When senior quarterback Manny Wilkins earned his first start for Arizona State in 2016, he was following a couple of the top Sun Devil quarterbacks in recent history. Taylor Kelly and Mike Bercovici led ASU to a 35-19 record from 2012-2015, however, their playing days after college have been unfruitful.
Kelly became the starter as a sophomore and found major success with former head coach Todd Graham. The Idaho native flew up the ASU record lists to first in total touchdowns and scores in a single season due to his playmaking ability with his arm and legs. He also sits at fourth in passing yards, just eight yards behind Jake Plummer for third (if Kelly had not missed three games as a senior he most assuredly would have overtaken “Jake the Snake”). In 2013, Kelly led the Devils to 10 wins for the first time since 2007 while capturing the Pac-12 South title.
Unfortunately, NFL scouts did not see much professional potential in the former Sun Devil. Kelly’s issues were that he had “Below-average poise from pocket… Balance as a passer and decision making dipped sharply at times… Fails to play with the consistency of an NFL quarterback”, according to NFL.com’s scouting analysis by Lance Zierlein. His sophomore season was his best and his completion percentages dropped in each of his years.
Kelly went undrafted in 2015. He was invited to work out with the Arizona Cardinals before they decided not to sign the hometown hero. He now works in developing young quarterbacks and coaches at the esteemed Mater Dei High School.
As for Bercovici, he filled in for three games in Kelly’s absence during the foot injury in 2014 before taking over as the full time starter the next year. Despite only starting for just over a season, he finished his ASU career with 48 touchdowns, eighth in school history. But, after the 2015 season, Bercovici received little draft attention and went unselected.
Unlike his predecessor though, Bercovici received NFL chances. He played for the San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers during the 2016 and 2017 preseasons, where he struggled mightily, finishing 36/65 with one touchdown and six interceptions. He never made it beyond the Chargers’ practice squad, and they released him after their final preseason game in 2017.
After getting cut, he signed with the Arizona Cardinals. Despite the team’s injury problems at quarterback, Bercovici never made the active roster. He was cut before the year ended and is a current free agent.
Manny Wilkins seems to have a similar uphill battle for the NFL. He was overshadowed by the star quarterbacks of the Pac-12’s last few years and, instead of bursting into overnight prodigy status a la Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, or Justin Herbert, his college performance started out mediocre — but he’s been improving ever since. If that trend continues in 2018, who knows — maybe Wilkins will reverse the trend.