Arizona State football could have the most NFL draft picks in a decade

Arizona State football coach Herm Edwards saw the NFL Draft from all sides. He was not drafted but went on to have a brilliant playing career in the NFL. He was an NFL head coach and worked in the media before taking over as head coach of the Sun Devils in 2018.

So he knows the ins and outs of the writing process from every angle. That will come in handy as nearly a dozen ASU players could end up in NFL training camp in the fall.

The draft begins Thursday (first round), continues Friday (second and third) and runs through Saturday (fourth through seventh rounds) at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.

Edwards said he fielded calls about numerous players who contributed to last season’s 8-5 performance. Eight ASU players were invited to the NFL combines in Indianapolis last month, a good indicator that this should be the largest Sun Devils contingent drafted in the past decade.

ASU has had 254 players drafted, including at least one in each of the past eight years.

“I think we have 10 guys who are going to end up in training camp, either drafted or as a free agent,” Edwards said. “It’s exciting because that’s what these young men have dreamed of ever since they started playing the sport. And that’s what we’ve tried to do here, to prepare them for this opportunity.”

ASU had the largest contingent of players at the combine among Pac-12 schools. Sun Devils representatives included offensive linemen Kellen Diesh, Dohnovan West, cornerbacks Jack Jones and Chase Lucas, running back Rachaad White, linebacker Darien Butler, nose tackle DJ Davidson and tight end Curtis Hodges.

Rachaad White catches a pass during Pro Day, March 14, 2022, at ASU, Tempe, Arizona.

The only glaring omission was defensive end Tyler Johnson, effectively the only ASU All-Pac 12 first-team selection in the coaching ballot.

The most mentioned players when it comes to draft projections are Diesch and White, who are pegged for the fourth round by many pundits. White has achieved stellar numbers in his two seasons with the Sun Devils with his ability to factor the passing game into his favor as well.

But no ASU player has seen his stock grow faster than the 6-foot-7, 300-pound Diesch, who came to ASU two years ago from Texas A&M where he was a backup and became a coveted prospect.

Dohnovan West (right) and Kellen Diesch conduct a drill during Pro Day, March 14, 2022, at ASU, Tempe, Arizona.

Diesch, who started at left tackle, ran a 4.89 in the 40-yard dash at the combine that NFL research found was the second-fastest time by a player measuring over 6-7 and 300+ lbs to any combine since 2003.

“He’s a good athlete, light on his feet, nimble,” Edwards said of Diesch. “He’s long and 6-7. That size is something you can’t train. He fits the DNA you’re looking for in a guy in that position.”

West and Lucas have also been mentioned in several screenings. West started as a true freshman at guard in 2019 and moved to center last season, with that versatility, which Edwards says will go a long way in getting him on an NFL roster.

Lucas, a Chandler High School local, has started 49 games in his ASU career, one shy of all-time leader Dexter Davis, and has been the vocal leader of the defense in recent years.

When it comes to the other Sun Devils, the intangibles come into play. With Jones, it could be the well-documented off-field issues he had before coming to ASU. He seems to have made the most of the second chance given to him by Edwards and former defensive coordinator Antonio Pierce, Pierce having been Jones’ high school coach.

Edwards says when it comes to such issues, he’s honest with potential suitors.

“You tell them exactly where that player is, where he is, where he might need help,” Edwards said. “I was in the room (when the Jets head coach) and we were thinking about signing a guy and we were calling players on our team, guys that we knew were highly respected by their peers and we said, ‘ “Hey what do you think if we draft this guy. You gather all the information and make the best decision for your football team.”

October 16, 2021;  Salt Lake City, Utah, USA;  Utah Utes running back TJ Pledger (5) is tackled by Arizona State Sun Devils linebacker Darien Butler (20) during the second quarter at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

As for others, there may be an intangible over which they have no control, such as size. That’s another thing that could also work against Jones, who is slightly short for a corner at 5-10 and 175 pounds.

Height is also probably the biggest factor in the 5-10 Butler not being more popular, although it’s something he’s dealt with his entire sports career. The Southern California native wasn’t a hot prospect out of high school, but became a four-year starter with the Sun Devils. He had a stellar senior season after shrinking and building muscle in the offseason and was considered the heart and soul of the defense.

Size is something that works in favor of Hodges, who at 6-7 is a towering figure for a tight end, but the Mesa Mountain View product has struggled with injuries in his ASU tenure, a factor that works against him.

Edwards says it’s a matter of players finding the right fit.

“You’re looking for the right player for what you’re doing and that’s not the same for every team,” Edwards said. “But it only takes one team to really love what you do and see you as a good fit for them. I’m excited to see where our players end up.”

Contact the reporter at [email protected] or 602 444-4783. Follow her on Twitter @MGardnerSports.

Subscribe to azcentral.com today.