Arizona State kicks off its 2016 campaign Saturday against Northern Arizona as the Sun Devils look to rebound from a 6-7 finish during the fourth season of the Todd Graham era.
With the season fast approaching, the 'Sun Devil Source Premium Report' podcast is back with our final preseason episode. In this episode, Chris Karpman and Kerry Crowley offer power rankings for ASU's position groups based on the average of the preparedness grades SunDevilSource assigned ASU's key personnel at each position.
Preparedness Grade Key
5: All-American level performer
4: First/second team all-league performer
3. Mid-level Pac-12 performer
2. Fringe Pac-12 performer
1. Non-Pac-12 performer
ASU position group rankings
1. Inside linebackers (3.5): Led by senior Salamo Fiso and juniors Christian Sam and D.J. Calhoun, ASU has three of its most capable defensive playmakers at its top-ranked position group. Fiso returns after tallying 21.5 tackles for loss last year while Calhoun appears poised to command more playing time on base downs after contributing mostly in ASU's nickel package a season ago. Senior Carlos Mendoza is the only other player whose preparedness grade factored in at this position group.
2. Running back (3.25): Juniors Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage have stated their goal to become ASU's first pair of 1,000-yard rushers since Woody Green and Ben Malone accomplished the feat in 1973. If Richard eclipses the 1,000-yard mark, he'll become the first player since Green to notch back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. Sophomore Nick Ralston is ASU's third option at the position, while redshirt freshman Jason Lewis has worn a scout team jersey in the week leading up to the Sun Devils' season opener.
3. Wide receiver (2.85): ASU's inside linebackers and running backs are the clear-cut top two position groups for the Sun Devils, and the wide receivers fall in the next tier of units. Led by one of the Pac-12's top returning playmakers in Tim White, ASU has a deeper group of wide receivers as the Sun Devils get Cameron Smith back from an injury and add a potential impact freshman in local product N'Keal Harry.
4. Defensive line (2.81): The Sun Devils return a pair of players with starting experience in defensive tackles Tashon Smallwood and Viliami Latu, but perhaps more importantly, appear to have depth across the board if players like sophomore end Renell Wren and redshirt freshman George Lea play up to their potential this season. If sophomore Joseph Wicker spends more time at end than Devil backer this season, the defensive line's overall production stands to improve.
5. Offensive line (2.56): With just one returning starter in senior Evan Goodman, it's difficult to project the overall capabilities of ASU's offensive line. Still, the Sun Devils have an extensive list of unproven but physically imposing athletes who stand to become full-time starters this season in left guard Sam Jones, center Stephon McCray, right guard Quinn Bailey and right tackle Zach Robertson. With junior college transfer A.J. McCollum and redshirt freshman Steve Miller pushing for playing time, ASU should have competition along the line throughout the season.
6. Tight end (2.5): The overall grade of the Sun Devils' tight end group suffers because two of the four players evaluated at the position are Thomas Hudson and JayJay Wilson, who are inexperienced options at this point in their careers. Still, ASU has the top returning tight end in the Pac-12 in senior Kody Kohl while junior Raymond Epps could be one of the Sun Devils' most improved players this season.
7. Corner/Field Safety (2.41): With sophomores Armand Perry and Kareem Orr boosting the overall grade of this unit because of their individual preparedness, ASU has a pair of younger, high-profile players who should help the team's secondary improve against the pass this season. However, senior De'Chavon Hayes, graduate transfer Bryson Echols and freshman Robbie Robinson are unproven at cornerback, and could struggle in the first month of the season against pass-happy offenses like Texas Tech and Cal.
8-tie. Bandit/Spur (2.16): Even with senior Laiu Moeakiola's individual preparedness grade of 3.5 boosting the average rating of the group, ASU has far too many players at the position who lack the experience, athleticism and range to be able to play the bandit safety or Spur positions with competency.
8-tie. Quarterback (2.16): Despite their impressive recruiting ratings, sophomore Manny Wilkins, redshirt freshman Brady White and freshman Dillon Sterling-Cole have never thrown a college pass, and a certain level of quarterback preparedness must be demonstrated on the field. While the quarterbacks are in a far better position in terms of their overall potential than the Sun Devils' bandit safeties and Spur linebackers, their preparedness is limited.