Ideal scholarship roster number: 15
Potential returning number (in 2017): 10 (Corey Smith, A.J. McCollum, Tyson Rising, Connor Humphreys, Quinn Bailey, Sam Jones, Alex Losoya, Steve Miller, Cade Cote, Zach Robertson, Dillon Faamatau, Mason Walter, Marshal Nathe, Cohl Cabral, Tyler McClure*)
*McClure could be awarded a scholarship this fall
Likely returning number: 14-15
Commitments: 1 (Corey Stephens)
Remaining ideal number: 0-1
Arizona State coaches can afford to be very selective recruiting offensive linemen in the 2017 class because of how many players they've signed in the previous two classes to address what was at one point a scholarship deficit. They added five players each in the 2015 and 2016 recruiting cycles, and so they're very young and inexperienced heading into this year and beyond.
The bad news for the Sun Devils of course is they have to replace four starters in 2016, but the good news is that they have a lot of younger talent that can now be developed. It should reflect well on the group, particularly as they move into 2017 and 2018 after a transitional season this year. They're set to return as many as 15 scholarship players from the 2016 roster as they move into 2017, which is probably more than at any time since ASU coach Todd Graham arrived in Tempe.
All of this means that in 2017 recruiting they've had no reason to make scholarship offers unless they feel great about the prospects. Even if ASU signs just two linemen in the class, they're still going to be in a healthy situation at the position in the 2017 season from a numbers standpoint. Offensive tackle is the biggest need -- and that's usually the case -- so when the Sun Devils offered a scholarship to Scottsdale Saguaro interior offensive line prospect Corey Stephens last week, they did so knowing all of this.
ASU's coaches didn't have to reach whatsoever with its recruiting efforts at this position, and certainly not in June. So the offer that was extended to Stephens and immediately accepted certainly indicates that ASU coaches are very comfortable with what they're getting in Stephens as a prospect.
Offensive line coach Chris Thomsen worked in a hands on fashion with Stephens at ASU's big man camp and individual camp in the last several weeks. The Sun Devils attended Saguaro practices and watched Stephens then as well, in April. This is a player they've spent a lot of time on prior to offering, and that would only make sense since it's a high profile school a stone's throw away from their own campus.
Any conversation about Stephens as a prospect has to first start with his intangibles, which are off the charts. He has a reported 4.5 GPA, a virtual straight-A student with a slew of honors level classes. He is incredibly mature, well spoken and intelligent. Stephens plays left tackle at Saguaro because of need, but he projects to center or possibly guard at ASU, and Thomsen made sure to get a sense of how well Stephens could snap the ball and bend and move at the position before making the offer.
Center is one of the most mentally demanding positions in the game and Stephens certainly appears to have the profile to excel in that regard. At a full 6-foot-3 and 285 pounds, he also is well constructed physically, with a similar stature and better body composition -- for comparison's sake -- than former Saguaro standout Kody Koebensky, who went on to start for the Sun Devils for several years at center. Physically, Stephens looks the part of a power conference interior offensive linemen.
Film review presents some challenges because Stephens plays tackle instead of center, and also because Saguaro uses its linemen so heavily in two-point alignments that some of the techniques just are visually executed differently, particularly with run blocking. These things may have contributed to some degree to Stephens not getting more major college scholarship opportunities, but he was highly coveted at the Ivy League level as well as by the military schools. He is also well reviewed by Scout.com, which ranks the first-team all-state and all-division Stephens as the No. 10 guard prospect in the West.
As would be expected, Stephens has a good understanding of angles and works effectively to secure seal blocks, even when reaching to the second-level. He also uses his hands effectively both from a location and anticipatory standpoint in the run game, with a two-point stance being an advantage in this regard that he maximizes. When he gets on center with his block he drives his feet nicely and uses his hips and core strength decently, though this will be an area to further develop. Leverage at times is harder to come by due to the higher origination angle of Saguaro's tackles but he overcomes this without much problem by being physically more equipped than almost anyone he faces.
We'd like to see Stephens continue to work on his flexibility as he transitions to playing center. The pass protections will require different physical tools than playing on the edge, but he has enough foot quickness that he doesn't look to be a liability in the making with A-gap stunts and pops, though that remains to be seen. Stephens is at best a moderate athlete for the position in the Pac-12, but he has more than enough size and physical tools coupled with his impressive intangibles to compete effectively at this level.
ASU now only really has a need for one more offensive linemen in the class, and that player has to be a tackle. That player doesn't have to be, but could potentially be a junior college prospect, with ASU set to lose Evan Goodman after this season.