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ASU Football Season Positional Grades: Defensive Line

The defensive line played a key role in how the entire defensive unit performed in 2015.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Sun Devils were forced to find a replacement for Marcus Hardison's major contribution on the defensive line in 2015.

The unit performed well throughout the season, and demonstrated potential of what's to come when considering the young, talented pieces they have along their defensive front.

Tashon Smallwood, DL: B+

Smallwood followed up an impressive freshman campaign with a very good sophomore season.

The 6-foot-1, 280-pound defensive lineman manned ASU's "Tiger" position in their base defense, often lined up in the B-gap between the offensive guard and tackle.

Smallwood's strength was against the run, often plugging interior rush lanes with his size and strength. He even ended up tallying 8.5 tackles for loss on the year.

His pass rushing ability still needs to improve. Smallwood lacks the consistent initial burst to enable him to push the pocket back on a regular basis, but he can be disruptive at times. He tied his sack total from 2014 with two during the regular season.

Overall, Smallwood had a strong year, racking up 42 total tackles. He entered the year drawing comparisons to former standout defensive tackle Will Sutton, and in the way he routinely forced opposing offenses to be wary of running the ball towards him, his impact was similar to that of Sutton. We'll see what 2016 brings.

JoJo Wicker, DE: B+

The true freshman out of Long Beach Poly High School impressed during his first season in Tempe.

Through the first four games of the season, Wicker managed nine tackles, including two sacks. He was a consistent threat to get after the passer when lined up at defensive end, displaying the athleticism Todd Graham has been known to utilize in recent seasons to collapse the pocket off the edge.

The freshman's statistic production declined quite noticeably over the second half of the season, however he still managed to come away with 18 tackles, including four sacks (led all defensive linemen), 6.5 tackles for loss, two quarterback hits (led all defensive linemen) and two forced fumbles (tied-first on team).

Viliami Latu, NT: B

The big junior was solid in both causing disruption in the passing game and plugging lanes in the running game from the nose tackle spot this season.

Latu finished the year with 14 total tackles, with seven of them in the backfield, along with 3.5 sacks, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a safety.

Demetrius Cherry, DL: C

Cherry filled in more of a complimentary role as a rotational player at nose tackle.

He registered 17 total tackles, with 2.5 for loss and half a sack. He was also disruptive in defending the passing game, breaking up two passes and defending two more.

Overall Grade -- B

This group has potential, especially when you consider the tandem of Wicker and Smallwood, whose strengths compliment one another.

Still, stats won't always tell the full story with what this unit contributes to the defense, as they are often used simply to open up rushing lanes for linebackers and secondary players to make plays on ball-carriers or in rushing the passer.

The defensive line was a key reason the Sun Devils defense ended up being the team's strength during the year, and when looking at the depth already there, and being added, this group should once again be stout in 2016.