Empty backfield: N’Keal’s NFL decision leaves ASU hurtin’


Poof!  Just like that, Herm Edwards‘ inheritance at ASU is gone.

The first-year football coach inherited an enviable stable of talent when he stepped in to replace Todd Graham just about this time last year.  The trio of quarterback Manny Wilkins, running back Eno Benjamin, and wide receiver N’Keal Harry was already on board and became the engine that fueled the offense in his debut season..

Wilkins, a senior, just played the final regular-season games of his college career.  And Harry, a junior, just announced on Monday that he will be leaving the program early to enter the 2019 NFL draft.

Although not totally unexpected, it was something ASU fans were hoping would wait another year.

Benjamin will return and will be the face of the offense again next year.  The sophomore was averaging 131 rushing yards going into the season finale, third in the nation in rushing, and has run for 100 yards or more in eight games this season.  He needs just 42 yards in the expected bowl game, yet to be determined, to set the school’s all-time, single-season rushing record.  He has 1,524 yards this season.

But the loss of Wilkins and Harry will leave big holes to fill.

Wilkins is averaging 241 yards passing per game, completes 63 percent of his pass attempts, and could become No. 3 on the school’s all-time list for passing yards if he has a monster bowl game that includes a 324-yard passing performance.

But Harry is the one getting all the attention right now.  Not only will he leave a huge hole in the Sun Devil offense, but he also hasn’t yet decided whether he will play in the bowl game, citing concern for an injury that might drop his value in the draft.  Right now, the graduate of Chandler High School is projected to go early in the first round of the draft, with some analysts expecting him to be a top-10 pick.

The 6’4″ receiver was recruited by Graham and has been a contributor to the Sun Devil program from his very first game.  He has played in 37 games in his shortened career and has a reception in each.  His 213 career receptions rank seventh among all active players, but first among players that are not seniors.

He has 22 career receiving touchdowns, which ties him for fifth place in program history.  He needs just two more, if he elects to play in the bowl game, to step up into the fourth-place position.  That game would also give him a chance to tack another 50 yards onto his career receiving total of 2,889 to enable him to graduate as the school’s No. 2 on that list — despite playing just three years.

Harry expressed at his announcement presser just how difficult the decision to go pro was.  “It was an extremely tough decision,” he said.  “I love this university.  I feel like I came here as a boy just trying to find his way, and I’m leaving here a man because of this university and all it offered.”

One important part of that college experience was to be able to play for a coach who spent his playing and coaching career in the NFL.  A coach who knows when a player is ready to take that big step to the professional ranks.

And Herm says the young man is definitely ready.

(Photo: ASU Athletics)