It's hard to fathom that Will Sutton and Carl Bradford could wear any colors other than maroon and gold, but come fall, the Sun Devils' dynamic pass rushing duo will be competing in the NFL.
After spending Todd Graham's first two seasons in Tempe wrangling up quarterbacks and chasing down ball carriers in the backfield together, Sutton and Bradford will likely end up in separate cities competing for playing time next season.
Two weeks ago, the pair participated in the NFL Combine in hopes to improve their draft stock. Bradford posted above-average marks in a number of categories including the broad jump, while Sutton came in a bit slower than expected in his speed drills.
On Friday, the pair will have a chance to improve upon their numbers alongside their former Sun Devil teammates who also have professional aspirations. Sutton and Bradford will be joined by players like Chris Coyle, Chris Young, Alden Darby and others who want to make one final impression on scouts before the NFL Draft in May.
Sutton and Bradford are surefire selections, but players like Coyle and Darby may not come off the board in May. That makes Pro Day all the more important, as they can catch the eyes of scouts looking for diamonds in the rough in the undrafted free agent pool.
With players' skill sets ranging from possible every down competitors (Sutton, Bradford) to niche role guys like special teams warriors (Darby, perhaps Robert Nelson), Pro Day will afford many Sun Devils the chance to make the most of their hard work and begin carving out their future at the next level.
Stories to Watch
Will Marion Grice run?
Every Sun Devil fan knows Grice's story. The JUCO transfer was a sensational addition to the Sun Devil backfield as a versatile, rugged runner and fluid pass catcher in Mike Norvell's offense over the past two seasons. Unfortunately for Grice, he suffered an injury against UCLA late in the season and never returned to the playing field.
Despite earning an invitation to the NFL Combine two weeks ago, Grice did not participate in running drills leaving scouts wondering whether he's worth taking a chance on in this draft. Grice is a gifted athlete, but a lingering injury coupled with a surplus of talent at the running back position leaves him in a tough spot. If he runs at ASU's Pro Day and doesn't perform well, his stock will continue to plummet. But if Grice takes the field and impresses, he can once again climb up draft boards.
Grice is also one of the most debated running backs in this year's draft. During the height of his senior campaign, some experts listed the Sun Devil great as a possible second or third round pick. Following his injury, a few people feel he has slipped out of the draft altogether. Grice has his doubters, but a strong Pro Day could give him the opportunity to turn the tide of his draft stock.
Can Will Sutton improve his numbers?
As Todd Graham preached about the importance of Sutton's leadership last season, the All-American defensive tackle's numbers continued to drop. Graham insisted Sutton was still an important piece to the puzzle, but some fans were disgruntled with Sutton's lack of tangible production on the stat sheet.
After evaluating Sutton over the course of a full season, we believe he has the motor and strength to be a force at the NFL level. His underwhelming statistics (13.5 tackles for loss, 4.0 sacks in 2013) don't tell the entire story. Sutton faced considerably stronger opposition than he did in 2012, and he also faced double teams against a number of outstanding offensive lines.
Against Wisconsin, Sutton went up against a pair of mammoth linemen for an extended period of play and while he didn't give the Sun Devils the sack numbers they were accustomed to seeing from him, he did create penetration in the backfield that led to defensive stops. That type of performance was indicative of the season Sutton had, even though his playing weight ballooned to about 310 pounds. Now, Sutton says he's closer to 300 pounds and wants to continue losing weight.
For Sutton, any improvement in his running numbers at Pro Day will help him out. Once considered a first or second round player, Sutton could drop as low as the fourth round of the NFL Draft after posting a 5.36 in the 40-yard dash and a 7.93 in the 3-cone drill at the NFL Combine. It's easier said than done to shrink those numbers in a matter of two weeks, but perhaps the change of environment and a more familiar atmosphere at Sun Devil Stadium could help.
Who could turn into a late round steal?
Sutton, Bradford and Grice will have their names reappear on mock drafts and news reports throughout the two months leading up to the draft, but those three aren't the only Sun Devils with the capabilities of earning an NFL roster spot.
Arizona State won the Pac-12 South in a division loaded with talent, and division titles aren't won on chemistry alone. Yes, the Sun Devils have a lot of returning talent, but somewhere in the Sun Devils' most recent batch of graduates lurks a "glue guy" or player who helped turn this team into a contender.
The NFL Draft story lines don't focus on "effort guys" and late round steals, they circle around the top 50-100 players. That means that plenty of future NFL starters and contributors won't receive the media attention they might garner in the future.
Of all the Sun Devils looking to make a run at an NFL roster, two of the players with a chance to make a splash are Chris Coyle and Alden Darby. Both players had outstanding careers at Arizona State, and both are likely too small to be considered playmakers in the NFL.
Coyle entered the 2013 season weighing just 240 pounds, and spent most of his season earning blocking assignments. Coyle can be successful if a team uses him as a back-up tight end, in pass-catching scenarios. He burst onto the scene with 57 catches in 2012, and his soft hands can render him a difference-maker. If a team has a need for a two-tight end set, Coyle can be an excellent sparkplug.
As for Darby, the 5-foot-11 senior weighed less than 200 pounds last season and doesn't have a prototypical NFL body type. What Darby does have is a passion to succeed and the work ethic to survive at the next level. Darby's leadership will earn him a spot at a fall camp because teams want players with the willingness to give their all around an organization. If Darby stays true to his principles, he could begin his career as a special teams player and work his way into a niche role later on.