2015 ASU player development honors

Which seven Arizona State players showed the most development over the course of the entirety of 2015? Here's our take.

 Christian Sam -- In the spring Sam was still transitioning to being a full-fledged inside linebacker after moving between Spur and WILL last season as a rookie. But as a sophomore, Sam rapidly developed into not only a very capable player but one of ASU's best on defense. He's still got some issues with pad level when attacking and tackling on the interior and that could prevent him from making some plays against high level running backs, but it hasn't really been a problem yet. His range is outstanding and Sam has the patient, gathering feet that linebacker coaches like to see in their players. He finished second on the team with 98 tackles last season and was extremely reliable in terms of his assignments, including against the pass. With the foot speed of a strong safety and the size of a true inside backer, Sam is not only going to be one of ASU's best players moving forward, but one of its best NFL prospects. 

Devin Lucien -- It took just the last three games of 2015 for Lucien to collect more receiving yards than in any of his three seasons at UCLA. In all, the post-graduate transfer had 66 catches for 1,075 yards and eight touchdowns, all team highs (tied for touchdowns with Tim White). While it took about half the season for Lucien to get fully immersed into the ASU scheme and in rhythm with senior quarterback Mike Bercovici, when he did get there, Lucien was outstanding and one of the Pac-12's best wide receivers. He finished fourth in the Pac-12 in receiving yards per game. Among ASU's seniors, Lucien probably had the best overall season. He should get a look at the NFL level even though he'll likely go undrafted. 

Tim White -- If Lucien wasn't ASU's most impressive offensive performer relative to expectations in 2015, it was surely junior wide receiver Tim White. A late addition to ASU's recruiting class last year, White ended up being one of its best Year 1 players, hands down. He did so after overcoming a broken hand during preseason camp that had to hamper how quickly he was able to get up to speed. But White isn't just athletically fast, he's also a fast learner. He was a revelation on special teams, second in the Pac-12 in kick return average, and had 57 catches for 633 yards and eight touchdowns. White should be poised for a great senior season in 2016 as he is clearly one of ASU's top two returning players at the position along with Cameron Smith, who sat out last season due to a knee injury. 

Kalen Ballage -- There was clear and significant improvement from Ballage as a sophomore. The statistics -- 653 rushing yards with a 5.2 yard-per-carry average and four touchdowns -- really only tell part of the story. Ballage's strength, skill development and commitment to running the ball in the designed lane all were noticeably improved. This, despite the fact Ballage's season was obviously hindered by the mono that kept him sidelined the first three games of the season and led to weight loss and conditioning challenges. ASU wisely started to put Bercovici under center on some series with Ballage in the game in order to get him the ball with more of a head start. Ballage is a toss sweep, one cut style running back and fits that type of usage better than from an offset shotgun formation. When used in the way that best fits his style, he's going to flourish. 

D.J. Calhoun -- A lot changed about Calhoun from his freshman season to his sophomore campaign. He added significant weight and strength, demonstrating that he indeed could carry the needed size to be an every down inside linebacker in the Pac-12. Unfortunate for Cahoun, ASU's starters Sam and Salamo Fiso are two of the team's best defensive players and understandably were kept on the field by coaches. So Calhoun had to carve out a niche as a third down player and he did so very effectively, finishing second on the team with 6.5 sacks. Most importantly, perhaps, Calhoun's play identification skills were much better, and that bodes well for his future. Unless ASU moves Calhoun to Devil, it might take until his senior season before he's a base down player because Fiso and Sam return next season. But he's a starter-quality player now. 

Antonio Longino -- It was noteworthy that Longino didn't make at least second-team all-conference as voted by the Pac-12 coaches considering he led the league in sacks (11) and tackles for loss (22.5). While it's true that Longino feasted against ASU's worst opponents and didn't have the same numbers against better teams, that's generally true of most players. Longino was seemingly hurt by ASU's overall disappointing season and perhaps because its aggressive approach tends to induce more opportunities for negative plays. Still, we would maintain that Devil backer isn't Longino's ideal position and yet he played he very well and was consistently reliable in terms of his on-field energy and approach to the game. 

Raymond Epps -- According to a source, out of an abundance of caution Epps was held out of the team's Cactus Bowl as a precautionary disciplinary measure for reasons unrelated to the credit card fraud case that has led to the arrest of three ASU players. It left junior starter Kody Kohl as the lone relied upon tight end in that game, but Epps showed in bowl practices that he continues to make strides. In the spring, the junior college transfer really struggled. He couldn't get lined up properly and was too skinny, looking more like a wide receiver than a tight end. By December, he looked as though he'd gained a positive 20 pounds over the course of the full year, and was increasingly able to get aligned properly and execute his assignments. Epps is mobile and has some play making capability as a tight end. It was a good developmental year for a player with two more seasons of eligibility. He only had four catches in 2015, but that number could dramatically increase in the year ahead at his current rate of improvement. 

Scout Team

Jalen Bates -- Very few defensive redshirt recruits in recent years at ASU have shown the type of potential that Bates demonstrated in 2015. A reasonable case could be made that he was the team's best pass rusher even though he wasn't overall ready to play from a physical and preparation standpoint. That's not going to be the case in the year ahead and he could be a star in the making. 

Terrell Chatman -- During the team's bowl practices it was clear to us that Chatman was the most impressive offensive skill performer in terms of potential. He's got all the tools that one would look for in a wide receiver prospect, from his length to his athleticism and ability to make plays on the football. It's difficult to imagine he won't be seeing the field a lot in the coming season. 

Zach Robertson -- A late arrival in the summer as he got academics sorted out, Robertson lost a significant amount of weight in his first six months at ASU and by the end of the season was one of the best looking offensive linemen on the roster despite being a true freshman. He's got the type of large frame and natural power that separates great offensive line prospects. With ASU having to replace four starters next season, it's tough to imagine Robertson a scenario in which Robinson isn't on the field a lot if not starting.

Quinn Bailey -- Purely fro an improvement standpoint, very few players if any on the ASU roster made as significant strides as Bailey from 2014 to the end of 2015. He really cleaned up his footwork and is a smoother, more refined player in his pass pro both as a tackle and guard. The rest of his technique has made a similar jump, and Bailey has the versatility to play inside or outside on a big frame. He'll contend for a spot starting this spring. 

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