2014 NFL Draft Prospect to Watch: Arizona State OLB Carl Bradford

BBD Staff Writer: Joe Marino

Carl Bradford, a fullback coming out of high school, has transitioned into a playmaking outside linebacker for the Arizona State Sun Devils. After redshirting as a freshman in 2010, Bradford started the team’s bowl game against Boise State at the end of the 2011 season, and has become a fixture in the defense ever since. Bradford had a monster season as a redshirt sophomore in 2012, posting a very productive stat line of 81 tackles, 20.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks.

Bradford plays the “Devilbacker” position for the Sun Devils and can be seen lining up in a variety of ways. He is primarily an outside linebacker, but will frequently put his hand on the dirt and lineup as a defensive end on pass-rushing downs. Bradford also occasionally lines up as an inside linebacker.

Bradford’s Skill Set

Bradford is extremely quick and explosive off the ball, with an incredible first step when he lines up as a defensive end. He plays with a tremendous motor and there is an obvious suddenness to the way he plays.

As a pass rusher, Bradford’s go-to move is the rip move, with which he can generate a pass-rush combined with his first step quickness. That is where the arsenal of moves ends, however. He will need a larger repertoire of pass-rush moves to excel in a similar role as a pro.

When Bradford beats his man, he has good closing speed to make plays. On the contrary, when Bradford is unable to create pressure, he has the awareness to get his hands up and attempt to bat the ball down at the line of scrimmage.

Because Bradford is a very effective pass rusher, he doesn’t drop into pass coverage very often. He doesn’t look very natural when he does drop back, but he is far from lost. He has the ability to drop back, but doesn’t do it frequently enough to give a good feel for his ability to this point.

When playing the run, Bradford is good at getting his arms extended on his opponent. By doing this, Bradford can control his blocker at the point of attack, which enables him to shed blockers and make plays. He reads blockers very well, and is sound within the scheme when defending the run. Bradford can effectively set the edge while maintaining his outside leverage.

Bradford checks out nicely from an athleticism standpoint. He displays good quickness and excellent functional strength.

Where Bradford Falls as a 2014 Draft Prospect

The biggest concern with Bradford and projecting him to the NFL is his lack of length: Arizona State’s official athletics website lists him at 6’1’’, 241 pounds. While it isn’t impossible for Bradford to come into the NFL and become a dynamic pass rusher, there isn’t a long list of successful pass-rushers who come in at such a short height. His lack of length shows up on tape, as he struggles to separate from blockers to apply counter moves. If he doesn’t win with his first-step quickness, there isn’t much he can do with his limited length.

Lining up at inside linebacker is understandable for Bradford given his frame, but this is not a position Bradford plays well. He has far too much wasted movement and lack of instincts when playing inside. He is best utilized as an edge defender.

From a playmaking standpoint, Bradford is what you want in a prospect. His production is great, but his lack of length prohibits me from thinking what he does can truly translate to the NFL.

There is no guarantee that Bradford will declare for the 2014 NFL Draft as a redshirt junior. If he should declare, I think of him as an early Day 3 draft prospect.