Where ASU's class is strongest, weakest heading into National Signing Day 2014Posted: Updated:
TEMPE, Ariz. -- It's almost here.
Wednesday is National Signing Day across college football, marking the first time that most of tomorrow's stars can officially sign on with their programs of choice.
Arizona State head coach Todd Graham and his staff have been working non-stop in putting together their 2014 class, and the status heading into the big day is promising. Scout.com has the Sun Devils' class currently ranked 12th nationally, while both ESPN and Rivals have ASU pegged at No. 17.
ASU currently has 23 verbal commitments in their class, with two more players—four-star linebacker D.J. Calhoun and three-star defensive lineman Edmond Boateng—already enrolled as mid-year signees, giving the Sun Devils 25 players in the current crop. With a max class size of 26, possible decommitments, last-minute flips, greyshirts, and nothing becoming official until a player faxes in their signed letter of intent, it figures to be yet another exciting day.
We take a look now at two areas in which Arizona State's class is strongest, and one area that they are hoping to bolster in the final hours.
In Good Shape: Running Back
In two out of the last three years, ASU has failed to land a running back in their class. Granted, signing both Marion Grice and D.J. Foster in 2012 was a great boon, but with Grice departing, the depth at the position was thin heading into the 2014 offseason.
Those concerns seem to be allayed should the Sun Devils keep their commits intact.
Three backs are currently verbally committed, and each bring a variety of skills that should prove valuable to the Sun Devil offense.
Demario Richard, a 5-foot-11, 200-pounder from Palmdale High School in California, possesses a prototypical feature back skillset. While the four-star prospect (by Scout and ESPN) isn’t the strongest or fastest back, he has the quickness to get to the second level and the speed to get big chunks of yardage. A Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl participant, Richard is also a plus receiver out of the backfield, and that versatile skillset makes him a great fit for the Sun Devil offense.
De’Chavon “Gump” Hayes, a transfer from Lackawanna Junior College in Pennsylvania, committed to ASU in mid-December. A 5-foot-11, 185-pound speedster, Hayes has the electric playmaking skills to be a dynamic change-of-pace player out of the backfield, and his value as a return man could see him earn those duties for ASU in 2014. Hayes had other offers from Oklahoma, Purdue, and Kansas.
The player who can bring this group all together is Kalen Ballage, arguably the most freakish athlete among all of ASU’s current commits. Ballage, who holds four-star ratings from Rivals and 247, is a tremendous blend of size (6-foot-2, 216 pounds), power, and speed (4.37 in the 40). The prep star from Falcon High School in Colorado has been hotly pursued by schools like Washington, Colorado and Nebraska, and Ballage took an official visit to UCLA this past weekend. The Bruins are ASU’s biggest competition for the gifted player, who could also see time at other positions to take advantage of his abilities.
In Great Shape: Wide Receiver
Stars and stars for days.
The Sun Devils have four players solidly committed in the 2014 class at this position, and each of them has at least one four-star rating from the four major recruiting services. This includes a pair of consensus four-star prospects in Tyler Whiley and Eric Lauderdale.
Whiley was the first wide receiver to commit, with his pledge coming back in July. Beyond the great talent that the explosive 6-foot-1, 187-pound speedster possesses, Whiley has added value as a coveted in-state commitment, after playing his prep ball at Scottsdale Saguaro. Whiley had a host of other impressive offers, including UCLA, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Michigan State.
Lauderdale is the other consensus four-star recruit, as well as the most recent commit. Following in last year’s footsteps of another big-bodied junior college transfer, Jaelen Strong, Lauderdale (6-foot-2, 195-pounds) comes to ASU from Saddleback Community College in California. Lauderdale should be an instant contributor to the Sun Devil offense, as he has the speed to beat defenders downfield, as well as the physicality to be a sure-handed target underneath.
Jalen Harvey chose ASU over other offers from schools like Oregon, UCLA and Cal. Holding four-star ratings from Rivals, ESPN, and 247, the 6-foot-1, 180-pounder is not a burner, but he compensates for his average speed by having sure hands and the ability to make tough catches in a crowd. Those coveted traits could translate well into a slot role at ASU, as well as a prime redzone target.
Rounding out the group is Nick Alexander from Lancaster High School in Texas. Alexander brings yet another big target to the passing game, standing at 6-foot-3. He chose ASU over offers from Washington, Oklahoma, and Illinois, among others. Alexander's skills make him a very intriguing developmental prospect.
Could Use Some Help: Offensive Line
ASU saw firsthand during their two losses to Stanford that the old adage that championships are won in the trenches still rings true. To that end, the team would like to land another name or two to their existing group of big boys on the line.
The Sun Devils have two current commits: Quinn Bailey and Sam Jones.
Jones is a talented three-star prospect from Colorado, that has many around the program excited for his future. The Sun Devils beat out Oregon for his services, and while Jones will need some time in the weight room to bulk up, he has an excellent frame at 6-foot-5 and 275 pounds to add the size while maintaining his good quickness.
Bailey, a consensus three-star player, has a similar frame to Jones, at 6-foot-5, 285 pounds. He is one of three Arizona prep players to commit to ASU, as he played his ball at Higley High.
Not surprisingly, one of ASU's top targets heading into Signing Day is a top-tier offensive lineman. The Sun Devils are one of four finalists for Kenyon Frison, a 6-foot-5, 290-pound prospect from Utah. Frison will pick between ASU, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Utah, the latter where he was once a commit, early on Wednesday morning. Landing Frison would be a big boost to a position group that loses two starters this year and three key players after 2014; however, Frison becoming a Sun Devil looks like a long shot.
Should Frison fall through, another potential name to watch could be a familiar one. Kammy Delp was an ASU commit for two weeks before decommitting on January 19. Initially a defensive lineman prospect for the Sun Devils, he could return to the radar as an offensive lineman, as Hod Rabino of DevilsDigest.com said on the latest Speak of the Devils podcast.
Still in Play: Pass Rushers
It's no secret that ASU will face some challenges on defense in 2014. The Sun Devils lose nine of their 11 starters from a year ago, including their top five players in terms of sacks. Reloading on talented pass rushers for ASU's aggressive scheme continues to be a focus down to the wire.
ASU did manage to secure a few commitments that can help. Local product Ismael Murphy-Richardson, who projects to Carl Bradford's vacated Devilbacker position, but the 6-foot-4, 215-pounder may need time to physically develop. Linebackers D.J. Calhoun and Christian Sam each have explosive playmaking ability and pass rushing skills.
However, the Sun Devils remain in play for others who can bolster the pass rush.
Atop the wish list is Deondre Clark, a player seemingly tailor-made to the Devilback spot. The Oklahoma native and current LSU commit is an explosive player with good size at 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, but at this point, a last minute flip to ASU would be a fairly significant surprise.
Another option that also appears off the radar is junior college defensive end Will Coleman, a Mississippi State commit. Coleman recently visited ASU, but all signs are now pointing to him staying true to the Bulldogs.
However, there is one option in which ASU should feel confident: Darrius Caldwell.
ASU recent hosted the nation's No. 1 ranked junior college defensive tackle Dalvon Stuckey, and things appear promising there. Stuckey visited with Caldwell, his Pearl River Community College teammate, and there could be dual commitment on Wednesday. A one-time South Carolina commit, Caldwell is a 6-foot-5, 255-pounder who offers a quick edge presence and the versatility to play Devilbacker or defensive end.