Class of 2013 Analysis & Predictions: Defense

Devils Digest's Joe Healey takes a closer look at all the defensive and special teams players signed in Arizona State 2013 recruiting class and their projected contributions this upcoming season.

Defensive Line

Nick Begg

Analysis: A longtime commit to ASU, Begg is a versatile lineman with the ability to play offense or defense. On Signing Day, it was confirmed that Begg signed a "Written Offer of Admission" and not a true National Letter of Intent, so his scholarship status with the team is expected to begin during the spring semester of 2014. That being said, it is still possible that Begg will enroll at ASU and join the team in the fall as a walk-on for the semester.

Prediction: Down the road, Begg is a "project" type of lineman that likely will need a couple seasons to be molded into a contributing role. As for 2013, he either will not yet be with the program as he greyshirts or, if he does enroll as a walk-on, the prospect of him redshirting is very high.

Demetrius Cherry

Analysis: Cherry is one of a couple defensive linemen ASU signed this cycle with excellent height and size, as well as exemplary versatility as he is able to play multiple line positions. To Cherry's advantage, of course, is the fact that he joins ASU with two years of junior college playing experience and will be counted on to add stable depth from day one.

Prediction: Last season—especially versus UCLA—ASU learned the hard way how a lack of defensive line depth can cost the team in terms of wins and losses. With the key pieces of the Sun Devil line returning—Will Sutton, Jaxon Hood, Davon Coleman and Junior Onyeali—look for Cherry to begin as an all-purpose reserve in the fall.

However, though he likely won't crack the starting lineup to begin with, the coaching staff ideally wants to rotate several players throughout the line so Cherry will have ample opportunities to become a well-known force in the fall. In general, he'll probably compete with the likes of Gannon Conway, Jake Sheffield and perhaps classmate Marcus Hardison for time at various line spots.

Marcus Hardison

Analysis: One of the most heavily pursued JUCO defensive linemen on a national level, Hardison signing with the Sun Devils figures to provide an amazing and immediate boost to a unit already featuring stellar top-end talent. With his size and athleticism, Hardison can be equally dangerous and multiple positions and, coupled with Cherry, gives ASU a chance to have one of the most talented defensive lines in the Pac-12.

Prediction: Labeled by many as the top overall defensive signee for ASU this year, Hardison is entirely expected to contribute at a high level in 2013. He possibly could challenge Davon Coleman for starting reps at defensive end, while he could also add depth elsewhere behind the likes of Will Sutton and Jaxon Hood. Regardless his role and whether he's technically a routine "starter", Hardison figures to become a well-known name this fall.

Kisima Jagne

Analysis: The second-best defensive line prospect in the state of Arizona in 2012 according to Scout.com, Jagne comes to ASU this spring with a full slate of eligibility after signing with Colorado last year but not enrolling. Just like the other three defensive line NLI signees, Jagne brings an excellent frame to the team—collectively, the group averages just under 6-foot-6—and at 265 pounds his bulk is already college ready.

Prediction: Had ASU not signed Cherry and/or Hardison, the likelihood would have been very high that Jagne would be needed in 2013. With the two aforementioned JUCO transfers, as well as the likes of Gannon Conway, Jake Sheffield and potentially Mike Pennel, ASU figures to have a much greater balance of depth in 2013 compared to last year. Additionally, though on a physical level he is highly advanced, Jagne likely would benefit from a redshirt year to refine other elements. However, arriving in the spring creates an advantage for him, so it remains somewhat of a toss-up as to whether he'll play or sit in 2013.

Corey Smith

Analysis: One of three signing day additions to the 2013 class along with Marcus Ball and Solomon Means, Smith has incredibly appealing physical upside due to his 6-foot-7 frame. Though he'll be the tallest player on the team next year, he is not short on athleticism as he played both defensive end and tackle in high school.

Prediction: Smith has a very high ceiling and is applauded for being a tremendous student-athlete, so his future is incredibly bright at ASU. However, immediately the likely focus will be for him to fill his frame a little more by way of a redshirt season in 2013.

Linebacker

Chans Cox

Analysis: A big time prospect from an area not typically known for major college football recruits, Cox wrapped up his illustrious career at Lakeside Blue Ridge High a semester early to enroll at ASU. An extremely talented linebacker and fullback in high school, Cox will play defense for the Sun Devils—though there are some that continue to contend that he is a better fit for perhaps the three-back position on offense.

Prediction: One of the crown jewels of the 2013 class, Cox comes to ASU with high expectations. A midyear arrival, he figures to compete with players such as Kipeli Koniseti for time behind Carl Bradford at the "Devil" linebacker position. One would assume that Cox will find his way on to the field in 2013, yet again giving ASU compelling depth in the front seven.

Eriquel Florence

Analysis: The Defensive Player of the Year in his JUCO conference, Florence can fill spots at multiple linebacker positions and gives ASU an explosive athlete to work with. Florence's game is somewhat reminiscent of Brandon Magee, as he has the speed to track down runners and is effective in attacking the quarterback, as evidenced by his 6.0 sacks last season at Contra Costa College.

Prediction: Able to play multiple positions, Florence figures to either be a key backup for Steffon Martin at SAM or compete with a host of others for the first-team spot at WILL. Florence gives the team some great athleticism and a proven track record of success after a very solid sophomore season at the JUCO level. His addition is one of many that adds immediate and qualified depth along the two-deep at linebacker this fall.

Alani (A.J.) Latu

Analysis: One of the two Latu twins to sign with ASU this year, Alani likely fits as an outside linebacker for the Sun Devils. Also a basketball player for Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) High School, Latu earned multiple all-region honors on the gridiron and comes to ASU with high expectations.

Prediction: Earlier in the recruiting season it was unsure whether both Latu brothers would arrive on campus this fall or delay their college careers in favor of early LDS missions. However, both will begin in 2013 and determine their fate thereafter, giving the Sun Devils more tools to implement at linebacker. Different from his brother Ami, the more prototypical middle linebacker of the two, A.J. has the potential to standout at outside linebacker, perhaps the "Spur" position currently featuring two seniors in Chris Young and Anthony Jones.

Viliami (Ami) Latu

Analysis: One of the premier inside linebackers on the west coast, Latu just barely missed the cut to be a four-star prospect according to Scout.com. Latu totaled 107 tackles as a senior—including 18 in one game—and gives ASU a truly intimidating force in the front seven.

Prediction: A fierce, throwback style inside linebacker, Latu brings a punishing presence to the Sun Devil lineup and is one of ASU's top overall high school additions this class. Immediately, he likely will be among the top competitors to rival Steffon Martin for time at the SAM inside linebacker position.

Antonio Longino

Analysis: A very intriguing athlete, Longino picked ASU over eight combined offers from Big XII and SEC schools. Longino generally flew under the radar because he redshirted in 2011 and missed some game action in 2012 due to an injury, but he is expected by many to be one of the most memorable additions from this class. In addition to his athletic gifts, Longino brings the luxury of having three years of playing eligibility at ASU.

Prediction: With Brandon Magee having moved on, Longino will come to ASU this fall as a viable starting candidate. At worst, Longino will be a high rotation player in the two-deep, but it should not come as any surprise to see him among the first-team this fall.

Defensive Back

Marcus Ball

Analysis: Possibly the most versatile player in the entire class, between Ball's high school experience and college potential his name has been included in discussion regarding playing time at quarterback, three-back, linebacker and safety. Pegged to play safety at ASU, Ball gives the Sun Devils a fearless and competent contributor to help restore depleted depth in the secondary.

Prediction: With Keelan Johnson as well as others from the safety position departing from last year's roster, spots are open throughout the depth chart at both safety spots.

Outside of senior Alden Darby, there is generally no substantial experience at safety for ASU, with role players such as Ezekiel Bishop and Shane McCullen and others such as Laiu Moeakiola and Luke Williams on the depth chart. Of this group, Bishop and Moeakiola have shown flashes of tremendous skill but have also experienced setbacks due to injuries.

Ball is one of as many as four safeties from the 2013 class that will join the team in the fall and there could be an immediate need for contributions.

William Earley

Analysis: Coming to ASU at a position of need, Earley gives the Sun Devils excellent size for a defensive back (6-1, 200). Scout.com evaluators think highly of Earley, as he is only eight spots away (No. 37 cornerback) in his position ranking from a four-star rating.

Prediction: Cornerback has been thin position for several years at ASU and though there are a few intriguing names on the depth chart entering the spring, there is not yet a great deal of confidence that the depth woes have been solved. Earley's immediate fate could be determined by the performance level of the cornerbacks on campus in the spring, as there is enough scholarship talent to fill the two-deep as it stands.

James Johnson

Analysis: After picking off seven passes as a senior at Upland (Calif.) High, Johnson earned recognition as one of the top-10 safeties in the west region by Scout.com. A product of the same program as Sun Devil starting cornerback Osahon Irabor, Johnson adds another dangerous weapon to an ASU defense that ranked fourth in the nation in interceptions in 2012.

Prediction: A potential ball-hawk in the secondary, Johnson will arrive for fall camp with a chance to compete for immediate playing time. As was described with Ball, a major lack of proven depth at safety gives every one of the Sun Devils' 2013 additions at the position a chance for immediate time. If Johnson can show his ball skills early in fall camp, he could work his way into the rotation as a true freshman.

Solomon Means

Analysis: Though Means only became a viable recruiting option a couple weeks before signing day, he brings college playing experience but also three years of eligibility to Tempe. During his most recent years on the football field Means has made a name for himself as a disruptive force in pass coverage as he's recorded 12 pass breakups both as a JUCO redshirt freshman in 2012 and as a high school senior in 2010.

Prediction: Outside of tenured starter Osahon Irabor and returning letter winner Robert Nelson, the cornerback position for ASU is a great unknown as players such as Lloyd Carrington, Marlon Pollard and Rashad Wadood likely will be the top reserves in the spring. Depending on their performances (and whether Pollard successfully appeals to the NCAA for a year of eligibility in 2013), spots could exist on the two-deep when the fall rolls around.

Means potentially will be a role player in 2012, however with Irabor, Nelson and Pollard entering their senior seasons, Means' acclimation and development in 2012 will be integral for the future of the cornerback position for ASU.

Jayme Otomewo

Analysis: Following the 2012 season, Otomewo joined James Johnson on Scout.com's list of top-10 safeties (No. 7) in the west region, giving ASU an excellent pair of safeties for future use. In 2012, Otomewo totaled 67 tackles and four interceptions and was selected to participate in the Semper Fi All-American Game.

Prediction: At the risk of being repetitive, Otomewo will enter fall camp with the same window of opportunity that will be presented to his classmates such as Ball and Johnson. Likely slated to play boundary safety, it is possible that Otomewo could be slated behind Alden Darby and Laiu Moeakiola. If that is the case, it likely will be challenging for Otomewo to crack the two-deep this year at safety. As likely will be the case with the other freshman safeties, special teams coverage playing time remains an option.

Damarious Randall

Analysis: He only played one season of community college football but Randall made 2012 a memorable season. One of the nation's most dynamic JUCO defenders, his nine interceptions made him the recipient of multiple All-America and Player of the Year honors. Randall also saw time at wide receiver and on punt and kick returns, making him a very likely candidate to create an instant impact.

Prediction: Randall's commitment to ASU was vital not just because he played in the Sun Devils' backyard at Mesa Community College, but he potentially offers a presence at cornerback, safety and virtually every special teams unit. He could be an option to replace Keelan Johnson or Deveron Carr on defense, while he also should be a strong contender to step in for Jamal Miles and Rashad Ross on returns.

Special Teams

Matt Haack

Analysis: One of the nation's better punters, Haack committed to ASU relatively early in the process and gives the Sun Devils their likely replacement for Second-Team All-Pac-12 member Josh Hubner. A left-footed rugby style punter, Haack brings a unique style to the punting game that can often confuse returners.

Prediction: With Hubner exhausting his eligibility, ASU has no punter with game experience on the roster, leaving Haack as the only logical option for 2013. Essentially, though he has yet to set foot on campus, the job is his to lose this fall. Also, Coach Graham mentioned in the signing day press conference that Haack could see action at wide receiver for the Sun Devils.


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