Despite back-to-back losing seasons and bringing in new coordinators on both sides of the ball, Arizona State ended up finishing with a small but talented 2017 recruiting class.
ASU’s smaller class this year hurt its standing in the overall Scout team rankings but when you look at the quality of the prospects the Sun Devils did sign, the class is still a strong one in the context of the last 16 years of ASU recruiting.
The 2017 ASU recruiting class did not finish strong in the national rankings, placing 44th nationally. That is the worst ASU has finished nationally since the 2011 class, Dennis Erickson’s last season in Tempe. The 44th overall rating is the second worst mark the Sun Devils have posted nationally in the last 16 recruiting cycles.
However, ASU's class does measure well in both star average and percentage of four/five stars prospects. Signing seven prospects who are rated as four stars gives ASU a 38.9 percent rate of four/five star signees in the class. That puts this class second overall in the last 16 years, behind only ASU’s 2015 class. ASU’s star average is 3.22, which ranks fourth overall during the same time period.
The additions of quarterback Blake Barnett, running back Eno Benjamin and the other four-star commits are impressive for ASU when you take into account the Sun Devils' on-field performance during the past two seasons. However only signing 18 recruits (for the purpose of this analysis we are not counting 2016 signee Doug Subtyl as part of the the class) is cause for concern as well.
The Sun Devils have done reasonably well adding, via transfer or by continued recruiting, to the program after National Signing Day the past two years. ASU was hoping to sign at least 21 commits, so after coming up short this year, it will almost have to address certain positions again this spring.
The talent at the top of the class masks the weaknesses of the class with the metrics we use to measure ASU’s recruiting success. That means ASU will have to hit on almost all of the seven four-star prospects it added this year. If they don't, the Sun Devils will need to sign a large class next year without the benefit of a strong local base of talent to draw from in 2018.
After keeping a low staff turnover rate over his first four years in Tempe, Graham has dealt with multiple departures from his on-field and off-the-field personnel since the end of the season of the 2015 season. The Sun Devils will have their third offensive coordinator (former Alabama assistant Billy Napier) in as many years after Chip Lindsey departed for Auburn.
The Sun Devils also lost wide receivers coach Jay Norvell (Nevada head coach), offensive line coach Chris Thomsen (TCU) and tight ends coach Del Alexander (Notre Dame) since the end of the season.
As a result, ASU signed just one wide receiver, one offensive lineman and one tight end in this class. Losing those three coaches was a major reason why the Sun Devils missed out on Texas wide receiver Gavin Holmes (Baylor), offensive tackles Austin Jackson (USC) and George Moore (Oregon) as well as tight end Jared Poplawski. Poplawski, who committed to ASU in June, signed with Colorado Wednesday.
While Graham has done a good job of replacing his assistant coaches, particularly on offense, with well regarded replacements, the staff he has now compared to when he first arrived in Tempe is actually lighter in regards to coaches with California ties. That fact shows in this class as ASU only added one Californian --Barnett-- in the 2017 class.
We believed over time Graham would build more connections in California, but it seems the program has regressed in building pipelines in California. ASU will probably add at least one new assistant coach and possibly more depending on Keith Patterson’s long term plans and if the NCAA allows schools to have a tenth on field assistant later this spring. Southern California is one of the most fertile recruiting areas in the country and the closest high-profile ground to ASU. It is unlikely the program can sustain a competitive talent level within the Pac-12 if it's unable to bring in at least a modicum of California recruits each year.
With so much turnover within the program the last two years it was imperative for ASU to take advantage of a strong 2017 in-state class. For the most part, it did do just that. The Sun Devils lost out on the state’s top two prospects in Jackson and Isaiah Pola-Mao (USC) but did land the next three ranked prospects, all four-star prospects, Basha quarterback Ryan Kelley, Saguaro safety K.J. Jarrell and Highland Devil backer Tyler Johnson. Overall, ASU signed nine in-state prospects.
Nine in-state commits is one short of the the ten that ASU signed in 2002, the most in-state recruits of the internet era.
A big reason why ASU was able to capitalize on a strong class in Arizona this year was the hiring of former Arizona Christian University and Paradise Valley High School head coach Donnie Yantis as Assistant Athletic Director for Recruiting. Yantis’ experience locally gave the Sun Devils someone with deep local ties and helped make up for the losses on the coaching staff with the ability to recruit well in the surrounding region.
The 2018 in-state class of Arizona high school prospects does not have the depth of the 2017 class. As of today, only three 2018 local prospects claim offers from ASU. The Sun Devils will undoubtedly have to look to other areas. The obvious place to target areas based on the current makeup of ASU’s staff will Texas and areas such as Oklahoma and Louisiana.
Ideally for ASU it would be Southern California, but barring the hiring of some assistants with good west coast ties it appears it will be difficult for ASU to get much traction in California. Making matters worse is USC, Washington and Oregon are trending upward again and Pac-12 South competitors Colorado and Utah both did much better than ASU did in California this year.
Filling the Holes
Much like the 2016 class, ASU needed to get more athletic in the back end of its defense as well as land prospects who project as offensive tackles. The Sun Devils landed four-star Alex Perry from Las Vegas Bishop Gorman as a cornerback/field safety prospect along with Houston area cornerback prospect Langston Frederick. It landed two four-star safeties in Jarrell and Evan Fields but neither is well suited to play field safety in ASU’s scheme.
It is surprising that ASU did not land any junior college defensive backs. Graham at ASU has typically gone after multiple junior college prospects in each of his recruiting classes. Based on the number of junior college prospects the Sun Devils brought in for official visits, it appears as though ASU missed on its targets rather than changed its philosophy this year.
The Sun Devils failed to add an offensive tackle prospect in this class. Phoenix North Canyon’s Austin Jackson was the only high school tackle prospect ASU was even able to bring in on an official visit. ASU tripped junior college tackles Ronald Rudd and George Moore but was unable to land either. Moore actually was at ASU when news broke of Thomsen leaving for TCU, which certainly did not help ASU’s chances with him.
The Sun Devils do have a decent collection of young linemen in the program but outside of 2016 signee Cohl Cabral, none are considered true offensive tackles. Cabral most likely will need to be ready to become a starter in his second season whether he is ready for the task or not.
Josh Henson replaces Thomsen as offensive line coach. Henson has the reputation of being a strong recruiter but that was mainly at LSU. His past experiences at LSU and Missouri would indicate that he will be recruiting in the same areas of Texas and the southeast Thomsen was responsible for ASU. You would think he would have more success than Thomsen based on his resume, but offensive recruiting has been down at ASU really for over a decade now and being able to turn that around in one year looks like a tough task as of today.
Inside linebacker is another spot where ASU failed to meet its numbers. Loren Mondy, who has yet to be announced as part of the class, has been told he will start out at inside linebacker, but he is not expected to be an impact performer at the position and may eventually move to defensive line because of his size and lack of speed.
ASU could explore Saguaro’s Kyle Soelle as inside linebacker. He is projected right now as a Devil backer but he is the type of athlete who could be used in different spots on defense or as a tight end. 2016 signee Deion Guignard may also possibly move inside as well. He was a reserve last year who played on special teams. ASU considers him a Bandit safety/Spur linebacker-type but his size and the numbers the program just added at Bandit/Spur in this class may potentially lead to a move to inside linebacker.
When we combine the ranking order of each class in the three categories (Overall Rankings/Average Stars/Percentage of 4-5 stars) this class comes out as the fifth overall class in the last 16 years and Graham’s fourth best ASU class. It had a chance to finish much better than it turned out, particularly in the national rankings, but it is still a solid, albeit top heavy class. When you factor in how the Sun Devils did on the field over the past two seasons and how much turnover the staff has gone through since the season concluded, ASU did an above average job filling its class in 2017.
Last 16 Years Overall Team Ranking (Scout.com)
Percentage of 4/5 Star Recruits
Composite ASU Class Rankings (Combination of Overall Rankings/Average Stars/Percentage of 4/5stars)
1. 2015 - Graham
2. 2014 - Graham
3. 2008 - Erickson
4. 2016 - Graham
5. 2017 - Graham
6. 2010 - Erickson
7. 2006 - Koetter
8. 2002 - Koetter
9. 2007 - Erickson
10. 2013 - Graham
11. 2003 - Koetter
12. 2009 - Erickson
13. 2012 (tie) - Graham
13. 2005 (tie) - Koetter
15. 2011 - Erickson
16. 2004 - Koetter