Player Capsule: Malik Lawal
Position: Devil backer
Eligibility: Redshirt Freshman
Weight: 220 pounds
2015 season quick review: Lawal redshirted and was a member of the scout team.
Todd Graham quote on Malik Lawal: "He has had a phenomenal camp. He is a third down starter as a pass rusher. He is really rushing the passer tremendously. We've looked at him at linebacker and Devil. He is a guy who has flat matured and developed and we're really excited about him."
SunDevilSource.com analysis: A truly great athlete, Lawal committed to Arizona State just a couple months after suffering a torn ACL during the track season in 2014. The Sun Devils stuck with their recruitment of Lawal based on his impressive junior season film and some of the remarkable testing numbers, which included an electronic 4.75 40-yard dash and 41 inch vertical jump as a high school junior. It was a good decision by ASU's coaches because Lawal is demonstrating now that he's very capable of playing a role effectively in the Pac-12.
Lawal redshirted last year, moving between the inside and outside linebacker positions as ASU explored the best way to utilize him. That's still likely to see some continued fine-tuning now that he's two years removed from the ACL tear, but one thing is certain: Lawal is an explosive pass rusher who knows how to key the football and get up the field in a hurry. He has a great first step off the snap. There are only a couple players on the ASU roster who have his ability to expand an opposing offensive tackle in space and put that player on an island.
In the first several weeks of ASU's preseason camp he's tested the team's offensive tackles consistently and the result is Sun Devil coach Todd Graham taking note. Graham called Lawal a starter on third downs, which means he'll be on the field in critical nickel down situations for the Sun Devils this season as a dedicated pass rusher. Lawal is going to test the quick set of offensive tackles and at times may even require opponents to bring help against him situationally.
There are some things about Lawal's perimeter attack that remind of former ASU Devil backer Carl Bradford, but he's going to have to get heavier and more physical to be able to play the position on a full time basis. Lawal is plenty strong but heft is a necessary part of playing the position as an every-down player and he's going to need another 15-20 pounds to do it if he's going to be a Devil. He may be able to play WILL at a weight closer to what he's at now, but that's a position ASU has two star juniors on its roster. From a coverage standpoint, Spur might not be the best fit. So Lawal's charge will be to show what he can do as a pass rusher this year and then thrown some more weight on in the year ahead.
Projected depth chart status: A starting nickel down pass rusher is probably Lawal's ceiling this season and that assumes junior college transfer Doug Subtyl doesn't get academically cleared to play this year. But such a role will lead to a lot of game reps if Lawal can secure it, and plenty of chances to sack opposing quarterbacks. He's going to have to show well when given the opportunity or else risk seeing ASU coaches reshuffle in a way that could take him off the field.