VOTE: Who is the greatest DL and LB tandem in ASU history?

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By Brad Denny By Brad Denny

Yesterday, we asked you to choose the top quarterback-to-wide receiver combo in Arizona State history (vote here).

Now, we switch it up and go over to defense with a question every bit as tough and hard-nosed as the great Sun Devils involved:

Who is the greatest single-season defensive line and linebacker tandem in Sun Devil history?

The nominees...

DL Curley Culp & LB Ron Pritchard (1967)

Frank Kush coached more than his share of defensive greats, and this duo is among the elite.

When he wasn't busy winning the NCAA heavyweight wrestling title, the 260-pound Culp was a dominant force in the trenches from his middle guard spot. With Culp building the wall up front, ASU held opponents to just 79.8 rushing yards per game in an era dominated by the run game. He was named a first team selection to both the All-American and All-WAC teams.

In the unlikely event a ballcarrier made it past Culp, Ron Pritchard brought the hammer down from his linebacker spot. Possessing what Kush called "as good of instincts as I’ve ever seen on the football field", Pritchard joined Culp as a first-team All-WAC pick, and was an honorable mention All-American. He would later become the first Sun Devil to earn consensus All-American honors (1968) and would later have his name and number enshrined in Sun Devil Stadium's Ring of Honor.

DL Jim Jeffcoat & LB Vernon Maxwell (1982)

In 1982, ASU led the nation in total defense, and with Jeffcoat and Maxwell leading a talented group, it's easy to see why.

Up front, Jeffcoat was a terror from his defensive end spot. He made 111 tackles and four sacks during the year, earning third-team All-American and a first-team All-Pac-10 performer. Jeffcoat played his best when the team needed him most, and he was a man possessed in the 1983 Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma, notching 11 tackles, a forced fumble, a pass deflection that was intercepted, and a crucial safety. He finished his career with 20 sacks and has been inducted into the ASU Hall of Fame and the Ring of Honor.

Maxwell, one of the most underrated defenders in ASU history, put together his a first-team All-American season that year (his third season with All-American honors), as well as a spot on the All-Pac-10 first team. He notched 12 sacks from his outside linebacker position, which gave him a school career-record 28 at the time (now fourth). Maxwell also made 110 total tackles that year, including 20 for loss.

DL Derrick Rodgers & LB Pat Tillman (1996)

One of ASU's most cherished teams contained a dynamic pair of defensive playmakers that led the charge.

He wasn't at ASU for long, but Derrick Rodgers made his year in Tempe count. The undersized (212 pounds) defensive end became an unstoppable pass rushing force for the 1996 Sun Devils juco transfer. Rodgers speed off the edge helped him lead the Pac-10 with 24 tackles for loss (still the second-highest single-season total in ASU history) and finish second with 12 sacks, perhaps none more memorable than this one. Rodgers was named both a first team All-American and a first team All-Pac-10 selection.

Right behind Mr. Rodgers was Pat Tillman. Pat and his flowing golden locks were everywhere that season, as he made 91 tackles, including a team-high 58 solo, along with 11 tackles for loss. He also showed off his flair as a playmaker, leading the team with 11 passes defended, four interceptions, and three fumble recoveries. Tillman was named to the All-Pac-10 second team at outside linebacker.

Jeremy Staat and Pat Tillman (1997)

A pair forever connected due to their gridiron talents at Arizona State together and patriotic military service after football, Staat and Tillman formed a formidable force for the Sun Devil defense in 1997.

With losses on the line from the illustrious 1996 team such as Rodgers, Brent Burnstein and Shawn Swayda, a void up front emerged heading into the ‘97 season – one Staat filled far beyond expectation.

A role player on ASU’s Rose Bowl squad after transferring from the JUCO ranks, Staat chipped in 22 tackles in 1996 but transitioned into one of the nation’s premier linemen as a senior when he posted 12.5 sacks on his way to the Morris Trophy as the league’s top defensive lineman while also being named a First-Team All-America honors by the Football Writers Association of America. 

The emotional leader of the ’96 defense as a junior, Tillman reached even greater heights his senior season as he was named the Pac-10 Conference Defensive Player of the Year – an award that now carries his name – while also being named a First-Team All-American by Sporting News after collecting a team-high 97 tackles in 1997. Tillman’s noble, selfless story is known the throughout the entire football world and the combination of his tenacious performance on the field for the Devils and the ultimate sacrifice he gave during military service prompted voters to elect Tillman as a member of the College Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2010.

Terrell Suggs and Adam Archuleta (2000)

Y2K brought about a season that passed the torch of dominant Devil defenders, as the fifth-year senior and true freshman Chandler products – both eventual first-round NFL Draft selections – wreaked havoc together on the Pac-10 Conference.

One of the most highly touted Arizona prospects to sign with the Sun Devils in recent decades, Suggs made the transition from a steamroller running back under John Wrenn at Hamilton High School to Pac-10 defensive end in Bruce Snyder’s final season with absolutely no learning curve. Though merely 17-years-old to start the 2000 season, Suggs showed no baby fat bursting off the edges for ASU as he had team-highs of 16.0 tackles-for-loss including 10.0 sacks, while also totaling 48 tackles, four forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and one interception. A Freshman All-American by Football News and Sporting News, Suggs was also named the Pac-10 Conference Defensive Freshman of the Year – certainly not the last time the eventual NCAA single-season and career sacks leader would earn postseason honors.

From walk-on to All-American, Archuleta capped off his meteoric rise as a Sun Devil by being named the Pac-10 Conference Defensive Player of the year as a senior after posting 127 tackles – including 15.0 for loss – with five pass deflections, four sacks, four fumble recoveries, three forced fumbles and one interception. In addition to his conference award and inclusion on the All-Pac-10 First-Team, Archuleta earned First-Team All-America honors by Gannett News Service and was an Associated Press and Walter Camp Second-Team All-American. Also a finalist for the Football News National Defensive Player of the Year Award, thanks to his incredible senior season and a phenomenal NFL Combine effort, Archuleta was selected 20th overall by the St. Louis Rams in the NFL Draft the following spring.

Will Sutton and Carl Bradford (2012)

Few players benefited from the arrival of Todd Graham to ASU than this pair, as both went from role players under Dennis Erickson to eventual collegiate stars and NFL Draft selections after two sensational seasons under Graham’s tutelage.

Sutton’s first three Sun Devil seasons included as many hills as valleys – he posted 17 tackles as a true freshman in 2009 before being declared academically ineligible for 2010, then totaled 33 tackles as a starter under Dennis Erickson in 2011. Meanwhile, Bradford, a full-time fullback in high school, redshirted in 2010 and bounced between linebacker and defensive end in 2011 with moderate stats of 12 tackles and one sack in reserve duty.

The changing of the guard at head coach was an immediate godsend for both, especially Sutton, who absolutely exploded in 2012 and was named a Consensus All-American and Pac-12 Conference Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year after dominating opposing offensive lines to the tune of 63 tackles – including 23.5 for loss – with 13.0 sacks and three forced fumbles.  The most dominant defender at ASU since Terrell Suggs, Sutton opted to return for his senior season and ultimately again was named the Pac-12 Conference Pat Tillman Defensive Player of the Year before being selected by the Chicago Bears in the 2014 NFL Draft.

Bradford’s time at linebacker and defensive end ended up being a huge asset under Graham as the “Devilbacker” position was ideally suited for the Norco, Calif., native.  In his first season as a starter for ASU, Bradford quickly became the perfect complement to Sutton and the sophomore totaled 82 tackles – including 20.5 for loss – with 11.5 sacks and three forced fumbles.  An Honorable Mention All-Pac-12 selection in 2012, Bradford took home Second-Team All-Pac-12 recognition in 2013 before foregoing his senior season to enter the 2014 NFL Draft, where he was selected by the Green Bay Packers.

Honorable Mention: 

DL Clifton Alapa and LB Bob Breunig (1974), DL Willie Scroggins and LB Larry Gordon (1975), DL Shante Carver and LB Brett Wallerstedt (1992), DL Dexter Davis and LB Robert James (2007)