Curtis Hodges evaluation; ASU wide receiver overview analysis

What's Arizona State getting with the commitment of Curtis Hodges, who is taller than any player we can recall at wide receiver at the school in recent decades.

Wide Receiver

Ideal Scholarship Roster Number: 11-12

Potential Returning Number (in 2017): 10 (Cameron Smith, Ellis Jefferson, Jalen Harvey, Terrell Chatman, N'Keal Harry, Jeremy Smith, Kyle Williams, Frank Darby, John Humphrey, Ryan Newsome)

Likely Returning Number: 10

2017 Commitments: 1 (Curtis Hodges)

Remaining Ideal Number: 0-1

Top remaining targets: Tarik Black, Tahj Capehart, Jamire Calvin, Joseph Lewis, Tyjon Lindsey, Omar Manning, Osiris St. Brown, Bryan Thompson

The Skinny

Arizona State coaches have done a great job rebuilding their wide receiver talent pool this year through smart recruiting strategy and effort. A position group that was light on scholarship bodies and in need of serious replenishment last year is now flush with young talent including several marquee names. 

To be sure, in the 2016 season they'll still be relatively thin on experience and won't have as many proven returners as they'd prefer. But even after they graduate Tim White and Frederick Gammage after this season they'll be set up very well for 2017 and beyond.

This is because the Sun Devils have added a total six new scholarship players to their roster this year alone, with freshmen 2016 class signees N'Keal Harry, Kyle Williams, Jeremy Smith and Frank Darby all immediately available. Additionally, high-profile transfers John Humphrey and Ryan Newsome will each have three seasons of eligibility after sitting out this season, though they'll be able to practice immediately with ASU. There's also junior wide receiver walk-on Ryan Jenkins, who practiced with ASU last year while sitting out after transferring from Tennessee, where he was on scholarship. 

Even though they've added six receivers in a year, they've done in a way that will likely lead to the classes being well spaced, as two or three of the incoming freshmen will likely redshirt in addition to the two sit out transfers, providing even distribution. And the Sun Devils will still have returning starter Cameron Smith in 2017, and one or more others who should emerge in 2016 out of Jalen Harvey, Ellis Jefferson, Terrell Chatman and Harry or perhaps even another of the freshmen. 

If anything, the Sun Devils could be perhaps even a bit more reliant than in the past on the wide receiver position with first-year offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey's base 11 personnel (one tight end, one running back) offense. ASU's personnel lends itself to more tight end usage than what Lindsey used at Southern Miss, but the Sun Devils probably used more two tight end and two running back formations than we saw from Southern Miss. Lindsey's Air Raid experience lends itself to the ability to use more three and four wide receiver sets if the personnel is well suited to it. 

In consideration of their decision to take a commitment on Friday from Mesa Mountain View 6-foot-7 1/2, 216 pound wide receiver Curtis Hodges, it's important to note that Sun Devil coaches are not at all pressured with recruiting at the position. They offered Hodges knowing he'd commit, and also knowing they'd probably be getting a commitment from Newsome following his official visit. Lindsey and wide receivers coach Jay Norvell -- who recruited Humphrey to Oklahoma and later coached Newsome at Texas in 2015 -- are aware that they'll likely return 10 scholarship receivers in 2017. They know they have no need to press, or reach in recruiting at the position, because they really only need one or two receivers in the class. 

So while the timing of the decision to offer and take a commitment from Hodges was a bit curious, it's clear that Lindsey and Norvell are very comfortable with the decision and likely made it without rationalizing it due to broader tenuous needs at the position. A lot of times coaches will gamble more, consciously or otherwise, when recruiting holes are larger, which can serve to exacerbate the challenge they face. This is no such case. 

Hodges' only other football scholarship was from Iowa State at the time of his ASU commitment. ASU's coaches saw Hodges as their passing league 7-on-7 in June. These coaches didn't watch him last year in a game because Lindsey and Norvell weren't with the program. They could have waited until the first couple games of the season which starts for Mountain View on August 26, to see Hodges in person before making the offer. Hodges told us he knew he wanted to go to ASU and that ASU's coaches were aware of it. So he likely would have committed to ASU a few weeks from now the same as he did on Friday, as it's unlikely any other comparable schools would have offered that quickly. 

But again, the Sun Devils had no need to reach in this recruiting class at wide receiver, and clearly didn't feel they needed to do any more evaluating. They'd apparently seen enough between the spring, 7-on-7 and film and are very happy to take the commitment. 

What are they getting in Hodges? 

The rare size and length Hodges possesses is both the most intriguing thing about him and also the greatest potential liability as a major college wide receiver. You just almost never see true wideouts who stand nearly 6-foot-8. At ASU, there hasn't been one in many years, if ever. Currently the tallest NFL wide receiver is 6-foot-6. Hodges highest goal is essentially to be like Harold Carmichael, the tallest wideout in NFL history at 6-foot-8 and with a similar body type as Hodges at 225 pounds. Carmichael was a four-time Pro Bowl selection before retiring in 1984. Hodges isn't going to become a tight end or offensive tackle because his frame is slimmer and more angular than that. He's probably never going to weigh more than 230-something pounds as a college player. 

While long arms and the ability to reach and make plays on the football that defenders can't is an advantage, there tends to be diminishing returns on height after a certain point due to the athletic challenges presented from a route running standpoint. Playing the position at a high level requires speed and quickness that presents itself in the form of an ability to sharply and aggressive change on the fly to gain separation. Longer legs and a higher center of gravity are not really advantageous to this. 

What's interesting about Hodges' film is that he moves pretty fluidly for his height, and shows a surprising capacity to drop his hips and economically return to the football on hook, dig and out routes run to 10-plus yards. He seems have to really good limberness for how long he is, which is an absolute prerequisite to having a chance to play effectively at the high college level at his size. There are moments on film in which the challenges associated with his length are very clear, but not as many as I expected to find, and not as awkwardly. 

Hodges isn't fast when compared against the average Pac-12 wide receiver -- turning in a 4.9 second 40-yard dash time at a combine at Glendale Community College -- but his length is going to be intimidating and difficult to manage effective in space by opposite cornerbacks. His long strides and just how unorthodox he is with his height and 7-foot wingspan -- nobody will have much experience going up against it -- could mitigate to some degree a lack of high end speed. 

As in all areas of play, at the line of scrimmage his length can also be an asset and a limitation. He may not get his longer arms up quickly enough to beat a cornerback in press and could get jammed up and bumped off his route, also easier for a cornerback to do against a higher center of gravity. But when he gets his hands where he wants them more quickly than the cornerback, he's got a chance to win some reps very decisively. He also has the length and is fluid enough to get more width releasing from the snap, which presents a challenge to the cornerback. 

As a blocker, the length can allow Hodges to overwhelm defenders in space but he can get out-leveraged and have his height work against him. 

Hodges was reasonably productive as a junior with 51 catches for 556 yards and six touchdown receptions. Some of his better games came against good competition in Arizona high school football.

There is a very wide range of possibilities with what happens with Hodges in the Pac-12 and it's extremely difficult to project. He's got a high ceiling as a prospect but also a low floor. He could end up being extremely success or having physical limitations that stunt his development at some point in the years to come. It's an interesting take by ASU's coaches, one that is hard to find fault with given their overall situation at the position and Hodges' upside as a local prospect. 

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