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2015 Fierce 40 Previews: #26 Arizona State

by DJ Boyer on Aug. 10, 2015

#26 Arizona State Sun Devils

2014 Recap

Another big season for Todd Graham as Arizona State goes 10-3 and becomes the latest team to defeat Duke in a bowl game, 36-31 in the Sun Bowl. Arizona State lost against Arizona in the regular season finale or they would have had a shot at Oregon in the Pac 12 Championship Game.

Coaching:

Todd Graham has enjoyed phenomenal success thus far, but a Pac-12 title has still eluded him, falling a cut below Oregon and Stanford during his tenure. The offense under Mike Norvell has fit in well with the high scoring Pac-12 as evidenced by the 36.9 PPG last season, good for 16th in the nation. Keith Patterson will spend his second season as the defensive coordinator. The area where Arizona State excelled a year ago was taking the ball away (+14 good for 6th in the nation). The defense was ranked 81st overall, but in the offensive-driven Pac-12 that was about the middle of the pack.

 

Offense Analysis

Quarterbacks/Running Backs:

Mike Bercovici will start as a senior for the departed Taylor Kelly. Kelly spent large chunks of his final two seasons on the bench with various injuries, so Berovici is far from being inexperienced. Berovici started three games, and in the first two he threw for 998 yards with eight TD’s and two INT’s. You can see from the numbers chucking the ball isn’t a problem, and the dropoff between he and Kelly was miniscule if at all.

The biggest change this year comes in the form of D.J. Foster. Foster ran for nearly 1,100 yards a season ago, but he was equally as deadly in the passing game. Foster had 62-688-3 in the air, and he performed so well Foster will be moved to receiver this season. This means that last seasons backup Demario Richard will be the starting tailback. Richard posted 84-478-4 for well over 5.0 YPC, so once again, it’s not like the cover is bare for the Sun Devils. The best thing about the running back situation is that things don’t start and end with Richard. De’Chavon Hayes is a JUCO transfer that looks like the change-of-pace back needed. After the performances of Hayes in the spring there are some that wonder whether or not he will eventually settle into a starting role. Kalen Ballage is a sophomore who can also takes some carries in this offense. Foster, is a very good running back, but with the stable so full Arizona State will see more from him as a receiver.

Best Draft Prospect: Demario Richard RB UFA 2018.

 

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:

The Sun Devils have to replace Jaelen Strong, the receiver we had ranked as the top playmaker available at wide receiver before last season began. A wrist injury caused Strong’s draft stock to drop, but you cannot argue with the 82-1165-10 stat line. D.J. Foster was second on the team in catches, and he is now a full time receiver with the abundant talent available in the backfield. Arizona State will also see Devin Lucian who as a graduate student from UCLA will transfer without having to sit out for a season. Lucian should be able to work the slot effectively, and his familiarity with the Pac-12 will come in handy. Gary Chambers promises to be the more vertical threat for the offense, and tight end Kody Kohl is back after 16 catches and touchdowns during 2014.

What remains to be seen is the blocking ability of this receiving corps. With so many weapons in the backfield we will have to see how Arizona State blocks in the spread offense. This looks like a team that will use the pass to set up the running game, and they should be able to pound the ball late in football games and win the time of possession battle.

Best Draft Prospect: D.J. Foster RB/WR 4th Round 2016.

 

Offensive Line:

Christian Westerman opens the season as one of the top prospects at the NCAA level at offensive guard. We are starting to see guards going a little higher on draft boards during the last few seasons, especially ones that are athletic and can pull in the open field. The best aspect for Arizona State is he is not the only guard on the roster that should be drafted in 2016. Right guard Vic Teofilo goes a bit unnoticed due to Westerman playing on the opposite side, but he in his own right is a fantastic guard. Teofilo could be the second best guard in the conference next to his teammate, and center Nick Kelly will garner some NFL attention. All three interior lineman are seniors, and it gives Arizona State the solid nucleus to utilize the running backs we have already profiled. Tackles Evan Goodman and William MacGehee should be the starters at tackle, but freshman Sam Jones will see plenty of time and can play either side with equal effectiveness. This may be the best line in the conference.

Best Draft Prospect: Christian Westerman OG 2nd/3rd Round 2016.

 

Defense Analysis

Defensive Line:

Some solid interior line pressure a season ago led Arizona State to another successful season up front. Arizona State finished second in the conference in sacks per game, trailing only Washington. We don’t see any major prospects from an individual standpoint along the line, although that could change for DE Edmond Baoteng. Boateng should man the defensive end spot along with Tashon Smallwood, and both had a pair of sacks a season ago. Arizona State runs the 3-4 base and the defensive tackle will be Demetrius Cherry. Cherry spent last season as the backup for Marcus Hardison, who led the team with 10 sacks. Cherry is seen as more of a run stuffer and will not offer the same amount of penetration as Hardison had. Viliami Latu could spell Cherry and will act as the pass-rushing presence on the inside of the line. Smallwood also tips the scales at 285, so we might see Arizona State move him inside from time to time.

Best Draft Prospect: Edmond Boateng DE UFA 2017.

 

Linebackers:

This is a unit that looks to have the talent to compete in the Pac-12, but depth may be an issue. Salamo Fiso may have been the unsung hero of the defensive a season ago with players like Marcus Hardison and Demarious Randall commanding more attention. Fiso contributed 83 tackles with 11 for loss and 3.5 sacks. Fiso also had an interception and a few fumble recoveries as a sophomore. Fiso looks to step into a leadership role this season, as he will play along the outside with Alani Latu and even the aforementioned Edmond Boateng, who will switch back and forth between end and linebacker. Kalen Ballage who we mentioned as a running back could also play some linebacker likes Myles Jack or even similar to Shaq Thompson from Washington a season ago. Antonio Longino and Viliami Moekiola will start in the middle, and the tandem are both returning starters. When you combine their 2014 efforts you come up with 164 tackles with 16 coming for loss and seven sacks. Youngsters Christian Sam and D.J. Calhoun will also provide support off the bench.

Best Draft Prospect: Salamo Fiso LB 6th Round 2017.

 

Secondary:

Stopping the pass seemed to be an issue as Arizona State ranked 103rd against the pass in 2014. Again, the Pac-12 has inflated passing statistics because of the prospects we see here regularly, and last year when they had more quarterbacks taken in the draft and signed to free agent contracts than any other conference in football. Lloyd Carrington looks a little undersized, but he plays well in the air and in man-to-man coverage. Carrington looks like a solid mid-round prospect for 2016. Kweshi Brown is also a senior returning starter, and he tied for the team lead with three interceptions a season ago. More worries should come at safety where Arizona State has to replace first round pick Damarious Randall. Jordan Simone and James Johnson look like the strong and free safety starters at this time. Chad Adams and Armand Perry will serve as safety backups.

Best Draft Prospect: Lloyd Carrington CB 4th Round 2016.

 

Special Teams

A new special teams coach is in play, as Arizona State has struggled in the return game and with kickoff and punt coverage. The struggles have been apparent since before the days of current head coach Todd Graham. While the return game has struggled the Sun Devils seem to have field goals and punting in check with a pair of returning starters that performed well last season. Matt Haack averaged 43.3 YPK, and Arizona State uses their quarterbacks to kick in 3rd or 4th and long situations. Haack only had four touchbacks in 65 punts a season ago, and he is a junior along with kicker Zane Gonzalez. Gonzalez was 22-27 last year and can develop into an NFL prospect if he shows he can make longer field goals. Gonzalez failed to hit any 50 yarders last year and did not handle the kickoffs.

Best Draft Prospect: Zane Gonzalez K UFA 2017.

 

2015 Schedule

Opening with a game against Texas A&M in Houston to start the season could set the table immediately. Conference play starts early with USC and UCLA in back-to-back weeks to open conference action. November 14 and November 21 will offer consecutive home contests against Washington and Oregon. Arizona Stater then goes on the road against Arizona, a game that last seasons decided who faced Oregon in the conference title game. The schedule is hard, but Arizona State always manages to win a game or two every year where the odds are stacked against them.

 

Draft Prospects & Outlook

Christian Westerman looks to be the most obvious choice as the top prospect for the Sun Devils heading into the season. The senior season for D.J. Foster is intriguing, because it’s very rare that we see a 1,000 yard runner that is so comfortable as a receiver that he is moved there before his senior season. Foster has the versatility to get drafted, but where will teams feel he fits? Salamo Fiso and Lloyd Carrington are the best defensive prospects we see, but kicker Zane Gonzalez is a name to watch for 2017.