Cory Williams: When looking at the Sun Devils going in 2013, there are several key position groups that will need a boost from a relative unknown. Two groups that really jump out are wide receiver and linebacker. My vote for surprise impact player in 2013 is Carlos Mendoza.
Mendoza, a true freshman in 2012, made an immediate impact, collecting 7 tackles, a forced fumble and two interceptions against Northern Arizona and Illinois. Unfortunately for ASU, the impact rookie suffered a serious shoulder injury against the Illini, and was lost for the season. Fortunately for the Devils, Mendoza applied for a medical redshirt and could be a redshirt freshman going into 2013.
His contributions came at a very important time in the season, when Brandon Magee was sidelined with a concussion and the team needed a confident WILL linebacker to shore up the middle of the defense. Now, with Magee headed to the professional ranks, the Sun Devils will look to #7 to fill a permanent position. However, Mendoza will need to add muscle to be an every down linebacker in the Pac-12; as he gets older and spends more time in the program, he can be expected to grow into the role.
Kerry Crowley: Cory, there's no doubt that Carlos Mendoza is going to be a guy to watch next season. The coaches really felt his injury limited the defensive depth and that the youngster was primed for a breakout year. I love the choice of Mendoza, and I'm going to keep my pick in the same position group.
My surprise impact player for 2013 is Grandville Taylor, an undersized linebacker who basically came out of nowhere to rack up eight tackles in the bowl game. Magee's absence will leave a huge void, and I believe it will take both Mendoza and Taylor to play at a high level to make up for the loss. Taylor has made his presence felt on special teams over the past few years, and now it's time for the coaching staff to give him a real look on defense.
At 6-0 and weighing in at 213 pounds, I think Taylor will put on at least 10 pounds in the weight room in the offseason and come back hungry. Aside from wide receiver and perhaps in the secondary, there is no better position to surprise folks at than linebacker in the 2013 campaign.
Cody Ulm: Mendoza would probably be my first pick as well so I'll just go the offensive route to change things up. How bout that Richard Smith fella? I know most ASU fans have forgotten all about him after he faded quickly following a hot start but for me, it's always been difficult overlook that 4.4 speed.
With Rashad Ross, Jamal Miles and possibly Chris Coyle moving to the pros, there's going to be plenty of targets to go around and I think Smith is the man to scoop them up. It might have been a bit of an overreaction but I was really impressed with Smith's and Taylor Kelly's chemistry after the season opener.
I think with another offseason under his belt, Smith could really be the big play guy for this offense if he packs on a couple more pounds to stay healthy. He'll probably get his fair crack at the kick return job too and I wouldn't be surprised if he picks up right where Miles left off.
Ryan Bafaloukos: Really like both of those choices, Kerry and Cody. There is no doubt someone new will have to step up on offense and Richard Smith is a solid choice. I will go on defense and I will go someone that is not even on the team yet. Chans Cox.
The freshman will enroll early and be a part of spring practice in 2013, and I believe Cox will compete for playing time in 2013. Cox is the type of player that Todd Graham loves, very smart and active. He already has good size for the LB position (6'2 225), and I think he has the physical and mental tools to get on the field in 2013.
Tyler Nickel: While all of these choices are very good ones, I am looking for current sophomore cornerback Rashad Wadood to have a bigger role next season. Deveron Carr is graduating and someone needs to fill his spot. Wadood could be that guy.
Nelson and Irabor will likely be the starters, but I think Wadood could slide into that nickel role. He missed last season with a torn labrum, so I think he will come back with a vengeance in 2013.
Brad Denny: The Sun Devil offense was surprisingly effective in 2012, with several ventures into "very good" territory. However, despite the excellent performances of Marion Grice, DJ Foster and Chris Coyle in the passing game, the offense really suffered from the lack of a consistent threat at wide receiver. Sure, Rashad Ross, Kevin Ozier had some moments, but by and large, the position was the reason that the offense wasn't able to become a top unit.
One player I expect to help in that area is Alonzo Agwuenu. The highly productive juco player saw some limited action during this season, catching 11 passes for 115 yards and hauled in an impressive touchdown in the bowl. With the loss of Ross and Jamal Miles, Agwuenu has the chance to grab a starting role on the outside, and has the tools to succeed. He has a great frame at 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, with sure hands. With his size, he can be a jump ball threat in the redzone, and he has enough speed to be a factor downfield.
Taylor Kelly will need some more weapons to continue his development, and Agwuenu could be that guy.