The phrase "diamond in the rough" has been attributed to Arizona State for so long it is easy to wonder if the Sun Devils are doomed to permanent status as a lump of coal. Not since Terrell Suggs was taken No. 10 overall in the 2003 NFL Draft has the school produced a first-round pick, a shocking drought considering its access to talent in Los Angeles and Phoenix. Former head coach Dennis Erickson gambled on high-end recruits with questionable character or academics, only to see the program implode from a lack of self control. Todd Graham is taking the opposite tack, stressing discipline. It worked in the win column in Graham's first season, but could take longer to lift its NFL returns.
Top senior prospects
DT Will Sutton: Sutton is a disruptive, quick three-technique that plays with great intensity. He erupted for 13 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss as a redshirt junior (had 3.5 sacks in previous two seasons). Sutton lacks ideal height for the position, which could give NFL teams pause and cast him as more of a part-time contributor in four-man fronts on passing downs.
RB Marion Grice: Grice proved to be a terrific all-purpose back (679 rushing yards, 425 receiving yards, 19 total touchdowns) in his first year after transferring from Blinn College. He is very elusive in the open field and a featured piece in the Sun Devils' screen game. Grice has never had more than 19 touches in a game, and looks like a passing-down contributor with upside.
OL Evan Finkenberg: Finkenberg shows great footwork and is at his best blocking downfield in the multiple screen passes that Arizona State's last two spread offenses have employed. He struggled with lightning-quick edge rushers, notably Dion Jordan (the No. 3 overall draft pick by the Miami Dolphins). Finkenberg has started 34 career games at left guard and left tackle.
TE Chris Coyle: Coyle is effective on short and intermediate routes, but rarely created separation in Pac-12 play. He is an underrated in-line blocker despite playing at 225-235 pounds. A slot receiver for the previous coaching staff, Coyle now works as an H-back and could intrigue NFL teams that feature the position.
RB D.J. Foster: The crown jewel of Graham's first recruiting class, Foster immediately carved out a role catching passes out of the backfield and from the slot (38 receptions for 533 yards and 4 touchdowns). He must become more disciplined between the tackles after trying to bounce most runs to the outside, but that should come as he gets bigger, stronger and more comfortable.
LB Carl Bradford: A natural pass rusher (11.5 sacks last season), Bradford will line up in multiple spots to create favorable matchups. A fullback in high school, he brings a very physical approach to the game. Bradford doesn't have a ton of seasoning dropping into coverage, but he hasn't been asked to do much of it either.
QB Taylor Kelly: Kelly entered the competition to replace Brock Osweiler as the forgotten man, only to claim the starting job and prove to be an efficient dual-threat weapon. He had 29 touchdown passes against nine interceptions while completing 67.1 percent of his throws, even after a midseason slump. Kelly won't blow anyone away with his arm strength, but has enough tools to be an option for West Coast-inspired offenses.
Three must-see games of 2013
Sept. 14 vs. Wisconsin: The Badgers want to run power, which means running directly into Sutton anchoring the center of the Sun Devils' defense. Sutton can ease some of those concerns about his size against a beefy offensive line that always features NFL talent.
Sept. 28 vs. USC: Considering the late-season defensive implosion that torpedoed the Trojans' season, it remains shocking that the Sun Devils were somehow held to 71 rushing yards (2 yards per carry) in a loss at the Coliseum last year. The Arizona State run game must set the tenor early against a talented USC front anchored by defensive tackle Leonard Williams and outside linebacker Morgan Breslin in this key Pac-12 South contest.
Oct. 5 vs. Notre Dame (in Arlington, Texas): In one of the three regular-season college football games that will be played at AT&T Stadium (formerly Cowboys Stadium) this year, Finkenberg will have his hands full with Irish powerhouse defensive end Stephon Tuitt, a mammoth specimen.