The Arizona State Sun Devils have a remarkable recent history with the NFL Draft. Over the last two years, an Arizona State wide receiver has been taken in the first round. Frank Darby is confident that he can follow N’Keal Harry and Brandon Aiyuk as a first-round NFL Draft selection. Does his ability match up to his confidence?
Frank Darby NFL Draft Profile & Senior Bowl Measurements
- Position: Wide Receiver
- School: Arizona State
- Current Year: Senior
- Height: 6’0 1/8″
- Weight: 194 pounds
- Wingspan: 76 1/8″
- Arm: 31 3/8″
- Hand: 9 5/8″
Frank Darby has emerged as one of the Pac-12’s most potent offensive weapons over the past four years. However, his journey to the NFL Draft began far from Tempe, Arizona in Jersey City. At Lincoln High School, Darby made a friend of the weight room, becoming a physical specimen that would go on to dominate on the football field.
Darby rose to prominence at Lincoln in his senior season. Although he played both sides of the ball — like many high school players — he excelled on offense. From just 35 receptions, Darby racked up 957 receiving yards and snagged 10 touchdowns. His performances earned him first-team All-State honors.
It’s an impressive achievement in its own right. However, it was made even sweeter by the fact it was the first time any Lincoln player had achieved the accolade in over 40 years.
Despite his impressive senior season, Darby wasn’t highly recruited. As a three-star recruit, he was ranked as the 27th-best player in New Jersey and the 163rd wide receiver in the 2016 class. There was interest in his services, nonetheless, and even prior to his standout 2015 campaign, he had committed to the Iowa Hawkeyes.
Although Darby had excelled on the field, he hadn’t academically. As a result, he didn’t meet the academic threshold required to sign his national letter of intent. Despite acquiring the required SAT score, eventually, Darby de-committed from the Hawkeyes following a disagreement over additional schooling the program wanted him to attend.
Frank Darby becomes an Arizona State wide receiver
An extended recruitment period saw him entertain offers from Rutgers and Boston College. However, Darby finally enrolled at Arizona State in June 2016. Arriving so late to the program, he redshirted the 2016 season. Despite not seeing the field, he impressed on the scout team during practices.
From the minute he stepped on to the field in 2017, Frank Darby became a dangerous deep threat. Although he only saw 9 receptions in his redshirt-freshman season, he reeled in 234 receiving yards at a phenomenal 26 yards per reception. Half of that yardage came in his first game as an Arizona State wide receiver, a 111-yard performance that included a touchdown against San Diego State.
That would be the first of five career 100-yard outings for Darby. San Diego State felt his wrath once more in 2018. The following week he secured a career-high 131 yards and a touchdown against Colorado. He once again proved to be a dangerous deep threat, racking up 20 yards per catch on average.
A breakout season in 2019
With N’Keal Harry departed to the NFL Draft in 2019, Frank Darby still had Brandon Aiyuk for company in the Arizona State wide receiver room. Despite this, he still averaged 19.9 yards per catch in the process of securing eight touchdowns. Darby ranked second in the Pac-12 and 10th in the nation for yards per catch.
His standout performance in a breakout season came in late November. Darby torched sixth-ranked Oregon to the tune of 125 yards on just 4 receptions as the Sun Devils drove a fork into the hearts of the Ducks’ playoff hopes.
The 2020 season was the one that Frank Darby staked his claim as the next great NFL Draft prospect from the Arizona State wide receiver room. In this most disrupted of seasons, however, he failed to live up to expectation. A rib injury sustained in the season opener saw him miss time. Unfortunately, a family issue saw him miss his final Arizona State game before declaring for the 2021 NFL Draft.
Analyzing Frank Darby’s NFL Draft profile
It’s clear from Frank Darby’s time as an Arizona State wide receiver that he is an exceptional deep threat. If you remove 2020 from the equation, he has averaged 21.6 yards per catch throughout his career. It’s an incredible statistic that shows the sort of dynamic ability you get if you select him in the NFL Draft.
How has Darby been able to achieve this performance? It starts with physicality. That attribute has been a part of his composition since the weight room at Lincoln High School. Darby uses that physicality at the line of scrimmage — with his hand strength to create separation — and also in contested catch situations. His physicality actually makes him seem bigger than his listed 6’1″ and 200 pounds.
In addition to hand use at the line of scrimmage, Darby showcases quick feet to help create separation. Although his calling card is the deep threat, the aforementioned skill set allows him to win on short to intermediate routes as well.
There’s one aspect of Frank Darby’s NFL Draft profile that can’t be measured in a box score, neither can it be truly scouted on tape. That’s his work ethic and leadership.
From high school to the Arizona State wide receiver room, teammates and coaches alike talk about his leadership and the work he puts into making himself and others better. That’s a characteristic that has substance in the NFL.
What are the concerns surrounding Frank Darby?
Although there are examples of him being able to pull away from defenders in the secondary, one of the biggest concerns over Frank Darby as an NFL Draft projection is his speed. He appears to have adequate long speed. However, there are too many examples on tape of him having to rely on contested-catch situations as he can’t separate with speed.
The lack of true breakaway speed gives the overall impression that he is a good — but not great — athlete.
Another area of concern is his catch ability. This is particularly troubling for a player that relies on winning contested catches. Rather than using his hands to secure the ball, Darby often relies on his body for receptions. This can lead to costly drops. He needs to improve his technique so that he is using his hands rather than his body to secure the catch.
Frank Darby’s best fits in the 2021 NFL Draft
After a less than stellar 2020 season, Frank Darby is a player who needs to maximize his opportunities in Mobile. Thankfully for Darby, he has a fan in Jim Nagy.
The Senior Bowl executive commented earlier in 2020 that “Frank Darby has the tools to be one of the first wide receivers picked next April. We love Darby’s upside because coaches say he’s the hardest worker.”
Tony Pauline’s current draft ranking for Frank Darby
Despite this, it is unlikely that Darby makes it three consecutive years with an Arizona State wide receiver taken in the first round. Currently, Tony Pauline has Frank Darby graded as a sixth-round prospect with a ranking of 275th on his latest big board for Pro Football Network. He is Pauline’s 43rd-ranked wide receiver in this 2021 NFL Draft class.
Darby currently projects as a potential WR2 in the NFL, with the ability to use his physicality to mold a special teams role. There are multiple teams with wide receiver needs in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Most notably, the New England Patriots are in the market for a wide receiver. They have yet to see the best from their investment in Darby’s former teammate, N’Keal Harry. Other teams that could have interest include the Miami Dolphins, Tennessee Titans, and New York Giants.
Oliver Hodgkinson is a staff writer for Pro Football Network. You can follow him on Twitter at @ojhodgkinson.