Editor: Devils In Detail is pleased to welcome our newest contributing writer, Rob Malara. Rob and co-host Don Hansen create Arizona State football podcasts for ASUDevilsDen.com. We look forward to Rob’s ongoing insights into Sun Devil football.
With the 2013 NFL Combine reaching its completion, now is as good of a time as any to look back at in-state recruits who got away from the ASU Sun Devils during the days of the Dennis Erickson Era circa ’08-’09 and how their draft stock fares going forward. Head football coach Todd Graham talks about building fences to keep local talent from leaving home, and its former Arizona high school players like those listed below who make it imperative that a greater emphasis be placed on securing this talent year-in and year-out.
Dion Jordan (DE/LB) Oregon
Jordan was a Top 10 recruit in-state, four-star receiver out of Chandler High who was just a giant at the WR/TE position for the Wolves. Jordan was recruited by both ASU and U of A, choosing to get away from home and head out-of-state to the comfy confines of Eugene with the Ducks. Recruited by Robin Pflugrad, father of former ASU WR Aaron Pflugrad, his frame continued to grow, to the tune of thirty plus pounds, as he put weight on his 6’6′ body and moved from wide receiver, to tight end, to a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker for Ducks Defensive Coordinator Nick Aliotti.
Jordan missed his first pro audition at the Senior Bowl after undergoing surgery to repair his labrum, but his resume speaks for itself. Jordan was All-Pac-12 his junior year with 42 tackles, 7.5 sacks, with 13 tackles for loss, and he followed it up this past season with another 40 plus tackle campaign, 5 sacks, and 10.5 tackles for loss after losing parts of three games due to injury. He was an outstanding not simply as a pass rusher, but also excelled in chasing down plays from the backside.
2013 Combine Results: You knew Jordan was going to fly and he did not disappoint with a 4.60-40 (third among all defensive linemen) but did not lift due to his impending shoulder surgery. He then added the fourth best broad jump of his group. Jordan was the talk of Day 3 among all defensive linemen.
2013 Draft Prediction: Mike Mayock gushed over Jordan the entire day of drills on Monday. He talked about how if Jordan could wrap up his surgery and add weight, he could be the most athletic outside pass rusher in the draft. As of today, Mel Kiper has Jordan rated as a Top 5 pick. 6’7″ / 245-pound outside linebackers with speed and athleticism don’t exactly grow on trees. If they could get past injury concerns, the Jets could look at Jordan at the ninth pick overall to land the pass rusher that has evaded Rex Ryan so far in his tenure. But, more than likely, Jordan will miss mini-camp and OTAs and just make it back from surgery before training camp begins. He needs to be able to show on tape that his power and tackling ability match his speed and overall athleticism.
NFL Comparison: Aldon Smith – San Francisco 49ers, Julian Peterson – Detroit Lions / Seattle Seahawks / San Francisco 49ers.
Markus Wheaton (WR) Oregon St.
The Beavers all-time leader in receptions will be remembered as an athlete coming out of Chandler High in 2009 who did a bit of everything. Wheaton played defensive back, wide receiver, and running back — not to mention winning a lot of attention for his track abilities. He took his fair share of visits out of state before committing finally to the Beavers.
Wheaton was front-and-center in his team’s re-dedication to winning during 2012 after multiple seasons of disappointment, which caused some to question the job security of Mike Riley during the off-season. Wheaton and Brandin Cooks teamed to put together dual 1,000 receiving years under two signal callers and give the Beavers the best wideout combination found north of Los Angeles.
2013 Combine Results: It’s tough for anyone to match what West Virginia’s Tavon Austin did in the WR group. In a normal year, Wheaton’s 4.45-40 would probably have been Top 10, but this was the year of amazing 40 times among wide receivers with four running sub 4.4 times. Wheaton showed off his strength, finishing third in the group with 20 reps on the bench and 37-inch vertical jumps. He has good arm length to grab balls over the top of small receivers and create separation.
2013 Draft Prediction: Wheaton’s average size proves just enough to go with his track star speed. He has the ability to blow the top off two-deep zones and keep defenses honest. He will also come to appreciate the screen game he learned under Mike Riley’s offense that will help him out greatly in the pros. While Wheaton can be out-muscled off the line, he should start off as a slot WR in the NFL and work his way into a starting role depending on the system. His showing on the bench will only help his future coaches dream on his improvement in this area.
As long as Wheaton runs well on his pro day, there is no reason to believe he won’t be a Day 2 pick at worst.
NFL Comparison: Antonio Brown – Pittsburgh Steelers, DeSean Jackson – Philadelphia Eagles
Marc Anthony (CB) Cal
According to Rivals, Anthony was a bigger man-style 4-star corner out of Chandler High who received offers from nearly every Pac-10 school at the time, as well as perennial powerhouses Michigan and Nebraska to name just a few. While he was recruited by Grady Stretz for ASU as one of the top 20 corners in the country, he ended up signing with the Cal Bears. Anthony brings to the table a high number of starts in his Cal career starting midway through his sophomore year for head coach Jeff Tedford. Anthony’s size, combined with the athleticism of Speedy Williams, made this pair one of the better corner combos in the Pac-12 over the past two seasons as the more positive players in a very inconsistent 3-4 defense.
2013 Combine Results: Anthony didn’t blow anyone away on Day 4 of the Combine, running a 4.63-40 — the second slowest time of all cornerback participants. His broad and vertical jumps achieved Top 20 status, but his 20-yard shuttle time showed the agility is definitely there.
2013 Draft Prediction: Anthony has the physical attributes you look for in a starting NFL corner, but his 40-speed could scare off scouts along with durability concerns. That being said, you have to like his coverage skills as a guy you can coach up and call on as a spot starter down the line — at least as a stop gap.
With improved foot speed in private workouts, Anthony could move up from a projected Day 3 pick to a Top 15 corner in this draft.
NFL Comparison: Bradley Fletcher – St. Louis Rams, Jabari Greer – New Orleans
Sean Renfree (QB) Duke
Renfree was offered by Dennis Erickson during the 2008 recruiting season, but in the end chose Duke as a Top 10 talent in-state recruit. Erickson subsequently signed Jack Elway, son of John. Renfree threw 41 touchdowns during his senior year at Notre Dame Prep in Scottsdale and was one of the better pro-style quarterbacks entering the college ranks. He was a three-year starter at Duke and set the school completion record during his junior year. While his college career peaked at the right time, Renfree suffered a torn right pectoral muscle during Duke’s bowl game forcing him to miss much of the following season.
2013 Combine Results: Renfree did not participate in the combine as he was still rehabbing his injury.
2013 Draft Prediction: The Duke jersey and the number 19 Renfree wore with the Blue Devils remind me of the black and white footage of Johnny Unitas back in the day. But the comparisons end there. All signs point towards this being a weak quarterback draft. But, then again, how can you fairly rate these guys against the likes of players selected early on in the 2012 NFL Draft? Renfree has a very good arm and pocket presence but fell prey to making bad decisions with the football through extended periods in 2012 and playing on an underachieving team. On the positive end, he played in a pro-style offense under QB guru David Cutcliffe, so it’s certainly a possibility that he could become a solid backup a few years down the road as long as his throwing arm is back up to snuff after the surgery. Renfree could sneak into Day 3 (as Mel Kiper has suggested) as a pick for a team looking to add a developmental player to go with their vets at the position.
NFL Comparison: Derek Anderson – Carolina Panthers, Matt Hasselback – Tennesee Titans
Jeff Locke (P) UCLA
A Parade All-American out of Mountain Ridge, Locke was considered one of the best kickers in the country when he committed to Rick Neuhisal’s UCLA Bruins during the summer of 2007. While Locke was offered by ASU, he was a solid commit early on in the recruiting season.
2013 Draft Prediction: While he doesn’t have a leg to match Josh Hubner, the name of the game for Locke is hang time and ball placement. He’s one of those punters who could last a long time because he already excels at the nuances of the position. Just ask former All-Pro punter Sean Landetta about that.
Locke will either be a late Day 3 pick or a quick-to-sign, undrafted free agent.