August 17, 2006

Part I: Early NFL outlook for ASU players

The recipe for entry into the NFL isn't simple. There are various factors to calculate when scouts analyze a player's ability to play in the NFL. Size and speed are given factors, but scouts also analyze pedigree, production, work ethic, leadership and intelligence, among other factors. With more and more Arizona State player going on to play in the NFL, such as Terrell Suggs, Andrew Walter, and Derek Hagan, we have understandably come to expect a steady pipeline of NFL caliber recruits to come to Tempe.

Since 1997, Arizona State has sent the second more players to the NFL than any other school in the Pac-10, save USC, and the Trojans only passed the Sun Devils recently. 38 players in nine years would indicate that every year players from Arizona State will get their shot at paydays in the NFL. And with pro-bowlers like Jake Plummer, Todd Heap, and Suggs there is reason to believe that ASU will not only continue to send players to the pros, but will also send future stars.

In what will be a two-part feature, here is a look at some of the potential future NFL players on the ASU roster:

Sam Keller, QB, 6-foot-4, 230 lbs. Senior

Many scouts seem to be high on Keller, as he is rated one of the top pro-style quarterbacks in the nation. In his first four games last season, his touchdown to interception ratio was 8 to 1, excellent by any standard. This tremendous start gave Keller a ton of press, and sold many scouts on his ability to play on the next level. Unfortunately, after a sub-par performance in a highly visible game versus USC, his season took a downward turn, ultimately ending in a thumb injury which required surgery and ended his season following the game at Stanford.

Despite his shaky second half, there is optimism that Keller can come back and lead ASU's intense offense, especially with another season of maturity. The big question is whether Keller will remain healthy or not. Only time will tell. If Keller can stay in shape, and produce big numbers, he's a shoe-in to be selected by an NFL team. Where exactly he will fall in the draft will depend on his senior season.

Passing efficiency and TD-INT ratio are of critical importance. Andrew Walter broke Pac-10 records in passing, but his late season injury, and average completion percentage were contributing factors as he dropped to the third round of the draft, while shovel passers like Alex Smith hit the bank.

Keller on the other hand isn't a shovel passer, he has an NFL caliber arm, with better than average decision making skills. He is also a hard worker who has shown the ability produce in big games. On the down side, he has also shown the inability to win big games, LSU and USC are prime examples. While Keller has an NFL caliber arm, he isn't Peyton Manning, and can't throw as many deep balls.

Projection: Keller's father was an All-American at Michigan, and was a third round selection in the NFL. Keller has the pedigree and the system working for him. If he remains healthy, he'll go in the first day with a solid shot at the first round. If he doesn't, or has a sub-par season, he could drop completely off the map.

Karpman's Take:

With nice size, a live arm, strong pocket awareness and an excellent ability to grasp and lead an offense, Keller is an obvious NFL-caliber quarterback. Some teams may not be enamored by his Bernie Kosar-like delivery, as he has a tendency to get a lot of balls batted down at the line of scrimmage, and he sometimes misses defenders underneath in zone coverage and has a tendency to force throws into tight spaces, but he has ample upside and we anticipate he'll be a mid-round pick at worst, with the chance to move up significantly if he remains healthy and has a big season.

Zach Miller, TE, 6-foot-5, 259 lbs. Junior

Zach Miller has had an impact from day one at ASU. Whether it is on the field as an All-American, or in the classroom, where he is an All-Academic team honoree, he has shown scouts he's the total package. Miller is not only an academic leader, but he's a leader in the weight room, where he is a "Hard Hat" honoree for excellence in strength and conditioning.

His ability to out run linebackers and absorb hits from safeties makes him a force in college today, and scouts have no doubt that he will have an impact in the pros. With that said, there are very few weaknesses attributed to Miller. One possible weakness is his durability, after missing two games in 2005 and underperforming in a third, his durability has slightly come into question.

Miller did rebound to have a great season, but he seemed to be ineffective or missing in a lot of big games but that could largely be attributed to the fact that he was playing with injuries. He had two catches for 25 yards against LSU, and had no catches against USC. He was also missing from a big UCLA game, where he only had one catch for 14 yards.

A healthy Miller will get plenty of passes thrown his way this season as arguably the team's primary returning target. If he has a big enough year to garner first round interest, it would be understandable if he punched his meal ticket. If he feels he has unfinished business, it could lead him to a senior season, where he could put a number of records at an almost unreachable level with a more than competent Rudy Carpenter throwing to him.

It's a matter of fact that Miller will one day play for the NFL. The only question is when. Some scouts undoubtedly believe Miller is good enough, as a preseason All American, to play in the NFL next season.

Projection: A very intelligent, athletic, and productive player should be a first or second round pick after his senior season. But he could also go in the first day of the draft, after his upcoming junior season.

Karpman's Take: Miller is bigger, stronger, and more athletic now than he's ever been in the past and he's running better routes and is healthier than he's been since his freshman season. People don't realize how banged up he was last year when playing and it's a sign as to how tough he is mentally. We believe he'll catch more than 70 balls this year if he stays healthy and that will go a long way to convincing scouts that's he's worthy of being a Top-50 overall selection.

Andrew Carnahan, OT, 6-foot-8, 288 lbs. Senior

Carnahan's size is more than adequate for the NFL, and he is quite imposing in college. In 2005 he earned ASU's Outstanding Offensive Lineman of the Year Award, and sports a fantastic 3.42 GPA. For three years straight, Carnahan also won team honors as a Hard Hat player for excellence in ASU's strength and conditioning program.

However he doesn't have as much top-end potential as some of his peers in the program because he's not a freakish athletic specimen. His best attribute is his durability, with 33 career starts; he doesn't project to be dominating in the NFL from the start. He ranks, anywhere from the 8th best OT to the 16th best OT in college in many scouts' eyes. As a fantastic student athlete, there is no doubt that his head is screwed on straight.

For many NFL offense tackle prospects, it comes down to work ethic. Will he work hard enough to pack on the size and strength needed for the next level? His track record would indicate so. His senior season performance will tell us where exactly he will go in the NFL. This type of player would benefit from a senior bowl, or a good work out.

Projection: Third-fifth round, depending on work outs and conditioning.

Karpman's Take:

With an excellent frame and exemplary work ethic, Carnahan will make for a great NFL team member. He doesn't have the greatest food speed or athleticism and that's where he's limited and in some cases been exploited by the best of college defensive ends. If he gets beat, it's usually by a devastating speed rush off the edge. Carnahan can add 20 pounds relatively easy and still be a lean 310 pounds without losing anything athletically. He doesn't have a very high ceiling and won't be one of the great offensive tackles in the league but he'll be a solid, consistent commodity deserving of being a mid-round selection.

Zach Catanese, SS/OLB, 6-foot-2, 230 lbs. Senior

Catanese is the leading returner in the Pac-10 in tackles from last season with 107 tackles, and has shown flashes of brilliance and playmaking ability. He intercepted a pass, forced two fumbles and recovered one. He has also shown the ability to be a solid blitzer with two sacks. His imposing frame at 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, makes him a hybrid type of player who may actually be best suited as a weakside linebacker in the NFL as opposed to strong safety depending on the type of system.

His reported 4.5 timed 40 yard dash speed indicates he's mobile enough to fit in at either postion. Like Miller and Carnahan, Catanese is a Hard Hat honoree, and is stronger and conditioned better than most collegiate safeties. On the down side, Catanese is rather inexperienced in Division I football. A former JUCO player, he played his first year of D-1A football in 2005. Many think that his 107 tackles are great, but good defenses shouldn't have safeties that make so many tackles. His tackle total could be a product of sub-par linebacker, or defensive back play. Or it could be a product of the pass-happy Pac-10 conference.

With that said it's hard to argue with 107 tackles; he was given the opportunities and took advantage of them. As a returning player, many think Catanese can improve upon his junior season, and put his fantastic physical ability to use in 2006.

Projection: Third round, but could benefit from a solid senior season, the combine and a senior bowl.

Karpman's Take: What sets Catanese apart from many of his peers is his innate feel for the game. He has a great ability to sniff out a play and closes hard to the ball and is a sure-tackler/ big hitter. He moves better than many realize and has enough mobility to play strong safety and be OK in coverage, but is more of a natural against the run and we think he'd be great as a NFL weakside linebacker.

[db]Loren Howard, DE, 6-foot-4, 274 lbs. Senior

Howard is a former Rivals 4-star recruit, and can have an impact if he improves upon his eight sack season in 2003. Two years removed from that season, it is a safe assumption that he could improve upon that tally in the pass-happy Pac-10 if he's healthy.

Rated a top preseason DE (anywhere from 10-12), his athletic ability and great frame has scouts fascinated. Off the field, Howard is a hard worker in the weight room. On the field, he seems to be injury-ridden; he spent most of the 2004 season on the sideline, and hasn't seen the field since. Last season he sat out as a transfer, and recovered from off-season surgery.

Years removed from a full season, and having already suffered a minor quad strain this preseason, many wonder if he will be up to speed to play and play well in the Pac-10. Most scouts in the nation recognize Howard as a tremendous athletic specimen, and know he can be a disruptive force to deal with. But as always, a solid senior season will tell the scouts a lot about how he projects.

Projection: Third or fourth round, with an expected solid season.

Karpman's Take: With injuries to both ankles and a knee in his past and now the quad strain, it's more a matter of Howard proving that he can stay healthy than providing that he's a capable player. When he was out there in the first week of practice, he looked great. He's very athletic and physically impressive, and technically capable. He is expected to be back practicing in a week or so according to several sources. If he stays healthy, Howard will have a good season and set himself up well for the draft. If not, his stock could plummet.

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