Arizona State's two potential second-day NFL Draft picks, Carl Bradford and Will Sutton, combined to be the program's best and most productive pass rush duo in many years. Here's a look at how they project to the next level.
Strengths: Few pass rushers in any NFL Draft class will have a better get off than Bradford, a player who has an elite ability to anticipate the snap and explode off the football. He is extremely quick to the edge, often beating offensive tackles to the spot before they can get into position to disrupt his speed rush. Getting such depth with his pass rush often provides more room for Bradford to operate and it enhances what are otherwise relatively average pass rush counters. Bradford converts speed to power relatively effectively and improved substantially in the last year and a half at lowering his inside hip and shoulder to fight inertia through bending the edge and get a better access angle into the backfield. For a player who has mostly played with his hand down, Bradford has pretty decent movement skills and footwork in short drops, and moves well with good short area burst moving laterally against the run out of a two-point stance. He's extremely strong, which allows him to get off blocks better than most players with his short arm span.
Weaknesses: Height and especially arm length are going to limit Bradford in some respects and serve as a barrier to being drafted earlier than he likely otherwise would be. Though he's very strong and has good leverage by being shorter than most at the position, Bradford is not a good bull rusher, partly due to not being good at getting into offensive tackles due to his short arms. Earlier in his ASU career Bradford struggled to pick up the previous coaching staff's scheme as a linebacker with regard to key reads, which might serve as a concern for teams projecting him to outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.
Overall assessment: Bradford is a very good prospect as a sub-package/third down pass rusher when playing with his hand in the ground and could prove to be a serviceable every down player as a 4-3 rush end given his trend arc improvement against the run in the last year and how strong he is coupled with his ability to close down to the ball in space. He's more explosive with his hand down than as a stand up edge rusher and while he's okay against the pass it won't be his forte, so we see less upside as a 3-4 outside backer even though that's becoming the more preferred defense in the NFL. He'll be at his best in a wide-9 technique as a pass rush specialist with his hand in the ground.
Strengths: Sutton earned prominence at the collegiate level primarily due to his impressive combination of suddenness and pad level, which enabled him to be a high level interior pass rusher. He often would simply beat offensive guards in 1-on-1 matchups by being lower and quicker to the gap on the shoulder of the lineman in such a way that the leverage battle was won almost immediately off the snap. When operating in space, Sutton also posses very quick hands and arm movement which enhance his other athletic advantages and enables him to put offensive players off-balance due to swim and displacement moves. When his initial movements successfully place him in the offensive backfield Sutton uses his stoutness, good hands and foot agility to locate and bring down quarterbacks or running backs post-handoff. Sutton isn't long armed, which works to his advantage at times because he gets into offensive linemen so quickly and can off-balance those players in a hurry. Questions about Sutton's character are largely unfounded. He'll prove to be very coachable and diligent about doing his work.
Weaknesses: An attack-styled interior rusher, Sutton has not demonstrated enough consistency or discipline with anchoring a gap, especially against physical high level run blockers and he's too easily displaced by double teams despite having a lower center of gravity due to being undersized. Sutton isn't physically strong for his position, which enables players to move him more easily than most 300-pound tackles at the NFL level, and frequently he can be moved in the direction he's going and out of plays, creating a more difficult responsibility for second level defenders against the run. There are limitations in terms of the type of scheme Sutton fits best in, as he's almost exclusively a 3-technique tackle in a 4-3 scheme that is very attack oriented. In teams that employ read and react fronts he has much less value. Not being lanky is limiting against the run in several aspects.
Overall assessment: In the right type of defense surrounded by other impressive pass rushers and especially in an aggressive -- and becoming increasingly less prevalent -- 4-3 scheme that employs a lot of blitzing, Sutton could flourish. Too much has been made about his weight in the last year and not enough about his actual limitations, which are more strength, ability to anchor and close down run lanes in his gap, as well as in-rep discipline (getting out of position to make a play) related. He's capable of being an athletic 300-310-pounder but has to be dedicated to the weight room and other habits.