2012 Breakout Candidate: WR Rashad Ross

Rashad Ross returns the second half's opening kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown against Boise State (Photo: ASU)

In 2011, quarterback Brock Osweiler set numerous school passing records, including yards, completion and attempts. With a new run-first offense, a new starting quarterback and a ridiculously talented stable of running backs, the keepers of the Sun Devil record book will not have to worry about altering those marks any time soon.

Even with the emphasis on the ground, the Sun Devil offense will need viable aerial threats to maintain the necessary balance. The departures of Gerell Robinson, Aaron Pflugrad, Mike Willie and George Bell takes away 66% of ASU's receiving yardage total from a season ago.

While filling that hole poses a serious challenge for the team, it also presents a tremendous opportunity for the large group of unproven wide receivers currently on the roster.

If his late-season surge is any indication, Rashad Ross is one player who is primed to take the next step this fall.

Joining the Devils after two seasons at Butte College, the lightning-fast Ross initially saw time as a defensive back before moving to wide receiver. He saw little time early in the season at wide receiver, making just two receptions for 13 yards over the first six games. Ross did see some productive time as a secondary returner to Jamal Miles, returning five kickoffs for an excellent 28.6-yard average and took three punts back 29 yards.

With an unremarkable first half behind him, Ross' fortunes began to slowly change over the season's final six games.

Against Oregon, Ross made three catches for 22 yards, and would register a reception in every game the rest of the year. However, his receptions still resulted in only short gains, with his yards-per-catch average only 8.3 yards in ASU's three games after the bye week. For a player of his speed, that playcalling was a serious misallocation of receiver resources.

Ross and his speed finally broke out during the Duel in the Desert against Arizona. His first two receptions of the game went for 30 and 20 yards, and he finished the game with four grabs for 77 yards.

That performance earned him additional looks in ASU's regular season finale against Cal. Ross showed his explosive speed as a downfield target, hauling in a 37-yard reception in the first quarter. Later, with under a minute left in the first half and the Devils facing a fourth and 10 at the Cal 35, Ross beat his man along the right sideline on a fly pattern, making a nice mid-air adjustment to the Osweiler pass and getting both feet inbounds to score his first career touchdown [See the play here]. Ross finished with a career-high and team-leading totals of five receptions for 108 yards in the 47-38 loss.

In the Maaco Bowl against Boise State, Ross would only make a single reception for nine yards, but he did score again, this time with a 98-yard kickoff return score. The play was a prime example of the type of game-breaking speed that Ross possesses, as he broke through the initial line and then simple outran everyone else on the field.

Ross' speed is not confined to the football field. He is currently the in the Top 25 in the 200-meters and recently posted a run of 21.15 seconds, sixth best in school history.

New offensive coordinator Mike Norvell said in a recent interview with DevilsDigest.com that he wants the offense to "run the ball well and get safeties to commit to being closer to the box, so you will get one-on-one matchups outside". That opens the door for a player like Ross, whose 6'0" height and 4.37 speed can create nightmares for opposing secondaries.

Yet there remains a lot of work to be done for Ross to take that next step. Adjusting to a new starting quarterback and learning a new offensive system will each take time. He must also work on ball security and refine his route running to become a high-level contributor in 2012.

But with his talent and speed, it's easy to think that Ross will be racing towards a prominent role this season.

Follow me on Twitter @BDenny29 for the latest on ASU football

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