NFL Draft: ASU safety Damarious Randall zooming toward 1st round

Damarious Randall is still shooting up the NFL Draft boards two days before the big day.

Matt Kartozian/Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

TEMPE, Ariz. — By the end of the 2015 season, Arizona State safety Damarious Randall appeared to be headed for a Friday selection in the NFL Draft. A third-round consideration seemed plausible after leading the Sun Devils in tackles and interceptions.

The reality is this two days before the draft begins Thursday: Randall could be the first safety off the board.

Though his stock appeared strong after his early-March Pro Day at ASU, the pro-Randall momentum apparently is gaining steam.

In his Monday Morning Quarterback column published Tuesday, Sports Illustrated’s Peter King predicted the Philadelphia Eagles to draft Randall 20th overall. King might call it a gut feeling, but it’s not an outlandish guess.

The Eagles have indeed shown interest by hosting Randall, and it’s known they could use a safety. But 20th overall?

King isn’t the only expert believing Randall could go higher in first round than anticipated. NFL.com analyst Mike Mayock leapfrogged Randall on his position-by-position board, ranking him atop his list of the class’ best safeties.

"Randall is by far the best cover safety in the draft," Mayock told the Daily News. "Because of the way Arizona State plays defense, you can see him play a ton of man-to-man, which is so helpful (in evaluating him). He’s a guy that there’s been a lot of buzz about for the last month or so. He reminds me of Jimmy Ward, who was drafted in the first round last year by San Francisco. But he’s not as physical or as good a tackler as Ward.”

FOXSports.com’s Peter Schrager listed Randall as the 27th player off the board — going to the Dallas Cowboys in Round 1 — saying: "Randall’s my guy rising fast up draft boards and that’s because of his versatility. He played corner at Arizona State and had a lot of success. He is built like a safety. He also had a great workout in Arizona for many pro scouts back during the NFL’s Owners meetings. Buzz has been high on this guy for a while."

When: Thursday-Saturday

TV: 

  • Round 1: Thursday, 5 p.m. MST (NFL Network and ESPN)
  • Rounds 2-3: Friday, 4 p.m. MST (NFL Network and ESPN)
  • Rounds 4-7: Saturday, 9 a.m. MST (NFL Network and ESPN)

With the NFL going pass-heavy these days, Randall’s cover skills are coveted. Though the safety talent in this draft class is considered poor, CBS Sports’ Dane Brugler notes that at least one team views the Sun Devil as a better prospect than Ward. As they say, one is all it takes.

Randall’s versatility as a nickel or safety has propelled his cause, and perhaps the only slight against him is his size. At a hair taller than 5-10, Randall has made up for those concerns by bulking up to nearly 200 pounds, more than 15 pounds of added weight since ASU’s season ended.

Randall’s skyrocketing stock brings us to ASU’s other big-name prospect in the draft. Receiver Jaelen Strong has appeared in some mock drafts in the middle of the first round but in others is a second-round selection. His stock hasn’t budged much since surprising with a speedy combine performance.

King doesn’t project the 6-2 receiver in his first round mock. Schrager has him gong to the Jets in the second round — 37h overall. Mayock has dropped the ASU receiver from his list of the five best receivers in the class, even though it was Mayock who famously compared Strong’s athleticism to the Arizona Cardinals’ Larry Fitzgerald. Strong’s hands and his ability to win jump balls is unquestioned, and a 4.44 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine quelled some worry about his speed.

Concerns about his technique remain. Months ago, Mayock said Strong is still raw, "not anywhere close from a technique perspective" to Fitzgerald.

After Randall and Strong, four of their former teammates could make this one of the more impressive Sun Devil draft crops in the past decade, rivaling the five ASU players selected in the 2008 class.

ASU hasn’t had a player taken in the first round since Terrell Suggs went 10th to the Baltimore Ravens in 2003, and the school hasn’t had two first-round picks in the same draft since 2001, when Adam Archuleta and Todd Heap went 20th and 31st, respectively.

Randall and Strong could end that streak Thursday, though which one of them is selected first is as unclear as ever.

DL Marcus Hardison

Projected selection: 3rd or 4th round. (Schrager has him going to Baltimore in the fourth round, 122nd overall.)

OG Jamil Douglas

Projected selection: 4th through 6th round. (Schrager is higher on him than most, predicting he’ll go to the Patriots with the final pick — 64th — in the second round.)

QB Taylor Kelly

Projected selection: Undrafted.

TE De’Marieya Nelson

Projected selection: Undrafted.

LS Easton Wahlstrom

Projected selection: Undrafted.

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