Ideal scholarship roster number: 3-4
Likely returning number: 2-3
Remaining ideal number: 0-1
* Latu could play field end. Cox worked at inside linebacker in bowl practices and has also spent time at end. Calhoun has worked at WILL, Spur and Devil.
Arizona State coach Todd Graham's dismissal of Ismael Murphy-Richardson is the second big hit to the team from a personnel standpoint at the all-important Devil backer position in the last year. Davon Durant, the program's top 2015 junior college prospect, never even practiced with the Sun Devils after being arrested for domestic assault before the start of spring football.
The loss of Durant led Graham and ASU defensive coaches to shift Antonio Longino back to Devil backer, a position he'd played at times in 2014 before moving to WILL, where he excelled. Longino had a great season at Devil backer, leading the Pac-12 in sacks and tackles for loss, with 11.0 and 22.5, respectively. The move also allowed for the expedited emergence of rising star Christian Sam at WILL, where Sam finished second on the team with 98 tackles as a sophomore, including 6.5 for loss.
It isn't to suggest ASU might not have been even better with Durant in the fold, as ASU still didn't have the overall pass rush potency with its front four as it demonstrated early in Graham's tenure at the school.
The Devil backer position has proven to be one of the most productive defensive roles in the Pac-12 since Graham took over the program in 2012. Carl Bradford was among the best and most productive pass rushers in the league in 2012 and 2013.
Longino isn't the quintessential three-point speed rusher that ASU would like to have at Devil and yet he was able to perform at a high level even though he may have been better suited for an inside linebacker role.
Murphy-Richardson was more in line with the type of pass rusher ASU is looking for at Devil backer, and he flashed signs of a bright future backing up Longino and playing on third downs in 2015 as a redshirt freshman, tallying 15 tackles with 2.5 sacks.
Murphy-Richardson and true freshman Bo Wallace are the best suited to play the role among returners, with Murphy-Richardson clearly the top returning player on the roster at the position. He would have been the first-team Devil backer in the spring. Wallace is redshirting and needs to add size, but has a great frame and is the right type of athlete for the role.
The other two players ASU has returning who can play Devil are Alani Latu and Chans Cox, but neither is well suited to the role. Latu was going to be moved to defensive end before the dismissal of Durant put ASU thin at Devil. Cox has moved around between Devil, defensive end, and in bowl practices worked at inside linebacker. But he doesn't have the athletic profile to play effectively at Devil.
For the Sun Devils to be more capable pressuring with four defenders, they've endeavored to increase their roster's athleticism at Devil backer in the 2016 recruiting class. They have received a commitment from elite four-star Victor Valley (Calif.) junior college prospect Dougladson Subtyl in October. Subtyl finished No. 1 in the state in sacks this season with 18 at the junior college level and may have any even higher ceiling than Bradford.
At 6-foot-3 and 235 pounds, Subtyl brings the type of explosiveness of the edge that ASU has lacked since Bradford but with more size/length. He said he's benched 375 pounds and squatted roughly 500. He also claims to have run a 4.5 second 40-yard dash when at 230-pound range. He has only played football for three years.
Even after securing Subtyl, ASU continued to pursue and eventually land a commitment from another four-star junior college pass rusher, Koron Crump. That addition is now even more significant following the dismissal of Murphy-Richardson because Crump, unlike Subtyl, is a mid-year transfer. That means Crump will have a chance to immediately impact the depth chart and get Devil backer reps, possibly with the top group, in order to see if he's ready to start for the Sun Devils at the position in the fall. He'll get a jump start on Subtyl.
The Fort Scott (Kan.) standout had double-digit sacks in each of his two seasons at the school. He is lighter, at 220 pounds, and may initially be better served as a sub-package pass rusher who played on nickel downs along with one or more of the aforementioned players. Crump could play several positions in addition to Devil backer.
Another option the Sun Devils could definitely explore is using D.J. Calhoun at Devil backer. As a sophomore in 2015, Calhoun primarily played on third downs as an extra pass rusher. He finished the season with 26 tackles including 6.5 sacks, which was second on the team behind Longino.
ASU looked at Longino and Calhoun at Devil in preseason practices before settling on Longino on base downs. But with multi-year starter and the team's leading tackler Salamo Fiso returning for his senior season at SAM, and Sam flourishing at WILL, Calhoun playing Devil might get all three on the field. Calhoun is somewhat undersized for the role, and doesn't have the fluidity of a Murphy-Richardson or others, but is very tough and aggressive.
In the spring, Calhoun and Crump figure to be the most logical candidates for the top depth chart spots at Devil, with Subtyl having a great chance at making an immediate impact in the fall.
There's also an outside chance ASU could shift another defensive player to the position, perhaps redshirt freshman inside linebacker Malik Lawal. Lawal showed a lot of quick twitch athleticism off the line of scrimmage as an undersized 3-point pass rusher on high school film before transitioning inside last season at ASU while redshirting. He's got some of the size limitations of others, but in a very athletic package.