Frank Darby evaluation, ASU wide receiver position overview
Ideal scholarship roster number: 11-12
Potential returning number: 6 (Cameron Smith, Tim White, Frederick Gammage, Ellis Jefferson, Jalen Harvey, Terrell Chatman)
Likely returning number: 6
2016 Commitments: 5-6 (N'Keal Harry, Jeremy Smith, Kyle Williams, Frank Darby, John Humphrey (must sit out 2016), Jack Smith (could play safety or wide receiver))
Remaining ideal number: 0
Before getting into an evaluation of Frank Darby it's important to give kudos to Arizona State offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey and wide receivers coach Jay Norvell for how proactive they've been at addressing a scholarship deficit at the wide receiver position. It's something we pointed out several months ago as a challenge in 2017 recruiting that has no been significantly mitigated by their foresight and creativity with the additions of Darby and Oklahoma transfer John Humphrey.
This ASU offense is going to be perhaps even more reliant on the wide receiver position under Lindsey due to his merging of Air Raid and pro style principles with Gus Malzahn elements, and having a full compliment of scholarship players with enough class distribution and some program experience is integral to success.
At one point recently it appeared that ASU would need to add as many as four or five receivers in the 2017 class, which is very difficult to do without having a drop off in talent among the acquisitions. Now that's not the case, particularly if incoming freshman Jack Smith ends up at wide receiver, which is yet to be determined officially according to a source with direct knowledge.
Either way, what once looked to be a daunting challenge in 2017 recruiting now is much less so. Seniors Tim White and Fred Gammage will depart, but the Sun Devils could return as many as nine or 10 wide receivers from their 2016 roster, which means they'll only need to add a couple players at the position in the 2017 recruiting cycle in order to reach their target number. They'll also have more young and developing players to choose from in their efforts to sustain through the loss of starters White next year and Smith in the following year. That's a good recipe for success.
In Darby, the Sun Devils are getting a prospect whose caliber is hard to come by out of the high school ranks this late in a recruiting cycle. A former Iowa commit, Darby never signed with the program due to academic qualification concerns and later re-opened his recruitment, selecting ASU over Boston College and Rutgers. Norvell made a strong impression on Darby by flying across the country to Jersey City, New Jersey, specifically to recruit him. It didn't hurt that ASU basketball coach Bobby Hurley is a legend in the city, the son of one of the best high school basketball coaches of all time at St. Anthony, not far from where Darby goes to school at Lincoln.
Competitive toughness Darby's calling card. It jumps off the screen on his game film and flows naturally from his voice in conversation. He's rugged and physical, consistently making plays on the football in what are essentially jump ball situations. Quarterback play wasn't a strength at his high school, and yet Darby made it impossible for him to not be used as a weapon down the field, with 35 catches for 957 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. For a team that went 11-1 and dominated against relatively poor competition, Darby was unquestionably a star.
Importantly, this isn't just a tough kid who is making a mark based on sheer determination. At 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, Darby has good size and strength, having gained about 10 pounds since his senior season. He has big, strong hands that secure the football and allow him to make plays with his arms extended, even on short-area throws that are tougher became of how quickly the ball arrives. He also plays fast, with the speed to separate due to an extra gear that he's able to shift into. Open field straight line speed is one of his best assets, as he has the ability to run away from defenders.
As a route runner, Darby has good potential but is still relatively early in his development technically. Upon arrival at ASU he's going to be working on using his hands at the line of scrimmage more effectively, leg drive, short-area quickness and foot agility. His feet need to become more active to improve his shiftiness and he'll have to sync his movement better to transition routes. He's better at full stride than when he has to chop his feet and be more nimble. Darby is an outside receiver in ASU's scheme, and one who has some big play potential down the field given his beguiling speed once he's able to channel his physically with better technique at the line of scrimmage. He's a good stylistic fit for this ASU staff and scheme, particular as such a late addition. Darby projects to be competing on the perimeter with Cam Smith, Jefferson, Harvey, Chatman, Harry and Jeremy Smith.