This is the second part of our postseason series wrapping up the ASU football season. We will be handing out awards and evaluating each position group n the coming weeks.
Since Todd Graham left Pittsburgh and took over the Arizona State head coaching job, his aggressive defense has been a staple of conversation when looking at the Sun Devils.
A defense that had led the nation in takeaways came into 2015 hungry for more, but rather met its toughest season to date under Graham in allowing more plays of 40+ yards than any other school in the country.
Despite its big-play struggles, ASU's defense was not without its stars putting up strong performances over the course of the 2015 campaign and while there are a number of players we could've given this distinction to, it was the leadership and production of one player that warranted our pick as Defensive Player of the Year.
Defensive Player of the Year: Antonio Longino, LB-No. 32 (Redshirt Senior)
ASU's thrilling 36-31 win over Duke in the 2014 Sun Bowl had many stars that were instrumental in the Sun Devils' win. Senior quarterback Taylor Kelly's efficient performance in his last game as a Sun Devil drew attention, Kalen Ballage's 96-yard kickoff return that set up the winning score offered a glimpse at the true freshman's future potential and Kweishi Brown's end zone INT to seal the game wrapped a bow around ASU's second consecutive 10-win season.
Those individual performances somewhat overshadowed the monster game that Antonio Longino had, as the redshirt junior racked up an incredible 17 tackles against the Blue Devils. The show that Longino put on surprised many that had watched the linebacker over his first two seasons in Tempe, but it only set the tone for Longino to break through to the national stage in 2015.
This season may not have been Longino's best year tackles-wise, but it was how important those tackles were that makes him our selection for Defensive POY. Longino led the team with 10 sacks on the year, 3.5 more than the next closest Sun Devil.
Of his 60 total tackles on the year, 19.5 of them were for loss, putting him up there one TFL behind Clemson linebacker Shaq Lawson for the top mark in the country.
Not even set as the starter at Devilbacker in spring practice, Longino evolved into a reliable, every-down player for ASU on the field as well as one of its top leaders off of it. earning praise from Todd Graham for the help he's given his backup Ismael Murphy-Richardson.
Longino's senior season was put into jeopardy after a hamstring injury nearly kept him out of the Washington game, but he came back stronger than ever and put together his two finest performances of the year in the ensuing weeks.
Against the Huskies, Longino ravaged the Washington attack to the tune of two sacks and two more tackles for loss, earning the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week Award in the process. He nabbed the award again for the statline he put up against Arizona in the Territorial Cup, breaking through the Wildcat line for four sacks on the day.
With only the bowl game left in his collegiate career, Longino has an opportunity to improve on his professional stock and maybe assert himself as a strict outside linebacker for the sake of the NFL. While he wasn't asked to do much in terms of coverage at ASU, a skill he'll need to hone as he makes the leap to the pros, his proven ability as a pass-rusher will boost him in the draft similar to that of which Marcus Hardison experienced after his stellar senior campaign.
Longino might have been slighted by the Pac-12 when he wasn't named to the All-Pac-12 team Tuesday, but his final season in Tempe doesn't go unnoticed by House of Sparky.
Jordan Simone, DB No. 38 (Redshirt Senior): Simone was only able to participate in the first ten games of his senior season before a knee injury sidelined him for the remainder of the year, and ASU's pass defense was consistently atrocious in 2015.
But you can't put all that on Simone, as the senior safety still sits atop the Sun Devils defensive leaders with 71 solo tackles, placing him second in the nation in that category. Simone also provided a consistent presence at the line of scrimmage for ASU, blitzing often to the tune of four sacks on the year to go along with a pair of interceptions.
He likely won't be playing on Sundays, but Simone's career in Tempe is one to be remembered. A pure heart guy that worked his way from long-shot walk-on to one of Todd Graham's captains.
Salamo Fiso, LB No. 58 (Redshirt Junior): Fiso was the closest to snatching away the DPOY distinction away from Longino, as he nearly matched him TFL-wise with 18 on the year along with an impressive 68 solo tackles. Fiso was ASU's top run-stuffer in 2015 and he'll come into 2016 with the eyes of NFL scouts glued to the tackling machine.
Christian Sam, LB No. 2 (Sophomore): Even though they missed the All-Pac-12 teams, Fiso, Simone and Longino all earned more recognition from the conference for their 2015 seasons than Sam. However, Sam may have put together the most surprising year, bursting on the scene en route to 91 total tackles in 2015, tied for tops on the team with Simone.
On a defense that struggled to produce turnovers Sam was a wrecking ball, forcing a pair of fumbles on the year and an interception of Washington's Jake Browning in ASU's win over the Huskies. A true junior in 2016, Sam is one of the brightest prospects this defense has to offer.