Position review: Wide receivers

Arizona State's N'Keal Harry rewrote the Sun Devils' freshman record books with a breakout season that earned him Pac-12 All-Conference Honorable Mention recognition.

When Todd Graham arrived at Arizona State in December of 2011, he had less than two full months to assemble his first recruiting class. 

The challenge was obviously difficult for Graham and his new staff, but the program was able to sign high-profile local prospect and four-star running back D.J. Foster.

Foster's signing provided ASU with an immediate impact player on the offensive side of the field, and provided Graham with an immediate impact off the field as well. 

Signing the Saguaro High School product helped ASU launch its "Stay True to ASU" campaign, which prioritized local recruiting in the Phoenix metro area and throughout the state of Arizona. 

Foster became a poster child for ASU's early renaissance under Graham, and his success allowed the "Stay True" campaign to grow, even as the program struck out on some high-profile local recruiting targets. 

The Sun Devils came close to reaching a defining moment in the "Stay True" campaign with the recruitment of Saguaro product Christian Kirk, a 5-star wide receiver from the Class of 2015 who gave ASU serious consideration before opting to travel east to play at Texas A&M.  

ASU's failure to land Kirk echoed with resounding disappointment through the Sun Devils' fanbase, as Kirk was viewed by many as the next in line to extend the reborn local legacy Foster helped start under Graham. 

Though Kirk's recruitment didn't end as planned for ASU, the Sun Devils found themselves with another opportunity to sell the poster child status to the "Stay True" campaign a year after Kirk chose the Aggies.

In the very next recruiting cycle, ASU pursued highly touted four-star prospect N'Keal Harry, a Chandler High product who offered the Sun Devils another hope of solidifying local recruiting efforts. 

While Harry may not have possessed the same type of game-breaking abilities Kirk offered coming out of high school, his status as one of the top players in the West made his November 2, 2015 verbal commitment one of the most important of the Graham era. 

With Foster's departure following the 2015 season, Harry entered the program with lofty expectations to carry on a local legacy Graham deemed pivotal to the program's success on the recruiting trail.

In Harry's first season at ASU, a year marred by injuries and defensive lapses that culminated with a six-game losing streak, the freshman wide receiver emerged as the Sun Devils' most explosive offensive threat.

Though ASU finished the regular season at 5-7, Harry's breakout season provided the Sun Devils with a glimpse of hope for the future of the team's offense, given that Harry rewrote ASU's freshman record books with a 58-catch, 659-yard season that earned him recognition as a Pac-12 All-Conference Honorable Mention honoree.

Perhaps more importantly, Harry gave the Sun Devils another local playmaker to market to future recruits, allowing ASU to keep the "Stay True" flame alive and well. 

What we learned 

Toward the end of fall camp, offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey told SunDevilSource ASU was still looking for wide receivers to emerge as consistent threats after the team lost Foster, Devin Lucien and Gary Chambers to graduation.

“All I know is I look at the playmakers we lost, Devin Lucien, D.J. Foster, Gary Chambers, those guys, all three of them made plays in the bowl game, the game that I was with them," Lindsey said. "So we’ve lost some production without a doubt."

Lindsey knew ASU could lean on senior wide receiver Tim White to pick up some of the slack, and he also mentioned the possibility of receiving contributions from a healthy Cameron Smith, who missed the 2015 season with a knee injury and appeared poised to reassert himself into the Sun Devils' receiver rotation this fall.

While White played his part in a 56-catch, 713-yard campaign, Smith never found his comfort zone and finished the year with just 12 catches for 192 yards, missing the final month of the season with complications from the knee injury that sidelined him last year.

Aside from White and Smith, however, Lindsey and the Sun Devils entered the season with a significant amount of uncertainty at a wide receiver position flush with youth and inexperience.

While Harry and Smith were the only wide receivers to finish the season with more than 26 catches or amass more than 334 receiving yards, the Sun Devils learned the future is brighter than they anticipated at a position Lindsey relies on more than most offensive coordinators.

Because of Lindsey's Air Raid-style and frequent reliance on 11-personnel sets, the Sun Devils need a deep rotation of talent on the perimeter, and signs of ASU's depth began to emerge over the course of the regular season.

Whether it was sophomore Jalen Harvey posting career highs with 21 catches for 330 yards, freshman Kyle Williams transitioning back to the offensive side of the ball during the latter half of the season to become a presence in the slot, or the play of transfers Ryan Newsome and John Humphrey Jr. on ASU's scout team this year, the Sun Devils can feel confident about the young nucleus of talent they have cultivated at wide receiver.

With Harry's best days still ahead of him, ASU's other playmakers should benefit from the attention the Sun Devils' star-in-the-making will draw from opposing defenses down the road.

Departing personnel

Tim White: White came to ASU as a post-signing day addition to the Class of 2015, and became one of the most important junior college transfers of Graham's tenure. Though White battled injuries off and on for the better part of his career with the Sun Devils, he finished his two seasons with back-to-back 50-catch, 600-plus-yard seasons and gave ASU an important weapon to lean on in the slot. Aside from his duties as a wide receiver, White provided ASU with its most dynamic kick and punt returner of the Graham era, and his punt return for a touchdown against Washington State this year was the first punt return touchdown for the Sun Devils during Graham's tenure. 

Frederick Gammage: A former walk-on out of Brophy High (Phoenix) who earned a scholarship through his efforts at ASU, Gammage backed up White in the slot in 2016 and took on a larger role this season when White missed time due to injuries. Gammage finished as the Sun Devils' third leading receiver this year thanks to a 12-catch, 116-yard performance in the team's final game of the season against Arizona. 

Returning personnel

N'Keal Harry: Harry burst onto the scene in 2016 and immediately became ASU's leading playmaker with an ability to run a variety of different routes and create separation for an offense that struggled with consistency for much of the year. Harry turned in more highlight reel plays than any other ASU player, including a 34-yard touchdown rush against Utah in which he sliced through the entire Utes' defense on a botched trick play. Harry set ASU freshman records for receptions and receiving yards, and if the Sun Devils are able to find more stability at the quarterback position in the next two seasons, the Chandler product could make a run at a handful of career records, so long as he continues his rapid development.

Jalen Harvey: At the outset of the season, Harvey beat out Smith for the third starting receiver job to join Harry and White at the top of the depth chart. While Harvey was limited down the stretch due to an ankle injury that hindered his speed and agility, he demonstrated physicality as a blocker and the toughness to go over the middle of the field to make difficult catches. Harvey's teammates rave about his competitive streak, and he should remain a factor toward the top of the rotation for the next two seasons.

Cameron Smith: After missing the 2015 season with a knee injury, Smith played at the beginning of 2016 but never worked his way back to full strength. With Smith's health in question, the Sun Devils shut him down during the latter half of the regular season and his future with the program is now uncertain. A Barrett, the Honors College student, Smith is one of the smartest players in the program and could end up graduating and pursuing options elsewhere, or he could return to ASU and attempt to compete with Harvey and Newsome for playing time on the perimeter next year.

Ellis Jefferson: A fourth-year junior who entered the 2016 offseason as a projected starter at wide receiver, Jefferson was surpassed on the depth chart early in fall camp as soon as Harry began to grasp ASU's offensive concepts. At 6-foot-5, Jefferson has a large frame that projects well to an outside receiver position, but with younger options on the team taking on more significant roles, Jefferson finds himself in a challenging spot. After catching 12 passes as a sophomore, Jefferson's production declined and he finished 2016 with just two receptions. Like Smith, Jefferson could also potentially graduate and pursue other options, but it's unlikely Jefferson would see significant playing time as a senior unless the Sun Devils' depth chart is ravaged by injuries.

Kyle Williams: A true freshman who practiced for most of the season in the defensive backfield as a safety, Williams transitioned back to the offensive side of the ball --where he worked in fall camp --prior to ASU's contest against Oregon. During the last half of the season, Williams provided ASU another option in the slot behind White and Gammage and he finished the year with six catches for 53 yards. Williams played quarterback in high school at Vista Murrieta and has the athleticism to help ASU at a number of different positions, and he could develop into a dynamic option in the slot with consistent practice repetitions this spring.

Terrell Chatman: A 6-foot-3, 186 pound outside receiver out of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Chatman has an outstanding frame and plenty of potential, but he has yet to harness it. Chatman played behind both Harry and Jefferson this season, and was unable to work his way into ASU's rotation this year. This offseason is a pivotal point in Chatman's development, as the Sun Devils are waiting for him to take the next step and improve his fundamental approach.

John Humphrey, Jr.: A transfer out of Oklahoma, Humphrey sat out this season and will be eligible for three seasons beginning in 2017. At 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds, the former three-star recruit can play in both the slot and on the perimeter, and gives ASU flexibility depending on how its other returning options develop and progress this offseason. In his lone season with the Sooners' program, Humphrey earned the Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year award.

Ryan Newsome: A transfer out of Texas, Newsome is slightly built at 5-foot-7 and projects as a slot receiver in the Sun Devils' offense. A former four-star recruit, Newsome had plenty of high-profile options to pursue when he transferred away from Texas including Alabama, Texas A&M and USC. Newsome ended up at ASU, and could play a significant role on offense over the next few years as like Humphrey, he has three seasons of eligibility remaining. 

Frank Darby: A three-star recruit out of Lincoln High in Jersey City, New Jersey, Darby was a member of the Class of 2016 recruiting class to ASU. The Sun Devils elected to redshirt Darby in 2016, and the 6-foot, 197-pound receiver will have to battle a number of other young weapons to receive a spot in ASU's rotation next season.

Jeremy Smith: A three-sport athlete at Fort Bend Marshall High in Missouri City, Texas, Smith is one of a handful of players on ASU's roster who played quarterback in high school and transitioned to a different position with the Sun Devils. A three-star recruit and member of the ASU's 2016 recruiting class, the 6-foot-1, 171-pound receiver will continue his acclimation process to the receiver position this spring. 


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