NFL Draft Preview: UCLA vs. Arizona State
The Pac-12 has some good teams this year with plenty of draft able talent and the highlight is the Thursday night game of UCLA against Arizona State pitting one of the top underclass WRs going against some excellent defensive prospects.
Brett Hundley, Junior, UCLA
Brett Hundley is likely to be one of the most polarizing prospects in the 2015 or 2016 NFL Draft. Though he was injured last week, he looks likely to play against Arizona State and showcase his size and athletic ability. It is rare to get a 6’3 223 pound quarterback who has the arm to make NFL throws. The pure potential of Hundley could put him into the first round of the NFL Draft, though he still has struggles throwing accurately and reading defenses. Will a team take a chance high to develop him or could he fall due to lack of polish? If he plays through this game with his elbow injury with success, it could go a long way to establishing his toughness and putting him in the first round.
Taylor Kelly, Arizona State
Taylor Kelly unfortunately won’t be playing against UCLA due to a foot injury suffered against Colorado this season, but he is a prospect worth knowing. Kelly is on the smaller side, likely to come in just under 6’2 203 pounds, but he is mobile and excellent at rolling out in the pocket to throw the ball down the field. He has a gunslinger mentality, and often forces the ball into coverage leading to interceptions. Kelly is a tough player who takes plenty of shots and keeps going, and if he comes back healthy while effective, he could be a midround pick despite his size.
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De’Marieya Nelson, Arizona State
Nelson is a prototypical H-Back who can play TE and/or FB in the NFL. He has replaced record setting ASU TE Chris Coyle this year and has made the move from working primarily out of the back field (15 rushes last year,) to being in line. Nelson is on the smaller side at 6’2 235 pounds, but he has a high football IQ to find holes in the zone to make catches. His forte is in the blocking game where he has a low pad level and actually uses his lack of size to his advantage. Nelson has a lot of functional strength and decent anchor, but he isn’t the best athlete. The lack of size, speed, and athletic ability likely pushes him out of the draft, but he could be intriguing for a team to pick up as a free agent or take a chance on late.
Jaelen Strong, Redshirt Junior, Arizona State
Strong is the toast of the senior WR class. He has excellent size at 6’3 215 pounds with huge hands that help him secure footballs. Strong uses his big body to box out corners and has his most success going up for passes above his head and fighting for the hard ones. He is a long strider with solid speed, though he is unlikely to be a deep threat at the professional level. Strong has a similar game to Chargers WR Keenan Allen in how he uses his route running and hands to win man-to-man battles. With a good season and workouts, Strong could end up in the late first round, but is likely a solid second day pick.
Malcolm Bunche, UCLA
Bunche is a former Miami Hurricane who transferred to UCLA for graduate school and immediately has become their starting LT. He is massive at 6’7 327 pounds, and excels in the run game with a big anchor and lower body power. His pass protection leaves a lot to be desired and he struggled mightily last year against top pass rushers and that trend seems to continue. He is a major candidate to move inside to guard as a pro. It is rare to find a player with his size and functional run strength, so Bunche is a high upside pick in the later rounds.
Ellis McCarthy, Junior, DT, UCLA
McCarthy is one of the top interior defensive line prospects this year and for good reason. He has the body of a nose tackle (6’5 325 pounds,) with the snap quickness of a 3-technique. He has an excellent first step and creates disruptions in the backfield every drive. He has improved by leaps and bounds every year of his college career and will be versatile to play 5-tech, 3-tech, 1-tech or even 0-tech in some NFL systems. UCLA allows McCarthy to work to his strengths and rush the passer while collapsing the pocket. Keep an eye out for McCarthy to be a gamechanger against Arizona State.
Owamagbe Odighizuwa, DE, UCLA
Odighizuwa has been a name many looked to last year to have an impact, but multiple torn knee ligaments kept him off the field and back for his fifth year at UCLA. Early this season, Odighizuwa has flashed the potential he showed early in his college career. His long arms and big trunk lead to a solid combination of finesse and power to beat OTs and get pressure on the quarterback. His combination of athleticism and experience make him an intriguing midround candidate. He hasn’t lived up in terms of production (only has 6.5 sacks over his first three years starting and none so far this season, but he is a moldable prospect teams could fall in love with.
Eric Kendricks, UCLA
A leader on the UCLA defense, Eric Kendricks brings a solid combination of tackle production, coverage ability, and quickness to the table. Though only 230 pounds (and he may tip the scales under that this offseason,) Kendricks hits hard and wraps up bigger runners extremely well. He is a technician at the insider linebacker position and profiles to play inside in a 3-4 or at SAM in the NFL. He has good lateral quickness, though doesn’t always explode from his hips. The NFL seems to let undersized linebackers drop, often for no reason, but Kendricks plays like a top 50 pick. Look for his draft stock to be on the rise.
Anthony Jefferson, SS, UCLA
Jefferson is an undersized strong safety, only 190 pounds, without good speed. He is often a liability in coverage and could definitely have struggles at the NFL level. Jefferson does provide some special teams ability and could make the NFL in return coverage. A late rounder at best, he will need to improve on the field to improve his stock.
Damarious Randall, FS, Arizona State
Arizona State doesn’t have many defensive pro prospects, but Damarious Randall is a jitterbug safety who flows in and out of deep coverage. He is on the smaller side and doesn’t give you much in the run game, but as a special teamer and coverage reserve, Randall could be an intriguing prospect and playmaker. A late rounder a the moment, a good end of the season and offseason could move him up.