Ideal scholarship roster number: 7-8
Potential returning number (in 2016): 4-5 (Ronald Lewis, Jayme Otomewo (safety or corner), Armand Perry (safety or corner), Kareem Orr, Stanley Norman (expected to grayshirt and enroll at ASU in January))
Likely returning number: 4-5 (one or two will likely play safety as primary position)
Remaining ideal number: 1-2
The Skinny: The three top returning corners for Arizona State this season will be seniors, so the program will very likely lose both starters and its top reserve after this year, creating a potential void in 2016. That was partly addressed in 2015 recruiting as ASU landed two well regarded prospects, Stanley Norman, and Kareem Orr. Norman has re-injured the same knee in which he earlier tore an ACL, however, and is now expected to grayshirt, so it will be at least until the spring before we're able to get a better grasp on how he projects to the future.
Recruiting at the cornerback position was always going to be a focal point in the 2016 class, but is even more so now in light of the injury and delayed enrollment of Norman, who was deservedly a four-star Scout300 national recruit when he signed with the Sun Devils. ASU will return several others in 2016 who can play the position, though the only one with cornerback experience in a game, Armand Perry, is now slotted to primarily work as a safety this season. The others, Ronald Lewis and Jayme Otomewo, were converted to cornerback from wide receiver and safety, respectively, and haven't yet displayed enough to be considered as legitimate playing options. That may change when preseason camp gets underway in a couple weeks.
ASU can't assume this will happen though, so it has to be operating on the assumption that it's going to need to really fortify the cornerback position through recruiting in 2016, and include in the class at least one junior college player. It is on track to do this now, having secured a commitment from J'Marcus Rhodes and on Saturday landing a second cornerback pledge from Robbie Robinson.
The Sun Devils will probably try to sign a total of three cornerbacks in the 2016 class, which would give them a minimum of seven players projected to the position in the 2016 season: Lewis, Otomewo, Orr, Norman, Rhodes, Robinson and an as yet unknown third player. It wouldn't be unreasonable if the Sun Devils went a step further and decided to sign four cornerbacks total.
J'Marcus Rhodes gives ASU an older cornerback who has great size, at 6-foot-2, and 200 pounds, and someone who has already been coached at a higher level than high school for three years at the time of his arrival -- as a two for two player -- and additionally is expected to be available for spring ball as a projected December graduate.
Interestingly, Robinson is quite a contrast to Rhodes from a measurable standpoint. On one end is a corner who is about as big as you'll see playing the game at this level, and on the other is a probably about as diminutive a player as you're likely to see the Sun Devils take, as Robinson is perhaps 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds.
Though he's certainly on the small side, Robinson is not the type to back down from contact. His film conveys a player who is among the more physical corners ASU has signed in recent years, but he also uses that attribute in strategic and well-conceived ways on the field. Comparing Robinson to undersized ASU defensive back DeAndre Scott (who plays safety), Scott is also extremely physical -- an attribute he uses to his advantage as one of ASU's better special teams players -- but had a tendency to use his head and body as a projectile, and not wrap up or break down before his hits. It's taken a long time for Scott to develop the proper tackling technique in skill development work since he arrived in Tempe.
Conversely, Robinson strikes a really admirable blend of tackling force and technique given his size. He almost always wins the leverage battle as a tackler and tracks to the hip properly to close space strategically, while keeping his shoulder pads square, and though he isn't lanky, uses his arms and hands in a way that maximizes what he has to work with. Robinson really understands angles on the field and has strong hand strength, which helps offset his shorter tackle radius.
In terms of coverage, the most striking thing about Robinson is how efficiently he re-directs. He has very quick, nimble feet that turn over with a lot of RPMs and his hips enable him to maximize this in a way that gets him to sharper angle route transitions more quickly than a lot of Division I cornerback prospects. Working against underneath routes and quick-hitting slants and screens is going to be a strength for Robinson. He's also a very good pairing with Rhodes because their strengths and non-strengths are opposite one another.
I like Rhodes more as a field side coverage corner and Robinson as more of a boundary option with how ASU likes to utilize those players. I'd rather have a safety rolled over Robinson or use him in blended coverage and as a blitzer, while Rhodes' length and skill set indicates more of a island player. ASU likes to most often blitz in a way that leads to its field safety being in man coverage and the field corner on his own.
Robinson is like a lot of similarly sized guys, as he's quicker than fast. He's not a burner, not a great recovery player. He tends to grab when he feels out of phase, which is a bad habit that Armand Perry -- another talented player -- has needed to break when working at corner. It's a common thing for a lot of players to have that and is kind of random in terms of how players get over it. Some have no problem with it and others don't get comfortable and it's more of a struggle. Robinson hasn't played a lot with his back to the ball but seems to do alright in that regard when he's in phase.
The drawbacks are non-elite speed, which is more of an issue the shorter a cornerback is, below average hand length, which can be a problem in press coverage against bigger wide receivers. These guys can get to Robinson more quickly and easily in the hand combat and ward off displacement and re-route attempts. Robinson uses his hands well in these situations, but it's still going to be a limitation. Length and size are very important at all positions and certainly at cornerback. If there's a reason Robinson isn't a four-star, that's it. But it doesn't mean he can't be a very good or even great college player at the highest level.
One of the best things about Robinson is he comes across as a smart player on film. He has good anticipation in all aspects, is probably going to be a good special teams player and a high energy player. With a reported 4.2 grade-point average and the way he talks and looks on film, this is a high intangibles addition for the Sun Devils as well as a good overall college football prospect.