Five Sun Devils, one Wildcat receive invites to NFL scouting combine
The list is finalized for the 2018 NFL scouting combine, and six combined players between Arizona and Arizona State were invited to the pre-draft event.
Among the five Sun Devils and lone Wildcat, pre-combine analysis has been provided in addition to an estimated draft stock. Here are the players attending this year’s combine.
Dane Cruikshank – Safety
The sole member of the Arizona Wildcats headed to Indianapolis is the former JUCO product. Cruikshank came to Tucson as a cornerback but struggled to defend on the outside. Prior to his senior year, he made the switch to safety, a move that paid dividends as he recorded three interceptions, 5.5 tackles for loss and 75 total tackles.
Cruikshank is projected to be drafted in the sixth- to seventh-round range. According to Lance Zierlein of NFL.com, the athleticism of Cruikshank has helped his draft stock.
Height, weight, speed prospect who has a chance to be drafted off his measurables and Combine testing alone. His ability to run and hit could make him a Day 3 target for a team looking to turn him into a backup defensive back and special teams ace.
Kalen Ballage – Running back
Considered one of the more unique prospects, Ballage is a jack-of-all-trades back. At 6-foot-2 and 227 pounds, Ballage has the size to be an every-down player but lacks elusiveness and field vision.
He helped with a strong performance at the Senior Bowl.
Regardless, one aspect of his game that draws attention is versatility. Ballage returned kicks on special teams and was utilized out of slot and backfield as a pass catcher. Ballage caught 64 passes in his final two seasons with the Sun Devils on top of splitting carries.
“Mark this down. Nobody will be talking about him until he gets the Combine where he will lift well, run well and jump out of the stadium. Then, he’ll be the hot name,” an NFC team director of college scouting told NFL.com.
Projected as a fifth- or sixth-round pick, Ballage is the most likely player from ASU to be drafted. However, his role at the next level is uncertain, according to Zierlein.
Ballage can do a little of this and a little of that, but a team will need to have a clear-cut plan for how to use him. Ballage’s size and athletic ability will appeal to teams as will his ability to play on third downs and return kicks.
Sam Jones – Offensive guard
Jones is one of three Sun Devils to declare early following the firing of former head coach Todd Graham. As a redshirt junior, he was an All-Pac-12 honorable mention after starting 13 games at left guard.
Jones has shown quickness as a blocker and good movement but lacks the strength and size of a prototypical offensive lineman. With a thin frame, he has had difficulty maintaining his weight and recently weighed in at 290 pounds, a lean number for a lineman.
Projected as a seventh rounder or priority free agent, it appears Jones will need to develop more strength to have success at the next level, according to Zierlein.
Jones will have to play in a zone-scheme rushing attack to try and mitigate his strength deficiencies, but his issues carrying weight on his frame could haunt him on the next level.
Demario Richard – Running back
One of the more physical runners in the Pac-12, Richard’s style of play embodies all the characteristics of a power back. He posted two 1,000-yard seasons at ASU, averaging over five yards per carry both times.
Despite his size (5-foot-10, 219 pounds), Richard flashed an ability to make defenders miss in the gaps while using his strength to break tackles. Lacking a burst, he became overly reliant on charging into the back of his offensive line rather than trying to find space.
Richard is not expected to be drafted but his physicality and strength make him an enticing priority free agent.
Christian Sam – Inside linebacker
After a foot injury sidelined him for nearly all of the 2016 season, Sam came back in a big way. He was second in the nation with 87 solo tackles and finished the year with 127 total tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and three sacks.
Sam showed good awareness as plays developed and was a key cog in the ASU run defense. Despite recording a pair of pass breakups, his impact in stopping the run outweighed his production in coverage.
With a year of eligibility remaining, Sam’s early departure was questioned by some. He currently has no draft projection.
JoJo Wicker – Defensive end
The third of three early entrants for Arizona State, Wicker was arguably the most productive during his time in Tempe. He left ASU as a Freshman All-American and two-time All-Pac-12 second team member. Wicker had 31.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks in three seasons. He also recorded 81 stops in his final two years.
With a great burst off the edge, the 6-foot-3, 273-pound Wicker was a problem for offensive tackles despite being slightly undersized. He showed presence as the premier run-stopper for the Sun Devils and was also able to disrupt the pocket.
Although he does not have a current projection set, his skill set could land him a spot as a priority free agent on a team that runs a 3-4 defense.
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