The Eagles have been looking to upgrade their depth and even their starters at the safety position. They addressed the area of immediate need with the signings of Malcolm Jenkins and Chris Maragos, but still have room for more talent alongside Nate Allen, Earl Wolff and Keelan Johnson. With several players at the position, the team could address the position later on in the draft.
Arizona State's Alden Darby is a former teammate of Johnson's and has shown a knack for making plays. The Defensive MVP of the East-West Shrine Game was a standout high school player and a first team All-PAC selection in 2013. The playmaker, who stands 5-foot-10 and 200 pounds, is looking forward to the NFL Draft and hearing his name called during this weekend's festivities.
With the draft just days away, Darby sat down with BGN's Mike Kaye to discuss his college career, the PAC 12, wide receivers and much more.
Mike Kaye: Playing in the PAC-12, you were going up against top talent every week. What was that like for you?
Alden Darby: I loved it. That's every California kid's dream growing up. I grew up watching USC. All I knew was USC and PAC-12 football. I didn't know about the SEC or Big 12, just PAC-10 and USC. I loved playing in front of the crowds and all my friends. I loved every minute of it.
MK: When you were recruited, who else was interested in you and why did you choose Arizona State?
AD: I went to Millikan High School [in Long Beach, California] and we were one of the sorry schools in the division. Cal Poly is obviously the top dog out there and I had a chance to play there and play quarterback and receiver, but I kind of wanted to make a name for myself. I went to Millikan, where I knew it would be a struggle for me because we didn't have the resources and uniforms and things like that. I didn't really go to camps, I just really went out there and just balled out.
My junior year I played wide receiver and cornerback and was the best receiver in the league. I was No. 4 in the state of California but I was missing four core classes, which meant even if I had a 4.0 GPA, I wouldn't be able to get to college without those four classes. I didn't find that out until my senior year. I procrastinated a lot in school and my grades were pretty bad. All I did was play football and that was it. A lot of schools wanted me. Oregon sent people out every week to watch and I met with Pete Carroll my sophomore year of high school. Every team knew about me and wanted me but they were just concerned about my grades. I didn't have any SAT scores.
My senior year, I ended up playing quarterback and cornerback, because our quarterback got hurt. I ended up having a great season and ended up beating Cal Poly, which was the first time that had happen since 1965. That was really big for the high school and I got to really make a name for myself.
I really wasn't getting anyone looking at me because of my grades and the school I went to, so one night I called Boise State, Washington, Arizona State, Arizona, Washington State and Iowa State on the phone. I left a message and told them where I played ball at. The next day, [then-ASU wide receiver coach] Eric Yarber called and said 'We just looked at your tape and we will offer you a full-ride scholarship.' Washington came to the school and told me the same thing. Then Arizona did the same thing.
All of these schools were offering me scholarships and it was the last week to take a trip. I visited ASU and throughout the entire process all the teams talked about my ability, but ASU only talked about graduating, getting my grades in order and being academically secure. They didn't say anything about football and I actually didn't know I was going to play corner until my first day arriving at ASU. It was a 'no brainer' because they viewed me as a person, not Alden Darby, the athlete. That went a thousand miles and made my decision that much easier to choose.
MK: You played all of the four years at ASU and became a full-time starter at safety as a junior after previously playing cornerback. Can you talk about that transition and what it was like?
AD: It started off kind of difficult. I was use to playing strictly corner and nickel and that was it. My true freshman year I actually played every position [in the defensive backfield]. I played corner and safety, I played over the top against Oregon. It was a tough transition. I was only weighing about 185 pounds at cornerback because that's ideal size.
When I moved over to safety it was completely different. I have always been a smart player but the smarts I needed at safety were different than the ones I need at corner. I needed to be more vocal and needed to know everything instead of just somethings. The angles were different as far as tackling and just being back there. It was different than being on that island. Some people say it's harder being on an island but I am more comfortable there. It was different being 15 yards deep.
Sometimes being a safety, your eyes can get you in trouble. You want to be able to see the whole field but you don't want to see too much. You can get caught trying to make plays in your peripherals. The main difference was knowing the angles of the tackling and gaining the weight because I was getting thrown around a bit. My senior year I weighed around 195-200 pounds.
At the end of the day, it was all just football. Safety benefited me because I got to use my other instincts.
MK: You played on a defense that has produced a ton of NFL talent. Can you talk about playing in a defense like that and how that has helped you in becoming a better player and why that defense has produced so well?
AD: Man, we've been producing talent on defense since my freshman year. To go all the way back, [Browns linebacker] Brandon Magee, he was bouncing in out and of baseball and football, he's one of the best linebackers I have ever seen. [Bengals linebacker] Vontaze Burfict, is a name that I say and everyone knows who he is. [Broncos safety] Omar Bolden, he is one of the guys I look up to and [cornerback] Deveron Carr, he plays for the Buccaneers right now. [Eagles safety] Keelan Johnson, the list goes on. Will Sutton and Carl Braford [will be in the draft]. I think it has to do with the swagger we bring. That's really what it is.
I told myself my freshman year that playing on that defense, with those big name players, you don't really want to let those guys down. I remember getting into the games my sophomore year and Vontaze Burfict would be giving me the calls. I was like a young guy and I didn't want to let Vontaze down, so I was going to make that play.
[Defensive coordinator] Craig Bray and [head] coach Todd Graham put us in position to make plays. Coach Graham knew our talent and he would build defenses around our abilities. He brought out the best in us with the defenses and calls he made.
MK: You had 150 tackles (8.5 for loss), 26 pass breakups, three forced fumbles, four recoveries and 10 interceptions in four years at ASU. Would you consider yourself a playmaker and what do you think has led to you creating so many impact plays?
AD: I have been a playmaker since high school. You can ask anyone who played against me in high school and they'll probably tell you the best high school player that they ever played against. It is just what I do. I love to play in front of the crowd and hear the crowd go crazy. I feed off them. Playmaking is like the back of my hand, it is just something I have a knack for doing. I have a knack for being around the ball. My instincts are something I am big on. That's something that can't be coached.
You can teach a kid to backpedal and break on the ball, but with instincts, you either got it or you don't. I was blessed to be given good instincts for this game. I played both sides of the ball, so I know what wide receivers look for and I played quarterback in high school. I know what I am looking at. I played every skill position on the field.
MK: How has playing several positions made you a better player?
AD: It's helps me a lot. One of the things I like to do when I watch film is I watch from both sides. I grab [ASU quarterback] Taylor Kelly and [wide receivers] Jaelen Strong and Kevin Ozier and ask if they are comfortable when I am pressing. I like to know what they are seeing because if you can know what the offensive players are thinking, you can then say I know we are in Cover 2 this time, so the quarterback and wide receiver are thinking this side is open, so let me collapse on that. It has helped me figure out what they want to do.
MK: You had a bit of an up-and-down Pro Day. What would you say to critics of your Pro Day numbers?
AD: I am not one to make excuses. When I ran at my Pro Day and I look at my 10 yard split, I think the first time was a 1.7 and the second time was a 1.6, I just didn't feel good running. I knew when I was running it wasn't going to be a good time. I just didn't feel good at all, but I am not going to make excuses. If people are concerned about my speed, I will tell them what I always tell people, if I catch a pick I won't be caught. If someone tries to beat me, I won't [be beat].
MK: What was it like being at the East-West Shrine Game and being the Defensive MVP?
AD: It's funny because I really wasn't invited to the game. I made calls and got in contact and said I feel like I should be invited to some game based on my stats and being first team All-PAC-12. That's neither here nor there and I just wanted to play and got the invite. I just went out there with a chip on my shoulder because I felt kind of disrespected because I was getting overlooked or whatever you want to call it. At practice, I made sure I brought it. From the first day we went out, I made sure I brought it on one-on-one and team [drills].
I started the game, I was a captain in the game, I played all the special teams and I went out there and put on a show. I told [Washington quarterback] Keith Price that 'I'm going to put on a show for you all.' The first series in I got a pick and then I got put in [during] the fourth quarter and played about 15 snaps and had two interceptions and four tackles in a 15 play span. Imagine if I would have played the whole game. I wanted to play against the best and wanted everyone to know I was the best safety there.
MK: Your nickname should be 'Make The Most Of It."
AD: I like that.
MK: What is it like facing a Chip Kelly offense?
AD: It's extremely hard because Chip Kelly goes into a game and gets better as it goes [along]. You know how some people will come out on fire and die down? He gets better as every series comes along. He really looks at the defense and sees if we are doing certain things. He will start doing certain things to make us adjust so it opens up a hole or a gap. He gets smarter as the game goes on and he's a very good coach. I remember playing him in my junior year at home and when we played him I just remember watching him. He was calm, cool and collected on the sideline. He was dialing it up.
MK: Who is the best wide receiver in this draft class that you have had to cover in college?
AD: Paul Richardson or Marqise Lee. I trained with Paul and am training with Lee right now. Richardson is if not the top receiver, [then he is] in the top three in this class. I don't know who is doing the projections or evaluations but training with this dude and playing against him for years, he is legit. From route running to speed to hands to work ethic, he's legit. Same goes for Lee.
Both of their films speak for themselves and they are going to make noise at the next level.
MK: How's Lee's knee?
AD: I forgot he even hurt his knee, honestly. He's 100-percent, he's cool.