Arizona State preparedness / potential grades: Wide receiver

How do we rank the Arizona State wide receivers after the Sun Devils' spring practice slate and how ready are they to play at this level? Here's our perspective.

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. N'Keal Harry (sophomore) -- Harry quickly supplanted veteran Ellis Jefferson on the depth chart last August and didn't look back. He earned rave reviews from ASU coach Todd Graham for his assimilation into the program in the strength and conditioning component last summer, and then in practices in preseason camp. Harry hit the ground running as a rare opening game true freshman starter, and went on to have one of the best ASU seasons in history by a newcomer at wide receiver. 

The statistical accomplishments achieved by Harry were even more impressive given the injury-plagued season the Sun Devils had at quarterback, and the fact that he caught balls from three different quarterbacks. ASU didn't have great play from its quarterbacks for much of the season, and Harry could have had a lot more production had there been greater health and stability at the position. 

A natural playmaker, Harry arrived on campus with a great combination of size and strength, at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, and showed an easy ability to utilize it. He's very physical and competitive when targeted, with strong hands and a seemingly innate ability to make contested plays on the football. He has the important and rare skill of being able to slow the play down and use his terrific presence and physical composure to catch the football, often doing so even when draped by defenders. 

Harry is very much a possession type receiver; a chain-mover who is extremely valuable on third down situations and in the red zone. But he's got the potential to be quite a bit more than that, and flashed it at times during his first season in Tempe. At times he found himself behind the defense, especially against ASU's less talented opponents, and a lot of yards and some touchdowns were left out there because he wasn't able to be successfully targeted down the field. There were also occasions in which he hauled in catches in really acrobatic and spectacular fashion, such as the one-handed grab on a deep pass in the end zone against UTSA. 

As good as he was as a freshman, Harry has quite a bit of room to grow as a route runner and overall technician of the game. Against better defensive backs he at times found it hard to gain separation. There's plenty of development that can be made with how Harry uses his hands at the line of scrimmage as well as how he transitions at the top of the route. His overall speed is decent for his size, but not yet where it'll need to be for Harry to be talked about as a potential first-round NFL pick down the line. 

More than anything, ASU's coaches want to see Harry's daily habits become more consistent. The most talented players have the highest expectations, not just from a game performance standpoint, but in every way possible. During the spring, Harry spent quite a bit of time on the sidelines or on Muscle Beach tending to minor nagging issues. Fighting through adversity and being the example coaches point to on the work ethic side is the next step in Harry taking his game from elite freshman, to elite national wide receiver. Preparedness grade: 4 / Potential grade: 5

2. John Humphrey Jr. (sophomore) --Even though Humphrey hasn't played a down of competitive football at the FBS level yet, he's the type of explosive, twitchy play-maker who has the potential to become an immediate-impact contributor this fall.

Twice this spring, Humphrey topped SunDevilSource's Hot-11 list, in large part due to the top-end speed and fluidity he displayed on an every day basis. There's no doubt Humphrey is one of the fastest players on ASU's roster, and he might be the fastest receiver the Sun Devils have had during the Todd Graham era, as he claims to have run multiple sub 4.3-second 40-yard dashes.

In watching drills this spring, what immediately stands out about Humphrey is his ability to create separation at the line of scrimmage. Humphrey drives out of his stance with force, and he's able to stretch cornerbacks laterally before stemming vertically in a way that makes him a challenge to defend in press coverage. Humphrey imposes problems for defenses because if cornerbacks play him in press man at the line, he's able to race off the ball and use his second gear to give the Sun Devils' offense a vertical threat.

Once he proves he can take the top off of a defense, though, defenders will have trouble reacting to Humphrey's ability to work back toward the football, because he can cut on a dime and is precise with his footwork to the point where he's a challenge to defend on comeback routes. Humphrey told SunDevilSource the curl route is his second favorite route, which shouldn't come as a surprise because he's able to change direction so fluidly.

While Humphrey doesn't have much experience working against starter-caliber cornerbacks, he proved in ASU's spring game that he's able to make contested catches and fight for the football in the air, which are important traits for a receiver who is slightly built.

Even though ASU can't expect the same type of production from Humphrey, there are similarities between his game and that of former Washington Huskies' receiver John Ross. Ross recorded the fastest 40-yard dash time in NFL Combine history, but what made him so effective was the way he took advantage of his speed in tight quarters.

Look for ASU to try to get the ball to Humphrey on bubble screens, tunnel screens and shorter routes closer to the line of scrimmage when the Sun Devils feel they have a mismatch and think Humphrey can beat a defender one-on-one. Humphrey's short-field elusiveness and ability to see the field and work toward open space are going to be critical for ASU's offense, and if he can develop a comfort level catching the ball in traffic, the Sun Devils will have an important security blanket they can count on.

Though we didn't see ASU practice special teams this spring, Humphrey also possesses potential as a punt returner and may be able to compete for reps as a kick returner as well.

While Humphrey has as much potential as any receiver on ASU's roster, how he responds to the adversity he faces at the beginning of the regular season will largely dictate what type of an impact he's able to have. Humphrey hasn't played in a live game in over two years, and has yet to face the caliber of defensive back he'll go up against in the Pac-12 on a weekly basis. Additionally, Humphrey will need to maintain consistency and ensure he has route integrity, because the Sun Devils aren't only going to be counting on him to give the team speed, they'll be counting on Humphrey for precision on the perimeter. Preparedness grade: 3.5 / Potential grade: 5

3. Jalen Harvey (junior) -- One of toughest competitors on ASU’s roster, Harvey is a rugged, hard-nosed athlete who plays with an edge on every down.

After coming into his own at the Z-position in Chip Lindsey’s offense a season ago, Harvey is transitioning to the slot under new offensive coordinator Billy Napier which will allow the Sun Devils to take advantage of the physicality and raw toughness Harvey brings to the field.

Even if Harvey didn’t catch a pass this year, he’s the type of player who could still provide value to ASU’s receiving corps because he invites contact and possesses a burning desire to be the best blocking receiver in the country. Fortunately for ASU, Harvey also has a desire to be as complete of a receiver as possible, and he’s talented enough to thrive in the slot because he’s fundamentally strong and technically sound as a route runner.

Slot receivers are often asked to make contested plays in traffic, and Harvey’s ability to use his body as a shield or use his physicality to his advantage should help him excel in this role.

Expect Napier to use Harvey in shifts and motions in an effort to outnumber defenses at the point of attack, and expect Harvey to execute blocks on rush ends, linebackers and safeties from any number of alignments including as a wingback or a tight slot.

Early in Harvey’s career, he struggled with consistent practice habits and maintaining focus, and he also had a stint on the defensive side of the ball where he was asked to learn how to play Spur linebacker. Over the past year and a half, though, Harvey has noticeably matured and is now one of the players ASU receivers’ coach Rob Likens can point to as an example for the rest of his unit.

Likens said he expects Harvey to succeed this year because Harvey’s the type of player who’s willing to do the dirty work, and Harvey’s teammates expect the same from him because as they put it, he’s “got some dog in him.”

Those are high compliments from his peers, but if Harvey is able to continue to bring the same focused energy and approach to the field this fall, he should be one of ASU’s most complete players at the receiver position. Preparedness grade: 3.5 / Potential grade: 4

4. Ryan Newsome (sophomore) -- Newsome's arrival at ASU last fall coincided with the Sun Devils' decision to hire Jay Norvell, Newsome's position coach at Texas, as the program's wide receivers' coach. After transferring away from Texas after the 2015 season, Newsome followed Norvell to Tempe, Arizona knowing he would have to wait another full season before he would have the opportunity to see the field.

Though Newsome spent his first two seasons in college practicing under Norvell's tutelage, Nevada's hiring of Norvell as the Wolfpack's head coach this offseason prevented Newsome from being able to take the field under him at ASU. Nevertheless, Newsome has regrouped and expressed his excitement about working under new ASU wide receivers' coach Rob Likens, who attempted to recruit him to Cal when Likens was the receivers' coach under Sonny Dykes.

Armed with plenty of speed, short area quickness and elusiveness, Newsome is a prototypical slot receiver who possesses the traditional traits closely associated with home run threats. Despite his slight build at 5-foot-8, Newsome is a challenge for opposing defenders because he's quick enough to create separation at the line of scrimmage and shifty enough to break tackles in the open field. 

During the first half of the spring, Newsome worked at the H-receiver (slot) position for ASU, a spot often occupied over the past two seasons by Tim White, who like Newsome, was one of the best pure athletes on the Sun Devils' roster. Newsome has the chance to thrive in the slot because of the creative ways ASU can put the ball in his hands and allow him to stress defenders.

In the second half of spring ball, we saw Newsome play on the outside as well which offered ASU's coaching staff the chance to see how his speed and route running skills would translate to other positions. 

Newsome presents ASU with plenty of value because he's a relatively efficient route runner who can stretch defenses vertically, but he also gives the Sun Devils the opportunity to use him in option routes where Newsome can read a defender's alignment and cut based on the coverage shell.

For Newsome to thrive in new offensive coordinator Billy Napier's scheme, he'll need to improve the consistency with which he plays and take his focus up a notch when he's catching passes, especially in traffic. This spring, Newsome dropped a number of easily catchable passes, and he'll need to do a better job showing he can extend down to haul in lower throws, which is something he struggled with on the practice field.

To become a more complete player, Newsome will also need to demonstrate he's capable of executing some of the perimeter blocks that receivers will be required to take on in Napier's scheme.

Additionally, Newsome will need to work on creating separation with his hands in press coverage, because even though he's elusive, he doesn't have the same type of sudden quickness fellow transfer John Humphrey Jr. possesses that allows Humphrey to neutralize press coverage at the line of scrimmage.

Ultimately, Newsome has a high ceiling thanks to his shiftiness and speed, and as long as he continues to progress under Likens, Newsome should earn plenty of opportunities with the ball in his hands this fall. Preparedness grade: 3 / Potential grade: 4

5. Kyle Williams (sophomore) --Williams primarily played quarterback in high school for an offense that used his athleticism as a rushing weapon. He also saw some action at wide receiver, but in a relatively limited capacity due to team need. As a result, Williams is still pretty inexperienced overall at the position, which was aggravated by spending two-thirds of last season on defense. 

Even though this is the case, Williams is a very good athlete and a natural football player. He has movement skills that make for terrific versatility as a skill player, with loose hips and impressive foot quickness. He's shifty and has a nice blend of fluidity and twitchiness, with how well he flows into routes and turns his feet over with high RPMs. This gives him the potential to become a great route runner in time, but he's still learning the ins and outs of the position in that respect.

First-year wide receivers coach Rob Likens does a very good job of articulating to his players exactly what their initial steps should look and feel like releasing off the line of scrimmage and at the top of the route as it transitions. That's going to really help Williams a lot as he gets thousands of practice reps under his belt, and Williams is the type of player who will be diligent about the skill development portion of the game because he's a great student who is in Barrett, the Honors College at ASU. 

We loved Williams' potential as a field safety in this Sun Devil defense because of how well he changes direction and accelerates out of a drop, covering a lot of ground in a hurry, and the instincts he seemed to have for the defensive side of the ball. But Williams prefers playing on offense and ASU moved him back as a result. 

Though his size isn't great, at 5-foot-10 and 180ish pounds -- one of the reasons we liked him perhaps a bit more on defense -- Williams has demonstrated good ball skills, with an ability to catch the ball with extended arms and make difficult adjustments before the ball's arrival. 

One of the adjustments Williams will have to make transitioning to the offense ASU will run under Billy Napier is moving from the slot to the outside at 'Z' receiver. With this comes different types of routes including more vertical runs, and requires a little better skill with hand usage releasing from the line of scrimmage. Even though it's not as demanding in this regard as the 'X' position, Williams will have to deal with defensive backs working to unbalance and slow him at the snap, and figure out how to improve entry into his routes. 

Williams is quicker than he is fast at top speed, which -- combined with his average size -- increases the need to be technically proficient as a route runner in accessing the vertical shots that ASU will like to take in this offense. It'll also force him to learn to use his body really well to set up the cornerback before the ball's arrival. It's a very skill intensive position and Williams is still early in his development, but someone with a reasonably high ceiling. Preparedness grade: 2.5 / Potential grade: 4 

6. Terrell Chatman (sophomore) --A former four-star recruit out of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Chatman has had a quiet first two years in Tempe that belies his ample natural talent. Out of the 2015 recruiting class, Chatman is one of the players who has the biggest gap between his high potential and low production to this point. It's suggestive of the possibility of a creeping or explosive emergence on the playing field in coming years if Chatman fully buys into the process. 

If the spring is any indication, Chatman is doing just that. There's been a sharp uptick in how Chatman's progress has been received by key onlookers. ASU coaches raved about Chatman's progress, with Todd Graham calling him one of the most improved players on the roster. First-year offensive coordinator Billy Napier and wide receivers coach Rob Likens have also been very intrigued by Chatman through 15 practices, and it's not surprising to hear. 

At 6-foot-3 and 190 or so pounds, Chatman has a great blend of length and athleticism. He showed highlight reel capability on film as a high school player, and that's carried over to the practice field at ASU, albeit inconsistently. There are fleeting glimpses of what Chatman can be, and it's alluring. He's had more than a handful of diving and contorted grabs well downfield, showing the potential to be a vertical threat with size and big play-making potential. For a player who hasn't really seen the field in two years, Chatman has perhaps had more jaw dropping moments away from fans of anyone on the team. 

Chatman has the gift of very good physical composure and ball skills when working down the field on longer-developing routes. These are assets that would be a shame to not be able to fully access due to being technically or physically raw and immature in other areas. Chatman has added a much-needed 15 pounds of body armor and a lot of foundational practice experience.

Chatman's got to work on the techniques that get him into routes more cleanly at the line of scrimmage, and show an increased physicality in doing so, especially with how he uses his hands. He has to better use his length as an asset early in a play, because he's very good at using it at the ball's arrival. He's got to be crisper with his footwork early in routes, and at reaching and transitioning at the right depth so that he finishes where he needs to be located, and does so on time. More than anything, Chatman has to continue to mentally mature and focus in from a consistency and habits standpoint. If he does these things, he has a chance to become a very good player at this level. Preparedness grade: 2.5 / Potential grade: 4

7. Frank Darby (Redshirt freshman) -- 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. Preparedness grade: 2 / Potential grade: 4

8. Ryan Jenkins (senior) --Jenkins took a unique route to get to ASU, but it appears as though his dedication may finally pay off this fall as Jenkins is one of the top walk-ons on the roster and has made a strong case that he deserves a scholarship. 

After giving up the opportunity to continue his career as a scholarship player at Tennessee, Jenkins could have dropped down a level, attempted to play at a non-Power Five school or even tried to go the junior college route, but instead, Jenkins elected to enroll at ASU and earn a spot on the Sun Devils' roster.

The road hasn't been easy for Jenkins, who isn't nearly as athletic as the majority of the scholarship skill position players on the Sun Devils' roster, but thanks to his determination and his consistent practice habits, Jenkins is doing everything in his power to impact the depth chart heading into his senior season.

What Jenkins lacks in agility and explosiveness, he makes up for with his precision and attention to detail. After an early spring practice, one ASU receiver told SunDevilSource Jenkins was the best route runner on the team, and first-year receivers' coach Rob Likens has certainly taken notice of the way Jenkins approaches the craft.

Likens told us Jenkins is a natural at taking a coaching point from the wide receiver meeting room or the offensive film room and translating that point on the field, which is why Likens allowed Jenkins to take first team reps with ASU's offense early this spring.

Likens spent much of the spring harping on the way he expects ASU's receivers to get in and out of their breaks, and he often used Jenkins as an example of a player who was executing the steps on each route properly. Though Jenkins isn't going to blow anyone away with his speed, he's a technician at the receiver position who understands the importance of body placement and positioning.

While Jenkins has a low ceiling as a receiver because of his athleticism, he's a solid depth option for the Sun Devils and a player ASU's coaching staff should have a growing level of confidence in. Jenkins has helped his cause each year he's been in the program, and entering his senior season, he's reached the point where he should be considered a serviceable backup as both an outside receiver and as a slot.

Thanks to a stockier build and a strong understanding of ASU's offensive scheme, Jenkins gives the Sun Devils flexibility because he can play multiple positions, handle blocking assignments in the run game, and execute exactly what's needed when he's called upon. Preparedness grade: 3 / Potential grade: 3 

9. Jack Smith (sophomore) --The son of ASU head baseball coach Tracy Smith, Jack Smith was a surprise late addition in the Sun Devils' 2016 class. The former Phoenix Mountain Pointe quarterback flipped from NAU to ASU just after Signing Day upon being offered a scholarship by Todd Graham. He was the lowest-rated prospect the Sun Devils signed in the class by our network-independent ratings analysis. 

An athlete recruit, Smith was initially pegged to play safety but pretty quickly transitioned to wide receiver last year upon joining the Sun Devils for practices. He was a good high school quarterback, albeit slightly built and undersized. Upon being moved to quarterback temporarily due to the rash of injuries, Smith made a positive impression in practices for how quickly he assimilated to the role and ran the offense in tempo segments observed by reporters. 

This spring, Smith was back at wide receiver, where he took some second and mostly third-team reps. He's still pretty thin and lacking any real muscle density, but Smith has added 10 or so pounds since joining the program and is starting to look a little more the part of a Division I football player. Though a reasonably good athlete -- there's video of Smith making some non-routine dunks in high school -- Smith's not of the same caliber as most of the players in the wide receiver group.

The best bet for Smith for playing time and success would have likely been as a small school quarterback, where he has good natural feel and size and arm strength limitations wouldn't prevent him from success. He wanted to be at ASU, however, and was given the scholarship opportunity. It's just not likely to result in much playing time for at least the next couple years.  Preparedness grade: 1.5 / Potential grade: 2.5 

Summary: ASU is as well positioned at the wide receiver unit as it has been during the Todd Graham era, as the Sun Devils now have a collection of seven-to-eight players capable of challenging for spots in the team's rotation. The best news for ASU is that six of those players are sophomores or younger, which means the unit should be as deep if not deeper for the next few seasons. At the top of the depth chart, Harry and Humphrey have All-American level potential, and are certainly capable of putting together a season worthy of All-Conference recognition. Behind them, Harvey and Newsome form a solid duo whose complementary skill sets make the unit more well rounded. What's perhaps most important for the Sun Devils this season is for a fifth or sixth receiver to emerge --perhaps Williams, Chatman or Darby-- who can provide the wide receiver unit with even more versatility and broaden out the group's capabilities. Much of the credit for the depth ASU has built should go to former offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey and wide receivers' coach Jay Norvell, who both had a hand in signing Humphrey, Newsome and Darby after Signing Day in 2016. Now, it's up to new offensive coordinator Billy Napier and new wide receivers' coach Rob Likens to maximize each player's potential. 

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