Hot-11: Standouts relative to expectations

This edition of the Hot-11 is packed with young, athletic talent, which bodes very well for the future at Arizona State. Even so, two senior starters are atop the list. Which 11 players impressed us most in the last week or so relative to our expectations?

1. Kweishi Brown -- In the spring, Brown wasn't even able to practice due to a sore knee and his starter status for the season was very much in question due to that and the emergence of fellow senior cornerback Solomon Means. In the last two weeks though, not only has Brown put his name as a starter in Sharpie, he's made it a legitimate debate as to whether he's a better player than senior boundary cornerback Lloyd Carrington. That's saying an awful lot because coming into preseason camp we said Carrington was one of the most indispensable players and best defenders on the ASU roster. ASU coach Todd Graham has praised Brown consistently in camp for his performance to this point. In one back peddle to turn and sprint movement that replicates covering a deep post or corner route, Brown was getting his hips around and releasing with more explosiveness than Carrington. And this is a densely muscled 205 pound cornerback we're talking about; one who just might wind up an NFL prospect if he continues to play this effectively.

2. Billy McGehee -- If you look at the overall arc of McGehee from the time he arrived at ASU out of Navarro Junior College in Texas in 2013 to now, his development his dramatic. He was much lighter, not nearly as strong, and yet even as he's increased his size and power, he's become quicker and more agile in his movement skills. McGehee had a good spring and even then we've been surprised by how well he's performed in camp. Coming into August there was some questions as to whether he'd hold off others, especially redshirt freshman Sam Jones. There was also the possibility ASU would look at kicking out senior left guard Christian Westerman to right tackle if need be. Neither of those things materialized. McGehee is going to be a wire-to-wire first-team player in camp and an opening game starter against Texas A&M on Sept. 5. Is he a great athlete who won't ever get beaten by speed rushers? No. But he's going to at least hold his own in that regard and he's a very good down blocker in the run game for a tackle. The position should be at least as good if not upgraded from last year with Tyler Sulka.

3. D.J. Calhoun -- The physical change alone is probably enough to warrant a mention on this list for Calhoun. A "linebacker" who arrived in Tempe last summer weighing in the 185 pound range, Calhoun looked a lot like former ASU safety Alden Darby from a physical standpoint. He's tough and physical for his size so he was able to play a lot even though he was significantly undersized. Now, that's no longer the case. Calhoun is up to a legitimate 220 pounds on his compact frame. We weren't sure if he'd be able to support that kind of weight but he has shown that he can. As importantly, Calhoun has really improved his understanding of the game. Often last season he was running around like a chicken with its head cut off, just hoping to end up in the right position to make a play. That's no longer the case. He's now picking up key reads in practice that require him to peel and cover the running back on wheel routes. His footwork is that of someone who has worked hard for a year to develop much better feel for playing at this level. He may not be an every down starter this year, but that is very likely going to happen for Calhoun in 2016 and 2017. Length is still a bit limiting, but Calhoun's an improved overall prospect now.

4. Joseph Wicker -- We thought this guy was ASU's best defensive prospect out of the high school ranks in the 2015 class and he hasn't disappointed. In fact, he's probably surpassed our expectations. It's hard to play any defensive line position as a true freshman at this level but Wicker has worked at three different positions with the first-team in the last week alone, and has never looked out of sorts at all. That's remarkably difficult to do. The Sun Devils may need Wicker to play some Devil backer in 40 front looks, or 5-technique end, this season, but his future as a 3-technique tackle is very high. This is the interior pass rusher at the Tiger position that ASU has been looking for in its quest to find a Will Sutton-type impact player. At 275 pounds, Wicker has this rare and seemingly innate ability to fire off the football like a much smaller player, and do so with ideal pad level. Even through an explosive two-step get off, he maintains a sprinter's initial drive posture. That's very hard for offensive guards to handle from a leverage standpoint.

5. Bryce Perkins -- It's normal and completely expected that a freshman quarterback practicing at the college level for the first time in August would look out of sorts and uncomfortable. We've seen this time and again, even from quarterbacks who ended up being pretty good at Arizona State. Perkins' adjustment has been much more seamless than the typical player in his situation and it again demonstrates that his rate of development has been extremely rapid over the course of the last several years. The most impressive thing about Perkins hasn't been his physical tools, which is saying a lot since he's a great looking 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds. We were able to observe Perkins first hand in the quarterback position meeting room before a practice a week and a half ago and he was very sharp with handling questions from offensive quarterback Mike Norvell during offensive installation. Those things bode well for Perkins for the future.

6. Jason Lewis -- This is one of the freakiest looking athletes ASU's added from the high school ranks in the last decade or longer. Lewis is every bit of 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds and yet is lean, at 245 pounds, with lower half appendages that more closely resemble tree stumps than legs. As a running back, it's very hard to make 6-foot-3, 222 pound sophomore Kalen Ballage look small by comparison but somehow Lewis does that. And Ballage is NOT small. Even though Lewis is huge, he has pretty quick feet and is relatively nimble, with respectable top end range. A late arrival to camp, we're still getting a full sense of Lewis' capability but he had a play at the Camp Tontozona scrimmage in which he delivered a blow that put two defenders into the ground before reaching the edge and busting one along the sideline. Would you want to tackle him as a defensive back considering he's bigger than a lot of linebackers? Perhaps most impressively in one play earlier in the week Lewis hit the interior hole only to be blocked by traffic and then spin off of it and get vertical through the next gap over. A lot of schools from the ACC and SEC are going to wish Lewis had stayed closer to home for college.

7. Kareem Orr -- If this isn't the next standout defensive back at ASU, it will only be because the Sun Devils have two amazing players at cornerback ahead of him. Our guess right now is that Orr ends up a three-year starter and eventual all-league player in the ASU secondary. This is a professional caliber cornerback prospect in the making. No wonder Ohio State wanted him bad and got him to take no fewer than three unofficial visits to the school. For a true freshman, Orr is physically put together like he's been in the Pac-12 for several years already. He's got the right type of athleticism and disposition to play the position successfully at the highest level. One of the best things about Orr is his professional-like approach to the position. You rarely see him get high or low emotionally on the field. He's very even keeled, which isn't as common with cornerbacks as it might be with other positions. ASU has three senior cornerbacks and Orr is the next player in line after them. That bodes very well for his future, and ASU's.

8 Christian Sam -- ASU has a really talented group of linebackers and the one with the highest overall ceiling may not even be a starter this season. We'd say the best NFL prospect on the roster at linebacker is either senior Antonio Longino, or sophomore Christian Sam, but Sam probably ends up the second-team SAM backer because junior Salamo Fiso is a returning two-year starter. The way he's practiced of late though, Sam is going to be hard to keep off the field. After a kind of so-so start to camp, Sam has really come on. He's showing improved physicality and pad level as a tackler on the interior, and a more advanced feel for playmaking opportunities now that he's had an adjustment year under his belt. At 6-foot-1 and 230-plus pounds, Sam has the foot quickness and dexterity of a safety in the size of a box linebacker. He can really run and is a three down player projecting to the next level. If he maximizes his potential, Sam will play in the NFL.

9. Quinn Bailey -- A year ago at this time, Bailey was extremely raw. That's not totally unexpected, as the tendency of most freshmen offensive linemen is to need several years of physical development and skill work before being ready to play successfully in the Pac-12. That's the type of trajectory that Bailey seemed to be on in a good case scenario. Now, Bailey looks like he could contend for a starting role in 2016 as a third year sophomore following the departure of four senior starters in 2015. What really helps Bailey with his case for inclusion as a starting candidate next season is the fact he showed very well as a right guard in limited reps with the second-team at the position in camp. For 6-foot-5 and 315 pounds, Bailey bends well enough to play inside, and has really good foot action releasing to the second-level for seal and blocks. With his length and big frame, he can really get on and absorb linebackers effectively. He also has vastly improved the quickness and coordination of his pass set and right tackle is not out of the question as a starter down the line.

10. Jalen Bates -- Bates has surprisingly violence to his pass rush for a 245 pound player, especially one who is a true freshman. On the edge, he is a bundle of energy, torquing off the line of scrimmage and using his arms with a level of physicalness a lot of young players don't understand how to incorporate. It was kind of assumed he would come in, redshirt and grow into being a 5-technique end because his frame suggests someone who will eventually play at 270-plus pounds -- extremely long, with hands so large ASU needed to special order gloves that would fit him. But Bates killed the third team offensive line, including multiple sacks every day at Tontozona. So ASU coaches decided to throw him in there with the second-team on Tuesday and he proceeded to do the same thing to that group. How about against the first-team? Bates apparently held his own even then. Not only is that a great sign for the future, it means he might play his way off the redshirt list this year. Bates wouldn't be surprised. He told us he wants to be a starter and get 10 sacks this season. Nobody will accuse of him not being ambitious.

11. Marcus Ball -- With one darting, shoulder dropping destruction of a running back early in Saturday's Camp Tontozona scrimmage, Ball served notice that he's no longer willing to be an afterthought. For the entire last year it's been widely known that ASU had a big drop off from starter Viliami Moeakiola to whomever else was his replacement at the Spur position. Ball didn't just make one play and then fade away Saturday. He played with physicality through the session, better pad level and play anticipation. That's probably the most important part. Certainly he looks the part and is smart and a great teammate. But we wanted to know when he'd start to display the on field instincts that would seem to be be correlative with his personality type. That might be starting to happen now. It certainly appears as though things are now trending in that direction.


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