Arizona State’s 2023 NFL Draft hopefuls led by Emory Jones and Merlin Robertson

Arizona State is currently swimming in choppy waters. The NCAA has opened an investigation into alleged recruiting violations by head coach Herm Edwards’ staff. Since then, the Sun Devils have lost five assistant coaches, including the two coordinators. Nevertheless, their players are still expected to perform. Who are Arizona State’s best in 2023 NFL Draft prospects, and can they succeed despite the turmoil of the program?

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Arizona State prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft

Arizona State finished 8-5 with a Las Vegas Bowl birth last year. And yet, the season was widely experienced as a disappointment. From now on, the cloud of controversy hangs over the school stadium. With nine players on the Shrine Bowl 1000, there’s definitely talent in the locker room, even after several top players have been transferred.

Emory Jones, QB

After three years of part-time action in Florida, it was time for Emory Jones to shine in 2021. Only he didn’t really shine, which led to Anthony Richardson stealing the starting role. Now at Arizona State, Jones hopes to translate his immense physical ability into production on the field.

His legs are currently his biggest feature as he is still developing as a passer and processor. Still, teams covet his tools, and showing an improvement in his throwing mechanics and progressions could solidify his stock as a late-round development QB.

Xazavian Valladay, RB

After more than 3,000 career rushing yards, Xazavian Valladay left cold Wyoming for the Arizona desert. His slender 6’0″, 200-pound frame won’t break many frontal tackles, but Valladay can make defenders miss in the open. His long speed and acceleration make him a big game threat on any given carry. NFL decision makers will notice if he continues his dominance on the field at the Power Five level.

Cam Johnson, WR

Transfers continue as Cam Johnson leaves Vanderbilt to become one of the top three receiving options at Arizona State. The former four-star high school rookie has produced more than 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns over the past three years. His best season came in 2020 – his first as a main slot weapon. If Johnson can get back to that form and show his ability after the catch, a team may be willing to pull the trigger later in the draft.

Bryan Thompson and Andre Johnson, WR

A pair of 6’3″ wide receivers, Bryan Thompson and Andre Johnson return for another season in Tempe. Thompson was traded from Utah a year ago but had just 13 receptions for 129 yards and zero scores. Even with a vastly superior campaign in 2022, his best path to the NFL is as a UDFA.

Meanwhile, Johnson should start after flashing body control and strong hands with a few clicks. Come mid-season, Johnson could become Jones’ No. 1 target and increase his stock.

LaDarius Henderson, G

It will largely be a new offensive line for the Sun Devils, with LaDarius Henderson and Ben Scott the only returning starters. Henderson boasts excellent height at 6’5″ and 310 pounds. He made progress as a pass and run blocker last year, especially comparing his strip to his previous campaigns. Henderson is a seasoned veteran and could entrench himself in the draft conversation with another stellar outing.

Ben Scott, C.

Scott played out of position at right tackle last season, and it showed. He struggled tremendously in pass protection and committed the most penalties along the offensive line (nine). However, Scott has crippled defenders in the ground game, and kicking inside center in 2022 should only increase his draft position.

Chris Martinez, G

Starting on one of the best offensive lines in the Group of Five (San Diego State) last season, Chris Martinez is looking to strengthen ASU’s top five. He has experience at both guard positions but is not overly imposing, exceptionally athletic or technically refined. So, he has to take his game to new heights to hear his name called next April.

Des Holmes, OT

After four seasons at Penn State, Des Holmes is aiming to land a starting role with the Sun Devils in 2022. He played the most snaps of his career in 2019 at left tackle. With shots in every OL position outside the center, he could replace wherever ASU needs him.

Still, the former Nittany Lion hasn’t shown enough to earn a selection in the 2023 NFL Draft. There’s a non-zero chance Holmes will burst onto the scene as a late bloomer, but only time will tell. .

Travez Moore, EDGE

Stuck behind a loaded EDGE depth chart at LSU for three seasons, Travez Moore sought playing time at Arizona State in 2021. And he rewarded them for the opportunity — until he couldn’t anymore.

Moore destroyed offensive tackles, generating pressure and easily giving the run defense the lead. But a knee injury ended his season after just three games. However, if Moore can pick up where he left off, he will enjoy notoriety in the 2023 cycle.

Anthony Cooper and Michael Matus, EDGE

Anthonie Cooper and Michael Matus are cut from the same EDGE cloth – 6’2″ and 260+ pounds. Both served in rotational roles but received starts in 2021. Cooper, weighing 15 pounds heavier, saw more reps in the B gap and on tackles. Still, he created more penetration in nearly 100 fewer shots than Matus.

Cooper’s best move to make it to the pros is to switch to full-time defensive tackle while gaining weight. Unfortunately, Matus will have a tougher road as it looks like his frame is nearing his limit without skipping the athleticism.

Nesta Jade Silvera and Tautala Pesefea Jr., DT

Miami (FL) transfers Nesta Jade Silvera and Tautala Pesefea Jr. lead Arizona State’s DT room. Jade Silvera has missed a few tackles over the years, but he more than makes up for it with his prowess as a run defender and passing passer. The box score doesn’t do justice to Jade Silvera (just two sacks) as he consistently makes an impact down the middle.

2021 was Pesefea’s first with important shots. While his game didn’t wow, he’s got a solid frame at 6’4″ and 315 pounds. Still, he will have to prove he can use that height to his advantage this year to command attention in the 2023 class.

Merlin Robertson, LB

Merlin Robertson began his collegiate career as a linebacker/edge rusher hybrid. Although he’s moved into a starring LB role, that versatility is easy to see. Robertson works well downhill, filling gaps and sifting through traffic. Plus, he has the strength and length to set the edge, forcing RBs back inside.

Robertson’s lack of fluidity in space raises concerns in coverage. That may limit him to a first and second down defenseman, but he hasn’t allowed passes for more than 30 yards in four seasons, and his six interceptions are nothing to scoff at.

Kyle and Connor Soelle, LB

Robertson garners all the recognition from the ASU linebacking corps, but Kyle Soelle is a strong player in his own right. He tackles well in the box and has even shown his passing prowess when given the chance. Plus, he showed anticipation in coverage, reading the QB’s eyes and keeping potential receivers ahead of him.

Connor joined ASU as a security but slowly transitioned to a full-time LB. He hasn’t played much in three seasons, but with an empty starting spot next to his brother and Robertson, Connor could prove his worth in an expanded role in 2022. Until then, he’s not on the cards. NFL draft radar.

Timarcus Davis and Keon Markham, BC

With Jack Jones and Chase Lucas now in the NFL, Timarcus Davis and Keon Markham will need to step up. Davis is actually exceptional against the run, going down in support and knocking down running backs. He is a long 6’0″ with a good burst to the ball in coverage. Proving his worth as ASU’s CB1 could propel him into the 2023 NFL Draft discussion.

As for Markham, we just haven’t seen enough of it yet. Over the past two years, he’s logged just over 100 snaps in total. He’s a well-built 6’0″ and 200 pounds with two years of eligibility remaining. So even if Markham plays well in 2022, chances are he will return for his final season.

Ro Torrence and Tarik Luckett, BC

The Sun Devils also receive secondary reinforcements in Ro Torrence and Tarik Luckett. Both are massive corners that were only recently transferred from the JUCO circuit. Torrence (6’3″, 210 lbs) played with Auburn in 2021 after a stint at Hutchinson CC. Luckett (6’2″, 205) rebounded from Colorado to Cisco CC last year. There is untapped potential within both CBs, and it’s up to Coach Edwards and Co. to unlock it.

Jordan Clark, DB

ASU starting corner Jordan Clark is the son of former Pittsburgh Steelers guard Ryan Clark. His father went undrafted before becoming a Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion. So even if Jordan is to reach the league as an UDFA, he has the perfect in-house mentor.

Clark improved dramatically as a tackle last season and is becoming his own as a covering defenseman. 2022 could be his coming out party after circling behind Jones and Lucas for the past two years.

Chris Edmonds and Khoury Bethley, S

Both Chris Edmonds and Khoury Bethley won the Shrine Bowl 1000, and for good reason. Needing to replace their entire secondary first-team squad, the Sun Devils have reached the transfer portal for new talent. Edmonds brings a respectable resume from Samford. A 6’2″, 214-pound FCS All-American, he had four interceptions a season ago.

Bethley was also a star at her old school. A three-year starter in Hawaii, he earned All-Mountain West honors and has more than 2,500 career snaps to his name. He lined up more last season which resulted in further disruption. With his versatility, it will be interesting to see how ASU uses him this year. Nonetheless, he and Edmonds could be worthy of late-round capital after some quality campaigns.

Kejuan Markham and Willie Harts, S.

Twin brother to Keon, Kejuan Markham’s experience provides much-needed stability at the back for the Sun Devils. He will compete with Edmonds and Bethley for a starting spot. After a lackluster 2021 season, if Markham doesn’t earn first-team reps, he’ll likely be on the outside looking for the NFL Draft.

Willie Harts is best known in Tempe for his pick of six against Florida State in the 2019 Sun Bowl. However, injuries have largely sidelined him since. As a redshirt junior in a rebuilt secondary, this could be Harts’ last chance to grab a meaningful role.

James Fragoza is a writer and editor at Pro Football Network. You can read his other work here and follow him on Twitter @JamesFragoza.