Ranking ASU football’s position groups 1st to worst

Aug 31, 2022, 7:31 AM

Offensive lineman LaDarius Henderson #77 of the Arizona State Sun Devils reacts as he runs on to th...

Offensive lineman LaDarius Henderson #77 of the Arizona State Sun Devils reacts as he runs on to the field before the SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl against the Wisconsin Badgers at Allegiant Stadium on December 30, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Badgers defeated the Sun Devils 20-13. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)

(Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)

The 2022 Arizona State Sun Devil football team will look vastly different from a year ago with 43 new players on the roster.

While some position battles were settled in preseason fall camp, others will require game reps for the coaching staff to decide who will take advantage of the opportunity.

And then, of course, there’s the inevitable injury bug that no football team can escape and has unfortunately already bitten ASU.

With that said, here are all of ASU football’s position groups ranked first to worst:

1. Defensive line

The DL is undoubtedly the deepest and strongest part of Arizona State football in 2022. And that’s after the season-ending knee injury (torn ACL) to fifth-year senior DE and honorary captain Michael Matus.

Joe Moore and Travez Moore will be the main pass-rushers for the Sun Devils at defensive end. Sophomore B.J. Green, who led the team with 5.0 sacks as a true freshman last season, and Anthonie Cooper, who played the most snaps as a pass rusher last season (262), will also be heavily relied on.

Along the interior, Miami transfer Nesta Jade Silvera, Omarr Norman-Lott and Tautala Pesefea Jr., who played the third-most snaps at DT last year, will hold it down at the defensive tackle positions. DT Robby Harrison and DE Blazen Lono-Wong are a couple of true freshmen to look out for this season. New defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson has said that the DL will have to be the “catalyst” if ASU’s defense wants to repeat as best in the Pac-12 and 13th-best in the country in yards allowed per game from a year ago.

2. Running back

Just like last season, the Sun Devils’ offense will start with a one-two punch in the running game. Wyoming transfer Xazavian Valladay will be the primary ballcarrier while Daniyel Ngata — who thrived in his role as a third-stringer last year — will complement him. Both of the running backs also have the ability to catch the football out of the backfield, adding another dimension to ASU’s offense under new offensive coordinator Glenn Thomas.

3. Linebacker

This is perhaps ASU’s thinnest position from a depth standpoint following the departure of Eric Gentry, who transferred to USC. Yet, the Sun Devils’ linebacking group is top-heavy with two fifth-year senior captains in Kyle Soelle and Merlin Robertson, who have an immense amount of experience. The lack of depth, in addition to the athleticism required to cover the mostly spread college football offenses, will be why Arizona State runs a ton of nickel this season.

4. Tight end

Missouri transfer Messiah Swinson and redshirt sophomore Jalin Conyers will add another wrinkle in the passing game for Thomas and Co. With Swinson standing at a towering 6-foot-8 and 255 pounds, and Conyers at 6-foot-4, 265 pounds, both tight ends project as big red zone targets for a team with questions at receiver. Both Swinson and Conyers will of course be heavily utilized as blockers in the run game, which could open things up on play-action.

5. Quarterback

With Florida transfer Emory Jones winning the starting job despite being the only one of the team’s six QBs to not be in the spring ball, that might say more about the lack of depth in ASU’s quarterback room. Jones by far is the most athletic of the six, which will help alleviate the opposing teams’s pass rush. He also has the best arm and is the only one with starting experience, which came in the SEC. Backup QBs Trenton Bourguet and Paul Tyson have combined for a total of 28 passing attempts in their college careers at ASU and Alabama, respectively.

6. Offensive line

Arizona State lost its starting center (Dohnovan West) and left tackle (Kellen Diesch) to the pros in the offseason. But luckily for Sun Devil fans, the guy who played in between them, senior left guard LaDarius Henderson, is still on the team. He only allowed one sack and 10 QB pressures in pass protection last year, and a strong 2022 could put him on the NFL radar. ASU is extremely solid at both guards, with San Diego State transfer Chris Martinez playing opposite Henderson.

Tackle and center may be where the question marks lie, as last year’s right tackle Ben Scott is now at center, while true sophomore Isaia Glass (left tackle) and Penn State transfer Des Holmes (right tackle) will be on the outsides. Northern State transfer Emmit Bohle at tackle and Swiss Army Knife Iowa State transfer Joey Ramos at guard and tackle are two names to watch out for.

7. Defensive back

One could argue that the DBs room should be a little higher on this list. But given the departures in the offseason and now injuries to would-be starters Jordan Clark and Timarcus Davis for Week 1, it’s more of a question of who will step up of the 21 DBs on the roster. Ed Woods and 6-foot-3 Auburn transfer Ro Torrence will get their first starts in a Sun Devil uniform at cornerback against NAU, while D.J. Taylor will get a lot of time at nickel this year.

Samford transfer Chris Edmonds and Hawaii transfer Khoury Bethley will be the two safeties, with the latter having the most tackles of any returning player in the nation and the second-most defensive snaps of any returner in the country. Macen Williams and Kejuan Markham make up names to watch on the depth chart.

8. Wide receiver

Perhaps the biggest question mark for ASU in 2022 is who will be the team’s leading WR. After the mass exodus in the transfer portal, graduate student Bryan Thompson (13) and redshirt junior Andre Johnson (12) had the most receptions of any returning pass-catcher from last season.

Redshirt sophomore and 2020 four-star recruit Elijhah Badger, who only had seven receptions a year ago, will see his role increase tremendously. Senior Gio Sanders, Vanderbilt transfer Cam Johnson, Virginia Union transfer Charles Hall IV and Chad Johnson Jr., the son of former NFL wideout Chad Johnson, will also get their opportunities.

9. Kicker/punter

“If you have two of something, you don’t have any” is the ol’ saying in football. For now, Arizona State assistant head coach and special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said the team will “ride the hot hand” between kickers Jace Feely, the son of former Arizona Cardinals kicker Jay Feely, and true freshman Carter Brown.

True sophomore Eddie Czaplicki will continue punting duties as he did last season. Czaplicki will also serve as the team’s holder and kickoff kicker.

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Ranking ASU football’s position groups 1st to worst