ARIZONA STATE FOOTBALL

ESPN’s Lombardi ranks ASU football’s offensive trio fifth in Pac-12

Apr 9, 2017, 12:40 PM
Arizona State's Kalen Ballage (7) celebrates a touchdown against Texas Tech with Sam Jones, right, ...

Arizona State's Kalen Ballage (7) celebrates a touchdown against Texas Tech with Sam Jones, right, during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Arizona State’s trio of quarterback, running back and wide receiver seems to have caught some eyes at ESPN, as they cracked the top five in the ranking of Pac-12 offensive triplets.

ESPN’s David Lombardi took the top men at all three skill positions for each team in the conference and ranked them against each other. He also made allowances for teams where the starting quarterback position is not set. ASU’s trio ended up fifth overall with Blake Barnett or Manny Wilkins, Kalen Ballage and N’Keal Harry.

Lombardi discussed the case for both quarterbacks.

Wilkins is the incumbent starter, but Barnett is a former five-star recruit who transferred from Alabama. New ASU offensive coordinator Billy Napier is the Crimson Tide’s former wide receivers coach, so he’s more familiar with Barnett — who started Alabama’s 2016 opener — than anyone on the Sun Devils’ roster. Regardless, Arizona State likes both of its options here. Wilkins brings better scrambling ability to the table — he rushed for 246 yards and five touchdowns even after sacks were counted last season — while Barnett may be more suited for a pro-style offense. Napier has gravitated toward heavier sets in the past, and he’ll likely mix that influence into the Sun Devils’ scheme.

The Sun Devils are overflowing with quarterback options this spring. On top of the aforementioned two, Ryan Kelley, Dillon Sterling-Cole, Brady White and Bryce Perkins are all on the Devils’ roster. Perkins missed all of last season with a broken neck, while Sterling-Cole and White saw playing time due to injuries.

ASU also has options at the top of the running back position, with two seniors lining up.

Between Demario Richard and Ballage, ASU will have a pair of capable seniors in the backfield. The two split carries and combined for more than 1,100 rushing yards in 2016, but Ballage was the one who grabbed headlines with his uncanny nose for the end zone. Ballage scored an NCAA single-game record eight touchdowns in the Sun Devils’ early win over Texas Tech — and he then invited his offensive linemen to the podium. Among Pac-12 players in 2016, only Colorado’s Phillip Lindsay found the end zone on running plays more often than Ballage, who rushed for 14 scores on the season.

The wideout position does not have quite as much depth. Harry. a sophomore, is clearly at the top of the pecking order and will be ASU’s biggest weapon in the air.

During his true freshman campaign in 2016, Harry showed why he was one of the nation’s most coveted targets on the recruiting trail. The 6-foot-4 receiver hauled in a team-best 58 passes for five scores. He also made the Utah defense look like a collection of falling dominoes when he turned a botched play into a wild 31-yard score. Harry has the full package for a receiver: size, hands and electric movement in space.

Lombardi said that this group of players, “should be able to go toe-to-toe with any of its Pac-12 counterparts.” They’ll have a chance to live up to the praise when the Devils take the field in the fall.

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ESPN’s Lombardi ranks ASU football’s offensive trio fifth in Pac-12