Over the last several years, football recruiting has blown up in popularity. Fans of major football programs are tied in to recruiting from the last snap of the fall to the when the ink dries on Signing Day.
The instantaneous information provided by social media shows how fluid recruiting can be.
Surprises happen all the time as players choose where to play football in college. However, with Arizona State University, it is not the prospects themselves that are most surprising as this coaching staff has shown the ability to close on highly rated recruits like D.J. Foster, Marion Grice, Chans Cox and Marcus Ball. It is the lack of getting a big-time recruit to sign at one of the key positions in Head Coach Todd Graham’s system, on either side of the ball, that is the most surprising.
Offense: Tight End / H-Back
Chris Coyle saw a resurgence in offensive production under head coach Graham and offensive coordinator Mike Norvell. The dependable Coyle was a safety valve for quaraterback Taylor Kelly while also flashing big-play ability and fearlessness in the middle of the field. Coyle finished his Sun Devil career strong with the following statistics:
2013: 29 receptions, 423 yards, 4 touchdowns
2012: 57 receptions, 696 yards, 5 touchdowns
Going back further in Graham’s career to when he was head coach at Tulsa, Charles Clay was the Golden Hurricane offensive star from the H-Back position in 2009 and 2010. Clay, who currently plays for the Miami Dolphins, finished with the following statistics:
2010: 43 receptions, 526 yards, 7 touchdowns
2009: 39 receptions, 530 yards, 5 touchdowns
In Graham’s first two recruiting classes, the Sun Devils did sign high school tight end Grant Martinez and junior college tight end De’Marieya Nelson. Nelson, who backed up Coyle this past season and is expected to start next season, has only one year remaining in the system. The hope is that Martinez is the future at this position, but he was not a highly sought recruit. Martinez does display great route running and fantastic hands in highlights from high school, but he redshirted in 2013 to work on his strength.
Defense: “Devil” Linebacker
This position has been held for two years by junior Carl Bradford. Bradford has been a terror for Pac-12 offensive coordinators and offensive line coaches in head coach Graham and defensive coordinator Paul Randolph’s scheme.
2013: 61 tackles, 19.0 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles
2012: 80 tackles, 21.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles
As the feature pass-rusher in the defense, Bradford has made the most of his opportunities such that there are reports that Bradford has signed with agents in preparation for early entrance into the 2014 NFL Draft. Bradford is an amazing athlete who could rush the quarterback with his hand down or standing free at the line. Additionally, Bradford could take some snaps at the middle linebacker spot as the Sun Devils changed up their schemes during the game. Bradford’s back-up in 2013 was senior Kipeli Koniseti who has finished his career as a Sun Devils.
Over the past two years, Graham and his staff have recruited many linebackers, but none fit the proto-typical devil-linebacker position. In fall practices, Graham and Randolph have tried true freshman linebackers Cox and Vilami Latu, but both have the size for a true inside linebacker, not a speedy pass-rushing outside linebacker.
With respect to the current verbal commitments of the 2014 recruiting class, there are no devil-backer prospects. Chandler Hamilton star Qualen Cunningham has verbally committed to Texas A&M, his father’s alma mater spurning the home town Sun Devils. With Bradford’s early departure, expect the Arizona State coaching staff to aggressive pursue a top high school senior to flip his commitment to fill this immediate large hole.
These two positions are the main course of the Sun Devil offensive and defensive meals, and star personnel are needed to fill those spots to make the unit succeed. While head coach Todd Graham has the football program on the rise and in the top 25 nationally, Graham and his staff still have some work to do recruiting top players to join the Sun Devil program.