Player capsule: Frank Darby
Position: Wide receiver
Eligibility: Redshirt freshman
Weight: 197 pounds
2016 season quick review: Darby was a post-Signing Day addition for Arizona State head coach Todd Graham's 2016 class, as the Sun Devils didn't add the Jersey City, New Jersey native until the middle of May. Nevertheless, Darby arrived on campus as one of the most physically impressive true freshmen, and likely could have played last year if Arizona State was more concerned about its depth at wide receiver early in the season. Instead, though, Darby ended up using his redshirt year and earned high praise for his work with the Sun Devils' scout team offense.
SunDevilSource.com analysis: After working exclusively at wide receiver last season, Darby began the 2017 spring practice slate on the defensive side of the ball, practicing in position drills with ASU's safeties and working in team periods at Spur linebacker.
The decision for ASU's coaching staff to evaluate Darby on the defensive side of the ball came after the Sun Devils hired Phil Bennett as the program's defensive coordinator. Darby told SunDevilSource Bennett approached him about the possibility of switching to defense early in the spring, and Darby took him up on it because he had prior success playing safety at the high school level.
Darby said Graham only wanted him to stick on defense if he earned a spot in ASU's starting rotation, and for the first half of the spring, the possibility of Darby becoming an impact defender appeared legitimate. Thanks to his natural athleticism, muscular frame and quick-twitch movement skills, Darby looked like an excellent candidate to play Spur. But as the spring wore on, Darby began to slip behind more seasoned defenders on the depth chart.
Though the best decision for both Darby and ASU's program might be to give an athlete of his caliber an extended shot to learn the position and develop on the job, the Sun Devils wound up moving Darby back to wide receiver during the second half of spring. Despite having six sophomore receivers on the depth chart --including 2016 Freshman All-American N'Keal Harry-- and a dearth of capable scholarship players in the secondary, ASU appears intent on moving forward with Darby at the wide receiver position.
The good news for Darby is that despite a crowded depth chart on offense, he has the ability to step in and compete for playing time right away.
As a receiver, Darby is somewhat reminiscent of junior Jalen Harvey because he's a thicker-bodied player whose game is built on toughness. Still, Darby is more athletic and probably faster than Harvey, which gives him a higher ceiling as a prospect.
At the high school level, Darby developed a knack for making impressive plays on the ball at its highest point, and his competitive streak was readily apparent on 50-50 balls. Despite having just 35 receptions as a senior, Darby racked up 957 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns, consistently proving himself as a big play threat.
Darby's downfield explosiveness may not translate as well to the college level because he's facing superior athletes, but there's no reason he can't be a successful outside receiver in the Pac-12 because he possesses a natural feel for where to position his body in tight coverage and he has the focus and strong hands needed to make contested catches in traffic.
From a technical standpoint, Darby is probably a bit behind most of the other players in ASU's rotation, which will make it a challenge for him to earn consistent repetitions this season. Darby will likely have to prove to new receivers' coach Rob Likens he's proficient enough as a route runner for Likens to feel confident working him into the rotation, and because Darby played defense for much of the spring, he'll have some catching up to do this fall.
Even if Darby doesn't make a big impact this season, he's one of the most physically impressive specimens on the team, and one of the few skill position players we'd put on our All-Greyhound team (first guys off the bus). Regardless of whether he sticks at receiver or is pulled back to the defensive side of the ball, Darby has plenty of upside as an athlete and should be expected to move into a larger role down the line.
Projected depth chart status: Because Darby didn't join the wide receiver unit until late in the spring, it's difficult to peg exactly where he'll slot into on the Sun Devils' depth chart. Darby certainly has the talent to contribute, but at least five other players --Harry, Harvey, and sophomores John Humphrey, Ryan Newsome and Kyle Williams-- are likely to play ahead of him in ASU's rotation while sophomore Terrell Chatman and senior Ryan Jenkins may start out ahead of him this fall. Late in the spring, Darby worked at the Z-receiver position, which is one of the most crowded positions on ASU's roster, but once Darby fully assimilates back to playing wide receiver this fall, he could wind up switching off between an outside role and the slot. Darby is athletic enough to contribute for the Sun Devils this fall, but how he takes to Likens' coaching points and how well he competes against more established receivers on ASU's roster will ultimately determine what kind of an opportunity he has.