Cornerback / Field Safety
Ideal Scholarship Roster Number: 10-11
Likely Returning Number: 6
Remaining target number: 2-3
Arizona State has a near unquenchable thirst for 2017 defensive backs due to a drought of talent and depth in its secondary. At the largely interchangeable cornerback and field safety position groups -- which we as a result conjoin for recruiting overview purposes -- the Sun Devils have just a handful of returning players who have established they can play the positions, and they need at least three of these players to be on the field at all times. This is a major challenge for a team that finished last nationally in passing defense for the second year in a row in 2016.
When the Sun Devils go to nickel down situations, they need four of these players to be on the field together, which clearly illustrates just how shallow they are on returning depth in the program.
The five players who have demonstrated they have the athletic movement skills to play the positions are junior Armand Perry, senior Maurice Chandler, junior Kareem Orr, sophomore Robbie Robinson and redshirt freshman Chase Lucas. But even among those five there is uncertainty.
With the departure of Laiu Moeakiola, Perry may ultimately be asked to move to Bandit or even Spur, and could even be better suited for such a move long-term. He's not as much of a coverage safety as he is a box defender. Senior Chad Adams was given a starter nod at the outset of 2016 but at one point was down to fourth on the depth chart. He's not shown clear performance consistency as of yet. Chandler played an increasingly more prominent role as 2016 progressed, but needs to take his game to another plateau if he's going to be truly relied upon. Robinson had impressive flashes primarily on nickel downs but for some reason seemed to fall out of favor for the role as his freshman season unfolded. Lucas earned good reviews for his work on the scout team, but he still hasn't played a down of college football.
ASU has other members of its secondary returning but those players -- a group that includes seniors James Johnson and J'Marcus Rhodes, juniors Das Tautalatasi, Tyler Whiley and Deion Guignard -- are all better suited for the Bandit and/or Spur positions. Those areas also need to be rebuilt to a large degree and are via the infusion of three additions in the 2017 class.
But at field safety and cornerback, the 2017 season should see Orr start at one of the three spots. Perry has been a starter at another of the three and that figures to remain the case as long as he stays at field safety. The other base down cornerback spot is up for grabs, with Chandler, Robinson and Lucas battling among the returners. On nickel downs, two of those players could see the field.
The addition of Las Vegas Bishop Gorman cornerback Alex Perry gives the Sun Devils another candidate to play in 2017 at the cornerback or field safety positions. Perry is a four-star recruit, the No. 144 overall prospect and No. 16 cornerback in the 2017 Scout rankings. He's already played at a high level because Bishop Gorman is among the top teams nationally and plays one of the toughest schedules. Perry has gone up against many of the top wide receivers in the country between high school football and a very active camp circuit and 7-on-7 passing league career.
Though Perry is a tad slight in terms of his physique at 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds, he's added good size in the last year or so. His brother, Armand Perry, added 20-plus pounds in the first two years after his arrival at ASU, so Alex Perry is not nearly done physically maturing. That said, he's got the feet and agility of a pure cover cornerback and is physically composed a bit different from Armand, who is built more like a pure safety even though he played cornerback and nickel back in his first year in Tempe.
Alex Perry is one of two cornerbacks ASU signed in the class, which leaves it two or three defensive backs short of its target goal. Overall, to bring the unit up to its proper staffing level, ASU would need to add five coverage defensive backs. ASU's going to be thin here again in 2017 and needing to make it a major priority in 2018 recruiting.
Perry is pretty much a no-brainer as a recruit. He received a very early scholarship offer from ASU and ultimately picked the program over Colorado and a dozen other schools that offered a scholarship, reportedly including Michigan, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. He is a player who has the pedigree to play defensive back at this level, and is supremely battle-tested for a high school prospect, and has brimming self-confidence, which is almost a prerequisite of good defensive backs.
Though Perry isn't the biggest defensive back, he's not especially undersized, either. As he continues to physically mature that'll be almost a non-issue, and a strong case can be made that Perry's success even as a lighter defensive back is something that makes him an even better prospect long-term because he still has more room to max out from a physical standpoint than a lot of his peers. He'll need to get more physically impacting at the line of scrimmage to prevent the types of wide receiver releases that are difficult to recover from with how much press technique ASU plays, and the size and reach advantage he'll be giving up through the remainder of his career.
What is undeniable is that Perry has very good foot quickness and agility. He re-directs well, has fluid hips, and tends to remain in phase throughout reps, even when matched up against high end Power-5 level wide receiver prospects. When he does find himself out of phase, Perry has good recovery quickness. His overall composure is good, with enough comfort with his back to the football to allow plays to develop more than a lot of comparable athletes tend to allow.
Perry's instincts in zone coverage are excellent. He consistently sniffs out plays, feels receivers in zone without having to lose direct sight of play development, and is aggressive in space. He appears to be a strong student of the game and displays a rare ability do discern what's coming ahead of time, which is hard to do for high school players given a lack of displayed tendencies by opponents. In man coverage he has a great combination of comfort and fearlessness.
Opponents tended to not be able to target Perry, which contributes to what appears to be pedestrian numbers of 24 tackles and six passes defended as a senior. The reality is, elite cornerbacks don't get that many opportunities at the high school level, a sign of their ability to lock down opposing wide receivers. That's especially true for Bishop Gorman, which is as good as any high school team in the country over the last decade.
Alex Perry is exactly the type of prospect ASU needed to add in its 2017 recruiting class: someone it offered and pursued early; a coverage defensive back on a team that relies upon exactly those types of players for success; a player who arrives from a high profile background and is serious about his dedication to the sport and team.