Arizona State position preparedness and potential grades: Tight End

Arizona State has some experience at tight end with greater depth than in the past. How ready is the group for success overall in 2016?

1. Kody Kohl (Senior) -- Even though he doubled his production as a pass catcher last season as a junior, Kohl had a chance to make a much greater impact. He had some key drops in the open field and in the end zone, the latter of which being where he really had a chance to cement his status as a weapon in the red zone. It didn't really materialize. His four touchdown catches in 2015 only equalled his 2014 production even though he had twice as many catches overall and more chances. 

Focus and composure at the ball's arrival are areas Kohl will have to work on to maximize his potential. For not being a great athlete he's done a good job technically of releasing into his routes and getting open and in position to make some plays, but for whatever reason hasn't come up with the ball enough. Even so, he's still the most polished of the tight ends on the roster from a skill standpoint entering the 2016 season. 

Kohl has had several limiting injuries through his college career, with a hamstring issue being the most recent and it kept him off the field the entire spring. That's something to watch moving forward, as these injuries are easy to aggravate. He looked quite lean in recent months and has had relatively wide fluctuations of weight in his career in order to try to find the sweet spot that provides enough heft from a blocking standpoint without cutting too much into his range and mobility as a route runner. 

At 6-foot-3, Kohl isn't especially long or advantaged from a physical standpoint as a blocker, but tends to do a good job of mitigating that with his footwork and overall approach to the task. He's a tough player who is an authentic teammate and passionate home grown Sun Devil. He's capable of having a good senior season if he's able to complete plays he's put himself in position to make.  Preparedness Grade: 3 / Potential Grade: 3

2. Raymond Epps (Junior) -- In the last year Epps is one of the most improved players on the ASU roster. He started out last spring transitioning from the junior college level substantially undersized and with the disposition of a wide receiver. Additionally it was a rough adjustment with learning a play book that is very challenging for the tight end position with how many different alignments and techniques are required. He really wasn't ready to play effectively last season, but had to serve a limited role because the Sun Devils were so light on talent and depth at the position. 

The great news for Epps and ASU is that he was only a sophomore last season, and there's been been significant across-the-board development from last spring to now. He really looks like a very different player, quite literally. Physically he's probably 25 pounds heavier and now looks the part of a Division I tight end. Not only that, he's made major improvements with his understanding of the game and physical execution of his his assignments. 

Epps is a full service tight end, with above average length and the ability to line up attached in a three-point stance or as a flexed out option as a receiver. He can play effective in double tight end formations in either role and a variety of alignments. He isn't especially sudden releasing from the line of scrimmage but gears up nicely and has above average range and playmaking ability as a receiver. He's a guy who can stretch the seam as a route runner and require a little extra attention from defenses. He makes plays on the football with his hands and tends to receive the ball cleanly. As a blocker he's worked to tighten up his movements and and be more functional with his arms and hands, and also on his footwork. He can at times be too high and reach in this regard as opposed to getting into ideal position, and to not quickly enough identify blocking assignments and whiff as a result, and that's an area he'll have to improve upon. Preparedness Grade: 2.5 / Potential Grade: 3.5

3. JayJay Wilson (Sophomore)-- For his size Wilson is an above average athlete at the tight end position in the Pac-12. A natural football player, he looked good in high school as a hybrid linebacker, as a running back, as a receiver of the football. He's very well put together physically, especially this year after spending some months getting his frame leaner and even more nimble and explosive. He's got very good foot quickness and agility for the position, runs well and changes directions fluidly. He has a high ceiling at the position for the Sun Devils in years to come. 

Comparatively, Wilson is bigger and more athletic than Chris Coyle was when Coyle set the school record for tight end receptions in 2012, Todd Graham's first year coaching ASU. Wilson is also bigger and more athletic than current starter Kody Kohl. Under Graham, ASU hasn't had a high school recruit who possesses the type of base physical tools that Wilson has. As a result, Wilson can be used in more applications in the passing game, and also more frequently in general in this regard if coaches decide to do so. He's a three level receiving target, is difficult for linebackers to cover in space, and has good hands and tends to make plays on the football. 

There are technical issues related to route running that will require some refinement, of course, including being more explosive and proficient coming out of the stem on the top his routes, and how he releases off the line of scrimmage. But he shows promise from all tight end alignments in the scheme as a pass catcher and has the toughness to make contested plays on the football and hang in for the play even when anticipating heavy contact. 

From a blocking standpoint, Wilson's physical disposition really stands out. He embraces striking players, securing the alley and preventing edge defenders from getting into their run fits. As he gets better with hand placement and footwork in this regard he's got a chance to excel, even as he's not especially long for the position. That's one of the things that may be a bit limiting, but Wilson's athleticism, toughness and ball skills make him a threat to steal game reps from older players. Preparedness Grade: 2.5 / Potential Grade: 4

4. Thomas Hudson (Redshirt Freshman) -- You have to go back 10 years or more to find a tight end Arizona State has signed out of high school with Hudson's size. He was ready out of the box in terms of physical stature, but needed a redshirt year nonetheless to learn the complex ASU scheme for the tight end and 3-back position under Mike Norvell. Now, Hudson is making the adjustment to a different position coach and offensive coordinator, so that's going to continue to be a process.

Hudson should benefit from tight ends coach Del Alexander, a former wide receivers coach, from a route running standpoint. Hudson said he's already learning a lot and is enamored with his new coach with regard to breaking down the specifics of the plays. A lot of the finer details of becoming a receiving weapon are going to be further tweaked and enhanced: learning how to create leverage and separation as a route runner; to not telegraph the route prematurely; to use his weight and movement to transition in and out of breaks, etc. These were big focal points last year and that will continue. 

For a big-bodied tight end, Hudson gets out and runs well with gathering speed. It's initial quickness and flexibility where Hudson will be able to make the biggest gains in the ASU strength and conditioning program. He can improve his catch radius and ability to bend and make rangier and adjustment plays on the football. His size is an asset as a blocker and Hudson should be able to initially find a role as a sub-package offensive player. Hudson will have to find the right balance between poise and purpose as a blocker, attacking blocks in space as a move weapon, and learning how to exploit angles and surface areas in-line. There's a lot of work to be done because Hudson has the potential to be a very good player. Preparedness Grade: 2 / Potential Grade 3.5

5. Grant Martinez (Junior) -- One of a handful of ASU players who has been unable to stay healthy for any length of time over a multi-year period, Martinez hasn't been on the field very much even in a practice setting. As a result we just haven't seen him get the reps that lead to the type of development that would put him in a position to be expected to see the field. 

Martinez has always been a good catcher of the football, with nice length and an ability to make extended plays on the football. He's a more than serviceable athlete for the position and has worked to add size and strength, now bigger than any time in his ASU career. That should help him with blocking and being more physical when attached to the line, but he's going to have to get back to 100 percent in order to demonstrate it. In the meanwhile, others at the position, including Raymond Epps and JayJay Wilson continue to steadily improve. That's going to make it tougher for Martinez to make his way into the rotation even when he does get back to full strength. Martinez has potential to play effectively at this level, but it takes some good fortune and he's had a lot of bad luck so far. Preparedness Grade: 2 / Potential Grade: 3.5

6. Jared Bubak (Freshman) -- At 6-foot-4 and nearly 250 pounds, Bubak is already bigger than the tight ends -- save Tommy Hudson -- who have arrived at ASU before him under this ASU staff: Chris Coyle, De'Marieya Nelson, Raymond Epps and Kody Kohl. Bubak gained 20-plus pounds in recent months after his high school season ended and he started transitioning from the quarterback position he played in high school to the position he'll play in college. 

Bubak also may have a better top-end gear than any of ASU's recent 3-backs. His 40-yard dash isn't great but Bubak has clocked 11.59 seconds in the 100 meters in high school, which is good for a football player of his size, even when he was significantly lighter. On film he often outruns much smaller high school players and moves well in the open field, with relatively light feet for the position. Though he isn't especially sudden athletically, Bubak gears up well and has a higher end than a lot of college level h-back types, so his range as a receiver is better than many, including what we've seen at ASU the last few years. 

We had the opportunity to watch Bubak play with his hand in the ground for the first time at the Semper Fi Bowl practices in January, and between then and the conclusion of ASU's spring practices he made significant improvement. Bubak now looks much more comfortable getting into a 3-point stance and using the proper technique releasing into a route or with blocking form, but it's still early in his development in this regard. It's going to take some time -- probably several years -- for Bubak to have the type of positional fluency that will enable him to play at a high Pac-12 level but he's got a lot of the tools that should enable it. Preparedness Grade: 1 / Potential Grade 3.5

Preparedness/Potential Grade Key

5: All-American level performer

4: First/second team all-league level performer

3: Mid-level Pac-12 performer

2: Fringe Pac-12 performer

1: Non-Pac-12 level performer


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