The most successful draft of Arizona State coach Todd Graham's colligate coaching career is over, with nine Sun Devils either drafted or signed to undrafted free agent deals. It's fair to call this class a success, after Arizona State had seen the likes of Vontaze Burfict, Gerell Robinson, Cameron Marshall, Josh Hubner, Brandon Magee and Mike Willie go undrafted in recent drafts.
Davon Coleman (Dallas), Gannon Conway (Miami), Chris Coyle (Houston), Alden Darby (San Diego), Evan Finkenberg (Miami), Robert Nelson (Cleveland) and Chris Young (Houston) all signed UDFA deals in the immediate hours after the draft. Only four-year starting corner Osahon Irabor remains unsigned, much to the surprise of many media members.
Still, when Irabor is the only complaint, after years of draft day letdowns, it has to be considered a win for Graham and the Sun Devil coaching staff. There are still questions, though. Are the fits right? Which undrafted free agent has the best chance of having an impactful career? And which drafted Sun Devil landed in a perfect situation? Well that answer is the easy one.
Best Fit - Carl Bradford, Green Bay Packers
Will Sutton has a chance to blossom in Chicago, but he's going to be working with another rookie defensive tackle (second round pick Ego Ferguson), and the Bears have suddenly shifted their focus from all defense to all offense under Marc Trestman. Bradford however landed in the perfect spot.
For some reason, every draft expert seemed to have Bradford pegged as a middle linebacker. But in Green Bay he should be allowed to roam, and that couldn't be worse news for the rest of the NFC North. The Packers have been void of a consistent pass rush when All-Pro outside linebacker Clay Matthews isn't on the field. Outside linebacker Nick Perry, a former first round pick out of USC, has failed to stay healthy in his two seasons in Green Bay, and 2013 first rounder and former UCLA defensive end Datone Jones looked overwhelmed in his rookie campaign.
Outside of those three, the Packers don't have a pass rush specialist on the roster, but that could be Bradford's bread and butter. The injury history plays well for Bradford as well, as the odds are in his favor to see meaningful first-team reps early in the year.
Even if Bradford is asked to learn the middle linebacker position, the talent in front of him is far from impressive. A.J. Hawk provides no pressure on the quarterback and is limited in coverage, and Brad Jones missed four games last season while looking overwhelmed as a starter when he was healthy.
When Green Bay won the Super Bowl in 2010, Aaron Rodgers deservedly got all of the attention. But the front seven of defensive coordinator Dom Capers' 3-4 defense was quietly one of the best in football.
The deterioration of the Packers defense in the years since, and its inability to put any pressure on San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, has limited the Packers championship opportunities. Bradford can change that.
He gets after the quarterback with relentless effort and has experience playing both standing up and with his hand in the grass. Capers is known to run a varying front 3-4, where the big tackles come off the field and the linebackers press the line of scrimmage on passing downs. Bradford could work outside early and move inside at linebacker or put his hand in the grass on third down. Capers knows what to do with pass rushing talent, no question. He also knows what to do with good football players, and Carl Bradford is an exceptional one.
When Bradford got a taste of winning during Graham's first year at Arizona State, it fueled him. When he gets to Green Bay, he's instantly going to be thrust onto the field with a winning team, expected to compete with San Francisco and Seattle for the top spot in the NFC, in a town that knows nothing but football.
Much like when Elvis Dumervil fell to the fourth round in 2006 after a productive college career, I expect Bradford to overcome his size questions and be an immediate impact player in Green Bay.
UDFA Most Likely to Contribute in 2014 - Alden Darby, San Diego Chargers
My first thoughts when I read Alden Darby had signed in San Diego were as follows:
"Holy cow, what a great fit...why didn't they draft him, though?"
I'll never know the answer to that question, but I bet the Chargers are going to be pretty thankful that Darby chose to head to Southern California to start his NFL career. Has anyone watched Eric Weddle play? Does anyone else see the obvious comparisons?
Weddle was a second round pick out of Utah, and was certainly more impactful statistically in college, but he was also let loose to roam the field freely and make plays wherever and whenever. When Darby was allowed to sit back in Cover 3 formations and just play center field, he was a ball hawk for the Sun Devils, and he had his share of dramatic interceptions while in Tempe.
Darby can tackle, too, leading the Sun Devils in that category two years in a row, and his special teams contributions will get him on the field early for San Diego. He's roughly the same size as Weddle and the two had nearly identical measurable at their respective pro day workouts. I'm not saying Darby is the next Weddle, but he shouldn't have gone undrafted and there's precedence for a player of his skill set and size to succeed in this exact system.
But more importantly, the Chargers have a horrendous secondary. It appeared they planned to attack that problem when they drafter TCU corner Jason Verrett in the first round, but the team proceeded to completely avoid the position after that pick.
Marcus Gilchrist should really be a slot corner. The safety struggles in space, when he has to read the quarterback and react instead of naturally reacting to the receiver he is covering. Darrell Stuckey, the backup safety, can't cover anyone and basically acts as an extra linebacker when he's on the field. His special teams tackling remain his best asset. Neither Gilchrist nor Stuckey are ever going to develop into consistent performers, and that alone will get Darby an opportunity.
Philip Rivers isn't getting any younger, Antonio Gates is ancient in NFL years, and Nick Hardwick and Ryan Mathews always have injuries. The Chargers time is now if they're going to make a move in the AFC, and that's another reason Darby is going to be given a chance to play.
The Chargers need smart, talented football players, and nobody is going to question Darby's football sense. He's the perfect player at the Chargers' most desperate position, and he's undrafted Sun Devil most likely to shine in 2014.