Ideal scholarship roster number: 10-11
Potential returning number (in 2017): 8
Likely returning number: 7-8 (Tashon Smallwood, Joseph Wicker, George Lea, Renell Wren, Emanuel Dayries, Corey Smith, Christian Hill, Jalen Bates)
Commitments: 1 (D.J. Davidson)
Remaining ideal number: 1-2
Local recruiting has been a clear emphasis of Arizona State in 2017 recruiting. There's perhaps no better sign of that than how its staff reached back into the 2016 class to sign D.J. Davidson out of Mesa Desert Ridge High School.
Davidson, a mammoth 6-foot-5, 320 pound defensive tackle, signed with Central Florida in February but didn't academically qualify for immediate enrollment. Instead, Davidson needed to replace the maximum two high school courses allowed with A grades, a task he achieved albeit not until this month.
By the time he'd done so, Central Florida had moved on in the recruitment. That was just fine with Davidson, who decided his support network and ability to succeed locally at ASU was better than if he'd gone across the country. Davidson has lived with his grandmother and is close with her and others, including his coaching staff at Desert Ridge. He doesn't really know any of the current ASU players well who are from the East Valley, nor is he close friends with the commits in the 2017 class, but he has a strong feeling about how the proximity to home will benefit him. ASU's messaging about local players certainly helped.
Within a week of finding out he was academically cleared to enroll in January, ASU became Davidson's next destination. The Sun Devils won out over Colorado, but it didn't turn into a full blown recruitment. Desert Ridge head coach Jeremy Hathcock told SunDevilSource he believes Davidson would have been a 30-plus scholarship offer prospect had his grades been good earlier.
Davidson's film from the 2015 season leads us to conclude Hathcock isn't being overly charitable in his assessment.
Quality defensive tackles are difficult to come by. A lot of players just don't have the physical structure to carry the heft required to play the position at the highest level without it being forced or unnatural. There are guys who play football at 280-285 pounds who still have a high body fat percentage and would easily weigh much less if they got into great shape, but they can't because they'd then have no position to play. Many who do have the frame to support the weight more naturally simply don't possess the requisite athleticism to be anything other than a warm body capable of occasionally plugging up a run lane.
ASU knows this as well as any Pac-12 program. In the last 10 years alone it has seen a huge number of defensive line prospect sign with the program only to flame out; often, it's either been guys who aren't big enough or guys who aren't athletic enough at the size. More than half of the approximately 30 high school defensive linemen to sign with ASU in the last 10 years did not finish their careers at the school; most of those players never saw the field at all.
What's most promising about Davidson is that he doesn't have either of these drawbacks as a prospect. He wears 300-plus pounds well and isn't going to ever need to carry extra weight just to that he's big enough to play over the football successfully. Being 6-foot-5 certainly helps. It also makes for a longer reach, which is essential to winning the battle for leverage on the interior.
Still, at the Power 5 level, a lot of guys are big enough and long enough. They can be strong enough with the right training program and approach to physical development. They can even become more explosive than they are. But there are limits to this. Guys don't go from being slow-footed to having quick feet, for example.
Davidson is not only a big human being, he's also relatively sudden at that size among his peers. He has a good first step off the snap of the football and advantages that with a powerfully determined approach. He knows what he is. Davidson isn't the type of player to win with a lot of finesse, and almost no nose tackles are. Yes, it's important to know how to keep from an offensive linemen getting his hands well located, and there are varying levels of elusiveness in that respect even at this position. But worrying about that is putting the cart before the horse. Davidson isn't trying to be something he's not.
What Davidson has that is very evident is good size, a quick get off at that size, and a motor that runs at a high RPM for the position. He uses the tools he has nicely. He's thick through the torso and thighs, doesn't negate it with an overly narrow base set up or bad foot technique. He runs his feet through engagement, activates his hands, displaces a lot of size and has the ability to reach and finish with violence at the tackle. Those are all very promising signs for his future.
Technically, he's still raw and developing, as would be expected. He'll work on leverage and posture releasing through his hips, getting his hands more consistent and more technically sound, becoming more flexible and accessing his strength better. He's top heavy and tends to reach too much to make plays. The tools though? They're present and accounted for.
For ASU, taking Davidson is an easy decision. It's five weeks from National Letter of Intent. ASU has no other high school defensive linemen committed in the class and should always have a couple due to the high bust rate and desire to rotate the position more than others on the field. The Sun Devils have eight returners at three defensive line positions and a few of them are at best reserve players. It doesn't look as though they'll get to the 10-11 roster target number for 2017 and there's always a danger at being light on scholarship bodies along the defensive front. At least three of their eight will be gone after the 2017 season, so having a couple guys to develop here would be a good thing and ASU would be well served to try to add at least one more high school prospect in the class. It would also make sense to take another junior college defensive lineman, especially at tackle.