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ASU Football: Breaking Down How 2021 ASU Football Defensive Commits Could Have an Instant Impact With the Program

Breaking down ASU's defensive commits for 2021
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2020 has been quite the eventful year for our planet, thanks to COVID-19 and what appears to be a new problem that arises out of the pages of a poorly written comic book.

It’s also been an eventful year for Arizona State’s recruiting office, as the Sun Devils continue an impressive run on the recruiting trail garnering big commitments for the many years ahead. Coach Herm Edwards and the rest of his staff most recently landed four-star recruits such as DB Tommi Hill and WR Junior Alexander for the class of 2021.

While quarterback Jayden Daniels headlines ASU’s football program heading into 2020 and beyond, the defensive side of the ball has been a major target of focus for the coaching staff in an offensive-friendly PAC-12 conference. With ASU ranking in the top five of the conference in both points allowed per game (23.1) and yards allowed per game (386.9), the program will look to hit new levels defensively within the next few seasons.

Here is how each defensive commit can help ASU’s defense in 2021.  This is also a fun way to celebrate the inaugural SI All-American Watch List (LINK), which details player-by-player the top 1,000 prep prospects in the country.

1. DB Tommi Hill

High School- Edgewater (Orlando, FL)
Height- 6-1
Weight- 185 lbs

Although fully capable of playing duties at the wide receiver position, four-star athlete Tommi Hill looks to be assisting the Sun Devils’ secondary upon his arrival to Tempe. Hill is expected to come in and contribute right away whether it be at cornerback or safety.

As a cornerback, Hill’s ability to press and get physical early to disrupt a route is what sticks out the most in his evaluation. Although he can be a little handsy through coverage (which may draw flags), Hill was rarely separated from the wide receiver through the majority of the routes.

AllSunDevils (LINK) was able to speak to Hill’s high school coach Cameron Duke on Hill’s versatility:

“He’s a football player,” said Duke. “He can run, tackle, track the ball, he does a lot of things.

“I think about Xavier Rhodes. When he was in college, he played at Florida State, he came in as a wide receiver and then they moved him to corner. He ended up becoming an All-Pro in the NFL. I think being able to play both sides helps a player develop because defensive backs understand what a receiver is trying to do and vice versa.”

With ASU waving goodbye to starting cornerbacks Chase Lucas and Jack Jones following 2020, Hill has all the opportunity to pick up on the expected high note that Lucas and Jones will leave off. Look for Hill, whether it's a corner or the safety position, to be seen on the field right away.

2. OLB Jaydon Williams

High School- South Oak Cliff (Dallas, TX)
Height- 6-1
Weight- 195 lbs

If there’s one thing Jaydon Williams can bring to ASU’s defense, it’s the ability to rush the passer. On tape, Williams displayed the ability to rush the passer from either side of the ball with a powering motor to chase down mobile quarterbacks.

SI All-American’s evaluation (LINK) on Williams:

“Williams is a see ball, get ball edge presence with great athleticism, including quickness and linear speed. He lives on the edge Friday nights but projects are more of an off-ball linebacker at the next level with the physical traits to play in space and rush the passer. After adding mass and strength in the Power Five, he’ll be ready for a versatile role depending on down and distance.”

In 2019, the Sun Devils often times played in sub-packaged defenses with no true base defense, although the 3-3-5 was most commonly used. With new defensive coordinators Marvin Lewis and Antonio Pierce bringing in a more traditional 4-3 defense, there are a few different options the coaching staff has with Williams.

It appears as if Williams will need to transition to playing as an off-ball linebacker to become an every-down starter, though he potentially could be used in special packages as a pass rusher coming off the edge for his first year getting acclimated in Tempe.

The Sun Devils could potentially lose 2019 top tacklers and linebackers Darien Butler and Merlin Robertson following 2020, should they declare for the NFL Draft. It will be interesting to see Williams’ transition to a different role than he’s accustomed to, yet he displays the athleticism to do just about anything at the linebacker position.

3. OLB Isaiah Pipkin

High School- Wake Forest (Wake Forest, NC)
Height- 6-6
Weight- 220 lbs

If Isaiah Pipkin bulks up once he reaches ASU, he might become a serious problem for opposing offensive lines.

The 6-6, 220 lb frame on Pipkin bodes well for any position on the football field, yet especially at a spot such as outside linebacker. On tape, Pipkin proved himself capable of playing as an edge rusher, playing as an off-ball linebacker and even playing out in coverage when called upon. While Pipkin likely won’t be matched up on any receivers at the next level, his versatility/length should give ASU plenty to work within 2021.

SI All-American’s evaluation (LINK) on Pipkin:

“Pipkin’s combination of length and dexterity is rare for high-school prospects. He needs to gain weight and get much stronger, but profiles as a situational edge rusher at the very least for ASU. If training results in improved explosiveness, Pipkins has a ceiling of impact starter at WILL.”

Whereas a player like Jaydon Williams is more likely to make a smoother transition to playing as a linebacker in a 4-3 defense, Pipkin may be more inclined to bulk up and transition to an edge rusher/defensive end for the Sun Devils thanks to his frame and ability to rush the passer.

Rushing the passer is a department Arizona State needs to improve on, with current junior Tyler Johnson providing the only legitimate pass-rushing option on the Sun Devils’ defensive line. Should Johnson improve and depart without any emergence of another edge player this season, Pipkin could very well develop into ASU’s next pass-rusher.

4. DE Caleb Banks

High School- Southfield (Southfield, MI)
Height- 6-6
Weight- 255

Caleb Banks, similar to Isaiah Pipkin, provides an ideal frame for somebody playing along the depths of the defensive line. Whereas Pipkin walks the boundary between DE/LB, Banks is a bonafide defensive end.

SI All-American’s evaluation (LINK)  on Banks:

“Banks is an intriguing two-way talent with a ceiling at offensive tackle or as a 5-technique setting the edge at the next level. He has the physical traits to develop into a true edge setter with pass-rushing upside on defense, which is likely where he begins his college career. As important as singular position focus should be, physical development in the weight room could dictate the projection’s timeline.”

With a total of six other defensive ends on the roster (as of now) for 2021, Banks will need to assert himself from day one, and that can be accomplished by hitting the weight room like the evaluation suggests. On the field, it’s fairly evident Banks is capable of handling duties at the next level, however, he is raw in the finer things such as hand usage and building multiple pass-rush moves.

It’s evident in recruiting the 2021 class that ASU focused on getting guys that can create pressure on the quarterback, and Banks provides that service with an upside to turn into a perennial starter. Should Tyler Johnson depart for the NFL Draft, I like Banks’ opportunity of getting more playing time right off the bat. Should Johnson stay, there’s hope Johnson can aid in the development of Banks early on. 

5. DE Gharin Stansbury

High School- Franklin (Franklin, LA)
Height- 6-4
Weight- 212 lbs

Arizona State defensive line coach Robert Rodriguez said it best on Twitter (LINK): “I know what I’m looking for I know what it takes… The future in Tempe will have length, bend, twitch, intelligence, character. Forks Up.”

The words of wisdom came no more than twenty minutes following the commitment of three-star defensive end Gharin Stansbury, who checks nearly every characteristic listed above on tape.

ASU continues the focus of getting defensive players with length/long arms. Gharin fits this mold. He has long arms which he uses to keep blockers off of him. They are never able to get into his chest. He keeps them at bay. He is also able to use his long arms to bat down passes. He has a great first step. Shows consistent motor and does a nice job of always keeping his eyes on the ball regardless if he's engaging a blocker. Also shows a nice ability to shed blocks.

Stansbury now follows in the footsteps of older brother Gavin Stansbury, who also was a three-star defensive end and played at programs such as Texas A&M and Houston at the collegiate level.

Landing the commitment of Stansbury marks the second designated defensive end for the Sun Devils’ class of 2021, with a potential third in Isaiah Pipkin should ASU transition to a 4-3 base defense as suggested earlier this offseason. With four defensive ends in the class of 2020, somebody at some point will need to separate themselves from the pack.

Stansbury, who played more similar to a 3-4 outside linebacker thanks to his two-point stance and ability to drop in coverage, may have an edge for playing time in different sub-packages thanks to that versatility. Stansbury provides more than a simple pass-rush off the edge. His ability to bat down balls at the line of scrimmage, correctly play assignments on read-option plays and backside run support also jumped off the page when watching his film.

Gharin may be a tad smaller in size compared to the other edge players in his class, but his ceiling rests at the cream of the crop of his class with a load of tools in his arsenal as a defensive player.

6. LB Martin Lucas

High School- Abingdon (Abingdon, VA)
Height- 6-2
Weight- 245 lbs

Three-star athlete Martin Lucas is heading to Tempe, as all debate was put to rest on July 17 when Lucas committed to ASU. The only debate now rests within what position he will play, as Lucas told (LINK) co-defensive coordinator Antonio Pierce gave him the green light to play whatever position he felt was best.

While running back is a possibility, Lucas’ main recruitment from coach Pierce may suggest he’s in for some defensive snaps once he arrives on campus in 2021. It’s also notable that Lucas is the sole running back commit for ASU in this class (thus far), so the team will likely utilize Lucas wherever he’s needed most.

Should he join the 2021 class as an outside linebacker, Lucas becomes the third player at such a position to pack their bags for ASU as he joins Isaiah Pipkin and Jaydon Williams.

Lucas’ tape from his junior season doesn’t reveal much about his abilities as a linebacker, with only a handful of plays of Lucas coming off the left side of the ball. However, Lucas’ motor and hard-hitting abilities provide a suitable floor to build from on the defensive side of the ball. Lucas’ athleticism could potentially bode well for an off-ball linebacker spot at the next level.