Ideal scholarship roster number: 6
Likely returning number: 5-6
2016 Commitments: 1 (Darel Middleton)
Remaining ideal number: 0 (pending position moves/attrition)
The Skinny: When Todd Graham arrived in Tempe he was replacing an offensive staff that didn't didn't utilize the tight end position at all in its offense with a scheme that relies heavily on the position, and often utilizes two and even three players from the unit in a given formation.
Through three seasons, ASU really hasn't been operating at full capacity from personnel standpoint at tight end, and there has been a major effort to address that through recruiting. More specifically, the focus has been on adding a good combination of versatile players with range and playmaking ability with others who are also athletic, but much bigger and better able to make an impact blocking in the box in addition to possessing other attributes.
The Sun Devils return just three tight ends to the group from last season, none of whom is a big in-line physical threat. They did, however, add three prospects likely to work at the position group in the 2015 class, including Tommy Hudson, who at 6-foot-5 and 250ish pounds is in the mold of the bigger bodied in-line player they want to incorporate into more sets.
ASU did sign a big tight end prospect, Brendan Landman, but he transferred after his freshman year in 2014. Last season the team didn't really have an in-line player with near-ideal size, often playing Kody Kohl and De'Marieya Nelson on the field together.
Clearly, tight ends coach Chip Long and his fellow coaches have made it a priority to become not only deeper and more diverse, but bigger at the position. After signing Hudson in 2015, they've followed up with a commitment from Oak Ridge (Tenn.) tight end Darel Middleton on Monday, a player who is listed at 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds, and looks it on film.
Middleton looks like the type of young player who will actually, if anything, have to work to stay lean in order to remain at tight end. That's not been the case with any of the tight ends ASU has signed to this point in the Graham era. Mixing in a player like this is a good thing for the Sun Devils because they want to be able to impose themselves more on defenses at the line of scrimmage in the run game, and doing that requires longer, bigger bodies.
Middleton could easily eat his way into being a strongside defensive end or even a defensive tackle or offensive tackle. But he's athletic for his size, with good short area quickness and the ability to close down space and is a good and different type of weapon at tight end than ASU's had.
The two best attributes Middleton has going for him are his length and physical disposition. He's very lanky, with a set up that allows him from a 3-point stance to have a high chest and shoulder profile with good visual awareness. His long arms get into offensive players quickly and he tends to be very disruptive, using his length effectively. That'll only increase as he gets a better understanding of leverage and how to access his core strength better as a blocker, because Middleton hasn't really tapped into that yet in terms of his posture and physical orientation as a blocker
But Middleton seems to relish contact and indeed seek it out. That's becoming an increasingly rare trait among tight ends who often fancy themselves as glorified receivers who only want to play flexed out, and aren't at all enamored with blocking. Given that Middleton not only plays defensive end, but is very good on that side of the ball, and uses his size, length, and physicality effectively, it's a good indication he'll bring that same mentality to his play in-line.
If Middleton is able to also be a near-area receiving threat releasing from a 3-point stance, it'll be an added dimensionality and it looks as though he has the potential to be that on film. He uses his large hands relatively well as a receiver for someone who doesn't play in an offense that incorporates a lot of it. Certainly he's a difficult tackle in space and can gain yards after contact even when not catching the ball down the field if linebackers and defensive backs don't wrap up.