After back to back cycles of signing its best recruiting classes this century, Arizona State fell back in 2016. Currently the Sun Devils have signed 18 recruits and rank No. 36 overall in the Scout.com national class rankings. ASU’s smaller class this year hurt its standing in the overall team rankings but when you look at the quality of the prospects it did sign, the class is still a strong one in the context of the last 15 years of Sun Devil recruiting.
Quality over Quantity
While ASU’s class ranks ninth out of the last 15 classes in the Scout.com national class rankings it does rank second in both star average and percentage of four/five stars. Signing six prospects who are rated as four stars rated gives ASU a 33 percent rate of four/five star prospects in the class. That puts this class second overall in the last 15 years, only behind ASU’s 2015 class. ASU’s star average is 3.33 which also only ranks behind the 2015 class over the same period.
ASU could only sign 23 recruits this cycle and because of missing out on some prospects and at least so far unwilling to take backup options will leave five spots unfilled. It looks as though Todd Graham has decided against taking backup options and leaving spots open for possible transfers.
We have seen multiple ASU staffs over the years take late flyers on prospects with little success so leaving spots open for transfers or other late options makes sense. We also need to factor in ASU has a small senior class next year, only 15 projected seniors at this time. A relatively young team overall doesn’t have a glaring need to take on as many prospects either.
After keeping a low staff turnover rate over his first four years in Tempe, Graham saw multiple departures from his on field and off field personnel since the end of the season. It was a matter of time before offensive coordinator Mike Norvell left for a head coaching opportunity. Norvell, one ASU’s top recruiters, took with him several staff members including tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator Chip Long who was regarded as the Sun Devils' other top recruiter.
Despite the coaching departures the Sun Devils held together the class it had put together before the turnover. It's an impressive accomplishment when you factor in ASU finished 2015 with a 6-7 record. In most years, ASU's had at least one recruit flip at some point in the last six weeks.
Arguably the most impressive recruit ASU held on to is quarterback Dillon Sterling-Cole. The four-star recruit had multiple Power Five programs make pitches to him after the departure of Norvell but Graham and new offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey were able to keep his commitment and his letter of intent was one of the first to become official on Wednesday.
Graham, along with Assistant Athletic Director for Recruiting Patrick Suddes, are two of main reasons ASU held on to its class. Graham is active in recruiting, more so than his two predecessors at ASU, and his relationship with recruits proved to be immensely valuable this year.
Suddes is someone who probably has not received enough credit for ASU’s recruiting success since he arrived in Tempe, but Graham credited him as someone deserving of special thanks at Wednesday's press conference. Moving forward as ASU works in multiple new staff members this spring, Suddes' value will only increase for ASU as it turns its focus fully to the class of 2017.
While ASU held on to its class after the staff departures it essentially struck out over the final six weeks on the cycle, which is also perhaps unprecedented in recruiting at the school. When Scottsdale Saguaro defensive back Byron Murphy chose Washington over ASU in January it had a ripple of effect with other recruits such as California safety Lamar Jackson, Scout’s No. 1 ranked safety nationally, who was considering the Sun Devils and was tight with Murphy. Jackson signed with Nebraska.
Going into the final week of the cycle ASU was still in the mix for as many as seven prospects and failed to close on any of them. While it might not seem coincidental for a team that blew multiple fourth quarter leads during the season to struggle at the end of the recruiting season, the issues ASU had with closing on recruits was seemingly more a function of losing key staff members than a possible failure in strategy. Graham acknowledged this in his comments Wednesday.
If ASU had kept most its staff intact like it did the previous years, its chances of landing recruits such as Murphy, Jackson, Tre Williams, Briston Guidry and others would have been much stronger.
Fixing the Problems
The ASU pass defense struggled greatly in the 2015 season and that was with three quarters of the starting defensive backs being seniors. So rebuilding and upgrading the defensive back end was a primary focus of this class.
Not surprisingly Graham turned to the junior college ranks and signed two of the top junior college cornerbacks in the country, J’Marcus Rhodes and Maurice Chandler, who ranked 30th and 44th overall respectively in the Scout.com junior college rankings. ASU also signed two high school prospects who project to defensive back, Robbie Robinson and Chase Lucas. All four will have a chance to make an early impact for the Sun Devils. Rhodes and Chandler are already enrolled at ASU and project to start at either cornerback or field safety next year.
Devil backer has been an issue since Carl Bradford’s departure two years ago. ASU signed four-star two prospects who fit the mold of an edge pass rusher. Junior college defensive end Dougladson Subtyl (15th ranked junior college prospect nationally) is arguably the most impressive prospect ASU has signed under Todd Graham. He will not arrive until the summer but has a chance to make an immediate impact as an edge rusher.
Another junior college pass rusher who is already enrolled at ASU is Koron Crump. The No. 26 junior college prospect could play devil backer, inside linebacker or spur defending on the situation. The loss of devil backer Antonio Longino to graduation as well as the dismissal of his backup Ismael Murphy-Richardson means that both of these recruits will be counted on next year.
The offensive line also was an area that needed bolstering. ASU had signed five prospects last year along the offensive front and followed it up with four more prospects this year. Two of those 2015 signees are junior college recruits who are already enrolled. Tyson Rising and A.J. McCollum are both among Scout’s Top-100 junior college prospects and figure to compete for starting positions this spring.
Rising is a swing prospect who could factor in at right tackle or guard while McCollum is a pure center prospect who could slide into the starting lineup on day one. It was important for ASU to add some junior college prospects this year to balance out its offensive line classes. Of the Sun Devils returning 10 returning linemen only two were upperclassmen and both of them are seniors.
Arizona State did not target many of the in-state prospects in 2016. Out of the top-10 prospects in Arizona this year, ASU only offered five of them and landed two, Chandler’s N’Keal Harry, the No. 2 prospect in the state, and his teammate Chase Lucas who was the No.5 recruit locally. The biggest miss is Murphy, the state’s top prospect, who could have come in immediately and made an impact in the secondary.
Peoria Centennial's Marshal Nathe signed with the Sun Devils and enrolled early. He is the No. 11 prospect locally and figures headed for a redshirt after having suffering a late season knee injury.
ASU is in a much stronger position locally than it was when Todd Graham took over five years ago and the 2017 Arizona class is one of the stronger ones in recent memory. Eight prospects already claim an offer from the Sun Devils but two are already committed elsewhere. A bounce back year on the field next fall could yield one of stronger in-state classes for ASU in a long time.
When we add up the ranking order of each class in the three main categories (Overall Rankings/Average Stars/Percentage of 4/5stars) this class comes out as the fourth overall class in the last 15 years. It is Graham’s third best ASU class. It had a chance to be much better than it turned out but still a good class when you factor in how the Sun Devils did on the field in 2015 and how much turnover the staff has gone through since the season concluded.
Last 15 Years Overall Team Ranking (Scout.com)
Percentage of 4/5 Star Recruits
Composite ASU Class Rankings (Combination of Overall Rankings/Average Stars/Percentage of 4/5stars)
1. 2015 - Graham
2. 2014 - Graham
3. 2008 - Erickson
4. 2016 - Graham
5. 2010 - Erickson
6. 2006 - Koetter
7. 2002 - Koetter
8. 2007 - Erickson
9. 2013 - Graham
10. 2003 - Koetter
11. 2009 - Erickson
12. 2012 (tie) - Graham
12. 2005 (tie) - Koetter
14. 2011 - Erickson
15. 2004 - Koetter