ASU wide receivers hoping for bigger impact in 2022

Mar 29, 2022, 8:45 PM
Arizona State wide receiver Ricky Pearsall (19) avoids a tackle by Wisconsin cornerback Dean Engram...

Arizona State wide receiver Ricky Pearsall (19) avoids a tackle by Wisconsin cornerback Dean Engram (6) during the second half of the Las Vegas Bowl NCAA college football game Thursday, Dec. 30, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/L.E. Baskow)

(AP Photo/L.E. Baskow)

In 2018, the Arizona State wide receiver room featured N’Keal Harry, Brandon Aiyuk and Frank Darby.

All were drafted into the NFL, with Harry in 2019 and Aiyuk in 2020 selected in the first round.

After the 2021 season, the next big name at the position is still a mystery and is an area in need of serious improvement.

Leading the way for the Sun Devils receiving core is Ricky Pearsall. Last year, he recorded 48 receptions for 580 yards and four touchdowns, all best among ASU receivers.

Returning for his third season, Pearsall will likely hold a starting position entering 2022, building on his leadership role and aiming to increase his production.

“Ricky can definitely handle the volume,” wide receivers coach Bobby Wade told reporters on Monday. “Ricky is still climbing and I think he’s far from his peak. A lot of it has to do with his mentality each week and how he prepares … We’ll rely on him to make a lot of plays.”

Aside from Pearsall, there is a young group of players still looking to make an impact. After overseeing the wide receivers as an interim coach in 2021, Wade and the coaching staff have goals and a plan set to improve the group in 2022.

“We’ve got to find a way to really focus when we’re on the field and lining up is the most important thing,” Wade said. “Procedural penalties are things we’ve got to eliminate … Continuing to focus and study … The more we rep it, the better they’ll get at it and they’ll find their niche within it.”

Out of the returning players, Elijhah Badger is one receiver that has caught the eyes of his teammates and coaches this spring.

“Elijhah is one of the superior, athletic kids on the team,” Wade said. “I have some high expectations of him and I am definitely going to push him to reach those. I think he has a lot of talent within himself but we’ve got to find a way of getting it out of him.”

During his first season with ASU, Badger played in seven games, catching seven passes for 61 yards. He also ran for two touchdowns on the year.

The small sample size showed glimpses of Badger’s talent and he is being challenged to live up to his potential in the spring.

“He does a great job of finding ways to separate. His ball skills are superior to the fact that he has a big catch radius,” Wade said. “He’s figuring out the professional part of it, studying, spending the extra time on the things that are important. It is starting to translate onto the field.”

Anticipation is also high for Chad Johnson Jr., who has not played a snap for the Sun Devils yet, but is ‘ready’ in the eyes of Wade.

The Badger-Johnson combination could be the future of the ASU receiver core over the next few seasons and once the regular season begins in August, the two will have the chance to showcase their skills.

“They’ve all been waiting for their opportunity to come around and this spring has demonstrated their abilities well,” Wade said. “They can make big plays and be productive down the field … I expect them both to be very good for us this year.”

In order for the wide receivers to play at a high level, they’ll also need an answer at the quarterback position.

The competition is still in full swing and there is still no answer for the new starting quarterback will be. For Wade, he wants the receivers to know the new signal caller is should not affect their preparation.

“We focus on our room. I never let the receivers get into thinking about who is taking snaps at quarterback,” Wade said. “For us, it’s about being diligent and taking care of our details and handling our responsibilities. Whether you’re playing with the starter or a guy who just walked in, we still need to make ourselves available to the quarterback.”

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