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ASU Football: Which Sun Devils to watch in the 2017 NFL Draft

There isn’t much debate who Arizona State’s best draft prospect is. But where do Zane Gonzalez and the other Sun Devil alums fit in the NFL Draft picture?

NCAA Football: Washington State at Arizona State Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

It’s officially #DraftSzn.

Thursday marks the kickoff of one of the greatest days in the NFL calendar.

As the 2017 NFL Draft opens its doors in Philadelphia tonight, every team in the league — regardless of 2016 results or 2017 prospects — enters the draft knowing the right array of selections will either help maintain their winning ways or to find success.

One can’t forget that the draft is also the culmination of lifelong dedication and work for the young men who will hear their names called over the course of the weekend.

Arizona State saw two of its former stars selected in 2016 as Christian Westerman and Devin Lucien landed with the Bengals and Patriots respectively. Four-year stalwart D.J. Foster joined Lucien in New England as an undrafted free agent, and the pair walked away from their first year as professionals on the game’s mountain top as the Patriots won the Super Bowl.

The Sun Devils only have one player who enters the draft weekend with confidence he’ll be selected, but other notable former Sun Devils are poised to earn opportunities to prove themselves in NFL training camps and possibly land a spot on a roster come Week one.

Who are ASU’s best draft prospects, and where do they project at the next level?

Zane Gonzalez - K

We’ll get this one out the way early. Gonzalez is the reigning Lou Groza Award winner, the all-time NCAA field goal leader and the only Sun Devil who can rest assured that he’ll be selected sometime over the course of the draft.

Gonzalez’s senior year in Tempe was his finest as a Sun Devil connecting on 23 of his 25 attempts and knocking through an eye-popping 7-9 from beyond 50 yards. Gonzalez’s worst season at ASU came in 2015, and even then he was still 26-34 — hitting a 76.5% clip that ranked better than numerous NFL kickers that season.

It’s one thing that he’s showed an ability to be consistent from long-distance, but Gonzalez’s nearly-automatic status inside 50 yards is what separates him from the pack of kickers entering the draft. Since moving the distance for an extra point back from 20 to 33 yards, NFL kickers have seen a steady decline in their effectiveness on what used to be considered an automatic point. All but four teams have endured at least one missed extra point over the course of the 2016 season.

Gonzalez is consistent, and consistency is paramount to being a successful NFL kicker. Will he be picked as high as the second round like Roberto Aguayo was last season? Likely not. But Gonzalez will hear his name called. CBS Sports ranks him as a prospect who’ll come off the board between rounds 4-5, while ESPN’s Todd McShay rates him as a seventh-round pick and the only kicker in this year’s draft class who won’t have to find work as an UDFA.

Tim White - WR

White’s redshirt senior season wasn’t as prolific as his 2015 campaign as he missed a pair of games with injury and recorded only two receiving touchdowns after an eight touchdown output the prior season.

He was still electric on a game-to-game basis for the Sun Devils, and he possesses the rare ability to break a big play every time he touches the ball. Sun Devil fans will remember his punt return in 2015 to pull ASU back within breathing room of Washington State — a play in which he zigged and zagged his way through the entire Cougar special teams unit.

White may have been a dangerous collegiate player, to play at the next level he’ll likely have to earn his way into the league through an UDFA contract. CBS Sports rates him as the 79th-highest receiver in this year’s class. For context’s sake, the lowest receiver on CBS Sports’ prospect list projected to be drafted is ranked No. 41.

Things are bleak for White regarding getting drafted, but his elite athleticism and pure speed will surely intrigue someone enough to give him a call following the conclusion of the seventh round, and we’ll see White in a training camp somewhere. If he can bring his special teams prowess to whichever club picks him up, he has a chance of sticking around. We’ll see.

Evan Goodman - G

Unlike his former linemate Westerman last season, Goodman will have to wait until after the draft is over to find out where he’s headed next. The former ASU left tackle started 23 games for the Sun Devils, but his projects as an offensive guard to the next level. CBS Sports rates him as the 33rd-highest rated guard in the draft, and he’s projected to be signed as an UDFA.

Moving positions to make it at the NFL level, Goodman’s not a good bet to make it onto an active roster come September. But offensive line is a position group that teams always like to keep extra depth at, and the opportunity to earn himself a slot on a team’s practice squad will be once he’s found himself a training camp home.

Villami Moeakiola - SS

Similar to Goodman and White, it’ll be through the UDFA route that Moeakiola will try and assert himself as an NFL player. The former Sun Devil’s 6-foot, 210-pound frame is ideal for his position, but he lacks the high-end production in his collegiate career to highlight himself as a prospect worthy of being selected. Moeakiola should earn a training camp opportunity, but anything beyond that is out of the picture.