LOI Day Evaluations and Expectations: Defense

Devils Digest's Joe Healey breaks down the defensive signees of ASU's 2012 recruiting class.

DL Jaxon Hood

Signing Day Evaluation: A highly productive lineman for perhaps the state's top high school program, Hood was largely overlooked by major programs because his limited height. However, Arizona and Arizona State took notice when their respective new head coaches were hired.

Todd Graham's Take: "We're fired up about Jaxon. Just like D.J. Foster, he's a local player. He's very powerful and very explosive. One of the things that we want is to impact the quarterback. This guy is a dynamic pass rusher from inside. He can play 3-technique or 5-technique and a guy that we think has great hands and great ability to come in and help us. We think that the most impressive thing about him is the character that he has.

We're so impressed with these guys. We think we got the best and the brightest of guys with the best character from right here in the Valley. So we're excited about Jaxon Hood."

Recruiting Battles: Prior to offers from both major in-state schools, Hood committed to Boston College. However, when the Sun Devils and Wildcats officially offered scholarships, it was generally assumed he'd choose to stay in-state. After a visit to Tucson, Hood checked out Tempe and provided rave reviews to the trip. Ultimately, Hood picked the Sun Devils on Signing Day.

Long and Short-Term Expectations: In all likelihood, Hood will redshirt in 2012 and prepare for the future. Down the road, Hood could provide a presence similar to Bo Moos, a player of similar physical stature to Hood that was a valuable, gritty contributor.

DL Milo Jordan

Signing Day Evaluation: The latest in the line of Corona (Calif.) Centennial products to come to ASU, Jordan is a physical, versatile lineman similar to predecessors that made the Centennial-to-ASU transition such as Will Sutton.

Todd Graham's Take: "He's a 3-technique guy and another inside guy from the defensive line. He's a guy that's very explosive off the football and again, a guy that can impact the quarterback."

Recruiting Battles: After pledging to ASU in June, Jordan backed off his commitment after the Sun Devils' late season struggles and the subsequent firing of Dennis Erickson. In early December he named ASU, Colorado, Missouri and UCLA as his top four, however his official visit a couple weeks before Signing Day made a major impact and sealed his status with the Sun Devils.

Long and Short-Term Expectations: Jordan reportedly has some academic hurdles to clear prior to his arrival at ASU. If all is clear, it is likely he will redshirt due to stable depth along the defensive line. Ideally, he can spend his redshirt season adding bulk to substantiate his durability as an inside defensive lineman.

DL Mike Pennel

Signing Day Evaluation: The addition of Pennel was huge—literally and figuratively—as he clearly brings the requisite mass to hold the middle of ASU's desired transition to a three-man defensive front.

Todd Graham's Take: "Mike is a guy that were really excited about. You look and see he is 6'5, 340 pounds. He absolutely epitomizes power. This guy is a powerful guy and he loves this place. He's excited about getting here. You build your defense from the inside out so we're really excited about what his potential is."

Recruiting Battles: For unknown reasons, ASU's previous coaching staff did not persistently pursue Pennel, perhaps contributing to his November verbal pledge to Arkansas. After a coaching staff shakeup there, Pennel backed off his commitment and visited Kansas State and Texas A&M. Ultimately, however, the Scottsdale Community College standout chose to conclude his collegiate career in an area near where it has started.

Long and Short-Term Expectations: Pennel undoubtedly is expected to be one of the major instant-impact contributors of this class. It has been reported on Devils Digest that he has a rigorous academic schedule to enable his clearance to ASU, but assuming that occurs he will be expected to provide a beastly inside presence on the Sun Devil defensive line.

DL Jake Sheffield

Signing Day Evaluation: Already on campus, Sheffield brings leadership and experience to the lineup as a 25-year-old military veteran with two years of experience at the junior college level.

Todd Graham's Take: "Jake is someone that is very unique. We talk all the time about what we want as far as character, discipline, toughness and he exemplifies that. A guy that he admires and looks up to is Pat Tillman. This guy has had two tours in Iraq. Let me tell you, he is going to be explosive. We think he is going to be a big time, impact player. He plays our 3-technique position and he can really rush the passer. This is a guy that is going to be really exciting for you to watch. I am very impressed with the discipline and character that he brings with him and what an example he is to our players."

Recruiting Battles: Sheffield initially pledged to ASU in June, but reconsidered his options as the season wore on, with Iowa coming strong into the equation for his services. By the thoughts of many, the Hawkeyes were believed to be the favorite for the Marine's signature, but Sheffield signed with ASU and is on campus for spring drills.

Long and Short-Term Expectations: Perhaps most appealing about Sheffield other than his military service is his experience playing in a three-man defensive front, making him an appealing commodity for the Sun Devil coaches. Able to play tackle or end, Sheffield can help offset losses of players such as Bo Moos and Jamaar Jarrett. Though honest expectations may not include all-conference honors or similar accolades, Sheffield has every skill to be a valuable addition to the roster for the next two years.

LB Salamo Fiso

Signing Day Evaluation: Perhaps the most talented defensive high school prospect ASU signed, Fiso's addition was integral to retool the linebacker positions after the departures of the team's top four players at the position from 2011.

Todd Graham's Take: "Obviously Salamo Fiso is one of our talented kids. He's the defensive player of the year, if I'm not mistaken, three years straight in his district. Which is one of the best districts in California to compete in. He is a guy that, I think, is one of the most underrated players in this class. I can tell you that he had plenty of other offers, but is very, very underrated. He has unbelievable character and his family is committed. This is a guy the Sun Devil fans are going to love. This guy is explosive, powerful, and the sky is the limit for him. We think he can be an impact player for us.

You guys remember that name, Salamo Fiso. He's going to be a player who is 6'1, 220-pounds and a guy who can flat run."

Recruiting Battles: When Dennis Erickson was fired, it became a major concern whether Fiso would stick with the Sun Devils or opt for a different route. Hawaii and more substantially Washington entered the competition and though there was some uncertainty until it was finalized, Fiso signed with ASU.

Long and Short-Term Expectations: There is a definite possibility Fiso could play as a true freshman, potentially as a top reserve middle linebacker where his main competitors will be previous depth players such as Brandon Johnson and Kipeli Koniseti. In any event, Fiso's aggressiveness and physical skills give him tremendous upside to be a multi-year starter at ASU and potential honors candidate.

LB Steffon Martin

Signing Day Evaluation: The mutual attraction between Martin and ASU escalated in a hurry, as he went from not being widely reported as a Sun Devil prospect to a visitor a few days prior to Signing Day. Martin was emphatically impressed by what he saw while visiting ASU, leading to his signature to the Devils. On the field, he is the prototype middle linebacker and a player from a productivity perspective has every tool to provide what is lost from Vontaze Burfict's departure.

Todd Graham's Take: "Steffon Martin, he was listed as a number three linebacker in the nation. He was listed as the 34th Junior College player over all in the nation. He's 6'2", 240 lbs. and he's one of those guys who have unbelievable character. When I think of Steffon, I keep thinking about his mom and what a tremendous story that was and what a tremendous person she is. Every one of these guys are tremendous people and I can't wait for you to meet them.

He's a bright eyed, sharp guy who is a 4.5-40 guy. He plays inside linebacker who can flat run when he's supposed to. He's mature and ready to come in and be an impact player. We are excited about Steffon."

Recruiting Battles: Martin committed to Purdue in the summer, but as his recruitment heated up he shied away from that to evaluate other options. He also visited Arkansas, Ohio State, Oregon State and Texas A&M but in the end, it was his hometown Indiana Hoosiers that stood toe-to-toe with ASU for his commitment.

Long and Short-Term Expectations: In 2012, Martin realistically should be on the short list of instant-impact members of this signing class. With Burfict's departure, the depth at middle linebacker is very thin and unaccomplished, which could have led to Brandon Magee shifting inside. Martin should be a surefire starter if he plays to his potential early in preseason camp and has the skill set to be as good as any junior college linebacker ASU has had since Dale Robinson.

LB Carlos Mendoza

Signing Day Evaluation: Rated the No. 54 outside linebacker prospect in the nation, Mendoza is the most common name cited among "sleeper" or "surprise" candidates in this class. Scout.com's Brandon Huffman has often raved about Mendoza's abilities, and his lack of major offers should not be considered an indictment against his skills on the field. Also a standout running back for Oaks Christian, Mendoza brings a well-rounded athletic package of tremendous intrigue.

Todd Graham's Take: "He's playing in the All-Star game down in Texas right now as we speak. Carlos is a playmaker and a dynamic player. Actually, our offensive staff and defensive staff were arguing over which side of the ball he would be playing on. Me being a defensive guy, Mendoza is going to play defense. He has an unbelievable mindset and was the No. 1 ranked best home meal I have ever had in 26 years. His mom guaranteed me she would bring me some enchiladas when she would come to the games.

He has an incredible family and incredible character. This guy loves this place and he's passionate. That's how we are going to play defense."

Recruiting Battles: There was never fear that Mendoza wouldn't attend ASU—though he committed in late July, there were never any major reports of offers that appealed to him and he took no other official visits.

Long and Short-Term Expectations: With substantial concerns along the linebacker depth charts, there are multiple holes that could be filled by true freshmen and Mendoza is a qualified candidate for one of those opportunities. His combination of speed and aggression makes him a viable early option for ASU. On a long-term scale, Mendoza should be a multi-year starter and potentially a fan favorite due to his skills and work ethic.

LB Matthew Rowe

Signing Day Evaluation: One of the Long Beach Poly four, Rowe is considered a capable pass-rusher from his outside linebacker position. The brother of two former Pac-10 football players, Rowe also brings an excellent football pedigree to ASU.

Todd Graham's Take: "Matthew has a lot of talk about him playing the outside linebacker position. We call this our hybrid. He's a guy who's a pass rusher. He's another guy from Polytechnic HS and this group of guys are going to love playing together. He's a young man who we think is going to be very impactful off the edge and that's the key for those outside linebackers. He can flat run and that's tough on those offensive tackles to break. We are excited about Matthew".

Recruiting Battles: Though he did not take any additional official visits, Nebraska, Oregon State, UCLA and Washington remained in the competition before he signed with ASU.

Long and Short-Term Expectations: A candidate to fill one of the aforementioned openings at linebacker, Rowe may be able to compete immediately but also would be a sensible redshirt candidate in 2012. As his career progresses, he will hope to carve out a dynamic role wreaking havoc in opposing backfields.

CB Oliver Johnson

Signing Day Evaluation: With obviously deficiencies in the secondary, Johnson hopes to provide some solidarity to the cornerback position for ASU. With inexperienced players such as Joe Eason, Devan Spann and Rashad Wadood as plausible depth candidates, Johnson's prior junior college experience may prove highly beneficial in 2012.

Todd Graham's Take: "We are going to play a lot more press-coverage, and so you see 6'2, 200 pound corner. Johnson is a guy we think can come in and help us immediately."

Recruiting Battles: After ASU's coaching change, schools such as Miami (Fla.), Mississippi and Texas Tech emerged as plausible candidates before Johnson reaffirmed his prior commitment to ASU.

Long and Short-Term Expectations: Though he may not challenge either Deveron Carr or Osahon Irabor for a starting spot, depth behind the pair is open and he has the physical measurements and abilities to create an impact. In his second year at ASU, he could be a viable candidate to replace Carr in the starting lineup.

S Laiu Moeakiola

Signing Day Evaluation: Moeakiola may not be a four or five-star prospect but his commitment is certainly important as he is the only high school safety to sign with ASU in 2012. Coming from a Trinity program that is very successful in highly competitive Texas high school football, Moeakiola has definite upside for ASU.

Todd Graham's Take: "Moeakiola is a young man that was committed elsewhere and we came in, and I remember talking to his mom and dad, and his mom was crying hearing about what our program is about. I am excited that he and his family took a leap of faith and changed his commitment and he is going to be a Sun Devil. We are very, very excited about his potential. He is another guy we think has an opportunity to compete and play early.

It is difficult for guys to come in and play as freshmen, but we got some special guys in the group with him being one of them. He comes from one of the best programs in the state of Texas at Euless Trinity. He is a guy that knows how to win."

Recruiting Battles: Moeakiola committed to UCLA in late October but the coaching change there led him to pursue alternatives. He visited ASU a few weeks before Signing Day and changed his mind, though it wasn't officially announced until Signing Day. Baylor made a push to land an in-state commitment from him but that effort clearly fell short.

Long and Short-Term Expectations: A plausible redshirt candidate in 2012, Moeakiola has the capability to help replace players such as Kevin Ayers and Keelan Johnson when they depart from the program after this season.

S Chris Young

Signing Day Evaluation: A former four-star prospect that signed with Washington out of high school, Young's addition to the Sun Devil roster is integral as the staff hopes to implement a high-impact outside linebacker/safety hybrid. Young was one of the nation's most fearsome junior college defenders last season and has the talents to have a sensational two years as a Sun Devil.

Todd Graham's Take: "Chris Young is a hybrid for us where he will play the strong safety, outside linebacker position. He is a guy that is an incredible blitzer. You are going to hear me talk about how our defense is going to pressure, and he had eight and a half sacks last year, had 111 tackles, and scored six touchdowns on defense. This guy is a big-time explosive playmaker. He was the defensive player in his league. He can play safety, linebacker, and can rush the quarterback.

Chris is just a tremendous playmaker and guy that we are so excited about. He is mature and ready to play. He is a guy the fans are going to like. You are going to see him come off the edge an awful lot here in the near future. We put him in between the linebackers and the safeties.

Recruiting Battles: Briefly an Oregon State commit, Young also visited Indiana and Ohio State before using the final weekend before Signing Day to check out Tempe. After the visit, his decision was made and Young became a Sun Devil.

Long and Short-Term Expectations: Young should undoubtedly be a full-time starter both years he will play in Tempe as he epitomizes the "rover" role that Todd Graham has in mind. Young likely will be seen all over the field, whether in coverage or using his innate skills to blow up plays in the backfield.

LS Easton Wahlstrom

Signing Day Evaluation: Though long snappers on a Signing Day list are never sexy additions, it is a certain area of need with Cameron Kastl having graduated.

Todd Graham's Take: "He is a five-star long snapper. People underestimate the importance of that position. This man is a tremendous athlete. We are excited about him and his development this spring."

Recruiting Battles: Other schools pursued Wahlstrom but the lifelong Sun Devil fan never strayed from his August commitment to ASU. Wahlstrom enrolled at ASU in January and will participate in spring drills.

Long and Short-Term Expectations: When a true freshman is placed on scholarship, it can logically be assumed that he should play the position for four years. With Kastl gone, the assumption is that Wahlstrom will be one of the surest locks to play as a true freshman in 2012.


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