Spring eval: Devil backer preparedness grades

Devil backer is one of the biggest question marks on the Arizona State defense heading into 2015, though Ismael Murphy-Richardson is a youngster with a lot of potential.

1. Ismael Murphy-Richardson (redshirt freshman) -- After being arguably Arizona State's best scout team player as a redshirt freshman, Murphy-Richardson continued to show his high ceiling in the spring, culminating with an impressive Spring Game performance in which he was a menace. The 6-foot-4, 230-pounder has a motor that doesn't quit and true passion for the game and is extremely coachable. He also has a knack for figuring out how to be around the ball and make plays. Still a young pup, Murphy-Richardson is early both in terms of his physical transformation and skill development in his journey toward being a high level football player, but the signs are unmistakable. He has impressive foot agility for his size and length, especially considering he wears size 17 shoes. In addition to being a speed rush threat on the edge, Murphy-Richardson loves to set up counters and cut across the body of offensive tackles to the inside. He's starting to use more violent maneuvers to ward off hands of offensive linemen looking to manage him and that's only going to become more potent as he gets bigger and stronger. As it stands now, one of the biggest challenges for Murphy-Richardson is making sure he's assignment sound and not losing containment or being otherwise out of position in a way that can allow explosive plays for the offense. This year he's likely to have glaring mistakes but also make plays that hint at a very bright future. When he adds another 20 pounds and gets better understanding of the game he can be an all-league player at a key position for productivity in the ASU defense. Preparedness Grade: 2.5 / Potential Grade 4.5

2. Alani Latu (sophomore) -- In the winter conditioning program Latu was preparing to move to defensive end so he focused on getting bigger, but with the indefinite suspension of Davon Durant, Latu was shifted back to Devil just before the start of spring ball. He's not as limber or dexterous as you'd want at the position, and probably a bit heavy for his athletic type. He's also not especially explosive, so in terms of his pass rush potential -- which is the chief assignment of the position -- as an athlete in space, Latu's potential is modest. He's not going to make an offensive tackle look bad in a 1-on-1 situation too often and thus, his impact on opposing quarterbacks will probably be minimal. But Latu is stout and plays with energy, so he has some bull rush potential as far as collapsing the pocket and he is relatively solid against the run, especially for someone who prefers to play out of a 2-point stance. So overall, he might be able to become a somewhat serviceable option here as long as he can lean out a bit and not be expected to be much of a sack/tackle for loss weapon. He's got average or better assignment reliability, plays hard, and is not so out of his element athletically so as to lack competency. Preparedness Grade: 2.5 / Potential Grade: 3

3. Chans Cox (sophomore) -- Cox was a non-participant in the spring while recovering from shoulder surgery. He's had a tough time staying healthy and practicing, which is a major impediment to improvement. In our estimation he'd be best served to gain size and move to defensive end if ASU can afford to move him and still have enough options at Devil backer. Cox lacks the quick twitch athleticism to play Devil effectively. His footwork is too choppy and close together for a player who will play with his hand down. If he moves to end and is able to practice more with his hand down he could see his potential grade improve, but as a Devil he has a low ceiling and his current preparedness level is difficult to gauge. Preparedness Grade: Unclear / Potential Grade: 2

4. Eriquel Florence (senior) -- Coming off ACL surgery, Florence has a major rehab ahead of him entering his senior year and he already has been a non-factor in his ASU career to this point. He's far from being in playing shape physically and is extremely unlikely to ever see the field in 2015. Preparedness Grade: N/A / Potential Grade: 1

Unranked: Davon Durant (suspended indefinitely and has not practiced with the team)

Preparedness/Potential Grade Key

5: All-American level performer

4: First/second team all-league level performer

3: Mid-level Pac-12 performer

2: Fringe Pac-12 performer

1: Non-Pac-12 level performer

Editor's Note: Players are ranked in terms of overall current preparedness and not based on potential.

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