Ideal Scholarship Roster Number: 11-12
Potential Returning Number: 11 (Cameron Smith, Ellis Jefferson, Jalen Harvey, Terrell Chatman, N'Keal Harry, Jeremy Smith, Kyle Williams, Frank Darby, John Humphrey, Ryan Newsome, Jack Smith)
Likely Returning Number: 11
2017 Commitments: 1 (Curtis Hodges)
Remaining target number: 0
Arizona State coaches did a great job rebuilding their wide receiver talent pool ahead of the 2017 recruiting cycle through smart recruiting strategy and effort. A position group that was light on scholarship bodies and in need of serious replenishment before the 2016 haul and arrival of high profile Division I transfers Ryan Newsome and John Humphrey Jr., is now flush with young talent including several marquee names.
The Sun Devils added a total of six new scholarship players to their 2016, none of whom were junior college players. So this unit was still pretty young overall last season, even as senior Tim White was one of the team's top weapons. There's also junior wide receiver walk-on Ryan Jenkins, who practiced with ASU last year while sitting out after transferring from Tennessee, where he was on scholarship.
With 11 returning wide receivers and a target number 11-12 on the roster in any given season -- and this may be a tad high if new ASU offensive coordinator Billy Napier moves toward having a roster with a larger number of tight ends -- there was really not much need for wide receivers in the 2017 class. Signing just one player as ASU did, with local Mesa Mountain View 6-foot-7 1/2 wide receiver Craig Hodges, is not a surprise.
The timing of the decision to offer and take a commitment from Hodges was a bit curious because it occurred during the summer, before then-ASU offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey and wide receivers coach Jay Norvell, had a chance to see Hodges in pads. Both men were in their first year with the program. As the Sun Devils knew they could be selective at wide receiver because they didn't need to sign more than one or at most two players, offering Hodges at a time when they knew he was likely to commit was a surprise. The coaches had certainly not been able to fully determine who was the best wide receiver prospect they had a good chance at acquiring. Additionally, Hodges didn't have equivalent or better offers -- Iowa State was his only one -- so there was no rush in proffering one.
But again, the Sun Devils had no need to reach in this recruiting class at wide receiver, and clearly didn't feel they needed to do any more evaluating. They'd apparently seen enough between the spring, 7-on-7 and film and are very happy to take the commitment.
What are they getting in Hodges?
The rare size and length Hodges possesses is both the most intriguing thing about him and also the greatest potential liability as a major college wide receiver. You just almost never see true wideouts who stand nearly 6-foot-8. At ASU, there hasn't been one in many years, if ever. Currently the tallest NFL wide receiver is 6-foot-6. Hodges highest goal is essentially to be like Harold Carmichael, the tallest wideout in NFL history at 6-foot-8 and with a similar body type as Hodges at 225 pounds. Carmichael was a four-time Pro Bowl selection before retiring in 1984. Hodges isn't going to become a tight end or offensive tackle because his structure is too narrow. He's probably never going to weigh more than 230-something pounds as a player.
While long arms and the ability to reach and make plays on the football that defenders can't is an advantage, there tends to be diminishing returns on height after a certain point due to the athletic challenges presented from a route running standpoint. Playing the position at a high level requires speed and quickness that presents itself in the form of an ability to sharply and aggressive change on the fly to gain separation. Longer legs and a higher center of gravity are not really advantageous to this.
What's interesting about Hodges' film is that he moves pretty fluidly for his height, and shows a surprising capacity to drop his hips and economically return to the football on hook, dig and out routes run to 10-plus yards. He seems have to really good limberness for how long he is, which is an absolute prerequisite to having a chance to play effectively at the high college level at his size. There are moments on film in which the challenges associated with his length are very clear, but not as many as I expected to find, and not as awkwardly.
Even so, Hodges has subpar speed when compared against the average Pac-12 wide receiver -- turning in a 4.9 second 40-yard dash time at a combine at Glendale Community College. Combine that and his height keeping him from transitioning routes more quickly and Hodges is not going to separate from defensive backs in the Pac-12. Still, his length is going to be intimidating and difficult to manage effective in space by opposite cornerbacks. His long strides and just how unorthodox he is with his height and 7-foot wingspan -- nobody will have much experience going up against it -- could mitigate to some degree a lack of high end speed.
The red zone is where Hodges has a chance to give a team an advantage. He has pretty good hands and has a huge catch radius which can allow for opportunities to make plays on the football in the end zone that defensive backs won't be able to reach. But he's not especially sturdy physically and will be susceptible to being bumped off his position or disrupted below the ball.
As in all areas of play, at the line of scrimmage his length can also be an asset and a limitation. He may not get his longer arms up quickly enough to beat a cornerback in press and could get jammed up and bumped off his route, also easier for a cornerback to do against a higher center of gravity. But when he gets his hands where he wants them more quickly than the cornerback, he's got a chance to win some reps very decisively. He also has the length and is fluid enough to get more width releasing from the snap, which presents a challenge to the cornerback.
As a blocker, the length can allow Hodges to overwhelm defenders in space but he can get out-leveraged and have his height work against him.
Hodges was reasonably productive as a junior with 51 catches for 556 yards and six touchdown receptions and then had 50 catches for 733 yards and seven touchdowns as a senior. Some of his better games came against good competition in Arizona high school football.
There is a very wide range of possibilities with what happens with Hodges in the Pac-12 and it's difficult to project. He's got a high ceiling as a prospect but also a low floor, and it's more likely his play in the next several years is below the Pac-12 level, as there will be significant adaption and skill development required to see the field for the Sun Devils. He could end up being success or having physical limitations that stunt his development at some point in the years to come. It's an interesting take by ASU's coaches, a wildcard option that may or may not work out but probably won't be needed in the next several years.