Sun Devil Science: ASU in the NFL Draft – OL
To wrap up the analysis of the Sun Devil offense and continue preparation for the upcoming NFL Draft, Devils Digest's Joe Healey takes a look at the offensive linemen to be drafted into and play in the National Football League.
History in the NFL Draft: The first Arizona State offensive lineman to break into the pro ranks was Hank Rockwell, who made his way as an undrafted free agent, appearing in 55 career games with 11 starts before and after World War II, playing from 1940-42 and in '46 and '48.
Though Rockwell was the first to see NFL duty, the first Arizona State draftee along the offensive line was Glenn Johnson, taken in the 10th round (80th overall) by the Los Angeles Rams. Johnson was credited with having lettered at ASU in 1941 and '47, as Arizona State did not field a football team during World War II. Johnson's game duty came in 1949 in eight games for the Green Bay Packers.
After service in the Korean War, Earl Putman was drafted into the NFL. Putman, a gargantuan player for his day at 6-foot-6 and 308 pounds, went on to be a long-time head coach at Phoenix's Moon Valley High School in the 1960s, '70s and '80s.
As the 1950s continued, linemen such as Bill Zuhowski and Ken Kerr were drafted, but no records are found of them having played in the NFL.
George Flint was next to enter the NFL, doing so by going the free agent route after his Sun Devil career. Ed Fisher went the same route after his ASU career concluded in 1970, but he went on to one of the lengthiest pro careers by a Sun Devil offensive lineman as he played nine seasons in the NFL with 126 games played and 102 starts with the Houston Oilers from 1974-82.
As Sun Devil football became nationally prominent and dominant in the Western Athletic Conference in the 1970s, one area that did not translate to the professional level was the offensive line as ASU, as through the entire decade, only one offensive lineman was drafted - Ron Lou in 1973.
Taken in the 14th round (339th overall) by the Houston Oilers, Lou played in 37 career games with the Oilers and Eagles with three total starts.
More than a decade passed between the start of Lou's career and the next Sun Devil offensive lineman to play in the NFL, with Mark Shupe breaking the streak with two games played with the Buffalo Bills in 1987. During the early 1980s, players such as John Meyer, Tony Loia and James Keyton were drafted from ASU but have no records of regular season game action in the NFL.
The drought of offensive linemen from ASU to the NFL came to a definitive end following the Devils' Rose Bowl run during the 1986 season as four starters from ASU's all-Arizona "Home Boys" starting offensive line would end up playing on Sundays, including perhaps the greatest football player of any position ever to originate from Arizona State.
Months after ASU's Rose Bowl victory over Michigan, All-American Danny Villa of Nogales and Jim Warne of Tempe were picked in the 1987 NFL Draft. Selected in the fifth round (116th overall) by the New England Patriots, Villa ultimately played 12 seasons with 157 game appearances and 25 starts in time spent with the Patriots, Cardinals Chiefs and Panthers. Warne was picked in the 11th round (296th overall) by the Cincinnati Bengals and is credited with three games played for the Detroit Lions in 1987.
The next season, Avondale native Randall McDaniel became the first Sun Devil offensive lineman to be picked in the first round of the NFL Draft when the Minnesota Vikings chose him 19th overall. From there, McDaniel etched a pro career that stands among the very best offensive linemen ever to play the sport and is considered by many to the top football player ever to come out of Arizona State.
Now a member of both the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame, after earning multiple All-America accolades at ASU, McDaniel went on to play 14 pro seasons with the Vikings and Buccaneers, claiming 12 consecutive Pro Bowl nods from 1989-2000 while starting 220 of 222 career games played.
As he did at Arizona State, Todd Kalis accompanied McDaniel to the Minnesota Vikings after being drafted in the fourth round (108th overall) in the 1988 NFL Draft. Kalis, a graduate of Phoenix's Thunderbird High School, played eight total seasons with the Vikings and Bengals, appearing in 103 games with 37 starts.
A unique story, the next lineman to emerge in the NFL was one that switched from defense at ASU to offense in the pros in David Dixon. Chosen in the ninth round (232nd overall) by New England in the 1992 NFL Draft, Dixon bounced around the league in 1992 and '93 and saw action in one game in '94, but caught on as an offensive guard for the Vikings starting in 1995 where he would spend the next decade starting opposite a fellow Sun Devil in Randall McDaniel.
Despite the switch at such an abnormal time, Dixon went on to start more career NFL games than any other Sun Devil offensive lineman beside McDaniel, as Dixon started 134 of 152 career games played.
Next to be drafted from the offensive line was Jeff Kysar, picked in the fifth round (154th overall) by the Los Angeles Raiders, where he would appear in one career game.
Similar to the Rose Bowl team of the 1980's, ASU's second postseason trip to Pasadena included a crop of future pros as four total offensive line members of the 1996 team would go on to play in the NFL.
The first of the group was perhaps the top offensive tackle ever to play for ASU in Juan Roque, a recipient of numerous All-America honors during his Sun Devil career. Taken in the second round (35th overall) in the 1997 NFL Draft by Detroit, Roque appeared in 17 career games with three starts with the Lions.
A sophomore starting right tackle opposite Roque on ASU's Rose Bowl team, Grey Ruegamer switched to center for his junior and senior seasons and became arguably the best at the position in Sun Devil history. Initially a third round pick (72nd overall) by the Miami Dolphins in the 1999 NFL Draft, Ruegamer enjoyed a lengthy pro career with his playing time occurring with the Patriots, Packers and Giants. A two-time Super Bowl champion, Ruegamer played in 124 career games with 17 starts.
Victor Leyva and Marvel Smith both redshirted as true freshmen on ASU's 1996 squad and ultimately ended up at the pro level.
Smith was the first of the pair to be drafted as he bypassed his senior season at ASU to enter the 2000 NFL Draft, where he was picked in the second round (38th overall) by Pittsburgh. A two-time Super Bowl champion with the Steelers, Smith played in 111 games with 108 starts for Pittsburgh from the 2000-08 seasons.
In 2001, Leyva was chosen in the fifth round (135th overall) by Cincinnati and he played in 10 games with the Bengals in 2002.
In the 2002 NFL Draft, all four selections from Arizona State were offensive linemen in Levi Jones, Scott Peters, Travis Scott and Kyle Kosier.
Initially a walk-on defensive lineman, Jones switched to offensive line and blossomed into an All-American and ultimately became - and remains - the highest drafted offensive lineman from ASU when the Cincinnati Bengals picked him 10th overall in 2002.
In eight total NFL seasons with the Bengals and Redskins, Jones appeared in 103 games with 97 starts.
An All-America caliber lineman at ASU and one of the better interior linemen ever to play for the Devils, Peters was chosen in the fourth round (124th overall) by Philadelphia. In total, Peters appeared in seven NFL games with four starts.
Picked in the fourth round (130th overall) by the St. Louis Rams, Scott is not credited with ever having made a regular season game appearance in the NFL.
Though he wasn't as highly acclaimed at ASU as teammates such as Jones and Peters, Kosier put together the longest NFL career of the group and totaled the third-most career games played and starts by a former Sun Devil offensive lineman as he played in 143 career games with 120 starts in 10 seasons spent with the 49ers, Lions and Cowboys.
Next, consecutive centers would be drafted into the NFL in Drew Hodgdon and Mike Pollak, with Hodgdon being selected in the fifth round (151st overall) by Houston in 2005, while Pollak was chosen in the second round (59th overall) by Indianapolis.
Hodgdon appeared in 14 career games with eight starts in three seasons with the Texans, while Pollak recently retired after playing seven NFL seasons, registering 81 appearances with 52 starts in his time with the Colts, Panthers and Bengals.
A former walk-on at ASU, Paul Fanaika became a steady starter for the Devils and ultimately was drafted in the seventh round (213th overall) by Philadelphia in 2009. The next season, Shawn Lauvao was chosen in the third round (92nd overall) by Cleveland.
After only appearing in three total games from 2009-11 as a member of the Eagles and Seahawks and not playing in the NFL in 2012, Fanaika started all 16 games of the 2013 season with the Cardinals and started all 14 games in which he played last year with Arizona. This offseason, Fanaika signed with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Lauvao appeared in 10 games with one start as a rookie in 2010, but has started every game he has played since that season, a total of 58 games from 2011-14, most recently with Washington after four years with the Browns.
Though he fell undrafted in 2012, Garth Gerhart was still able to break into the NFL and appeared in two games in 2014 with the Green Bay Packers.
Top NFL Player: There are no arguments, there is no doubt, and there are no alternatives. Absolute slam dunk on this one, as between the disparity between the accomplishments of Randall McDaniel and the other Sun Devil offensive linemen is a gaping hole even bigger in size than the ones McDaniel opened for Viking and Buccaneer rushers.
Very likely the best football player to ever come out of Arizona State with only Mike Haynes and perhaps Terrell Suggs able be in the same overall conversation, McDaniel was purely dominant at both the college and pro levels and is the obvious choice here.
Best Not to Make It: Easy as it is to name the top player, this list includes a handful of solid Sun Devils that never sniffed NFL duty.
The oldest name on this list is John Jankans, an unstoppable force at Arizona State in the 1950s. Though he likely isn't a household name among Sun Devils, Jankans holds the distinction of being the only player in program history to be named First-Team All-Conference all four years and was the first offensive lineman inducted into ASU's Sports Hall of Fame.
Key names of the 1970s such as George Fadok, John Houser, George Hummer, Mike Tomco and Gary Venturo played at All-America levels at Arizona State but did not make it to the NFL for active game action according to available records. Decades later, Kyle Murphy was an All-American at guard and an integral member of ASU's Rose Bowl offense in 1996 but never made it to live duty in the NFL.
In the 2000s, Grayling Love, the late Brandon Rodd and Evan Finkenberg were among the more highly acclaimed offensive linemen at the conference level for the Sun Devils that did not transition to the NFL.
Currently in the NFL: In 2014, four Sun Devils saw game action in the NFL in Garth Gerhart (Packers), Paul Fanaika (Cardinals), Shawn Lauvao (Redskins) and Mike Pollak (Bengals). Pollak retired after his seventh pro season and Fanaika signed with Kansas City this offseason.
2015 NFL Draft Prospects: One of the most accomplished linemen at ASU in the past decade or so, Jamil Douglas is one of the players most likely to be drafted, plausibly somewhere in the middle rounds. Primarily a guard with the Sun Devils before moving to left tackle for his senior season, Douglas was a First-Team All-Pac-12 selection as a senior in 2014 and is largely anticipated to be the first ASU offensive lineman drafted since Shawn Lauvao in 2010.
Tyler Sulka also started at right tackle for the Sun Devils and is draft eligible after completing his senior season in 2014. Sulka has an outside shot at a pro tryout but in all likelihood has finished his football career.
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