacks Osahon Irabor and Alden Darby, linebacker Chris Young, and lineman Davon Coleman and Gannon Conway.
Who's left on defense? Enter Carl Bradford.
I'll give my Haber's Hunches on Bradford and say he will not only be a first team All-Pac-12 player after leading the Sun Devils in sacks and tackles for losses, but he will also be a Dick Butkus Award finalist which is given annually to the nation's best collegiate linebacker. Barr and Stanford's Shayne Skov were finalists this year.
If Bradford decides to go pro, he will likely be a top-ten linebacker on the draft board, but one more year playing on Saturdays may be the best thing for the redshirt junior.
Last year was the first time since 1963 that no Sun Devils were drafted and this year may arguably be one of ASU's best professional classes in the 2000s. The Sun Devils will stay optimistic that Bradford finds his name on the 2015 NFL draft board.