Player capsule: Demario Richard
Position: Running back
Weight: 219 pounds
2016 season quick review: After becoming one of just six running backs in the Pac-12 to surpass the 1,000-yard plateau in 2015, Richard entered his junior season with sky-high expectations under new offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey. Richard and fellow running back Kalen Ballage spoke in Arizona State's fall camp about the potential for each player to rush for 1,000 yards in 2016, but ultimately, both fell significantly short of their own goals. Richard didn't carry the same burst and explosiveness into the regular season that he displayed during his sophomore campaign, but it wasn't until this spring that Richard revealed he suffered a core injury in fall camp last year that would linger throughout the year. After amassing more than 200 attempts during his sophomore season, Richard carried the ball just 155 times for 593 yards and three touchdowns as a junior. Richard's 3.8 yards per carry average was the lowest of his career, a full 1.5 yards shy of the 5.3 yards per carry mark he posted in 2015.
SunDevilSource.com analysis: Even though Richard earned a reputation as one of the most productive backs in the conference as a sophomore, the Palmdale, California native carried too much weight on his frame toward the end of the 2015 season. Last offseason, Richard made an effort to streamline his physique and it showed during spring practices when he was more agile and elusive, receiving praise from head coach Todd Graham and running backs coach John Simon for his commitment to the team's strength and conditioning program.
However, Richard's core injury derailed the progress he made in the offseason, and forced him to endure the most frustrating season of his career. Now, Richard insists he's fully healthy, and though he isn't as slim as he was last spring, Richard appears to have regained some of the explosiveness and strength he was missing last fall.
When Richard is completely healthy and at his best, he's a powerful, durable runner who has the vision and tenacity to run in between the tackles and fight for extra yards, especially once he gets to the second level of a defense. When Richard is in the open field, he has a bulldozer's mentality and would rather run through a defender than around one, and fortunately for him, he possesses the lower body strength to win many of those battles.
For Richard to regain the form he displayed as a sophomore, he'll need to continue to run with a low center of gravity and showcase the type of lateral footspeed that can make him a more versatile weapon in new offensive coordinator Billy Napier's offense.
Though Napier will introduce pro-style concepts that should benefit a runner like Ballage, Richard will still have an opportunity to be the featured back in ASU's offense because he's a natural fit for a one-back spread system. Richard is a strong inside zone runner who has a great feel for cutback lanes and a good understanding of when to change direction, and he's also not going to shy away from contact. While Richard isn't ideally suited for buck sweeps and perimeter run plays, he's more than capable of executing zone, power and lead concepts.
Perhaps the biggest knock against Richard is that he doesn't possess breakaway speed --his longest run last season was 37 yards-- but he does have enough initial quickness and burst to be effective in his role. What separates Richard from some of the other backs on ASU's roster is his broader skill set, which makes him an asset as a pass blocker and as a pass catcher.
Though Richard isn't athletic enough to split out in space and play in the slot like D.J. Foster was, he has solid hands and can sneak out of the backfield on swing routes or leak routes and provide ASU's quarterbacks with a security blanket late in progressions.
After a setback in 2016, Richard is hungry and eager to finish his career on a high note, and is attempting to grow into a role as a leader on an ASU offense that will be built around younger talent.
Projected 2016 depth chart status: Even though Richard battled an injury throughout the 2016 season, he still earned more carries than Ballage who was relied on heavily as the ball carrier in ASU's "Sparky" package. While Napier's offense should benefit Ballage, we expect Richard to continue to earn the lion's share of the Sun Devils' carries in the duo's final season with the program. Stylistically, Richard is well equipped to help ASU return to the run-oriented approach Graham feels the program has strayed from over the past two seasons, and Richard is clearly motivated to get the ball rolling. Napier's offense could feature more 20 and 21-personnel sets than we've seen from the Sun Devils in recent seasons, but if that's the case, Richard will likely spend more time as ASU's deep tailback while Napier looks to deploy Ballage in more creative ways. If Richard is able to stay healthy throughout the season and maintains the explosiveness that eluded him last year, he's more than capable of approaching 1,000 yards for the second time in his career.