Recruiting Class Position Grades: Defense

This year’s Arizona State recruiting class has been one of the most successful ones in the Internet era. Devils Digest rates the position groups on this side of the ball and how they fared both in the quality of its newcomers as well as future potential impact.

Defensive Line

Grade: A -

Arizona State’s defensive line lost just one starter, but a very significant one in defensive end Marcus Hardison. Even though the improved the play of this unit, let alone playing in a 4-3 scheme that wasn’t in the original blueprint going into the season, was the catalyst for the turnaround of the entire defense, it’s still a group that needed reinforcements. Overall, the interior of the line was addressed more than the defensive end role but this 2015 class undoubtedly increased the depth of this unit, and will allow for a much better rotation than last year in an effort to keep fresh bodies on the field.

Joseph Wicker was the National Letter of Intent day splash for the Sun Devils, although he did make his intentions known to Todd Graham some 11 hours before his public announcement. The four-star prospect hails from one of the prominent high school programs in the Western Region, Long Beach (Calif.) Poly.

Wicker, who’s projected at the 3-technique (aka Tiger) role, is someone Graham said is very reminiscent in his skill set of former ASU player and back to back Pat Tillman Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, Will Sutton. Naturally, Wicker’s frame offers more length, yet doesn’t yield any get-off or explosiveness for a player his size. Those traits along with aggressiveness and non-stop motor, easily make Wicker one the crown jewels of this ASU class who should be an immediate impact player.

We labeled Jalen Bates as the steal of the 2015 class, since this is a player that is simply a physical specimen (7-4 wingspan) and one who has a huge chip on his shoulder as being passed on by some many schools in his region and all for just playing in a remote part of Louisiana at the 3A level.

. Bates could very well be the future at defensive end once he adds 30-40 pounds to a 6-5 235-pound frame that should easily be able to carry that added weight. Extremely athletic not only rushing the passer but also tracking skill players from behind, and even with a somewhat slender frame still plays a great deal of physicality.

To some extent, George Lea is another overlooked player from Louisiana, which is surprising not only because of his versatility, athleticism and pass rushing ability, but also due to the fact that he was December graduate and thus has a chance to develop quicker than many of his other fellow freshmen. Similar in his style of play to Wicker (will also be a 3-technique lineman) with his get off and physicality and will have a chance to play out of the gates.

Not that these first three players are below average size linemen, but none come that close to Deonte Reynolds and his 6-5 325-pound stature. Slated for the Nose Tackle role, Reynolds who was a later addition to the class will be at worst will be a good depth player here for ASU. He’s certainly less athletic than his fellow linemen newcomers but obviously his physicality (and he will probably need to shed 15 or so pounds to be effective) is his major calling card. With Jaxon Hood gone from the program and the lack of consistency from Mo Latu, Reynolds’ signing may be one the less heralded in this 2015 class but could still prove to be a solid addition down the road.

Linebackers

Grade: A +

The only thing better than landing a five-star prospect, such as Davon Durant, is acquiring a player for a position that was the sore spot of the 2014 defense: Devil backer. This role, which was executed in years past at a very high level by Carl Bradford, became a revolving door of candidates in 2014 that ultimately caused the defense, albeit with very successful results, to go to a heavier 4-3 front and literally abandon the utilization of this position.

With Durant, who’s already on campus, the Sun Devils now have a prime opportunity to re-establish this ever so important role on the defense. The linebacker is the ultimate combination of power and speed, and one who Graham coined the best linebacker he had ever signed. Durant is extremely explosive and versatile as he can play any position in this group aside from Spur. Whether he will be working in a tight window or in space, chances are Durant will be impactful and showcase his sure tackling abilities. Our recruiting analysts suggested that Durant maybe be a “one and done” and leave for the NFL after one year and we certainly feel that the potential is there for that scenario. Either way, one fact that is never in question is that he will be heavily counted on in 2015, and as a mid-year transfer he may just have helped himself get set up for a very successful debut season in Tempe.

Khaylan Thomas may be somewhat overshadowed by Durant, but make no mistake about the abilities of this player. Thomas who’s ranked 9th nationally among all inside linebackers is definitely one the best newcomers in this 2015 class. Our analysts compare his body type and playing style to that of former player Vontaze Burfict, but aside from being a deft run stopper and a punishing tackler Thomas is a very capable in coverage as well and will be slated at WILL linebacker where he could provide solid speed and blitzing capabilities off the edge.

Malik Lawal is the feel good story of this class. He tore his ACL during a track season in his junior year and consequently missed his entire senior season. Nonetheless, ASU was still very impressed with his junior campaign of 61 tackles and 8.5 sacks and stuck with him throughout the recruiting process. Should be fully recovered by the time fall camp begins as he will battle for the WILL position and could also be a designated 3rd down pass rusher. Lawal is someone that obviously many programs dismissed early in the recruiting process, but with his potential he can very well prove to be one prospect where ASU’s loyalty can yield some hefty dividends.

As a senior Nick Ralston tore up the 4A division in Texas with 2,771 rushing yards (7.03 yards per carry) and 46 touchdowns, and yes here at ASU he could see some reps at running back. However, he's first and foremost he’s a SAM linebacker who’s physicality and a high football I.Q. more than compensates for lack of speed or explosiveness. Could be one of the more intriguing newcomers because he’s already enrolled at ASU and could get a chance to establish himself in the two-deep this season.

Defensive Backs

Grade: B+

This wasn’t a great position of need compared to others in the 2015 class, although the cornerbacks group needed a boost and with the tandem of prospects signed it does appear that ASU did adequately address this unit. These two players are physical in nature and should fit nicely in the press and bump schemes that are the staples of the Sun Devil corners in a heavy blitzing ASU defense.

Stanley Norman’s nickname is “Scrappy” and right there you know that this Gardena (Calif.) Serra standout (another powerhouse high school program in California) is one that hardly lacks confidence and relentlessness. These intangibles don’t compensate for lack of quickness or athleticism but rather complement those traits. He’s a player with good instincts and technique, but also someone where his ultra competitiveness can get the better of him in terms of missed assignments, let alone penalties. Thus, if he has any chance of playing early, he will have to walk that fine line where his aggressiveness has to be impactful yet not detrimental. Additionally, he will have to prove in fall camp that he won’t show any ill effects of his torn ACL knee injury that cut his senior season short.

Kareem Orr was another late addition to this class, but by no means would he be considered the proverbial “throw-in” prospect which purpose was to just add a warm body here. Even though his measurements are very comparable to those of Norman, he’s perhaps considered the longer and more physical corner out of the two, yet plenty explosive and much like Norman a good fit for the corners’ scheme here. The fact that he was pursued by Ohio State in the last couple weeks before NLI day can certainly attest to his skill set and potential.


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