Sun Devil prospects ready for shot at NFL
Arizona State’s 2013 draft class doesn’t feature the intrigue of quarterback Brock Osweiler or the controversy of linebacker Vontaze Burfict as it did last season, but ASU might see more alumni drafted into the league this year than last year’s two (Osweiler and defensive back Omar Bolden).
Linebacker Brandon Magee, safety Keelan Johnson and punter Josh Hubner highlight the group of potential draftees, while running back Cameron Marshall, cornerback Deveron Carr and receivers Jamal Miles and Rashad Ross aren’t too far off the radar and should at the very least be in line for free-agent auditions. With the draft starting Thursday and running through Saturday, here’s a brief look at the Sun Devils hoping to join the ranks of those playing on Sundays this fall.
Brandon Magee, linebacker
This probably should have been happening a year ago for Magee, but an Achilles injury cost him his true senior season and delayed his professional career. Now Magee looks likely to be the highest-drafted Sun Devil in 2013.
Given his injury history and size (he’s a bit undersized for a linebacker at 5-foot-11), draft prognosticators have pegged Magee to be drafted in one of the final two rounds, but Magee, ever confident in his own ability, says he has been getting more positive reviews than that from teams.
“Pretty much they just told me ‘We’ve seen the film, you’re one heck of a linebacker,'” Magee said. “They’ve also said ‘You hustle more than anyone at the position coming out this year’ and a lot of good stuff about my technique.”
Magee declined to disclose information about his workouts or which teams he visited, but it is known he worked out for the New England Patriots. He also revealed at least meeting with the Dallas Cowboys when he posted a photo of himself on social media with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
While evaluators dock Magee for his size, he gets credit for his football IQ. He was the primary on-field play caller for ASU last season and consistently displayed good instincts. A weakside linebacker, Magee has at times shown a tendency to overreact on plays but also shown an ability to recover in those situations.
Others have questioned Magee’s ability to play within certain defensive systems, but again Magee insists he has not been hearing that from teams and is determined to prove his critics wrong.
“I’ve had teams say I can play the 4-3 (defense), I’ve had three or four teams tell me I fit best in the 3-4, so I can play anywhere,” Magee said. “I don’t why people try to put limitations on me because of my height.”
Magee’s intangibles may be greatest strength. His work ethic, leadership and discipline were unquestioned in his time at ASU, and his results backed them up. Magee worked furiously to come back stronger from the Achilles injury and did so again this season to recover from an elbow injury suffered in ASU’s bowl game, Magee’s last in college. The elbow, he said, is now 100 percent, and he’s been lifting weights daily for about six weeks.
Magee, who finished his sociology and education degree this week, is quick to give credit for success on the field and in the classroom to athletic department learning specialist Corinne Corte, who stood with him and his mother on the field for Senior Day last season.
“Honestly, I wouldn’t have been able to complete college or even been eligible to play football if it wasn’t for Ms. Corinne.” Magee said. “If she wasn’t here, I guarantee you I wouldn’t be who I am today. I wouldn’t even be playing football.”
Accordingly, Corte will be among the first people Magee talks to after being drafted. He’ll be watching the draft with his family at a rented beach house in Newport Beach, Calif.
“I can’t control it,” Magee said. “I’ve been through a draft before (in baseball), it’s a similar process, so now I just sit back and wait. Whatever team gets me is making one heck of a pick.”
Keelan Johnson, safety
A year ago, Johnson might not have even been considered a potential draft pick, but a strong senior season in a defense that showcased his skills boosted his stock enough to get him an invite to the NFL Scouting Combine.
Johnson made the most of that opportunity, producing impressive results that have him ranked by cbssports.com as the 11th best strong safety in the draft. While some projections see Johnson going undrafted, others have him coming off the board late in the draft.
Johnson said he is not sure what to expect but believes his style of play, highlighted by impressive speed and athleticism, is becoming more and more valuable in the NFL as teams run faster offenses with a greater emphasis on passing.
“The league is becoming more pass-happy,” Johnson said. “Offenses are more pass-oriented, and teams kind of want to know if I can play free safety or strong safety or nickel safety. I feel like I’m going to be asked to do a lot things.”
Johnson, who visited the Arizona Cardinals and worked out for the Patriots, showed significant improvement as a pass defender last season, snagging five interceptions and defending 13 passes. Johnson believes teams will look favorably on his knack for finding the ball.
“They can see I had five interceptions, but I think it was more how I got my interceptions teams will like,” Johnson said.
Like Magee, Johnson is open to any opportunity and will do whatever teams ask of him.
“I’m a quick learner, so I’m basically open to anything,” he said. “If they ask me to do something, I’m pretty sure I can get it down and perfect it.”
Johnson said he’s more eager to learn where he’s headed next than he is nervous about the draft. He’s not making any big plans, rather watching at home with his roommates and hoping to hear his name called.
Josh Hubner, punter
Hubner is perhaps the most honest, candid and outspoken player to come out of ASU in recent seasons. Whatever is on his mind, he’ll tell you.
Accordingly, he does nothing to sugar-coat his routine leading up to this week’s draft.
“I’ve spent a lot of time kicking, eating and going to the gym,” Hubner said. “That’s about all I’ve been doing for the last couple months.”
While that routine obviously includes athletic preparation and conditioning, Hubner said it’s also been an exercise in keeping his mind off the draft — probably not a great challenge considering the many things Hubner contemplates and opinions he shares via social media. The less he thinks about the draft, the less overwhelming the process is.
Hubner worked out for about half a dozen teams including the Patriots, Eagles, Bills, Vikings and Cardinals, who also brought him in for a separate visit.
“It’s almost like college recruiting but on a whole different level,” Hubner said. “It’s almost like the process is repeating itself except this time you have to understand it’s a professional business and there’s a lot of money and investment involved.”
Hubner was one of college football’s top punters last season, earning Ray Guy Award semifinalist honors and a Second Team All-Pac-12 selection. But this draft is deep in punters, including UCLA graduate Jeff Locke and two-time Ray Guy winner Ryan Allen out of Louisiana Tech.
Hubner knows there are plenty of punters available this year, and he knows it’s uncommon for more than a couple to be taken in one draft. An average of two have been taken in the last five drafts, with three in 2009 and 2010.
“It’s a good year to be a punter because there are quite a few punting situations in the NFL that need some help,” Hubner said. “For me personally, I have a lot of confidence in my ability, and I feel like I can bring a lot to whatever team I end up on.”
The positive spin comes as no surprise from a guy who recently tweeted “When life gives you lemons, you squeeze them into other people’s eyeballs.” Hubner isn’t stressing about whether or not he’ll be drafted because he’s confident he’ll have an opportunity either way.
“Whether it’s in Buffalo or Miami or Seattle or LA — the four corners of the United States — it doesn’t matter to me,” Hubner said. “I’m just looking for an opportunity.”
Hubner said he plans to spend the day watching the draft with his parents at a family friend’s home in Scottsdale.
“It’s been a ride,” Hubner said. “The last 19 years of my life I’ve been working for this, and the fact it’s becoming a reality is pretty crazy to me. I’m looking forward to this whole process coming to end and getting started on a new chapter.”