Player Capsule: Nick Ralston
Position: Running Back
Eligibility: Redshirt Freshman
Weight: 220 pounds
2015 season quick review: Ralston applied for a medical redshirt waiver last year after arriving as a mid-year high school graduate and getting hurt early in the season.
Head coach Todd Graham's recent assessment: “I want to say he had 6,000 yards in high school and 50 carries in a game (in high school). I think that kind of all caught up with him and so that’s why he had the injuries he had last year so I think he’s finally just getting into collegiate shape....[He's the] next guy (after Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage) and right there, just great protection, great blocker., great running the ball. He’s at a different maturity level physically with his body and healthy."
SunDevilSource.com analysis (05/2016): After playing a vital role in Argyle (Texas) High School's 16-0 record and state championship in 2014, Ralston arrived at Arizona State in January of 2015 with a lot of recent wear and tear on his body. He carried the ball 337 times (21 attempts per game) for 2,474 yards and 41 touchdowns as a high school senior and had 6,000 rushing yards in his final three years of high school.
It wasn't initially clear what position Ralston would play at ASU, as he was initially recruited to play inside linebacker before being shifted to offense relatively quickly. The role he had in practice was as a fullback and h-back type of player, and Ralston was listed at 240 pounds, bouncing between the tight ends and running back groups. But even so, in practice he showcased a knack for finding cracks to squeeze through when given the opportunity to run the football. Ultimately, Ralston played but had his season cut short due to a hamstring injury, and he's expected to be awarded a medical hardship waiver that would allow 2016 to be considered a redshirt freshman season.
Due to his demonstrated skill set, ASU coaches decided to let Ralston play as a running back this year, and he dropped 20 pounds in order to accommodate it. The result was a quicker, more nimble Ralston in spring practices this year. He already displayed impressive feel and vision and the ability to get lateral in the hole to avoid would-be tacklers, but now Ralston's able to do all of that with better quickness. He's also physical and will run through tackles at times, or drop his pads and delivery a blow when someone squares up to him. Straight line and open field speed is a limitation for Ralston, and he's not the type of back who is going to run away from defenders or explode through the second level and into space. Ralston is a good third-down option as well, particularly as a protection piece, but he's also capable of being used in slip screens and as a check down option.
Projected depth chart status: Juniors Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage are proven starter-caliber running backs in the Pac-12 and will soak up most of the game reps at running back for the Sun Devils this year as long as they're healthy. Additionally, if the formations ASU showed in the spring are the predominant ones used by the offense in the fall, there may not be as many plays that utilize two backs as under the previous coordinator. That was a staple previously, when one of the backs often aligned in the slot. Ralston unquestionably had a productive spring and is third on the depth chart so he figures to see the field, but it'll likely be as a role player unless someone is knocked out of action.