Before Arizona State surprised college football pundits in 2012, the name Carl Bradford didn't mean much outside of Tempe, Ariz. Bradford was the ideal fit for defensive coordinator Paul Randolph's pressure-heavy system and he bursted onto the scene with 11 sacks.
As the hot summer days subsided and the season carried on, Bradford continued to progress at rapid rates. Over the final five games, Bradford accumulated seven sacks and at least one in each contest.
Bradford may be undersized at 6-foot-1 and 243 pounds, like teammate Will Sutton, but his production doesn't waver. The Norco, Calif. native consistently spends extra time after practice to perfect his craft, and the efforts are beginning to pay off.
The Hunch: Carl Bradford will finish top five nationally in sacks.
At first glance, some would scoff at the idea of Bradford pulling in enough sacks to rank in the top five. However, between Bradford's underrated ability and research of previous years, the hunch doesn't seem as demanding.
Bradford entered ASU as one of the country's elite fullback prospects, and Dennis Erickson's staff decided to convert him to linebacker. Erickson made many questionable calls, but he deserves kudos for moving Bradford to defense.
Nothing trumps experience and Bradford will only get better after one full season of film to learn from. Also, linebackers rely on stout defensive lines to operate properly. Bradford possesses the needed help up front, reaping the benefits of roaming behind First Team All-American Sutton, Junior College star Marcus Hardison and Freshman All-American Jaxon Hood.
In the 2013 campaign, I expect Bradford to tally about 13.5 sacks, which is an increase of 2.5. If Bradford posted 13.5 sacks last season, he would've been second in country, falling slightly short of Jarvis Jones' 14.5 sacks. Over the past three season, 13 or more sacks has always ranked in the top five.
Excluding defensive lineman, Bradford notched the third most sacks amongst linebackers last year. Trying to surpass UCLA's Anthony Barr could be unrealistic, but there are no other pure rushers in the collegiate game who are significantly better at rushing the passer than Bradford.
Opposing offensive lineman are overwhelmed by Bradford's unique blend of speed and strength. On most occasions, Bradford blows by the protectors up front in the blink of an eye. Bradford supposedly runs the 40-yard dash in approximately 4.73 seconds.
Meanwhile, Bradford appears more intimidating stature wise, thanks to strength and conditioning coach Shawn Griswold. Through the bench press, leg squats and other activities in the gym, Bradford put on an extra five pounds.
To put it simply, Bradford should logically improve as he becomes more seasoned. Bradford proved he could be very good, now he wants to be among the best in college football.
I've got my hunch, do you? Let us know in the comments section below.