Player capsule: Manny Wilkins
Weight: 197 pounds
2015 season quick review: Wilkins won Arizona State's starting quarterback job in fall camp, outlasting sophomore Brady White in the program's first open quarterback competition since Todd Graham's first season in Tempe in 2012. Wilkins began his tenure as a starter with four consecutive victories, but suffered an ankle injury in the Sun Devils' loss against USC that changed the course of his --and the program's -- entire season. Though Wilkins finished the year with 10 starts, 2,329 passing yards, 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions, he battled a slew of different injuries including a shoulder issue and a toe problem that limited his effectiveness down the stretch. Wilkins wound up losing the final six starts of his regular season and finished the year with just one victory in a conference game (Cal).
SunDevilSource.com analysis: The No. 4 ranked quarterback in the West in the Class of 2014 recruiting cycle, Wilkins was the first four-star quarterback signed by ASU under Todd Graham and the first four-star signal-caller added by the program since Michael Eubank signed with the Sun Devils during Dennis Erickson's final recruiting cycle.
Entering his fourth year in the ASU program, Wilkins has an opportunity to take a significant step forward, but to do so, he must outlast Alabama transfer Blake Barnett in an open competition to retain the title of starter he earned for the first time in 2016.
As a sophomore, Wilkins won a three-way competition to become the third different starting quarterback of the Graham era and opened his career on a high note. In the first four games of the 2016 campaign, Wilkins threw for more than 1,000 yards and rushed for more than 250 as he capitalized on impressive dual-threat capabilities to keep a quartet of softer defensive units off balance.
When he was fully healthy, Wilkins demonstrated the arm strength to fit passes in tight windows and the accuracy to convert on short-to-intermediate throws, while also showcasing the wherewithal to extend plays with his feet when the pocket broke down --as it often did during the 2016 season.
However, Wilkins' tendency to gamble and scramble came back to haunt him against USC, as he suffered a sprained ankle that sidelined him for ASU's 23-20 victory over UCLA. One of Wilkins' primary deficiencies as a quarterback is his tendency to tuck the ball and take off when his first read isn't open, and his willingness to leave the pocket exposed his body to several crushing blows early in the year, including the one that knocked him out against the Trojans.
Though Wilkins attempted to play through his ankle injury two weeks later against Colorado, his mobility was obviously limited and he never appeared to regain his confidence and comfort on the field the rest of the season.
Entering the 2017 season, Wilkins is working with his third different offensive coordinator in three seasons in a scheme that might not suit his strengths as well as the schemes of Billy Napier's predecessors did. Wilkins' skill set is probably best tailored to the quarterback-friendly offense Mike Norvell operated, but that doesn't mean he can't develop into more of a pro-style passer.
For Wilkins to excel under Napier, he'll need to improve the consistency of his footwork and his pocket awareness, especially because Napier's passing concepts are likely going to be longer-developing and require Wilkins to make more hot reads and use his eye discipline to keep defenders honest.
To win ASU's starting job for the second straight season --and to keep it-- Wilkins will need to demonstrate an ability to capitalize on secondary reads and scramble to extend a play or progression as opposed to scrambling to take off and run. He needs to keep visual focus on receivers and feel where the defenders are instead of bringing his eyes down in a way that negates the passing part of a scramble drill and mitigates his elusiveness.
The Sun Devils' coaching staff likes the intangibles Wilkins brings to the position, especially his leadership and his familiarity with the program's offensive personnel. Still, if Wilkins is going to take a step forward at a critical juncture of his career, he's going to need to continue to grow with the repetitions he receives and prove he can be a more sound decision-maker and better game manager.
Projected depth chart status: At the end of spring ball, Wilkins and Barnett have clearly separated themselves as the top two quarterbacks on ASU's depth chart. If the Sun Devils started their season tomorrow, Wilkins would likely hold a slight edge over Barnett, but much like last season, ASU may hold off on naming its starter until right before the start of the regular season. Wilkins has an advantage over Barnett in that he has secured the trust of Todd Graham as a leader and could be in better position to help the program win immediately in a season in which ASU is hoping to rebound, but if the Sun Devils opt to make the best decision for the future of the program, Barnett's high ceiling and ability to grow within Napier's system could help him supplant Wilkins at the top of the depth chart.