Preparedness/Potential Grade Key
5: All-American level performer
4: First/second team all-league level performer
3: Mid-level Pac-12 performer
2: Fringe Pac-12 performer
1: Non-Pac-12 level performer
Editor's note: Players are ranked in terms of overall current preparedness and not based on potential.
1. Manny Wilkins (junior) --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. Preparedness grade: 3 / Potential grade 4
2. Blake Barnett (sophomore) --After opening the 2016 season by completing 5-of-6 passes for 100 yards in Alabama's demolition of USC, Barnett saw limited playing time over the next three games as he completed just six more passes on 13 attempts before electing to transfer.
Barnett's subsequent decision to commit to ASU came at a pivotal time for the program because after back-to-back sub .500 seasons, the Sun Devils were in need of a talent infusion and Barnett's presence guaranteed to raise the level of competition at the quarterback position.
A former five-star recruit out of Santiago High School and the No. 2 ranked quarterback in the country in the Class of 2015, Barnett boasts the type of elite frame at 6-foot-5 and impressive arm strength that put him on the radar early in his prep career.
Though Barnett will need to learn how to translate all of his potential into consistency at the college level, he possesses the type of physical tools that give him a higher ceiling than any other quarterback on ASU's depth chart.
A big-bodied passer with plus mobility for his size, Barnett is capable of launching the ball from the pocket and hitting receivers in intermediate and deep patterns which should be important in new offensive coordinator Billy Napier's playbook. Additionally, Barnett has the capability to get the ball out of his hands quickly, which is important for a quarterback in a system that requires more timing routes, more advanced reads and extended progressions.
One of the main hurdles Barnett faces right now is with his throwing motion, which is a bit inconsistent and somewhat quirky and can tend to lead to inaccurate passes. At times this spring, Barnett struggled to hit receivers running at full speed in short and intermediate routes, and those are the types of plays where quarterbacks cannot afford to be off the mark. Additionally, when Barnett does take chances down the field, he's tended to be inaccurate, which can make him interception-prone -- a bad quality for a program whose head coach prioritizes ball security above all else.
During the spring, Barnett also demonstrated a tendency to throw many of his passes at the same tempo, which led to him throwing a less-catchable ball. This fall, Barnett will need to prove he has a greater feel for throws at short-to-intermediate distances and strike the right balance between the touch and velocity on his passes so that receivers can haul them in with more ease.
Another question mark facing Barnett is how he'll respond to handling more complex defensive looks and how he'll deal with facing pressure. In high school, Barnett was bigger and faster than most of his counterparts and could take off and scramble when a play broke down. At ASU, Barnett will need to demonstrate an ability to extend plays with his legs and scramble to pass and not run, which is also going to challenge him to process plays faster and read defenses on the run.
For Barnett to beat out incumbent starter Manny Wilkins, he'll need to put in hours of work over the summer developing relationships with receivers and working on the timing of all of ASU's route concepts, as well as hours of work in ASU's strength and conditioning program adding weight and functional strength to his frame. Barnett would greatly benefit from spending time on the practice field with fellow transfers like John Humphrey Jr. and Ryan Newsome, who are both weapons the Sun Devils figure to deploy in more complex patterns and players who have game-breaking ability once they get the ball in their hands. Preparedness grade: 2.5 / Potential grade: 4
3. Brady White (sophomore) --He's 1-0 as a career starter but it may be hard for White to get fully back into the competition for the Sun Devils' starting quarterback position in August given that he's not yet running in his recovery from the foot injury. Initially upon being hurt there were whispers from some well-placed sources around the ASU football program that White might end up missing part or even all of the 2017 season due to the severity of the injury.
While that now appears unlikely, White will remain at least somewhat limited as the team enters its summer conditioning. How long that remains the case will impact White's role as the quarterback battle plays itself out in coming months. It's still unknown as to whether he'll be truly 100 percent or close to it in August as camp gets underway, but even if so he'll have to work his way from a disadvantaged position.
As returning starter Manny Wilkins battled former Alabama quarterback Blake Barnett throughout spring ball in an effort to impress first-year offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Billy Napier, White was unable to participate. He dressed out every day and even threw the football a little bit, but that was the full extent of what he was able to do. Napier at this point has a more developed sense of what he has to work with from Wilkins, Barnett and even sophomore Dillon Sterling-Cole. Overcoming that will be hard, particularly when still coming off injury, and may even require Wilkins and Barnett faltering to some degree -- which isn't implausible.
White looked pretty good in his first start last year against the Bruins, all things considered. He has a lot of poise -- too much so, perhaps -- and works hard to find an open receiver to throw the ball to, and extends plays to enable it. That cuts both ways though, as it can yield an increased number of sacks and jeopardy throws. Though his arm strength would be considered average in the Pac-12, White is reasonably accurate and throws a very catchable ball. He's also pretty sound mechanically -- better than Wilkins and Barnett in some aspects -- and able to complete passes on the move. He's also gained quite a bit of size since arriving at ASU, and even in the last six months since being injured, which could help with durability if he's able to find his way back to the field in a starting capacity -- be that at ASU, or elsewhere.
Our view is that White is a player who would improve quite a bit over time if given the opportunity to develop while being a starter. But that's increasingly unlikely considering the player he lost the starting nod to initially is back, and Barnett is now also competing for the job, while White is limited. It's also unlikely because ASU hasn't had a winning season in the last two years under Graham, and there's more of a sense of urgency, which means going with the quarterback who can help the team win right now is even more forward in their thinking than it probably was a year ago, when White didn't initially win the job. Preparedness grade: 2 / Potential grade: 4
4. Dillon Sterling-Cole (sophomore) -- 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. Preparedness grade: 2 / Potential grade: 4
5. Bryce Perkins (sophomore) -- Any neck injury is going to be taken very seriously in football and Perkins had to wear an immobilizing neck brace for several months last year after being hurt prior to the start of the season. He didn't practice at all last year following the injury and still wasn't cleared to practice in 11-on-11 situations during the spring. That put Perkins behind the curve both because he hasn't had the reps necessary to continue to develop in full team segments, and also because first-year coordinator and quarterbacks coach Billy Napier doesn't have the film to evaluate him.
Perkins was lagging behind Manny Wilkins and Brady White in the quarterback competition last year in camp and considering a transfer immediately prior to the neck injury he sustained. He had a sluggish start to practices in August, showing a tendency to have too many balls touched or intercepted by defenders and showing subpar throwing range, with longer throws not arriving at their destination on time and often undercooked. Too frequently he also didn't identify linebackers underneath in coverage in a way that created some dangerously returnable interception opportunities.
A very good athlete who initially was recruited and offered by the Sun Devils as such, Perkins improved significantly as a quarterback over a three year period at Chandler High School, leaving the school with a state championship at the highest level and the clear-cut MVP in Arizona. The question now would be how much more can he continue to develop as a quarterback because his throwing mechanic is unorthodox, with a limited range of motion sapping ball velocity. It's been a real challenge to overcome even though his arm did appear to have some improved strength during spring football.
Perkins does have good pocket utilization, a player who feels the pass rush and will step up into his throws. He wants to be a quarterback more than an athlete just playing the position and than manifests in his desire to be a deliverer of the football in a rhythm passing game. He has the ability to be an operator, and manage an offense with poise when he's seeing the field effectively. But that's going to come primarily via short to intermediate passing because of how he has a tougher time accessing the full width of the field to the far boundary, and attacking behind the defense. It may be too much of a challenge for his arm at the speed of the game in the Pac-12, but for it to work, Perkins would have to be excellent in all other facets. Preparedness grade: 1.5 / Potential grade: 3
Quarterback summary: All five quarterbacks on ASU's roster have at least two seasons of eligibility remaining, with four of those players including Barnett having three seasons to hone their craft and attempt to maximize their potential. Entering his fourth season in ASU's program, Wilkins earns the highest preparedness grade of any Sun Devils' signal-caller, slightly edging out Barnett thanks to his familiarity with the team's offensive personnel and the intangibles he possesses. White and Sterling-Cole both check in with grades of two on the preparedness skill, but each quarterback still has an opportunity to make significant strides and grow into an All-Pac-12-caliber performer if given enough repetitions. Perkins receives the lowest preparedness and potential grade of any ASU quarterback, in large part due to a serious neck injury sustained last August that thwarted his development.