Player capsule: Nick Ralston
Position: Running back
Weight: 215 pounds
2016 season quick review: After sitting out in 2015 following an early-season injury, Ralston trimmed down in Arizona State's strength and conditioning program last offseason and put himself in position to climb up the Sun Devils' running back depth chart. Though Ralston played behind seniors Demario Richard and Kalen Ballage, he wound up finishing the year with 32 carries for 139 yards and two touchdowns last season and enjoyed the best yards per carry mark (4.3 ypc) of any ASU running back.
SunDevilSource.com analysis: Following a prolific career at Argyle (Texas) High, Ralston entered the ASU program as a mid-year enrollee in the spring of 2015 after rushing 337 times for over 2,000 yards as a high school senior.
Even though Ralston was incredibly productive at the high school level, it wasn't immediately clear whether he would play running back at ASU as the Sun Devils' coaching staff considered working him at linebacker during his first spring on campus. After ASU made the determination to use Ralston on offense, he initially worked in an H-back/fullback role and practiced with both the tight ends and the running backs.
By the start of Ralston's freshman season, he weighed north of 240 pounds and was too heavy to contribute in a meaningful way in ASU's backfield, and early in the year, he suffered an injury that changed his career arc.
The injury inspired Ralston to streamline his physique and trim down, and the work he put in helped him get down to 220 pounds prior to the start of his sophomore season. Entering last season, it was clear Ralston found a home at running back as he ascended to the third spot on the Sun Devils' depth chart behind Richard and Ballage.
Though Ralston was limited in his role as a redshirt freshman, he showcased traits that led us to believe he's capable of playing the running back position successfully in the Pac-12. As a ball carrier, Ralston is similar to Richard because he possesses solid vision and fits the mold of a spread-style back who is at his best on inside zone plays. Additionally, Ralston has a wide frame coupled with a strong lower body that allows him to punish defenders who try and arm tackle him or come in too high.
Like Richard, Ralston isn't going to hurt opposing defenses by getting to the edge and outrunning second and third level players, but he is a downhill style of back who falls forward upon contact and has a nose for picking up extra yards.
This spring, ASU's coaches and Ralston's teammates praised him for the precision he brings to the table at each practice. Junior quarterback Manny Wilkins said that if he knows Ralston is the back behind him, he needs to be even more detail-oriented with his footwork because Ralston is always in the correct spot, always knows when and where to receive a handoff and is as consistent as any player on ASU's roster.
While he's not necessarily a receiving threat out of the backfield, Ralston is a good option for ASU on third downs because he's a strong blocker and possesses good anticipation skills.
If ASU is able to return to a run-oriented approach under new offensive coordinator Billy Napier, Ralston has the potential to be one of the primary beneficiaries because he should see an expanded role, more opportunities and have another year of offseason conditioning under his belt.
Projected depth chart status: After serving as ASU's third running back last season, Ralston again figures to slide onto the Sun Devils' depth chart behind the pair of seniors, Richard and Ballage. Still, even though Ralston has an extra year of experience at the college level, he may have a difficult time holding off a challenge from true freshman Eno Benjamin, the highest-rated running back to sign with ASU during the Todd Graham era. Ralston should have an edge at the outset of the year because ASU's coaching staff loves his practice habits and wants to give Benjamin plenty of time to recover from the injury that forced him to sit out during the Sun Devils' spring practice slate. Additionally, if Napier does showcase more two-back sets than Chip Lindsey did a season ago, there should be plenty of opportunities for Ralston to make a bigger impact during his sophomore campaign.