ASU Football's 14 Most Important Players for 2014: #12 - Eric Lauderdale

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By Brad Denny By Brad Denny

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Can lightning strike twice? The Sun Devils hope so. The rest of the Pac-12 does not.

The initial bolt came last year in the form of Jaelen Strong. Coming to ASU as a junior college transfer, Strong electrified the Arizona State offense, catching 75 passes for 1,122 yards and seven touchdowns to earn second-team All-Pac-12 honors. Heading into this fall, Strong is the top returning receiver in the conference, and his name has frequently been on 2015 NFL mock drafts.

With Strong entrenched as quarterback Taylor Kelly's unquestioned No. 1 option, the ASU offense is in need of another receiver to emerge in order to keep defenses from loading up on Strong.

The Sun Devils' second-leading receiver from a year ago, D.J. Foster, will now see most of his time at running back. The top two wide receivers from 2013—Kevin Ozier and Rick Smith—are gone, as is running back Marion Grice and his 50 catches from last season. Redshirt freshman Ellie Jefferson had a terrific spring, but has yet to play a snap in a college game.

Those departures on offense made adding playmakers a big priority for the program.

"We felt like offensively, what we needed to do is add to the explosiveness of our offense," said ASU head coach Todd Graham.

Enter Eric Lauderdale.

Like Strong, Lauderdale comes to ASU as one of the most highly-rated junior college wide receivers in the nation. A consensus four-star prospect by the major recruiting services, Lauderdale was ESPN's third-ranked junior college wide receiver, and pegged him as the 18th overall junior college player in the 2014 class.

His offer sheet reads like a who's who of college football: Florida, Nebraska, Oregon, Miami, Wisconsin and Washington are among the many schools ASU beat out for Lauderdale's services.

During his two seasons at Saddleback Community College in California, Lauderdale proved to be a decisive playmaker. Last season—despite missing four of the team's 11 games—Lauderdale caught 54 passes for 703 and nine touchdowns. Those totals include a record-setting effort, when he had 13 catches for 255 yards and four touchdowns in a single game.

In yet another similarity to Strong, Lauderdale has the excellent size and speed combination that is quickly become the new mold for the position. He stands 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds, and has been timed in the mid 4.4s in the 40-yard dash. While not an elite burner, his route-running skills and sure hands figure to make him an integral part of the Sun Devil attack, and a player to prevent defenses from keying heavily on Strong.

Per ESPN's scouting report of Lauderdale:

Lauderdale is part possession player, part playmaker. Has some focus and ball skills in a crowd and has quick hands. Size gives him value as does his ability to be precise as a route runner. Top end speed may be somewhat limiting against elite competition.

With a potential NFL first-rounder in Strong being joined by a player as talented as Lauderdale, Graham is excited about what his offense can do to the opposition.

"I think he will be a great tandem with Jaelen and a guy that really has big play explosive capabilities," Graham said.

If Lauderdale, who will wear No. 14 at ASU, can come in and meet those expectations, it will be a deadly pick-your-poison proposition for the rest of the Pac-12.