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Arizona State Sun Devils

ASU players to watch in NFL Draft

Nesta Jade Silvera was the only Sun Devil to get invited to the NFL Combine. © Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
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After seeing four Sun Devils get selected in the NFL Draft last year, there isn’t much expectation that ASU fans will see a number close to that this year. However, they could have some late round draft picks. 

All of the players that could get drafted are projected as Day 3 picks or to be undrafted free agents. The Sun Devils only had one player invited to the combine this year, Nesta Jade Silvera. They also had three other players participate in senior bowls. 

Here are the names to watch:

DT Nesta Jade Silvera 

Silvera played one season with ASU, earning honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors, after four with Miami, where he had an honorable mention All-ACC in 2020. 

At the combine, Silvera was listed at 6-foot-2, 304 pounds, and his arm measurement was 32 7/8″ and hand measurement was 9 7/8”. He ran a 5.16 second 40-yard dash, 1.77 second 10-yard split, had a 29.5” vertical jump and 9’2″ broad jump. His total combine score was 60, which ranked 16th among DTs. 

Silvera was the fourth-leading tackler on ASU last season. He played in the Reeses’s Senior Bowl.

His bio on NFL.com

“Silvera, a Miami-area native, signed with the Hurricanes as a top-50 overall recruit and two-time state champ with American Heritage High School. Silvera played in 10 games as a reserve (13 tackles, 1.5 for loss) in 2018. A foot injury limited him in 2019, when he made 19 tackles with one sack coming off the bench for the final nine games. He bounced back in 2020, however, garnering honorable mention All-ACC notice (35 tackles, eight for loss with one sack in 11 games, 10 starts). Silvera started eight of 11 contests played in 2021 (38 tackles, 5.5 for loss) and entered the transfer portal after the season. He signed with Arizona State, earning honorable mention All-Pac-12 Conference honors by starting 10 of 12 games played for the Sun Devils (56 tackles, 4.5 for loss with 1.5 sacks, three pass breakups). — by Chad Reuter”

Draft Network’s scouting report on Silvera:

“Silvera may not have ideal length, but he more than makes up for it with overwhelming strength. His upper-body strength will leave you wide-eyed, as his physical dominance in the run game often made him look like a man amongst boys. He pairs his brute strength with a quick get-off, allowing him to quickly reset the line of scrimmage in his favor. He does a solid job of diagnosing run schemes early in the play and then adjusting his technique to stop it, such as reading reach blocks or anchoring down against playside double teams in gap runs. Once able to read the play, Silvera uses his quick lateral mobility to disrupt and deconstruct blocks. His combination of strength, short-area quickness, and his refusal to be blocked makes him an immediate early-down contributor for whatever team drafts him.

His abilities as a pass rusher extend to being physically stronger than everyone else. Purely as a penetrator using a bull rush, Silvera can quickly cause havoc in the pass game, but asking him to be a three-down interior lineman would be overreaching his capabilities. He doesn’t display much of an arsenal of pass-rush moves, mostly referring to his bull rush to make his presence known. For teams looking for a run-stuffing and physically-ready interior defensive lineman to throw in on first and second down, Silvera will be just about as good as they come in the middle rounds of the draft.”

RB Xazavian Valladay

Valladay, listed at 5-foot-11 and 199 pounds, has a lot of upside coming out of Arizona State, as he rushed for over 4,000 yards in his college career. He only played one season with Sun Devils after four with Wyoming. 

Valladay accepted an invite to play in the East-West Shrine Bowl before the draft. He met with  the Cardinals, Eagles and Texans last week. 

Former ASU RB X Valladay to reportedly interview with Cardinals

His bio on NFL.com:

“Xazavian (pronounced x-ZAVE-ee-un) Valladay is an Illinois product (Special Mention All-State from the Chicago Tribune as a senior at Brother Rice High School) who redshirted as a freshman at Wyoming, then played in 12 games with one start in 2018 (71-396-5.6, three TDs rushing; 4-35-8.8 receiving). Valladay led the Mountain West Conference in rushing as a sophomore in 2019, earning first-team all-conference honors with 1,265 yards and six scores on 247 carries (5.1 per) while also catching 11 passes for 211 yards (19.2 per) and two scores in 12 games (nine starts). He was also the MVP of the Arizona Bowl with 204 yards and a score on 26 totes in the team’s win over Georgia State. Valladay was a first-team all-conference selection in 2020, as well, leading his squad in rushing (99-550-5.6, four TDs; also 13-105-8.1 receiving) in five starts while missing one game due to a left leg injury. He topped his squad again in 2021 with 1,063 rushing yards (209 carries, 5.1 per, six scores; 23-233-10.1) in 13 games with 12 starts to garner second-team All-MWC accolades. Valladay transferred to Arizona State for 2022, excelling with 1,192 yards (215 carries, 5.5 per) and tying for 10th nationally with 16 touchdowns rushing in 12 starts (37-289-7.8, two TDs receiving). — by Chad Reuter”

Draft Network’s scouting report on Valladay:

“Valladay’s best usage appears to come on run plays designed to attack the edges of the defense. This is where Valladay can use his speed to attack the outside and has shown multiple times the ability to turn the corner and outrun defenders to pick up significant yardage. Valladay has a long stride and appears to effortlessly outrun defenders at times. Valladay has a slashing, one-cut type of running style that could be an effective tempo switch-up as a complementary back to a more traditional running back.

Valladay has a lean frame that combined with his upright running style limits how much power he can run with. Valladay’s ability to break tackles and contact balance both appear to be average and his usage as an in-between-the-tackles runner did not provide the same results as when Valladay was utilized as a runner who attacks the edges.

Ultimately, Valladay has many likable traits as a runner, but his value as running back will vary from team to team. Valladay will be best utilized in an outside running scheme where he can use his best asset: his speed. Valladay’s usage in the passing game has been minimal, but if he can prove to have value running routes and being a receiving threat out of the backfield, it will further help his value as a player in the NFL.”

LB Kyle Soelle

Soelle, listed at 6-foot-4 and 232 pounds, was ASU’s leading tackler this season. He played in the East-West Shrine Bowl alongside Valladay.

Soelle played all five of his collegiate seasons for ASU after redshirting his freshman year, becoming arguably the most recognizable player for Sun Devil fans on their defense. He came to ASU as a local three-star prospect from Saguaro that played both tight end and outside linebacker. He just played linebacker for the Sun Devils, even though he was rated higher as a tight end.

Draft Network’s scouting report on Soelle:

“Kyle Soelle is a fifth-year senior linebacker. Throughout Soelle’s, career he has been a productive linebacker, totaling more than 200 tackles in his career. Soelle’s 2022 season was his most productive season, tallying 110 tackles and two interceptions. Soelle’s tackling production as a linebacker is a direct correlation to his instincts as a linebacker. At 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds, Soelle’s size/length and instincts as a linebacker helps him play at a high level in both the run game and against the pass—showcasing his range as a player.

In the run game, Soelle is a downhill player who does a plus-level job of quickly diagnosing the run and working downhill. Soelle has smooth movements as a player and plays with ideal pad height, which allows him to always be in position to make an effective tackle. Soelle is able to flow sideline to sideline and when he gets the proper jump on a play, he can prevent a ball carrier from turning upfield on outside run plays. Soelle is an inside-to-outside run defender that is reliable filling his gaps and enforcing the gap integrity of a defense.

Against the pass, Soelle’s value is as a zone defender. Soelle does a good job of flipping his hips and getting depth to drop into his zone. Soelle shows well in reading the quarterback’s eyes to bring him to the receiver and become a disruptive pass defender. Soelle also appears to play with good body control in space and can break down on ball carriers in space and make the tackle.

Soelle’s biggest deficiency as a player appears to be his athletic profile. While Soelle has shown to be a productive player, he may be a mismatch with some receivers on the next level. In man-to-man coverage, he may struggle to consistently cover running backs and receivers on the next level.”

LB Merlin Robertson

Robertson, listed at 6-foot-3 and 235 pounds, also played five seasons for the Sun Devils. He was third on the team with 83 tackles last season and first with five tackles-for-loss.

Robertson played the most career snaps among active FBS linebackers (3,305). He played in the Hula Bowl in January.

Draft Network’s scouting report on Robertson:

“Pros: Merlin Robertson is a plus-level football player because of his versatility. At Arizona State, Robertson lines up at both stacked inside linebacker and on the end of the line as an edge rusher. As a stack backer, Robertson has the ability to work downhill to the line of scrimmage and fill any gaps. While filling those gaps, Robertson shows to be an effective tackler. On the end of the line of scrimmage in the edge rusher alignment, Robertson shows that he has the strength to set the edge. Robertson is capable of getting arm extension, blocking out the offensive lineman, and forcing runs back inside. Robertson is a solid player that shows to be an asset as a run defender.

Cons: Merlin Robertson’s mass and big frame help him as a run defender, but it hurts him in pass coverage. In man defense when Robertson is matched up with running backs and tight ends, he struggles to stay in phase with them and they often get open. As a zone defender, Robertson can change direction but his reactionary athleticism is not quick enough to be a consistent disruptive zone defender. Because of his lack of ability to cover, Robertson may be used as an edge rusher on third downs. Overall, Robertson is a good football player but his athletic deficiencies limit him to a first and second down player at this point.”

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Brendan Mau is a college sports insider and general assignment reporter for Burn City Sports. You can follow him on twitter via @Brendan_Mau

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