Ideal scholarship roster number: 3-4
Likely returning number: 2-3
2016 Commitments: 1 D.J. Morgan
Updated evaluation (6/22/2015) Upon film review only we evaluated Morgan at the time of his commitment to Arizona State to be a player who projected to be a Bandit or Spur in the Sun Devil scheme, and included both positions in the subsequent analysis overview. More recently we were able to watch Morgan up close in person over a two-day period at the B2G Elite Camp in Thousand Oaks, Calif., and developed a more precise evaluation from that experience.
Players were put through a variety of position-specific drills and went through 1v1 and 7v7 situations, with Morgan working primarily as a hybrid safety/outside linebacker type position group. A big-framed and very long and well put together player, Morgan already is a good looking +/- 200 pounds with a frame that hints at 215-220 pound future.
Combine the type of physical construction of Morgan with his movement skills and it's increasingly clear to us his future is more likely to be at Spur in the ASU scheme than Bandit. We're not completely ruling out the Bandit position, as Morgan handles zone coverage movements well for his size, with fluid hip turn and coordinated drop retreat to manage deep middle and third responsibility. But as a glider more than a fast-twitch athlete, his make up speed as a gap closer is just average.
Moreover, Morgan is not a great fit at the highest college level as a man coverage safety. He struggles to stay attached to athletes in space and has to anticipate, cheat and guess on breaks in order to overcome his moderate change of direction. Since ASU uses its boundary (Bandit) safety often in man coverage situations, this would be a limitation.
Morgan isn't going to be a blitz threat from the boundary and rotational support to the field side on calls that bring the field safety into the box or as a blitzer will result in range/coverage liabilities.
So Morgan is really a primary Spur projecting to the college level, but one who can turn and run well enough to handle coverage assignments well enough at the position to be effective assuming he's quick enough with key reads. He should be reasonably stout to the field side in this capacity as an alley gap on run plays given his size and length and how that benefits his tackle/contact radius.
Physicality as a blitzer is still tough to determine, and that's what would give Morgan an opportunity to project even better to the role since this is the primary blitz position in the ASU defense. Considering Morgan isn't a high torque type athlete, he'll be best served used his length and heft in this phase, and that's a mentality as much as anything.
The Skinny (5/20/2015): One of the strengths of the Arizona State defense is the way in which it is able to effectively utilize hybrid type players and can carve out roles for personnel as a result. Most of the team's defensive backs are able to play either safety or cornerback. Armand Perry, Chad Adams, Jayme Otomewo, DeAndre Scott are all returning players who can and have played both positions. There are some safeties who can also play in the box at Spur, which is a hybrid safety/linebacker type position, and that includes Laiu Moeakiola and Marcus Ball. Then there linebackers who can move from WILL to Spur, such as Christian Sam or D.J. Calhoun.
We've included in this analysis overviews of ASU's Spur and Bandit position groups because we project D.J. Morgan to be right in between the two position groups in the way Moeakiola or Ball are able to move between Spur and Bandit currently if needed. At 6-foot-3 and about 200 pounds, Morgan is long and has good size, does not project to have the range or man coverage skills to be a field side safety in the ASU scheme with how much it relies on that player to be able to run with wide receivers in isolation in open space.
At the Bandit position on the shorter side of the field Morgan is a better fit because there's less area to cover in most of ASU's defensive shells. But he's still likely to be stressed at that position when put in man coverage situations in a similar way to current senior starter Jordan Simone, who is nonetheless one of ASU's best defensive players because of everything else he brings to the table from a skill, instinctual and leadership standpoint.
In Morgan, the Sun Devils are landing one of the key defensive players on a team is that is without question one of the most talented and accomplished in the country and with that comes a greater predictability of intangible benefits. Not only has he competed against a better level opponent that will make transitioning to college easier, you can be reasonably sure if you're ASU's coaching staff that Morgan knows more than the average high school player about film study, weight room work and conditioning, and football scheme. He'll more seamlessly transition to the college level mentally, which is a huge part of the equation.
Indeed, Bosco's system isn't basic and one of Morgan's strengths is his feel for the game and how he operates effectively in a variety of zone coverages. That's something ASU's coaches were no doubt encouraged by as it's very transferrable to the college level in a predictable way. In particular, Morgan shows the ability to read and react on the fly, and he has pretty good instincts when operating in zone coverages that enables him to some degree to offset his average athletic range.
From a mobility standpoint, Morgan is a glider. When compared with other Pac-12 safety prospects he doesn't have a lot of suddenness when changing directions and tends to cheat the field when he might have to cover a lot of space as a help defender on vertical shots, be it to the far sideline or over the middle of the field. There's possibility to be manipulated by quarterback eyes or pump fakes due to this self-awareness.
In man coverage Morgan tends to want to physically check receivers with contact because of awareness of separation concerns due to modest speed. These are the reasons why he's better suited to be a box safety, especially in ASU's scheme, which places an enormous athletic burden on the field safety position from a man coverage and overall range standpoint.
So Morgan is much more of a Bandit/Spur type prospect. He's very good coming forward in terms of understanding how to take angles and also being composed when breaking down as a tackler and using proper technique to track the hip and finish plays in front of him even when he's on his own. He rarely overruns plays or comes into tackle opportunities uncontrolled, though sometimes he can get a bit lazy with his pad level as a tackler. Since he's also long, Morgan's upside as a play stopper is quite good for someone who is a moderate athlete.
Morgan is also likely going to be relatively stout against the run at either position given his composure and how well he tracks plays in traffic without getting washed out. He also tends to avoid would-be blockers well using peripheral vision and situational feel without having to take his eyes off of what's developing with the ball and lead blocking. He has good size for a box safety and should eventually play at 210-plus pounds without losing any mobility.
As a Spur he'll probably be a fair blitzer just because he doesn't have great explosiveness from idle, and he's more of a structural tackler than someone who is going to to blow up/get through max protection blockers and others between him and the quarterback, or be a big collision guy taking on blockers and ball carriers. The biggest question at Spur though might be his hip flexibility and how well he can open up and run with receivers and backs. He's a lot more comfortable doing this than back-peddling, but quick play diagnostic skills will be crucial because Morgan's recovery speed isn't a strength.
Overall, though he's not going to wow anyone with feats of athleticism, Morgan is a sound football player with pretty good instincts, and there's a lot of intangible value to Morgan and it leverages ASU's overall recruiting at one of the most talent-rich programs in the West.