Hot-11: Closer look at ASU's top achievers relative to expectations

Our first midseason Hot-11 features more Special Teams performers than offensive players, and that's very telling. Here's a look at the 11 players on the Arizona State roster who have impressed us most relative to our expectations entering the season.

1. Tim White -- Even though we really liked his film, it was hard to expect too much of Tim White considering he was a very late addition in the recruiting class for Arizona State and a junior college transfer who arrived in the summer and didn't even get through all of preseason camp before suffering a broken bone on his hand. White played one snap against Texas A&M and was lightly used the following game against Cal Poly, but he's exploded into an increasingly larger role in the last month. He's leading the Pac-12 with 31.9 yards per kickoff return including a 100-yard touchdown against Utah. He's also third on the team with 22 catches for 13.8 yards and a team-high five receiving touchdowns. 

2. Christian Sam -- ASU coaches expected Christian Sam would become a standout at linebacker in time due in large part to his combination of athleticism and size, but it wasn't clear if this would be that season. He's proven that it has. Sam's poise and playmaking capability has revealed itself to be very good right now and only will get better. He's third on the team with 55 tackles and second with three sacks. Sam has gathering, patient feet and runs extremely well for a linebacker. His pad level was a big question entering the season but even though Sam still plays a bit high, he's shown good stopping power in his run fits. This looks like one of ASU's best overall defensive players right now, a future star, and one of the team's best NFL prospects. 

3. Salamo Fiso -- It was easy to think that maybe Fiso has plateaued to some degree after an average sophomore season that didn't really build a lot on the promise he showed as a freshman when he ascended to the starting SAM 'backer role. In particular, Fiso didn't handle spread or lateral attacking triple offenses very well and was a liability in pass coverage. Those things have changed to a large degree this season and he's played extremely consistently, with improved maturity and a better overall approach guiding his success. Fiso is one of the top solo tackles in the country, with 50, and leading the Pac-12 in tackles for loss. He's almost a lock to be an all-league selection, and still has another year of college football. 

4. Matt Haack -- ASU's punting was a weakness in Haack's first season, 2013, and didn't improve enough last season. Working with new special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum has helped Haack continue to improve his operational time while make his drop more consistent and his numbers and overall productivity have impressively improved as a result. He's now fourth in the Pac-12 with a very respectable 42.6 yard per punt average. He's still got room to improve, as he had a bad situational punt in the fourth quarter against Utah, but he's gotten much better. 

5. D.J. Calhoun -- With a talented group of linebackers in starting roles, Calhoun has been relegated to reserve duty this season on base downs, but he's been a big impact player on nickel downs for the Sun Devils. Calhoun leads the team with 4.5 sacks and has 16 total tackles. He's a great blitzer, with frenetic energy and power that has been increased this season by gaining significant weight in his first off-season with the program. It certainly appears that when Fiso departs after 2016, Sam and Calhoun will make a very capable inside linebacker duo. 

6. Tashon Smallwood -- It's possible Smalllwood was the most improved player on the ASU defense from the first game to the last in 2014 and he's only continued to build on that through the first half of his sophomore season. Smallwood has significantly improved his body composition and strength and is now finishing more plays than he was able to last season. It's still an area where he's got quite a bit of room to improve as well, and Smallwood stayed after practice last week to work on using his hands better as a pass rusher. He's got 30 tackles including 5.5 for loss has uses his foot quickness very well. 

7. Zane Gonzalez -- For his performance on kickoffs alone, Gonzalez warrants mention on this list. He's been better than every ASU opponent in the last month or more of the season at generating touchbacks. That's a huge thing for the Sun Devils after they gave up great starting field position too much in the past. Additionally, Gonzalez has started to dial it in on his field goals after going through a bit of an uncharacteristic stretch for a couple games. He hasn't missed in the last several games including 3 of 3 against Utah. 

8. Joseph Wicker -- A true freshman who may very well be playing out of position at the 5-technique end spot, Wicker has nevertheless impressed. He overtook last year's starter Edmond Boateng early in the season and hasn't looked back. Wicker now has 13 tackles on the season, four of which are for loss. He's only going to get bigger, stronger and more skilled moving forward and be a fixture on the ASU defensive line for years to come. ASU fans may ultimately wind up hoping it's not just two more years. 

9.  Gary Chambers -- Chambers hasn't put up eye popping numbers but his 15 catches for 262 yards -- and a team-high 17.5 yards per catch -- has come in far fewer reps than some of ASU's other receivers and he's probably maximized his reps about as well as could be expected while also playing at the position that probably gets the fewest targets on average as a function of the scheme. Chambers is also a great teammate and has an terrific work ethic. 

10. Armand Perry -- He got hurt in ASU's second game so maybe some will say he doesn't deserve recognition here, but considering Perry moved from cornerback to safety, he looked very good in those first couple games of the season and the Sun Devils have absolutely missed him subsequent to his ankle injury. It's hard to imagine Perry won't become a real standout in the ASU secondary next year. 

11. Mitchell Fraboni -- If, right now, you're asking yourself, 'who is Fraboni?' it's exactly the reason he's on this list and probably something he should take pride it. ASU's long snapper hasn't hardly been mentioned all season and that's because he's doing a great job. You only tend to hear about snappers when things go awry. Fraboni has a great operational time and gets the ball located with consistency. He's got a chance to play beyond college but ASU still has two more years to take advantage of his capability. 

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