September 4, 2006

Part II: 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 part two of this three part feature, here is a look at some more of the potential future NFL players on the ASU roster:

Terry Richardson, WR, 6-foot-1, 188 lbs. Senior

Terry Richardson is probably the most athletic wide receiver on the ASU team. He is fast and explosive with a great body type and makes quicker, more aggressive cuts than most of his peers could ever hope to. Richardson has spent the last three seasons playing in a shadow of Derek Hagan, a player he arrived with in the same recruiting class in Tempe. To this point he has primarily excelled on special teams as a kick and punt returner, where he ranked seventh nationally in yards per return last season.

Now that Hagan is gone, it is not too unlikely to think Richardson could be the top target for the Sun Devils in 2006. In his five years as coach of ASU, Koetter has produced a thousand yard wide receiver, each year. This year should be no different; in fact, Koetter is on record saying that he has little doubt that Richardson can be his next 1000-plus yard receiver. If Richardson puts up 1000 yard receiving, and continues his impressive display in returning punts and kicks, he'll no doubt be a highly visible player at the position with NFL scouts. Richardson has to demonstrate that he's willing to put forth a consistent work ethic in all facets of preparation for the position, and also improve fundamentally with route running and ball skills. He has a tendency to let balls thrown to him get too far into his body.

Projection: Taken first day if he has a very good college season and maintains a high level of national visibility, especially if the Sun Devils have a good season. A great 40-yard dash time at the combine will help his outside chances of cracking the first round. One teammate speculated that there is a possibility Richardson can run a sub 4.4 40 yard dash, as one of the "fastest players on the team".

Kyle Caldwell, DE 6-foot-3, 272 lbs. Senior

Son of Bryan Caldwell, a former ASU standout who was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the third round of the 1983 draft, Kyle clearly has the pedigree to be an NFL player. He's well put-together physically with the size, technical proficiency and natural athleticism to fit in well as a strongside end in a lot on a lot of teams. The only question is if the former 4 star athlete can stay healthy enough to perform for a full season as a senior, and in doing so, convince professional scouts that he's got a legitimate chance to help their teams.

As a true sophomore, Caldwell has seven sacks, one interception and one forced fumble. In 2005 he was a preseason All-Pac 10 player, and was on the watch list for the Ted Hendricks Award. Unfortunately lingering problems with his knee and other health issues resulted in his inability to play at a high level, as he struggled to start each week. In 2006, Caldwell is confident that he can stay healthy, with a somewhat altered approach to the game mentally. If he does stay healthy, it's not too unlikely to think he can improve upon his sophomore season when he had seven sacks, particularly with better talent next to him on the line.

Projection: Caldwell is a very dangerous lineman when completely healthy, and he could be drafted in the second day of the Draft if scouts believe that he's still capable of being a competent pass rusher and run stuffer. He's not going to be exceptional in any one area of play at the position, but he's capable of being very good in all facets.

Rudy Burgess WR/DB, 5-foot-10, 180 lbs. Junior

In 2005, Burgess had 1299 yards from scrimmage, and he obviously one of the most important players and athletes on the team, as evidenced by his performance versus NAU. He ran the ball 145 times, and caught the ball 59 times during the grueling 2005 season. The physical stress from absorbing hits from linemen and linebackers is difficult enough, but actually producing in various facets shows a lot of people that Burgess is an exceptional athlete. He is extremely coordinated with great body control and balance, explosive laterally and very quick.

In 2006, Burgess will be mainly a wide receiver, and as a former running back, it's safe assume Burgess will have better ability to break tackles and make people miss than some of his counterparts at wide receiver just from sheer experience. He should also be a plus in run blocking as a former back that had to pick up linemen and blitzing linebackers. Another position Burgess might play in 2006 is cornerback, and he worked there on occasion through fall camp and looked great. Although not projected to start on defense, if others struggle with their consistency, it is said that Burgess could see a fair amount of playing time. Burgess also projects to return punts and kicks in the 2006 season, showing Richardson-like playmaking ability in special teams could ultimately raise his stock.

Projection: Burgess reminds of Will Blackmon of Boston College. Both are players that have been asked to do a lot for their team, played both sides of the ball and returned kicks. Burgess could ultimately see himself in that role with an NFL team. We could see him as a No. 3 receiver in the NFL; someone who can get a lot accomplished in the slot. But he actually is probably better suited to play cornerback. He has pretty good size for the position, great instincts, excellent ball skills and awareness. His innate physical abilities actually would perhaps be better served in this capacity. It will be interested to see how he develops in the next two years.

Jesse Ainsworth, PK, 6-foot-3, 216 lbs. Senior. With one of the most powerful legs in all of college football, Ainsworth is a no-brainer in terms of getting a good look in the NFL. He will undoubtedly be given a shot to start with a team in need of a kicking upgrade/change. Ainsworth ranks second among active Pac-10 kickers in field goal attempts (54) and third in made field goals (37). He ranks fourth all-time at ASU in points scored by kicking (229) and has made and ASU record of 97 consecutive extra points dating back to the 2003 season.

AS a kick off specialist, Ainsworth has one of the top touchback percentages in the country. 46 of his 78 kickoffs last season went unreturned. As a place kicker, he made all nine of his attempts from 40-yards and in last season, and he has the leg strength to make kicks from 60 yards out or even longer.

Projection: Difficult to say because it depends so much on team need but Ainsworth has to be among the top kickers in the class and he will almost undoubtedly be a targeted draft choice for a front office looking to go with a new kicker. At the very least, he'll almost certainly be a kick off specialist right away in the NFL. will have a Part III segment of this feature in several weeks, spotlighting additional juniors on the roster including Ryan Torain, Justin Tryon, Brandon Rodd, and potentially several others.

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