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2014 Fierce 40 Previews: #26 Arizona State

by DJ Boyer on Jul. 21, 2014

#26 Arizona State Sun Devils

 

2013 Recap:

Arizona State had a 10-win season playing for the PAC-12 Title before losing to Stanford 38-14 and then Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl. While they managed a 10-4 record, one win was perhaps the most controversial of the year when they were home against Wisconsin, with the Badgers and the refs giving the game away (video). This was a team that exceeded expectations with their biggest win coming on the road late in the season against UCLA.

 

Coaching:

Todd Graham has enjoyed great success in two seasons with an 18-9 record and he serves as the team's Co-Defensive Coordinator. EVen with a defensive-minded coach, don't let that fool you because Arizona State will provide even more of an offensive show.

 

Offense

Quarterbacks/Running Backs:

Taylor Kelly seems to be on many lists as a quarterback to look out for in 2014. He is a quarterback that is a true passer but his 608 rushing yards from last season show he can move and more importantly step up or hang in the pocket that extra second when making a throw. We are not quite as high on Kelly as some others and he will need to add some bulk and arm strength for NFL life. He has the tools teams are looking for though and he could rocket up the charts with a big year and strong workouts. Kelly may have the best touch of any of the top name passers at the NCAA level and has enough weapons around him to lead a team that was #10 in scoring just a season ago.

D.J. Foster is back at running back and he has experience when the starter from last season, Marion Grice (who was drafted) dealt with some injury issues. Foster was third on the team in rushing but his 5.4 YPC was tops on the team. His 63 catches was second on the team, making him one of the best dual threats in the country at running back. Senior Deantre Lewis is the backup and he had 58 carries last season so he is battle tested.

Best Draft Prospect: Taylor Kelly QB 6th Round 2015.

 

 

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:

Arizona State may have the premier receiver in the country in junior Jaelen Strong. Strong posted 75 catches for 1,122 yards and seven touchdowns last season but it's his size/speed combination that makes him even scarier to opposing defensive coordinators. Strong has above average speed, not quite top-end but more than enough for a prospect standing 6'3” and weighing in at 205 pounds. He is an unselfish player, and knows that Arizona State has a host of people to throw to. Strong knows he is the top target but always seem to do what's best for the team and we anticipate him declaring and being a first round pick in April, maybe even being the first receiver off the draft board.  The next big name for the passing game is a junior that is new on the scene, Eric Lauderdale, who is coming aboard as a JUCO transfer. Lauderdale has worked his way into the starting lineup and will look to take some pressure off of Strong. There is some youth in the passing game with talent that should be worked into the speed of the game slowly and contribute more as the season rolls along.

Best Draft Prospect: Jaelen Strong WR 1st Round 2015 (Junior expected to declare early).

 

Offensive Line:

Arizona State returns three lineman from last season but the two players the team is replacing were pretty big contributors, especially Evan Finkenberg who was an All-Conference selection after moving from right to left tackle last season. Christian Westerman is one of the newcomers but he is a transfer from Auburn that has some experience. Jamil Douglas is an underrated player that does exactly what Finkenberg did last season. He was a right tackle that is going to move to the left side for his senior season. Vi Teofilo is an underrated guard and he will be playing the right side. I expect most of the running to take place over the right side of the line while many of the designed rollouts for Kelly will probably move more towards the left.

Best Draft Prospect: Jamil Douglas OT 7th Round 2015.

 

 

Defense

Defensive Line:

It’s a good thing Arizona State has an abundance of talent on the offensive side of the football because on defense there are a lot of pieces to replace and the defensive line is where it starts. Arizona State, like a number of PAC-12 teams, employ a 3-4 front and it’s hard to get excited about this group now that Will Sutton, the two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, is in the NFL. When Sutton wasn’t making a play he was ensuring that a hole was opened or blockers engaged at the corners and this allowed Carl Bradford to penetrate but his 19 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks are also now in the NFL. Arizona State will have three new starters in the front and two are coming via the JUCO route being led by Dalvon Stuckey. Sophomore Edmund Boateng is also going to see a lot of time and is thought of as more of a run stopper than a pure pass rusher. Jaxson Hood will play in the middle and he made 17 tackles with 3 coming for loss in a limited role a season ago.

Best Draft Prospect: N/A

 

Linebackers:

While Bradford was the top sack artists, Arizona State also needs to cope with the loss of Chris Young, the team's leading tackler with 112. Salamo Fiso is the only returning starter at the linebacker spot and the only returning starter in the front seven. Fiso was 3rd on the team with 71 tackles in 2013. D.J. Calhoun was one of the top rated linebackers in the country and the freshman looks like he is going to start from day 1. Chans Cox is another freshman that is going to contribute and also help on special teams while Enrique Florence is another name Sun Devils fans should expect to hear. It is clear that the focal point will be attacking the quarterback as Arizona State and their 40 sacks from a year ago was the driving force for what fueled the defense. The linebackers will hope to continue the trend of causing turnovers as Arizona State’s +15 ratio was tops in the conference in 2013.

Best Draft Prospect: N/A

 

Secondary:

Arizona State only has one member of the secondary returning from last season, meaning  that all ten of the eleven starters from the 2013 are gone, that’s a massive turnover. Demarious Randall tied for third in tackles last season and had a hand in five turnovers (3 interceptions and forced a pair of fumbles). Randall is a fringe prospect for the 2015 draft and if he isn’t selected he most certainly will have a camp invite with a fantastic chance at making a roster. Lloyd Carrington will be one of the junior cornerbacks that will be starting and his experience is considerably more than his counterpart Solomon Means. Arizona State does show a little more size than in year's past and the talent is there, but they just need some more experience. Expect a little more pressure on the front of the defense to keep up the pass rush as the youngsters get acclimated behind them.

Best Draft Prospect: Demarious Randall S 7th Round 2015.

 

 

Special Teams:

Zane Gonzalez is one of the better kickers in the NCAA that doesn’t seem to get the recognition he deserves while punter Matt Haack had a respectable freshman campaign. The coverage units were among the worst in the PAC-12 and the return game lacked firepower. One of the new incoming backup wide receivers, Ronald Lewis or Ellis Jefferson, may handle some return duties or they could shift to senior wide receiver Kyle Middlebrooks. The duties for this will be split and the team could go with the “hot hand” at the time.

Best Draft Prospect: N/A

 

Schedule:

First big test comes at home at the end of September as UCLA looks to avenge the huge loss they suffered at home to Arizona State last season. October only consists of three games but they will be USC, Stanford and Washington, so no breaks there. November offers Notre Dame and the rest of the conference slate which does not include Oregon this season. This is not an easy schedule and expect a lot of high scoring games if this team wants to get back to the Pac-12 Title Game.

 

Draft Outlook:

The focus is on offense where Jaelen Strong has an excellent chance at being the Biletnikoff winner this season and the first wide receiver off the board if he declares. There is room for Taylor Kelly to move up the draft board even in a conference saturated with top-notch signal callers. The defensive side of the ball leaves much to be desired in the way of prospects for this season.

 

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