ASU Football: Top five recruits who need to make an impact this fall

Christian Petersen

After the Sun Devils sorted out their depth at spring practice, they are hoping these five players can step in and make their presence felt immediately.

Over the past two days, we have examined the most intriguing position battles heading into fall camp at Arizona State. The Sun Devils are far from set on the defensive side of the ball, and there's still a few opportunities for players to seize more repetitions on offense, too.

In spring practices, plenty of different players stepped up and took charge of their positions like Jordan Simone at Bandit safety and Marcus Hardison at defensive end, but many units are still looking for playmakers to join the fold.

Todd Graham signed one of the best recruiting classes in program history this spring, and now it's up to the coaching staff to make sure that the recruits live up to their potential and provide the reinforcements Arizona State needs to maintain the level of success it achieved in 2013.

With the team's depth in mind, we have produced a list of the five newcomers that the Sun Devils need to transition quickly and start making an impact this fall. This list does not factor in star-ratings or recruiting rankings, but rather how important each recruit is to the Sun Devils' scheme and what they are trying to accomplish this fall.

No. 1: Darrius Caldwell, Devilbacker

After spring practices came to a close, the Sun Devils had a strong gage of where each position's depth stood. While some positions need help, like the boundary corner spot, others like the Bandit safety position have a handful of capable players who will compete for time.

The one position that the coaching staff is most worried about heading into the fall is Devilbacker. Manned by Carl Bradford during the past two seasons, the Sun Devil defense was able to expose weak offensive lines with Bradford's menacing presence off the edge. Perhaps the most remarkable part of Bradford's game was his motor, as Graham said he had never seen someone take 100 percent of the reps at that position like Bradford did.

During the spring, Graham admitted he's not looking for someone to take every rep this fall, but he is hoping that someone will take charge of the position. So far, neither Chans Cox nor Viliami Latu seem to have a stranglehold on the spot, and both are struggling to master the challenges of the position.

Caldwell's emergence is critical for Arizona State because he can provide instant relief. At 6-foot-6 and 235 pounds, Caldwell was a highly sought after recruit who wasn't on the Sun Devils' radar until the end of the recruiting cycle. Once they locked up his commitment, the Sun Devils realized he could be a great fit at Devilbacker, and if he pans out, he could see a considerable amount of playing time this fall.

No one said it would be easy to replace Bradford, but Caldwell could make the task at least a little more manageable.

No. 2: Dalvon Stuckey, Defensive Tackle

Another position of need, and another junior college transfer the Sun Devils are hoping can step right in. Stuckey was a massive pickup for the Sun Devils on Signing Day because he represents the transition player between Will Sutton and the defensive tackles of the future.

The Pearl River Community College transfer was a teammate of Caldwell's last season, and the pair made their official visits to Arizona State together. Stuckey was one of the most highly regarded junior college players in the country, and his transition to the Division I level will be critical this fall.

If Stuckey can perform immediately, his presence gives the Sun Devils a variety of options on the defensive line. Mo Latu can focus on being a situational performer, and the pressure on Jaxon Hood will ease with offensive lines focused on stopping Stuckey. Furthermore, it allows Arizona State to keep Marcus Hardison at end, and devote the necessary time to grooming freshmen Connor Humphreys and Tashon Smallwood.

With Stuckey, the Sun Devils are hoping to avoid the difficulties they encountered with Hardison at the beginning of last season. Hardison was lauded as a top recruit, but he took a considerable amount of time gaining a feel for the way the Sun Devils' daily regimen. If that happens with Stuckey, it could be a tough year for the defensive front.

No. 3: Eric Lauderdale, Wide Receiver

It shouldn't be a surprise anymore. When the Sun Devils have a need to address, they almost always turn to the junior college level to see if they can scoop up a Division 1-ready talent right away.

Last year, Arizona State was the beneficiary of transfer Jaelen Strong, who became one of the Pac-12's best threats in a conference full of great receivers. This season, Strong will need a complement, and Lauderdale figures to be that guy.

Lauderdale stands 6-foot-2 and weighs just south of 200 pounds, and his Hudl film reveals an excellent burst of speed that the Sun Devils can take advantage of in the short-to-intermediate passing game. Strong proved he can be a deep threat, and with D.J. Foster moving to the backfield, the Sun Devils need someone to man the underneath routes.

Lauderdale turned down reported offers from Florida and Oregon to come to Tempe, and it's the possibility of playing a major role in a high-octane attack that makes his arrival so anticipated.

No. 4: Kweishi Brown, Cornerback

If you're hoping to see the freshmen who can develop into stars of the future, then you're looking at the wrong list. If you want to see which newcomers will get the first chance at playing time next fall, then you've come to the right place.

We chronicled Brown's potential impact in Wednesday's position battles piece, and it's important to recognize what he brings to the table. In losing Osahon Irabor, the Sun Devils are graduating a mainstay of the defense who contributed in each of the four seasons he saw playing time, and that usually makes for a more difficult transition.

Brown can help bridge the gap between Irabor and a player like Chad Adams (who still could hit the field early as a freshman) with a physical style of play at the boundary corner spot. Aside from Lloyd Carrington, Arizona State's corners were largely underwhelming this spring and it took until the final week of spring practice for Solomon Means to emerge as a potential difference-maker.

With Rashad Wadood and Means unable to take ownership of the boundary corner spot this spring, the pair left the door open for Brown to earn playing time. The Grossmont College transfer didn't take the most natural road to Division I football, but he does bring a tenacity to the position that fits the Sun Devils' scheme well.

Brown could turn into a key piece in the Sun Devils' run defense, much like Irabor was last season, if Arizona State feels he's ready to take on the responsibilities early in the year.

No. 5: De'Chavon "Gump" Hayes

Five impact recruits, five junior college transfers. So it goes at Arizona State, where the Sun Devils rely heavily on experienced reinforcements to become critical pieces right away.

In signing Gump Hayes, the Sun Devils added a sparkplug who can turn the tide of a game with one touch of the football. If you don't believe us, watch Hayes' Hudl film, and try to tell us you don't think he has "dangerous return specialist" written all over him.

Hayes has the potential to be a special player if the Sun Devils get him the ball in space, and it will be interesting to see how offensive coordinator Mike Norvell uses him in the early going. Hayes can play running back, slot receiver, and returner, and it wouldn't come as a surprise if he filled all of those roles in the first few weeks of the season.

Arizona State has plenty of offensive weapons, but Hayes' style feels different. The 5-foot-11 back gives the Sun Devils a unique element on offense, and his success could make the unit unstoppable at times this fall.

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