Ideal scholarship roster number: 15
Likely returning number: 10
Remaining ideal number: 1
The Skinny: Four senior starters will depart from Arizona State's offensive line after this season and though a well regarded freshman class waits in the wings, the program's coaches understandably have decided to hit the junior college ranks hard for several reasons.
Most importantly, it wouldn't be prudent for the Sun Devils to rely on such a young group in the 2016 season without fortifying it with additional players, and in particular older guys who have competed at a higher level already. Doing so ensures greater competitive depth and a layer of redundancy. Plus, there are more roster combinations that can be had as a result.
Secondarily, out of ASU's 10 returning offensive linemen, none will juniors next season. By taking a couple junior college players, the Sun Devils are able to balance out their classes in an efficient manner. Since they want to have about 15 scholarship offensive linemen on their roster going into any given season, and only have 10 scheduled returners, they'd have to sign a large class of freshmen for the second year in a row in order to get to their target number. Next year, they won't need to try sign more than two or three offensive linemen, and greater selectvity often is an advantage and can lead to a higher caliber prospect addition.
Offensive line is the position group ASU was furthest away from in terms of its target number heading into the 2016 recruiting class. But with the signings of San Francisco City College mid-year transfer center A.J. McCollum, Ventura College offensive tackle/guard mid-year graduate Tyson Rising, and mid-year high school addition Marshal Nathe, a center out of Peoria Centennial High School, ASU not only replenished its unit, but did so with three players who are enrolling in the spring. It also has a commitment from well-regarded high school player Cohl Cabral, who will arrive in the fall.
Nathe is recovering from a torn ACL suffered during the season and will not participate in the spring, but will be able to sit in meetings and learn the offense. McCollum and Rising are going to be able to get right into the flow of things and compete for starting roles. In the case of McCollum, he'll be battling ASU senior-to-be Stephon McCray to replace current senior Nick Kelly as the team's starting center. There's also the possibility ASU coaches could elect to play McCollum at center and McCray at right guard. It's just one of the examples of how this added versatility should help with their task of putting the best five players on the field together.
Rising is versatile and ASU can tinker in the spring more because it has Rising and McCollum in the fold. Initially it was a question that even ASU had as to whether Rising would be tall enough and long enough to play a right tackle position given the rest of its roster composition and his athleticism. But ASU offensive line coach Chris Thomsen now believes that to be the case according to Rising and others. So he'll able to practice and compete at tackle -- probably right tackle, though he played left tackle at Ventura -- or guard, which provides even more options to the group that will be replacing four starters.
ASU coach Todd Graham was able to comment on his mid-year signings and had the following to say about McCollum and Rising:
“AJ is a guy that reminds me so much of (senior ASU center) Nick Kelly, it’s unbelievable. A really smart player, a great center, especially for the things that we do and how we’re able to run a play-action, pass-offense so we’re excited about him and him coming in here and being a guy that’s going to compete.
“Tyson Rising, 6-foot-5 295-pound guy that’s very, very versatile on the offensive line. ... Obviously graduating four, to have two have two mid-year guys coming in here is big to be able to develop with an already talented young group.”
At 6-foot-2 and 285 pounds, McCollum is similar to Kelly not only in terms of size and stature, but both men came to the Sun Devils from the Northern California junior college ranks. The No. 96 overall recruit in the JUCO Scout100, McCollum was the starting center and first-team all-conference selection for a 12-1 CCSF team that won a state championship last weekend.
McCollum isn't the rangiest or most athletic of players but what unquestionably jumps out about him on film is the competitive edge he plays with and his passion for the game. That shouldn't be underestimated from a value standpoint and ASU's probably not had enough of it from players over the years, in general. It's really an innate personal characteristic more than something that is taught or fostered among offensive linemen. When he arrived at ASU as a walk-on in the mid-2000s, Paul Fanaika wasn't in good shape nor athletic. But as a big framed kid, Fanaika also was the nastiest of ASU's offensive linemen and over the course of a career built himself into a quality offensive guard. Fanaika is now in his seventh year in the NFL.
Partly because he's not tall and also because he has very good balance and leverage, McCollum is able to get under players more and use his strength in a very functional way. That, plus his nasty disposition, leads to a lot of power finishes of blocks well outside of the initial point of engagement, and often pancakes. He runs his feet extremely well through engagement, which a lot of players struggle with early on or throughout their college careers, and plays through the whistle with great consistency and tenacity.
A big part of McCollum's success is how well he locates his hands and how quickly he gets his hands ready to take advantage of proper physical positioning for blocks. Teams are often able to take advantage of smaller centers with A-gap pops by linebackers quickly upon the snap and that's an issue worth watching as McCollum moves up a level but he's good at getting from snap to block with his hand quickness and initial footwork.
McCollum has pretty functional balance and composure as a run blocker though at times he gets overzealous with his punch and staying within his framework. Strength won't be a major issue but length and overall athletic range are a bit limiting in terms of his overall ceiling. McCollum had been committed to Cal before flipping to ASU late in the process, and he's certainly a Pac-12 prospect who can be successful at this level, at least as a player with two-year starting mid-tier Pac-12 potential.
Rising is the No. 7 offensive tackle prospect in the Scout100 and No. 68 junior college player overall at 6-foot-5 and 295 pounds, with a frame that is relatively lean at that size. Foot quickness in his pass pro is going to be the potentially limiting issue at offensive tackle and what may determine whether his future is outside or inside. At the junior college level there aren't many potent speed rushers to worry about, and even in the Pac-12, probably only a handful of guys at most in 2015 were problematic in this regard, but these players exposed ASU's starting tackles. The quickness and depth of Rising's drops against athleticism are going to have to improve to play at a high level in the Pac-12 in this area, but he has a lot of very positive attributes.
Rising is very economical in the same types of blocking ASU's offense requires, from stretch zone runs to down blocking on the edge in sweeps, and containment on the backside of power and inside zone. He shows the athletic movements and technique to be able to play inside or out in the ASU scheme on run downs, which is the true litmus test for receiving a scholarship given his positional versatility.
On range blocks, Rising smartly uses his position on the field as an ally, understanding when to expand the zone block toward the boundary or out-flank it to create a run lane on the perimeter. He does these things in in a clear way with his footwork and early anticipation in a way that running backs like to see set up in front of them. His three step athletic ground coveage out of a stance isn't great for a tackle but he locates cut blocks well at the second level and when reaching to the perimeter, and sells out for these blocks in a manner that hints at his toughness and competitiveness.
Though he doesn't have the classic offensive tackle or foot quickness of an NFL offensive tackle prospect, nor the frame girth and overwhelming power of a clear cut NFL offensive guard prospect, a number of ASU's better players on the line in recent years didn't either. Rising certainly has the potential to be no less than a solid starter in the conference if he assimilates quickly. The spring should help foster that transition, and his positional versatility gives him more of a chance than if he was limited in such a way. Colorado, Washington State and others offered Rising and Oregon was involved until the end as well.
ASU still has a few big targets out there at offensive line and could take at least one more, with the nation's No. 1 junior college tackle Garret Bolles at the top of any list.