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2023 Team Talent Preview: Arizona State

What will ASU look like with Kenny Dillingham replacing the tire fire of the Herm Edwards regime?

Washington v Arizona State Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Welcome to the 7th part in our series looking at the rosters of every Pac-12 team as we head ever closer to opening day. The order is organized by my team talent rankings and we’re now into the top half of the league. For more information on how those numbers came about, check out the intro for the WSU post. And while you’re there, go ahead and read the whole thing then come back. We’ll wait for you.

Past Teams- 12. Washington State Cougars, 11. Stanford Cardinal, 10. Arizona Wildcats, 9. California Golden Bears, 8. Oregon State Beavers, 7. Colorado Buffaloes

(Names in bold are projected starters by Phil Steele. Otherwise, names are listed in order of scoring in the talent ranking system)

TOTAL OFFENSE- 1,048.6 (5th)

Quarterback- 109.4 (8th)

Starter- Drew Pyne (82.4)

Reserves- Jaden Rashada (54.0), Trenton Bourguet (41.4), Jacob Conover (25.1)

This will be one of the more interesting quarterback competitions in the Pac-12 even if Pyne is the clear favorite. Last year Pyne started 10 games for Notre Dame and put up a solid but not spectacular stat line (22 TD, 6 INT, 8.0 YPA). If Pyne can replicate those numbers at Arizona State under Kenny Dillingham it will be a clear upgrade at the position after Florida transfer Emory Jones never caught on last season.

Competing with Pyne will be the man who arguably played better than Jones last year: former walk-on Trenton Bourguet. He infamously came in off the bench and lit up the Huskies in their win over Washington last year. Also in that competition is Jaden Rashada whose recruiting saga more accurately deserves the title of infamous. When his NIL deal at Florida fell through he ended up at his dad’s alma mater of ASU.

Running Back- 96.8 (9th)

Starter- Cameron Skattebo (70.2)

Reserves- DeCarlos Brooks (55.0), Tevin White (53.2)

Arizona State lost the only two running backs on the roster with more than 15 carries as X Valladay graduated and Daniyel Ngata transferred to Washington. They bring back last year’s 3rd string Tevin White but it seems likely he’ll remain the 3rd string given a pair of portal additions.

The clear favorite to start will be FCS Sacramento State transfer Cameron Skattebo. He put up nearly 1,400 yards on 7.0 yards per carry last season (actually down from 9.1 YPC the year before). Although it should be noted he only ran for 3.9 YPC in their lone game against an FBS opponent (Colorado State). Backing him up should be Cal transfer DeCarlos Brooks who had 5 carries for 43 yards against Notre Dame but only ran for 4.2 YPC overall last year. Compared to a lot of other Pac-12 teams it lacks both star power and depth which is why they’re 9th.

Wide Receiver- 305.7 (5th)

Starters- Elijhah Badger (88.9), Jordyn Tyson (72.0), Jake Smith (63.8)

Reserves- Xavier Guillory (62.7), Melquan Stovall (51.7), Andre Johnson (47.9), Giovanni Sanders (45.3), Korbin Hendrix (42.8), Troy Omeire (35.6)

The Sun Devils bring back 3 of their top-4 WRs from last year in terms of target share and added several transfers to the bunch to supplement. The clear star is Elijhah Badger who broke out with 863 yards and 7 TDs last season. He made Phil Steele’s preseason all-conference 3rd team and that might be his ceiling only because there are so many good receivers in the conference.

It will be an all-out battle for the spots behind Badger. Last year’s #2 receiver was former walk-on Giovanni Sanders who had 500 yards as a dependable slot receiver and it seems reasonable to think he continues in that role. The depth on the outside is greatly improved with several transfers. Jordyn Tyson of Colorado was a late spring addition who showed major flashes with the Buffs in an otherwise dreary season. As a true freshman in the final 3 games of his season he had a combined 340 yards and 2 TDs against OSU, ASU, and Oregon and averaged 20.3 yards per reception overall.

A more veteran option is Idaho State transfer Xavier Guillory who had 783 yards last year in the FCS or Colorado State transfer Melquan Stovall who has 1,144 career receiving yards mostly out of the slot. There’s also Texas/USC transfer Jake Smith as a wild card after he battled through injuries and didn’t play a snap for the Trojans over the past 2 seasons but was a near 5-star coming out of high school. Overall, this is a deep group and it’s hard to think ASU won’t be able to find 4 reliable options out of the room.

Tight End- 99.8 (4th)

Starter- Jalin Conyers (82.4)

Reserves- Messiah Swinson (35.0), Bryce Pierre (17.1), Ryan Morgan (10.0)

Conyers enters the year as probably the consensus either 3rd or 4th tight end in the conference as he transferred in from Oklahoma before last year. In particular he hit it off with Bourguet and had a late resurgence once the QB switch was made. In ASU’s final 5 games Conyers had 29 catches for 335 yards and 5 TDs. If he keeps up anything close to that pace it will be a good sign for ASU.

The Sun Devils badly need Conyers to be the guy because there isn’t a whole lot else here. Former 6’8 Missouri transfer Messiah Swinson had 185 yards as the backup but struggled with drops and will fulfill that role again. The 3rd/4th tight ends have combined for 27 snaps in college without a target.

Offensive Line- 436.8 (4th)

Starters- Ben Coleman (79.3), Cade Briggs (66.4), RT Aaron Frost (62.6), LG Sione Finau (62.5), C Leif Fautanu (59.3)

Reserves- LT Isaia Glass (52.1), Bram Walden (46.2), Maxwell Iheanachor (41.1), RG Joey Ramos (38.2), Kyle Scott (35.8), Emmit Bohle (32.9), Sean Na’a (30.5)

(A note that my listed starters here are the 5 highest scorers even if some of them play the same position. If the backup right tackle has a higher rating than the starting left guard, the LG gets bumped to reserves above.)

In the last edition of these previews I noted that Colorado tried to portal in a new offensive line but wasn’t able to get much in the way of quality offensive line depth. Arizona State fared a little better. The top-5 players in my talent rankings are all transfers coming from California, New Mexico, Nevada, Florida International, and UNLV. Perhaps more importantly is all of them have at least 1,400 career snaps with above average PFF grades (although not by much).

The only Sun Devil returning from the OL starters is LT Isaia Glass who played a lot last year but had the worst PFF grade on the team so him holding onto his job my not be a given with a new coaching staff. Joey Ramos was the opening day RT for ASU last year after transferring in from Iowa State but was injured in the first game and missed the rest of the season. He’s now expected to move to right guard.

Cal transfer Ben Coleman finishes atop the talent rankings but isn’t currently listed as a projected starter by Phil Steele. He started 22 games for the Bears over the last 2 years across both LT and LG so at the worst he’ll be a super utility man in case of injury. It’s a similar case for C Cade Briggs who was a 3-year starter at New Mexico before transferring to Texas Tech where he wasn’t able to break into the rotation and transferred back out to ASU.

TOTAL DEFENSE- 1,001.8 (8th)

Defensive Line- 187.0 (6th)

Starters- Anthonie Cooper (60.6), BJ Green (57.9)

Reserves- Dashaun Mallory (47.8), Landen Thomas (41.7), Samuel Benjamin (40.4), CJ Fite (32.3)

This isn’t exactly an oversized Sun Devils front which may be why Phil Steele projects one of the fringe DL players to start on the edge. Both Cooper and BJ Green are listed at 275 pounds and combined for 6 sacks last season despite playing 50% or less of the defensive snaps. They should be able to help create an interior pass rush but might struggle with the run defense element.

Joining them as a tweener is Michigan State transfer Dashaun Mallory who has 4 career starts in 3 seasons with the Spartans (3 career sacks). The only player who fits a more traditional nose tackle body is true freshman CJ Fite at 6’1 and 300 lbs but it may be asking a little much to expect him to play.

Edge Rushers- 162.9 (11th)

Starters- Clayton Smith (71.2), Michael Matus (50.1)

Reserves- Ashley Williams (44.8), Prince Dorbah (38.5), Elijah O’Neal (34.1), Ghrin Stansbury (23.6)

Smith showing up as the top player here speaks more to his pedigree than his production. He was a very high 4-star recruit at Oklahoma but managed just 110 snaps over the last 2 seasons and is still awaiting his first sack. We’ll see if he can put it together in Tempe. Michael Matus has 14 career starts for Arizona State but tore his ACL in preseason camp last year and is hoping to round back into form this season.

The other 4 guys in the rotation here have combined for just over 150 career snaps including 2 true freshmen. Phil Steele has Dorbah as the projected starter but he has 0 QB pressures in 3 years across 78 snaps after coming in as a high 4-star to Texas. Expect some of the guys listed in the DL section to occasionally play on the edge to fortify the depth here.

Linebackers- 163.8 (7th)

Starters- Travion Brown (77.1), Juwan Mitchell (52.8)

Reserves- K’Vion Thunderbird (37.7), Krew Jackson (30.3), James Djonkam (30.2), Will Shaffer (30.1), Caleb McCullough (28.1)

Arizona State would be in massive trouble if they hadn’t been able to poach Travion Brown away from Washington State. Brown had 46 tackles and 2 sacks as the Cougars’ #3 linebacker playing behind All-American Daiyan Henley. He should be the clear leader on this unit. Juwan Mitchell is the clear #2 after 2 years each at “T” schools that wear orange (Texas and Tennessee). He has 21 career starts and at the very least provides experience even if his upside isn’t exactly sky high.

Behind that pairing though it’s pretty slim pickings. Will Shaffer and James Djonkam are the only returning linebackers that played more than 15 snaps and neither reached 100 as the 4th and 5th options. If either Brown of Mitchell go down it spells potential trouble in the middle of the ASU defense.

Cornerbacks- 308.5 (4th)

Starters- Isaiah Johnson (80.2), Demetries Ford (73.4), Jordan Clark (70.2)

Reserves- Ro Torrence (65.2), Edward Woods (57.5), Macen Williams (46.8), Keontez Bradley (38.3), Josiah Cox (37.7)

This position looks like a clear strength for Arizona State. My #1 rated in talent player here isn’t slated to start after Isaiah Johnson was 6th in snaps last year as a redshirt freshman but was the highest rated recruit among the corners. The two returning starters are nickel back Jordan Clark and former Auburn transfer Ro Torrence who led the corners in snaps. They combined for 3 interceptions and 6 pass breakups. Ed Woods also played well in reserve last year leading the team with 7 pass breakups.

The big new addition is FCS Austin Peay transfer Demetries Ford. At 5’8 he’s a little undersized but dominated at that level with 3 INTs and 12 pass breakups last season. We’ll see if he can do that playing on the outside in the Pac-12.

There are 6 corners on this roster with 200+ defensive snaps and all of them have above average PFF grades. This should be one of the deeper secondaries in the conference.

Safeties- 179.5 (7th)

Starters- Shamari Simmons (69.1), Chris Edmonds (65.9)

Reserves- Xavion Alford (49.2), Shawn Russ (39.7), Montana Warren (37.2), Tarik Luckett (36.8)

The safety grouping isn’t too shabby either. Former Samford transfer Chris Edmonds was 3rd in defensive snaps on ASU last year and returns after leading the team in interceptions (3) and chipping in with 5 pass breakups. Starting alongside him should be another Austin Peay transfer in Shamari Simmons. Each of the last 2 years Simmons had at least 3 INTs and 4 pass breakups at the FCS level although he wasn’t a very sound tackler. Phil Steele had Simmons on his preseason all-conference 4th team.

The depth behind them is a little less reliable than it is at corner. Xavion Alford is on his 3rd home already after starting out at Texas then USC and has 2 career starts so far. Also with 2 starts is Colorado transfer Tarik Luckett. Otherwise, you’re likely looking at a pair of true freshmen (Russ and Warren). If you go even deeper you find a pair of interesting names though even if neither will play much: BYU transfer Tate Romney and Ole Miss transfer Roman Rashada (brother of Jaden).

OVERALL TEAM- 2,050.4 (6th)

The consensus seems to be that Kenny Dillingham is missing pure top-end talent in year one at Arizona State (his first as a head coach). That’s evident several different ways. No Sun Devil made either the preseason media or Phil Steele’s 1st or 2nd teams. WR Elijhah Badger was the only Sun Devil to end up in my talent ranking top-50 for the conference. That’s not exactly a great start.

And yet, I’m slightly bullish on this group. ASU wasn’t quite as aggressive remodeling their roster in the portal as Colorado and I think in the end they did a slightly better job trading the premium players for more reliable depth. Things look set particularly in the passing game as the receiver and corner groups both look like clear strengths with plenty of depth. The key will be staying healthy on the offensive line and finding the right combination up front.

Arizona State was picked 10th in the preseason media poll which is extremely fair given the turnover and a first time head coach. It wouldn’t shock me though to see them finish as the 7th best team in the Pac-12. The overall win-loss total though may reflect that due to a tough schedule. They have both Oklahoma State and Fresno State in the non-con and miss getting to play Stanford in Pac-12 play. Given that, it seems tough to find a realistic path to a bowl game but I expect the advanced stats to be more bullish on ASU than the standings.


Top-10 Players (with position rank and conference rank)

  1. WR Elijhah Badger, 88.9 (4th, 24th)
  2. QB Drew Pyne*, 82.4 (9th, 52nd)
  3. TE Jalin Conyers, 82.3 (2nd, 53rd)
  4. CB Isaiah Johnson, 80.1 (7th, 61st)
  5. OL Ben Coleman*, 79.3 (8th, 64th)
  6. LB Travion Brown*, 77.0 (3rd, 80th)
  7. CB Demetries Ford*, 73.4 (15th, 102nd)
  8. WR Jordyn Tyson*, 71.9 (25th, 119th)
  9. ED Clayton Smith*, 71.1 (15th, 126th)
  10. CB Jordan Clark, 70.2 (20th, 136th)

*Incoming transfer