Losing your entire starting lineup and the top reserve from a single position hurts. There's no two ways about it. Even with talented players behind them, and a star coming back from injury to help fill the ranks, such losses justly raise concerns about the the future performance of the group.
Such is the case for the 2012 Arizona State linebacking corps. With Vontaze Burfict, Shelly Lyons, Colin Parker and Oliver Aaron gone, the void is too much for the returning Brandon Magee to handle on his own.
Thankfully, Todd Graham was able to secure a big time player in the 2012 recruiting class that figures to make an immediate impact.
On National Letter of Intent Day back on February 1st, we placed Steffon Martin No. 1 on our "Top 5 Immediate Impact Players" list of the incoming class, and for good reason. It was the perfect intersection of team need and talent coming together.
Thanks to a strong late push, Graham was able to flip the one-time Purdue commit away from his native Indiana Hoosiers, and Sun Devils are hoping to have a large and quick return on investment.
Martin spent his first two seasons at Arizona Western College, and is coming off a sensational sophomore campaign. He racked up 108 tackles, including 17 for loss, notched eight sacks and intercepted two passes in earning first-team All-ACCAC honors.
Beyond the production, it is Martin's skillset that have the expectations around him continuing to climb. He has terrific size at 6'2", 230 pounds, and blends that frame with great speed, posting a 4.54 40-time. Martin's ability to cover a vast amount of field space and close quickly to deliver crushing hits is a perfect fit in the Sun Devils new attacking scheme. His versatility to man an inside linebacker spot and bring pressure off edge should make Martin a dangerous weapon for defensive coordinator Paul Randolph.
Looking at the linebacking group heading into fall camp, ASU will need to count on Martin to become that instant contributor his talent suggests.
Even with his pedigree, Magee is coming back from an Achilles injury that sidelined him for all of last season and most of spring practice, and there are questions as to when he can return to 100-percent. Kipeli Koniseti and Grandville Taylor had very good springs, but neither has seen any meaningful action in a game during their careers. Brandon Johnson and Anthony Jones are similarly untested. Three high school linebackers--Matt Rowe, Carlos Mendoze and Salamo Fiso--are joining the program this summer, but a team can't count on production from true freshmen.
That places a burden on Martin to step in and become a contributor from Day 1. If he can team with Magee and form the potent 1-2 duo, the Sun Devil defense could become the aggressive force many expect sooner rather than later.
If not...well...remember last November? Yeah, it could be like that.
See Martin in action here:
Photo courtesy of Arizona Western College Athletics
Previous Most Important Player Entries:
11) NT Mike Pennel
12) DT Will Sutton