Bandit / Spur
Ideal Scholarship Roster Number: 7-8
Potential Returning Number (in 2017): 6-7 (James Johnson, Marcus Ball, Das Tautalatasi, Tyler Whiley, Deion Guignard, J'Marcus Rhodes, Chad Adams)
Note: Some players are interchangeably able to play Bandit and also field safety but are not listed here if they are primarily field safeties.
Likely Returning Number: 6-7
Remaining Ideal Number: 1-2
The decision by four-star Scottsdale Saguaro High safety and U.S. Army All-American K.J. Jarrell to commit to Arizona State on Wednesday is a big development for the Sun Devils in multiple respects.
Jarrell gives ASU a well regarded prospect at a position of need, and also is another piece of weaponry in their building in-state arsenal, and at one of the most prominent local high school programs.
First, though, let's talk about Jarrell as a prospect. The Sabercats have used Jarrell in a variety of applications but he's primarily been on the back end of the defense either in single high or two deep safety alignments. While at the high school level Jarrell has the ability to fulfill this role in a complete way, he's not especially well suited to be playing in Cover 0, 1 or 3 situations in which he's responsible for either a man coverage assignment or a large width of field in which he has to show a lot of lateral range.
In the ASU scheme as it's been under head coach Todd Graham, the field safety is responsible for a lot of man coverage situations or often single high zone and read situations. That's not where Jarrell is going to excel at the next level unless it's in a scheme that has a much deeper alignment depth than ASU plays this position (like at Washington, for example). The depth of the alignment is what enables additional coverage range, but Graham's scheme is very aggressive and puts the field safety in much more conflict.
At the U.S. Army All-American Bowl Jarrell gave up a touchdown in which he had to get his hips turned around to drop and cover a receiver on a vertical concept. He got stuck on the play and it was an example of the types of assignments that he's not at his best against. Those types of routes and responsibilities are extremely common at the field safety position and it's just not where Jarrell's future will be as a Sun Devil unless Graham and new defensive coordinator Phil Bennett make significant changes to their base scheme.
Where Jarrell truly excels as a safety prospect is firing downhill or at an angle coming up to the football. He's a violent enforcer type of player at the high school level and that's only going to increase as he gets bigger and stronger. He plays a fearless brand of football, tracks action well ahead of him, and is able to play a fundamentally sound brand of football when making plays in space. At times he'll look to deliver a blow instead of being technically proficient on a tackle, but he tends to be in good position and have the physical orientation to make textbook plays on the ball carrier.
As players physically mature and develop they rarely get more athletically diverse and given ASU's scheme requirements, Jarrell is certainly better suited to play on the boundary side of the formation or closer to the line of scrimmage. He sets up very well as a prospect at the Bandit and Spur positions, as ASU has tended to employ three safeties on the field at the same time. So there's two different starting base down roles he can play effectively as long as ASU keeps its defense intact under Bennett.
At Baylor, Bennett liked to use more of a true base nickel defense with three cornerback prospects and two safeties. Such a move at ASU would probably lead to Jarrell being pretty locked into one of the three safety positions, that being the Bandit, or boundary role. This player operates on the back end still at times, but in smaller areas of field and is a key run supporter to the short side and coming up to the line of scrimmage, where action and blockers quickly develop.
At 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds Jarrell has the type of length and physicality to project to being able to ward off would-be blockers, and he's shown glimpses of awareness and toughness in attacking these situations early on in play development. He's only going to get better at this because he'll eventually play north of 200 pounds.
Another reason Jarrell makes sense as a Bandit, and he's hinted at this with his comments about how ASU's recruiting him, is he has pretty good zone takeaway instincts and can turn the ball over in a rover type role. That's a coverage type that ASU uses into the boundary, where former Sun Devil safety Alden Darby had a very good feel for such situations.
While not an elite prospect because of legitimate questions about his open field coverage and range limitations, Jarrell has a lot of value at the college level for his combination of frame, length, toughness, physicality, and how well he trained and was coached at Saguaro, which tends to deliver its players at a more prepared level than most high school programs.
Jarrell is the fourth player to commit to ASU from Saguaro in this class, joining three teammates who did so last summer. ASU's pushing for greater success locally and this is the type of recruit who helps its agenda in that regard. ASU's already offered a 2018 safety from Saguaro, Josiah Bradley, who is one of the top prospects in the class locally.
The Sun Devils now have three of the top five local commits in 2017, with Jarrell joining Basha four-star quarterback Ryan Kelley and Gilbert Highland four-star defensive end/tight end Tyler Johnson. It's very rare that ASU's signed a majority of the four-star talent in the state, and perhaps never happened in the last decade or more.
ASU has an extreme need for a talent infusion across its entire secondary. Though that need is even more pronounced at cornerback and field safety, there isn't enough overall talent on the roster at Bandit and Spur and Jarrell certainly moves the Sun Devils in the right direction there. He could factor into the depth chart as a freshman, but is not an immediate sure-fire starter.
The Sun Devils could really use at least one more Bandit/Spur prospect in this class and even take two if it got two that it loves, such as fellow local standout Isaiah Pola-Mao and Oklahoma four-star safety Evan Fields.