Player Capsule: Joseph Wicker
Position: Defensive Line
Weight: 275 pounds
2016 season quick review: A second-team all-league selection, Wicker had 39 tackles including 11 for loss with 2.5 sacks. Early in the season, Wicker aligned into the boundary earlier in the year, but as Koron Crump matured, he moved into the primary pass rush position on that side of the field and Wicker worked at field end. Though he didn't have the type of sack production that ASU fans hoped for, opposing coaches in the Pac-12 liked Wicker's overall execution within the scheme.
SunDevilSource.com analysis: According to new defensive line coach Michael Slater, Wicker is ASU's most versatile defensive lineman, a player who can effectively play all three of the positions. But Wicker is also capable of playing Devil backer, so he's one of the team's most pliable athletes.
Wicker was recruited to play 3-technique tackle out of Long Beach Poly, but in order to get him on the field as a true freshman in 2015, the Sun Devils used Wicker at defensive end. The strength staff leaned Wicker out through his first year in Tempe, with Wicker losing 15-20 pounds in order to improve his ability to play on the edge.
As a sophomore Wicker entered the season at a light 265 pounds and ASU coach Todd Graham called Wicker the team's best pass rusher. With the absence of a clear every down player at Devil backer, Wicker typically aligned into the boundary early in the season on base downs, and then shifted over when Crump came onto the field in nickel situations.
Senior Tashon Smallwood is ASU's most experienced player and best suited to play 3-technique tackle, which is part of the reason Wicker's primarily worked at end in his career to this point. It's simply the most efficient way to get Smallwood and Wicker on the field together.
A highly regarded recruit out of high school, it initially appeared Wicker could be the Will Sutton-like interior pass rusher that the Sun Devils haven't had since the two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year left the program. It will be interesting to see if the Sun Devils shift Wicker inside on base down for his senior season in 2018, as that could depend on how others develop at tackle and whether someone else -- perhaps Doug Subtyl -- elevates his play at end, and which combination puts the best players on the field together.
Wicker has a versatile body type, which ASU has taken advantage of. He got lighter and quicker last year and has since added some valuable additional strength, while remaining lean. The 10 pounds or so he's added in the last year and a half, which puts him at 6-foot-3 and 275 pounds, could help Wicker improve in a variety of ways.
While Wicker has an explosive three step get off that allows him to exploit the edge against less athletic offensive tackles, he didn't finish enough plays as a pass rusher due to a combination of factors. Though relatively strong, Wicker still didn't show bullying force in such isolated situations on the edge. He started to display an inside spin counter that is quick and hard for linemen to check, but it hasn't really translated to games as yet. His leveraging and hand displacement techniques have improved, such as attacking the arms of offensive tackles, but not yet enough to fully tap into his pass rush potential.
Last season, Wicker showed improvement at run recognition and making in-rep adjustments, and using his feet better in this regard. He plays with a lot of poise and composure against the run and maintains impressive structural integrity through the play, rarely taken out of the action. He has a much higher than average percentage of his reps that are played to a stalemate or win than most of his peers in the league, which is one of the main reasons he was honored with the second-team all-league status even as it didn't translate to eye-popping numbers.
Due to his scheme flexibility and broad, ever-developing talent base, Wicker remains one of ASU's best overall prospects. He's an all-league candidate in 2017.
Projected depth chart status: Wicker won't come off the field much. He is durable and can handle a lot of snaps, and the Sun Devils will ask a lot of him as a three-down player. The step down from an execution could be steep.