Bringing in a head coach that hasn’t worked in the college level since 1989 sounds like a gamble, but Arizona State is doing it.
Herm Edwards was introduced as ASU’s football coach in December after the firing of Todd Graham. The move was followed by support for a new beginning, and mockery as Edwards hasn’t coached in nearly 10 years. Along with Edwards, the Sun Devils introduced Rob Likens as offensive coordinator and Danny Gonzales as defensive coordinator.
Though the Sun Devils only lost three players to the NFL after this year’s draft, a coaching overhaul will have an immense impact on the result of this season.
The team has lost RB Kalen Ballage, OL Sam Jones, and LB Christian Sam to the NFL after this year’s draft but still maintain QB Manny Wilkins and WR N’Keal Harry who should both be key to a winning season.
The Sun Devils are coming off a 7-6 season, with a loss in the Hyundai Sun Bowl to NC State. ASU is set to play five teams that are ranked in the AP Top 25 poll, including a non-conference game against Michigan State.
Seeing how Edwards and the new coaching staff will debut is essentially one of the biggest stakeholders for the success of the 2018 season, but playing with familiar faces on the field should help.
Here’s a list of six Arizona State Sun Devils draft prospects we’re going to be following closely this season.
Manny Wilkins – Quarterback (RS Senior)
Height: 6’3” Weight: 200 lbs
Wilkins is one of the most prominent quarterback prospects to come to ASU and earned the position of starting quarterback when he was a redshirt sophomore in 2016. He brings athleticism, a lot of knowledge of the offense, and a key on-field relationship with WR N’Keal Harry.
Last season, Wilkins completed 260-of-410 passes for 3,270 yards and 20 touchdowns. He finished the season with a 142.6 QB rating and started all 13 games for ASU. Looking at the numbers, many argue back and forth that Wilkins isn’t entirely consistent on the field but still manages to show up when needed.
According to Pro Football Focus, he posted a 72.4 adjusted completion percentage, fourth among returning PAC-12 quarterbacks and 34th nationally last season. His leadership and playmaking on the field will be crucial to the success of the Sun Devils this season.
N’Keal Harry – Wide Receiver (Junior)
Height: 6’4” Weight: 213 lbs
The most explosive player on the ASU roster, Harry is the most important player to keep an eye on this season. In July, He was named to the Biletnikoff Award Watch List and the Maxwell Award Watch List.
As a sophomore, Harry was named to the All-Pac-12 First Team after leading the Pac-12 with 87 receiving yards per game, finishing with 1,142 yards on the season with eight touchdowns, and leading the team in all categories. According to Pro Football Focus, he averaged a 107.0 QB rating when he was targeted, over 16 points higher than the NCAA average.
Harry and Wilkins on the field together are electrifying and has led the Sun Devils to numerous wins throughout the last two seasons. If Harry can stay healthy and have an even better season than last, he should finish out this year as one of the best wide receivers in college football.
Chase Lucas – Defensive Back (RS Sophomore)
Height: 6’0” Weight: 175 lbs
Lucas took the field as a Sun Devil for the first time last season and didn’t disappoint. He was named a freshman first-team all-American by the FWAA and second-team by USA Today. He earned Pac-12 Second Team honors at defensive back, though he never played a snap as a D1 cornerback prior to this season.
During the regular season, he allowed 40 catches while being targeted 78 times. He ended the season with a 51.2 completion percentage allowed and hauled in two interceptions. Lucas led the Sun Devil secondary with two interceptions and eight pass breakups.
The Arizona native has immense versatility as he’s played both sides of the ball while in high school and has the ability to play cornerback and safety for the Sun Devils in the upcoming seasons.
Koron Crump – Linebacker (RS Senior)
Height: 6’3” Weight: 215 lbs
Crump is a JUCO product from Fort Scott Community College in Fort Scott, Kansas. He mostly played defensive end before transferring to ASU.
In his first season with the Sun Devils, he recorded 37 tackles, nine sacks, and three forced fumbles. His nine sacks in 2016 are the third-highest sack total in the last six seasons of ASU football. He finished second on the team in tackles.
Last season, Crump had four sacks through two games before suffering a torn ACL in week three at Texas Tech. Without a doubt, he will be looking for a great comeback season. If he can bounce back from his injury and remain healthy, Crump could be a key piece to the Sun Devil defense.
Jay Jay Wilson – Linebacker (Senior)
Height: 6’3” Weight: 243 lbs
Last season, Wilson was moved from tight end to linebacker following Crump’s ACL injury. He recorded his first interception for a touchdown in his first career start at linebacker against Utah. He ended the season with two sacks and had a team-high 12 tackles against NC State in the Sun Bowl.
Wilson showed up when needed last season and has recorded better numbers playing on the defensive side of the ball as compared to the offensive side. With losing Christian Sam and JoJo Wicker, Wilson could be a great addition to the Sun Devil defense under their new defensive coordinator.
Having Wilson and Crump return, and remain healthy, could give ASU a defense that it will need in order to pull off some wins this season.
Eno Benjamin – Running Back (Sophomore)
Height: 5’10” Weight: 201 lbs
Last season was Benjamin’s first and he was a primary backup to Ballage as a true freshman. He carried the ball 23 times, racking up 142 yards and scoring a touchdown. He had five carries for 52 yards against Colorado and returned a blocked punt nine yards for a touchdown against UCLA. In total, he recorded 119 yards.
After having a solid first season, he was named to the 2018 Doak Walker Preseason Watch List. Benjamin has great vision on the field and not just for this season, but for seasons to come, he has the potential to be a key playmaker for the Sun Devils.