Player capsule: Jay Jay Wilson
Position: Tight end
Weight: 259 pounds
2016 season quick review: Wilson began the 2016 season as the primary backup to three-year starter Kody Kohl, edging out junior college transfer Raymond Epps on the Arizona State depth chart. Under offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey, ASU deemphasized the tight end position, limiting the number of reps Wilson took and the amount of experience he gained. When Wilson did see the field, he often worked from an in-line alignment as an additional blocker or as a red zone target in special situations. Of the four passes Wilson caught last year, three went for touchdowns. Wilson also struggled with disciplinary issues during his sophomore season, and was suspended for the Sun Devils' contest against Colorado.
SunDevilSource.com analysis: Perhaps no ASU player stands to benefit more from the transition from Lindsey to new offensive coordinator Billy Napier than Wilson, a player capable of becoming a full-service tight end who boasts the type of athleticism the Sun Devils haven't had at the position in recent years.
When Wilson arrived at ASU, there were questions about which side of the ball he would ultimately end up on, because he has the size, speed, tenacity and natural instincts to play linebacker. However, Wilson ended up on offense, where ASU could have made more use of him as a sophomore if the Sun Devils were more inclined to take advantage of tight end help. Instead, Wilson's role was minimized last season, making the 2017 campaign a key landmark in his development.
There's no question Wilson has all of the raw potential to become one of the Pac-12's best tight ends. His skill set is thorough and broad, as he's fluid enough to explode out of a three-point stance and run the full range of routes expected of tight ends, while also being powerful enough to set the edge and punish defensive ends and outside linebackers as a blocker in the run game.
To this point in his career, Wilson has developed a reputation as a vicious blocker and a player capable of wiping out an opponent in front of him when he's fundamentally sound and using his lower body to develop leverage at the point of attack. Still, Wilson has yet to demonstrate his power and tenacity in a consistent fashion, which forced ASU to keep Kohl, a far less talented athlete, ahead of him on the depth chart last season.
As a receiver, ASU can take advantage of Wilson in naked routes and as a shield player, or on leaks when the Sun Devils use max protection looks. Wilson has the ability to create matchup nightmares for defenses when he's aligned against linebackers, so finding situations to creatively take advantage of his athleticism as a route runner will be key for Napier. Whether Wilson aligns as an in-line player, as a three-back or as a receiver split wide, he can help draw the attention of opposing defenses and free up opportunities for himself and other players in the passing game.
For Wilson to have an All-Pac-12-caliber season for the Sun Devils, he'll need to become a more well-rounded player who demonstrates a commitment to his fitness by improving his flexibility, getting leaner and learning how to take advantage of his athleticism. Wilson enjoyed a better first half of the spring for ASU than the second half, and that's likely because practice isn't the type of environment that's going to sustain Wilson's interest. He's a naturally competitive player who yearns for in-game opportunities, but he won't be able to make the most of the chances he gets until he proves he can develop better practice habits.
Projected depth chart status: Wilson is the most complete tight end on the roster and the player expected to start for the Sun Devils at the position this season. Look for ASU to use Wilson in every personnel grouping, as the skills he brings to the Sun Devils' offense are pivotal in executing pro-style concepts. ASU can't afford for Wilson to have maturity or consistency issues this season, because so much of Napier's offense will rely on the presence of a well-rounded tight end and he's clearly the team's best option.