NFL Draft analyst John Vogel previews the Arizona State Sun Devils ahead of the 2021 season. Predictions, pre-season grades, and more:
The Arizona State Sun Devils only played four games last season, finishing 2-2, but were fiercely competitive in every matchup. This team learned a lot about being able to close out games in 2020. I expect them to come out with an edge in 2021 ahead of most of the other teams in the PAC-12.
Suppose one man can be attributed to breathing life into the program, its former NFL head coach and ESPN analyst Herm Edwards. After taking the head coaching position, Edwards has killed recruiting compared to recent memory and produced more NFL talent from Arizona State. His spread style scheme has developed talent at an extraordinary rate. Edwards has used both the talent already on the roster and managed to keep this team young. He’s done an extraordinary job with ASU.
Arizona State faces a formidable BYU (Sep. 18th) on the road, but the Mormons lost loads of talent to the NFL last year. In the conference, the road games at Utah (Oct. 16th) and Washington (Nov. 13th) will prove arduous tests. They have USC (Nov. 6th) at home.
QB Jayden Daniels (Jr)
#5 | HT: 6’2″ | WT: 180 | High School: Cajon (San Bernardino, CA)
Jayden Daniels was a lot of fun to study on tape. He’s an exciting young prospect, very athletic and explosive, almost Lamar Jackson-esque. He shows ample arm strength and is a great leader in the Sun Devils locker room. It’s clear on film that he has a fun-loving personality and enjoys the game tremendously.
He’s got a lot of growing to do before he’s really a legitimate NFL quarterback prospect. Literally and figuratively. He has a very slender frame and looks more like a basketball player. That’s fine, and the NFL will want to see him put on some more weight. He’s not particularly accurate in throwing the ball. While he flashes some excellent placement ability – he’s still a good bit away from being consistent with it. Lastly, he has a bad habit of stepping out of throws while under pressure. His arm strength isn’t nearly strong enough to get away with it. There is a lot to like but lots of room to grow for Daniels.
Pre Season Grade: 5th/7th Round.
OT Kellen Diesch (6-Sr)
#74 | HT: 6’6″ | WT: 290 | High School: Byron Nelson (Trophy Club, TX)
I very much enjoyed watching Kellen Diesch on film. The Arizona State Sun Devils left tackle last season. A transfer from Texas A&M, Diesch enters his sixth season in the NCAA after being granted an extra season of eligibility due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Diesch enters the 2021 season with four starts under his belt with the Sun Devils. He was a backup for the Aggies, appearing in 21 games in his first three years, including all 12 in 2019.
Texas A&M had an excellent offensive line while he was there, so I don’t believe his lack of starting experience there will hurt him. In the four games that he played in 2020, he was the best and most consistent offensive lineman on the team. He’s a polished pass protector with excellent bend and lateral ability. He’s long, and he can absorb a lot of punishment. I don’t think his run blocking was great, as he would miss blocks from time to time, but he flashed an ability to work into the second level. Diesch would be an excellent depth piece to have immediately in the league, but I think his age will bring doubts about any potential upside.
Pre Season Grade: 3rd/4th Round.
Arizona State Sun Devils defense led by Off LB Merlin Robertson (Sr)
#8 | HT: 6’2″ | WT: 245 | High School: Juniper Serro (Carson, CA)
Merlin Robertson is the player I have genuinely come away from most impressed by this Arizona State Sun Devils team. Yes, he has a first-round pre-season grade. You see, for linebackers to hear their name announced in the first round in this modern-day era, that linebacker has to be proficient at three skills and traits. First, he has to show excellent instincts. Robertson checks that off, consistently being in the proper position to make the play. Next, you have to be a good tackler. Robertson is just that, at times vicious. Lastly, you have to be good in pass coverage. Yes, Robertson is a stud in pass coverage.
He has the proper size (6’2″ 245) to be excellent. He’s listed on Ourlads as an edge rusher on the depth chart, so as I assessed him, I went from considering him an edge rusher to a RUSH edge to an off-ball linebacker. I truly believe he has the skillset to thrive in any of those positions but will be most effective in a 4-3 defense off the ball. He has fluid hips and does pretty much anything you ask of him. He’s going to be very highly valued in 2022— Mark my words.
Pre Season Grade: 1st Round.
CB Chase Lucas
#24 | HT: 5’11” | WT: 175 | High School: Chandler (Chandler, AZ)
Chase Lucas is a fun cornerback to watch on tape. He’s an excellent open-field tackler and plays much larger than 5’11” and 175 pounds. He’s got excellent speed to stay with receivers, and he’s physical enough to provide issues while trying to run a route against him.
Lucas won’t test out of the water. There will be some players in this class in his position group who will. Lucas also tends to draw some pass interference calls from being too physical down the field. If he puts on some weight to his frame this season, Lucas could really boost his draft grade with a solid 2021 season.
Pre Season Grade: 2nd/3rd Round.
Slot CB Jack Jones (R-Sr)
#0 | HT: 5’9″ | WT: 170 | High School: Long Beach Poly (Long Beach, CA)
I really didn’t come in expecting to see very much from the Arizona State Sun Devils secondary, especially after I saw the sizes. Jack Jones played on the perimeter in 2020, and I expect him to be the “Asante Samuel Jr type” prospect of the 2022 NFL Draft class. His size most likely prevents him from playing on the boundary in the NFL. This projects him as a slot guy. Let me tell you, he’s an outstanding slot cornerback prospect.
Jones is physical throughout the matchup and, much like everyone on this team, brings run defense ability to his role. He’s physical, he’s fast, and he plays sticky coverage all the way through the repetition. The size will deter some teams, especially in an intense class, and the role of the small slot is becoming less important in the league. Jones is fun, though, and he’s going to have a lot of interest.
Pre Season Grade: 3rd/4th Round.
S DeAndre Pierce (R-Sr)
#2 | HT: 5’10” | WT: 180 | High School: Long Beach Poly (Long Beach, CA)
DeAndre Pierce was another secondary player whose film was delightful. Pierce plays very well downhill and is an excellent tackler. I liked his energy too. He plays with a lot of it.
The problem with Pierce is that unlike his teammate Evan Fields, Pierce doesn’t have nearly the same instincts. He makes many plays but is a little bit aggressive and is manipulated by more polished quarterbacks looking him off. His pursuit angles could leave some to be desired as well. His size will be troublesome to most NFL squads, who want bigger players in the secondary. Regardless, Pierce is a guy who contributes depth in the deep end immediately and can play special teams.
Pre Season Grade: 5th/7th Round.
S Evan Fields (R-Sr)
#4 | HT: 6’0″ | WT: 190 | High School: Midwest City (Oklahoma City, OK)
Evan Fields could end up being my favorite safety prospect in this class. This man is a monster on the football field. He shows incredible instincts as a deep safety and plays very well coming downfield. Athletically, he has everything that you want to see. He’s speedy and has excellent lateral quickness. His athletic numbers could pop some eyes. I can foresee Fields really shining during a week of practice at the Senior Bowl in February too.
There aren’t many weaknesses to Fields game at all. He’s a solid tackler. Evan Fields is consistently in the proper position to make plays, no matter where the play may take him on the field. The only thing that could be problematic is his size, which isn’t horrible. Many NFL defensive coaches prefer bigger, longer safeties than Fields is listed. I’m sure in the end, it won’t hurt him badly at all.
Pre Season Grade: 1st/2nd Round.