Player capsule: Dillon Sterling-Cole
Weight: 191 pounds
2016 season quick review: Sterling-Cole arrived on campus at Arizona State in the fall with the expectation that he would redshirt, but by the fourth quarter of the Sun Devils' third conference game of the season, the Houston, Texas native was thrust into action as the top three quarterbacks on ASU's depth chart were all sidelined with injuries. Sterling-Cole's first collegiate pass was an interception in the end zone in the Sun Devils' 23-20 victory over UCLA, but he managed to bounce back after that and showed signs of promise during a challenging campaign. Though Sterling-Cole would back up starter Manny Wilkins for the second half of the season, he earned extensive action against Washington State and his first career start against Oregon when Wilkins went down with another injury. Sterling-Cole finished the year completing 28-of-55 passes for 388 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions after beginning the season as the fourth quarterback on ASU's roster.
SunDevilSource.com analysis: After spending the vast majority of the first half of last season leading ASU's scout team, injuries forced Sterling-Cole into action earlier than expected and put his inexperience on display in conference play. Playing behind a patchwork offensive line and with a limited knowledge of ASU's playbook, the true freshman struggled with accuracy and timing, but did show intriguing promise that suggests he has a high ceiling as a signal-caller.
In Sterling-Cole's lone start of the season, a 54-35 loss against Oregon, he completed 21-of-38 attempts for more than 300 passing yards and threw his first career touchdown to fellow freshman N'Keal Harry on a memorable zone-read play in which Sterling-Cole fired a dart above Harry's head that his receiver was able to haul in.
That throw, coupled with a handful of slant and post route completions Sterling-Cole had to wide receiver Jalen Harvey helped put Sterling-Cole's impressive arm talent into perspective and proved he can put as much zip on the ball as any quarterback on the Sun Devils' depth chart.
With the prototypical size for a Power 5 Conference passer and the ability to add more weight to his frame, Sterling-Cole should only continue to grow into his body as a quarterback, and the good news for him is that he still has plenty of time to develop.
Prior to spring practices, junior transfer Ryan Newsome told us Sterling-Cole has as strong of an arm as any quarterback Newsome has worked with, including former Texas signal-caller Tyrone Swoopes.
However, for all of Sterling-Cole's potential, he still has a very raw skill set and likely needs more development than his counterparts on ASU's roster to become capable of leading a first-team offense in the Pac-12.
Sterling-Cole has readily admitted that maturity was an issue for him as a true freshman, and said that he didn't study his playbook or watch film nearly enough to be successful at this level. Those are habits that will need to change immediately, especially for a quarterback who had trouble processing the field in former offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey's scheme, which is less complex than that of new offensive coordinator Billy Napier's.
When Sterling-Cole was on the field last year, Lindsey was forced to simplify ASU's offensive options, often opting for rollout plays that would limit the field of vision Sterling-Cole had to work with. Though Sterling-Cole is a better passer from the pocket than he is on the run, his inability to process defensive looks and blitz packages put Lindsey in a challenging position.
If Sterling-Cole is able to improve from a maturity standpoint and begin to demonstrate a better football I.Q., stronger decision-making and a serious grasp for complicated offensive concepts, he may benefit from the transition to Napier's playbook more than the other ASU signal-callers because Sterling-Cole seemingly has the physical tools to thrive in a pro-style scheme.
After being forced into action as a true freshman, it's likely that Sterling-Cole will use the 2017 season as a redshirt year, provided ASU has enough quarterbacks who can stay healthy and make it through the regular season. This will allow Sterling-Cole to gain a year of separation from sophomores Brady White, Blake Barnett and Bryce Perkins, and has the potential to serve him well over the long haul.
There's questions about whether Sterling-Cole will ever be able to process the game at a high enough level to have success as a Pac-12 quarterback, but if he and Napier can develop a strong relationship and build trust in one another, Sterling-Cole could be set up to make a run at the starting job later on in his ASU career.
At this point, Sterling-Cole is still a football player with impressive arm talent, but he lacks the accuracy, touch and intangibles needed to really be considered a capable game-manager. If the Sun Devils are able to take advantage of the redshirt season Sterling-Cole has available in 2017, he'll need to work on processing various defensive looks, throwing passes at different depths with the appropriate tempo, and increasing his level of trust with younger receivers in ASU's program so that when the time comes, Sterling-Cole is ready to make a push up the depth chart.
Projected depth chart status: Entering the spring, Sterling-Cole may have hoped to have an opportunity to compete with Wilkins and Barnett for ASU's starting job, but as the first weeks of spring camp unfolded, it became increasingly clear that Sterling-Cole wouldn't have much of a chance to move past either player on the depth chart. Though it's possible Sterling-Cole could make a surprise run this fall, it's much more likely that ASU does whatever it can to redshirt him and preserve the year of eligibility he was supposed to keep last season. Whether White or Perkins are healthy enough to compete and cleared for action this fall likely determines where Sterling-Cole ultimately falls on the depth chart, because if neither is in condition to play, Sterling-Cole will once again begin the regular season two injuries away from stepping onto the field. Should the Sun Devils' quarterback situation become dire, though, Sterling-Cole should find himself ahead of incoming freshman Ryan Kelley, who is likely headed for a redshirt season as well.