Wow, that was fun.
The first National Signing Day for the Arizona State Sun Devils under head coach Todd Graham is in the books. The job that Graham and his staff have done in the seven weeks since they came on board is nothing short of remarkable.
Inheriting a program in utter disarray and with the ramifications of the coaching search fiasco lingering, they have managed to build a solid class in just 50 days, keeping the key pieces in place from Dennis Erickson's commits and adding their own players into the mix.
Despite missing out on two top recruiting targets--wide receiver Darreus Rogers and cornerback Randall Goforth--there are 23 new Sun Devils in the class of 2012, providing a nice mix of top prospects, depth guys and long-term developmental projects.
Here now are my top five incoming players who will make an impact this season.
1) Steffon Martin - Middle Linebacker
The biggest on-field change for the Sun Devils in 2012 will be on defense. The old 4-3 base defense run by former coordinator Craig Bray is out, replaced by an aggressive and attacking 3-3-5/3-4 scheme. One of the challenges for ASU in moving to a scheme so dependent on athletic linebackers is that their top four at the position from last season--Vontaze Burfict, Shelly Lyons, Colin Parker and Oliver Aaron--are all gone. Brandon Magee comes back from injury, but beyond that there are serious questions.
At 6'2" and 240 pounds with 4.5 speed, he is exactly the kind of sideline-to-sideline ballhawk that flourishes in a 3-4 set. This past season at Arizona Western junior college, he made 108 tackles, registered eight sacks and intercepted two passes. Expect him to challenge for a starting job early in spring camp.
2) Chris Young - Strong Safety/Outside Linebacker
Another key contributor from that same Arizona Western team is Chris Young. Even with Martin making so many plays, Young actually was named Western States Football League and Arizona Community College Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year. With 111 tackles, nine sacks, two interceptions and six (yes, six) defensive touchdowns, it's easy to see why.
At 6'2", 220 pounds with 4.5 speed, Young began his juco career at safety before moving to outside linebacker. It's that versatility and playmaking ability that should put him in the starting lineup. He's the perfect hybrid type defender and could put up some good numbers in a rover role in ASU's secondary.
3) Evan Goodman - Offensive Tackle
ASU's offensive line was subpar in 2011, and it could struggle more in 2012 with three starters departing.
That bodes well for playing time for Evan Goodman, the No. 16 offensive tackle prospect in the nation.
At 6'4" and 290 pounds, Goodman has good size, and his tenacity and power off the ball have drawn high praise, with Graham calling Goodman "explosive". He needs some work on his fundamentals, but new offensive line coach Bob Connelly has a gem in Goodman that should see action early and often.
4) Mike Pennel - Defensive Tackle
As part of ASU's defensive makeover, the transition from a four to a three-man front requires different types of linemen. At the forefront of any good three-man defensive line is a beastly and stalwart nose tackle, and ASU secured theirs from Scottsdale Community College.
Pennel is a 6'5", 340-pound monster who brings an athletic presence to the middle. In 2011, he made 37 tackles, including 13 for loss, and showed off a talent for wreaking havoc at the point of attack and making plays in the opponent's backfield.
ASU's current roster doesn't have any players as well suited for a nose tackle role as Pennel, and both high school prospects brought in in this class--Jaxon Hood and Milo Jordan--need developmental time before becoming major contributors.
5) D.J. Foster - Running Back
The highest profile signing in this year's class was four-star star running back D.J. Foster from Scottsdale Saguaro High School. The impact of his signing carries with it major implications for ASU's future ability to recruit locally, but in 2012, Foster should see the field in meaningful ways.
A 6'0", 185-pounder with tremendous speed and agility, Foster is a gamebreaker in both the running and passing games. One convenient benefit is that ASU's new offense under Mike Norvell is virtually identical to the one Foster played in at Saguaro.
Given his versatility and skills, Foster's impact in 2012 could mirror that of another dynamic freshman running back--Deantre Lewis in 2010. That year, Lewis was an explosive threat who had 10 plays of over 20 yards from scrimmage and had 100-yard rushing and receiving games. Much to the chagrin of opposing Pac-12 defensive coordinators, those two players now share a backfield.
Others to watch:
Alonzo Agwuenu - Wide Receiver
A 6'4", 210-pound junior college wide receiver, Agwuenu should fill the role of the tall receiving target that Gerell Robinson and Mike Willie held during that past two years. Given ASU's need at wide receiver, he should be in line to start and help out the new starting quarterback as a downfield threat.
Marion Grice - Running Back
ASU will be starting a new quarterback for the fifth straight year, but with a backfield this loaded, his job will be made much easier. On top of top tailback Cameron Marshall, Foster and Lewis, Grice comes in as a four-star prospect and the top ranked juco running back. At 6'0", 210 pounds, he has prototypical tailback size and should see meaningful carries spelling Marshall.
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