Hot 11: Mid-spring impressive Arizona State performers relative to expectations

Here's a look at the Arizona State players who have most exceeded the expectations we had of them entering spring football.

1. Quinn Bailey -- Perhaps the most impressive overall transformation in the last 18 months at ASU is the one Bailey has made. To be blunt, his pass sets were awkwardly disjoined when he started working with position coach Chris Thomsen. It looked like someone learning to dance with an absence of natural rhythm. Now, you'd have no idea how far he's come if you hadn't watched closely and known where he started. That's a great thing for Bailey and ASU because he's got pretty good foot quickness for a listed 6-foot-5, 311 pounds. He showed that off quite clearly last week when he had two impressive run blocks that required some some mobility, one of which led to a touchdown. Bailey has pretty consistently exceeded expectations from where he started and is now starting to open our eyes to the possibility that he's crossed the minimum threshold to be a Pac-12 starting right tackle as a third-year sophomore. 

2. Raymond Epps -- No player on the Arizona State roster is more improved over the course of one full year than Epps, except maybe Bailey. When he arrived in Tempe last spring out of Arizona Western College, Epps looked like a wide receiver physically, not dissimilar from Jaelen Strong. He struggled to get lined up properly when the offensive pace picked up, and lacked physicality, strength and technical capacity as a blocker. But on the plus side for ASU, Epps was only a redshirt sophomore. A former high school wideout, Epps improved as the 2015 season wore on, and is now continuing to make strides. He's seemingly gained 20-plus pounds, is much less likely to start a play out of position or fail to execute the basics of an assignment. As his approach and understanding have improved, so too has his productivity. There's no reason to think that won't continue. 

3. Malik Lawal -- One of the defensive players who really caught our eye on the ASU scout team last year and again in bowl practices, Lawal is a great piece of clay to work with. He's one of the very rare players with enough athletic versatility at his size, 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, to project to all four linebacker positions. He can be kept lean and play as a Spur who attacks and is good as a blitzer, run stopper and weakside pursuer. Or he can be asked to add more size and be a primary pass rusher at Devil. The Sun Devils don't need him inside right now with two starting returners there anchoring the linebacker group, but Lawal could easily be a WILL backer down the line. He's still prone to making some key read mistakes with coverage assignments at times because he has such a quarterback-focused instinct, but the talent is there. He's explosive and can really run. 

4. Tyler McClure -- It was easy to take McClure's development for granted because last season the backup to then-senior center Nick Kelly was junior Stephon McCray. So even in a practice setting, there were limitations on how much we really saw from McClure, particularly when the team went to in-season practices and significantly curbed the amount reporters are able to observe. As a result, it has admittedly been somewhat of a surprise to watch McClure display very respectable competency at the center position in bowl practices and continuing into the spring. He's not undersized to play the position at this stage of his career, and has been quite stout in his pass pro against ASU's defensive tackles up front, not tending to yield much ground and being balanced with good use of his hands. His game impact has been reasonable as well, though not quite as impressive. 

5. Koron Crump -- This is what college teams want their linebacker additions to look like. Crump is very similar to Lawal from a size/athletic standpoint, and also with regard to his disposition. He's another attacking piece who is at a minimum going to be effective in a sub-package role with the way ASU likes to use its blitzers. Crump is creative to the quarterback from a 2-point stance, and has the initial quickness to get there early enough to be able to take advantage of it. One of the things ASU is going to be able to do this season if it wants to is put juniors D.J. Calhoun and Christian Sam on the field along with Lawal and/or Crump in addition to junior college transfer Dougladson Subtyl on passing downs. That would give the Sun Devils every five and six man blitz combination imaginable and the ability to still drop and cover the field. ASU should have a better pressure package. 

6. George Lea -- The last really impressive interior pass rushers ASU had were Will Sutton and to a lesser extent Davon Coleman. It's possible the Sun Devils are improved in this regard in 2016 with Tashon Smallwood continuing to develop and Lea about to emerge on the scene. When he was forced to redshirt last season after an arrest, a number of program sources privately expressed frustration, with some even thinking Lea could challenge Smallwood for a starting nod at the 3-technique tackle position. At a minimum, Lea should boost ASU's depth along the offensive front with his versatility and balance as a player. He's been playing the nose tackle with the second unit, but has the ability to exploit a gap, and has also appeared to be quite stout against the run in recent spring practices for his age. 

7. JayJay Wilson -- As a true freshman in 2015, Wilson got a late start to camp due to an injury, and then was bounced around between tight end and Devil backer. As a result, assimilation was tough, and Wilson wasn't in ideal shape either. He's leaner now and healthy, at 6-foot-3 and approximately 250 pounds. Wilson is starting to show more of the playmaking characteristics that enabled him to be a star two-way player at Valencia High School in Southern California, where he was a great running back in addition to playing safety and linebacker on defense. Wilson can stretch the field and make athletic plays on the football as an h-back type who can be flexed out and separate from linebackers and safeties in space. He's got to continue to develop as a blocker and in all areas technically and learn more about situational awareness but Wilson's future seems very bright. 

8. Joseph Wicker -- Last year we saw glimpses of what Wicker is capable of as he became a starter-caliber player as a true freshman defensive linemen, something that is difficult to do. A year in the program's strength and conditioning regimen has done wonders for Wicker, who looks like he very well may be ASU's best pass rusher so far this spring. Last week the Sun Devils showed reporters a rare blitz period, and Wicker made it almost unnecessary, as he beat two offensive tackles on opposite sides of the ball -- Quinn Bailey and Evan Goodman -- in a matter of just a few plays. Few players with Wicker's size (no less than 275 pounds) can gain the edge like he can at this level, and he's still early in terms of learning how to leverage his athleticism with greater skill level. 

9. Terrell Chatman -- Though he's going to still need a lot more refinement, Chatman is the type of receiver who has the potential to excel in the Chip Lindsey offensive scheme. There just aren't a lot of 6-foot-3, 200 pound receivers who can get behind the defense that ASU's had in a lot of years, and Chatman is the type of guy who can win on fade and hitch and go routes. This is the wideout who has the most classic NFL frame of the Sun Devils' receivers in the Todd Graham era, probably even more so than Jaelen Strong. People who don't even know that much about football probably look at Chatman walking through the airport and think he's a big time wide receiver. Everything about his look and persona is that, and now he's just got to develop the understanding of the position and ability to execute it in a way that makes it so. 

10. Jalen Bates -- With a lanky, large frame and good quickness, Bates is dripping with potential as a perimeter pass rusher. At 265 pounds, Bates has added quite a bit of size and strength already as a redshirt freshman and is becoming increasingly more physically equipped. He's going to need to show a lot more against the run, as he has a tendency to get his shoulders turned and moved away from his responsibility. Good offensive tackles are going to be able to use Bates' momentum against him right now, but also likely give up a sack or two in the process as he works to round out his game. The question for ASU is whether that's a reasonable trade off right now or not. Bates uses his length well and gets into tackles on their drops in a way that keeps their hands off of him as he presses forward for the quarterback. 

11. Chad Adams -- When he got a chance to play last season at safety following the losses of Armand Perry and Jordan Simone, Adams was part of an ASU secondary that completely fell apart and ended up with a nation-worst yards per game allowed and most 40-plus yard plays allowed. Adams has bounced between cornerback and safety in practice through his first two years in Tempe, and is starting to show better assignment soundness and reactiveness to plays. We like him better at cornerback than safety, as he's shown pretty good foot quickness and man coverage skills when allowed to just focus on a wide receiver in isolation. Adams has made some plays this spring that reporters have seen, and hasn't yielded much at all. In a secondary that has very little in the way of depth, his continued development will be important. 

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