Ideal scholarship roster number: 6
Likely returning number: 4-5
2017 commitments: 1 (Jared Poplawski)
Remaining ideal number: 0-1
The tight end position group appears to trending in a positive direction for Arizona State, with just one senior -- starter Kody Kohl -- on its 2016 roster and five scholarship players with remaining eligibility after this season. At least two of those players, junior Raymond Epps and redshirt freshman JayJay Wilson, appear ready to help the Sun Devils win football games this season. There hasn't been this much legitimate depth at the position since coach Todd Graham brought back the position in 2012.
Given its current situation, ASU can afford to be selective at tight end as a result of its building depth and talent. As a result, its scholarship offer and subsequent decision to take a commitment from Scottsdale Saguaro standout Jared Poplawski at this stage of the 2017 cycle indicate the Sun Devils are confident in what Poplawski brings to the table.
Poplawski plays an important role for the Sabercats, which have won a state championships in each of his three years of high school and is one of the best coached teams in the state, with a well designed and high functioning offense that scores a ton of points. Saguaro uses a base 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end) offense that has some obvious structural similarities with ASU.
Poplawski is used in all of the same alignments that we'll see from the Sun Devils and first-year offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey this season. Thus, his film provides ample opportunity to evaluate him in all such aspects, which makes the process of doing so easier. It also gives him more experience with a lot of the same techniques he'll be asked to execute at ASU, so he'll have a jumpstart in that regard, particularly as a local player at such a prominent program. Even if not enrolling early, local recruits can get into the weight room at ASU in the spring and go to practices and meetings, which is an advantage.
At a listed 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, Poplawski had 32 catches for 438 yards and six touchdowns last season for the Sabercats. His first scholarship offer came from ASU in November, which is important because it was when previous offensive coordinator Mike Norvell and former tight ends coach Chip Long were still with the Sun Devils. When Del Alexander shifted to coach tight ends and Lindsey took over, the pursuit of Poplawski continued, an indication that two different coordinators and position coaches felt good about the prospect.
Colorado, Louisville, Memphis, Oregon State and others eventually offered a scholarship to Poplawski but he always seemed to have his heart set on the Sun Devils. Poplawski's great-grandfather was an ASU athletic director and his grandfather was apparently on the ASU football team under legendary coaches Dan Devine and Frank Kush. His father and aunt also went to ASU, he said.
Skill-wise, Poplawski has some versatility for his size and that's one of his selling points, the well-roundedness he possesses at the position. That projects to enable college coaches to being able to use him and change structures on the fly without having to substitute personnel groupings. That's essential for no huddle offenses and the tight end position is the most important in this regard.
Poplawski is able to line up attached to the offensive line and he releases cleanly into a variety of routes including verticals on the seam. His posture and footwork tend to be very functional -- a sign of good coaching -- and though he has just modest speed, he uses his body well to gain separation. Poplawski can be a bit mechanical in anticipation of the ball but he catches it out away from his body comfortably. He stays within his framework better than a lot of tight ends on his routes and transitions reasonably well, with ample foot dexterity. When he's flexed out Poplawski retains value as a receiving option though he's not going to be beating coverage by hybrid defenders on the field side or safeties, or be a high end field stretcher at the position.
One of the challenges Poplawski will have is maintaining his mobility and rage as he adds weight and strength. He's not college-ready in that regard, and most tight ends aren't at this stage of their development. But he's a bit lighter-than-average player right now for a rising senior committed to a Power-5 conference for his size at the position and time will tell how added size will impact his capability.
Additional power is really going to help Poplawski as a blocker. He's willing in that regard, and has active feet that work through engagement, which are good signs of his potential. But when he's in-line and also in space, Poplawski isn't quick enough with his hands, and too often gets beaten in this regard by the defensive player. Usually he's more athletic and bigger than the opponent and he's able to muscle his way to successful reps even when he doesn't get his hands located first, or in proper position to make plays.
Overall, Poplawski has decent tools for his size as a Pac-12 tight end prospect. He's not at the higher end of the scale in terms of athleticism or size at the major college level, so he'll have to be technically proficient and maximize his potential to be successful. But he's further ahead than a lot of tight ends because of what he's been asked to do at a winning Saguaro program and there are some intangibles that resonate as well.