NFL draft: ASU’s Eno Benjamin joins the Cardinals

Good news for Arizona State football fans: they can continue to enjoy the game-breaking skills of one of the school’s best-ever running backs.  They will just need to take the short drive across town to Glendale.

That’s where State Farm Stadium (formerly University of Phoenix Stadium) is located, the new home for the freshly-minted professional.  The Arizona Cardinals snatched up Eno Benjamin in Saturday’s seventh round of the NFL draft.

OK, so we may not get to see a lot of him this year, as he learns the ropes.  But, hopefully, his time will come.

Benjamin’s name was on the board longer than anyone had anticipated;  he had been projected to go somewhere from the third to the fifth round.  Instead he was the 222nd overall pick, going to the Cardinals with the eighth pick of the seventh round.

“I’m just forever grateful for the opportunity to get drafted and play the sport I love,” Benjamin shared after his name was called and he found out he wouldn’t be far from his old fan base.  “It will be that much easier of a transition because I’m right down the road from where I went to college.

Cardinals’ head coach Kliff Kingsbury, who watched the Texas native play in high school and followed his college career, says he has plans for the 5’10”,  210-lb. power runner.  He wants to make him the back-up to last season’s back-up running back, Chase Edmonds.

While that’s still a Hail Mary pass away from the starting job, it’s not a bad spot to be in since the 2019 starter, Kenyan Drake, is only committed to the Cardinals for another year.  The 26-year-old Drake came over from the Miami Dolphins in an  October trade last year and was immediately inserted into the Cardinals’ line-up.  He ran for 643 yards in eight games, but was just signed to a one-year tender offer going forward, which means he will be free to negotiate his release next season.

Benjamin gave up his senior year at ASU to take his shot at the pro game.  But in his three years with the Sun Devils, with almost all of his stats squeezed into his sophomore and junior seasons, he put up some impressive numbers.

In addition to his 1,642 rushing yards that set a school record in 2018, his name is scattered all over the program record books.  He finished with 15 career games with at least 100 yards rushing, for 4th in program history; had 253 rushing attempts last season for 3rd place in the books (his 576 attempts overall is sixth-best); and his 2,867 career rushing yards ranks 7th on the all-time list.  One more rushing touchdown would have boosted him into the program’s Top 5 all-time in that category.

Benjamin was the second ASU player to be selected in this draft.  Brandon Aiyuk, a wide receiver who led the Sun Devils last season with 65 receptions for 1,192 yards, was taken by the San Francisco 49ers with the 25th pick in the first round.  A running back wasn’t selected until the final pick of the first round.

Aiyuk’s selection at No. 25 is the highest for an ASU player in the last 17 years and the highest wide receiver since 1988.  He becomes the second consecutive ASU wide receiver to be selected in the draft, following N’Keal Harry, who was taken 32nd overall last year.

With his selection Saturday, Benjamin earned another distinction that puts him into a special category.  He became the first ASU player to be drafted by the hometown Cardinals since Pat Tillman in 1998.  Tillman, who left the Cardinals after three years to enlist in the U.S. Army, lost his life during fighting in Afghanistan in 2004 and became one of the most celebrated and revered players to ever wear the Maroon and Gold.

An interesting side note to that fact… Tillman was taken just four picks after Benjamin, at No. 226.

(Photo: ASU Athletics)