(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)

Offense

QUARTERBACK

Colton Dodgson

1. Brady White
2. Manny Wilkins
3. Dillon Sterling-Cole

The one and two spots in this situation are still a toss up, even this late in the game. White and Wilkins have matched each other blow for blow all throughout the spring and now early into the fall, which is why this decision will go down to the wire.

Both White and Wilkins have age on their side. White is a redshirt freshman while Wilkins is a redshirt sophomore, however White has shown that he has the tools to thrive in Chip Lindsey’s offense.

While Wilkins has a slight edge in overall athleticism, White possesses the superior arm and still wields the necessary athleticism to be successful.

Again, this could go either way; both players have proven they can excel under center, but White has proven he’s ready to lead now and has the potential to get even better – which could pay dividends this season and in the future.

Jacob Janower

1. Manny Wilkins
2. Brady White

I went back and forth on whether Wilkins or White would be named starter, but ultimately decided on the redshirt sophomore. He has been in the system longer than any of the quarterbacks and would be a safe bet for ASU to run out there to see what they have during the opener against Northern Arizona.

Neither QB has any experience passing in game situations, but from practices thus far it looks like Wilkins has been practicing more with the first team. However, White seems to have more potential of the two. It is not out of the realm of the possibility for both quarterbacks to play in the opener, a question that has come up often during fall practices.

If either quarterback goes down with an injury, true freshman Dillon Sterling-Cole will likely serve as the primary backup, at least until Bryce Perkins recovers from a neck injury that will sideline him for 2-3 months.

RUNNING BACK

Colton Dodgson

1A. DeMario Richard
1B. Kalen Ballage
2. Nick Ralston

Running back is the lone group that is already in order due to the limited turnover. Richard and Ballage have cemented themselves as a lethal one-two punch both out of the backfield and through the air over the last two seasons.

Richard landed on the Maxwell Award’s watch list, given to the best overall player in college football over the summer, and should the offensive line experience limited growing pains, he and Ballage will be in for another big year.

Jacob Janower

1A. DeMario Richard
1B. Kalen Ballage
2. Nick Ralston

Richard and Ballage should each get ample playing time at running back, as both veterans did more than enough last season to prove that they are worthy of the starter’s spot.  Expect offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey to invoke many schemes that involve both running backs.

During some practices, Richard has lined up behind the quarterback while Ballage has appeared in the slot. The two combined for 1,757 rushing yards last season so production should not be much of a concern.

Ralston, a redshirt freshman, has steadily been climbing up the depth chart, impressing coaches in both spring and fall practices. It’s unknown how much he will see the field this season because ASU already has two proven commodities at running back, but it shouldn’t be long before he gets playing time.

WIDE RECEIVER

Colton Dodgson

X Receiver  N’Keal Harry (Ellis Jefferson)
Y Receiver – Cam Smith (Jalen Harvey)
Slot Receiver – Tim White (Fred Gammage)

This year’s group of receivers has a solid chance to be a lot better than anticipated. With an injection of youth at the X receiver with Harry, and the veteran leadership of Smith and White, given that the three do in fact earn the starting roles, whoever Todd Graham elects to start under center should have few complaints.

Harry is every bit of 6’4”, 220 lbs. as a freshman and has already started to impress coaches in fall camp. As the top recruit in Arizona and the top receiver recruit in the country according to ESPN, Harry will see the field sooner rather than later.

Smith is returning from a knee injury he sustained in fall camp last season and has started to shake the rust off in practice, earning first team reps. Smith finished with 41 receptions and 596 yards as a sophomore in 2014.

In White’s case, the versatility is astounding.  He does it all – competes in the triple jump at this year’s Olympic qualifier, earned reps at corner in practice; he’s a Swiss Army knife and it’s well-known. As a receiver, however, White hauled in 57 passes for 633 yards and eight touchdowns last season as a redshirt junior.

With the expectations surrounding this group, the Sun Devils could be in for another successful season through the air.

Jacob Janower

X Receiver  N’Keal Harry (Ellis Jefferson)
Y Receiver – Cam Smith (Jalen Harvey)
Slot Receiver – Tim White (Fred Gammage)

One of the bigger surprises in camp has been Harry’s emergence. Coming in as a 5-star recruit, it was expected that he would emerge as a starter sooner rather than later, but not many expected him to start week one. However, he has continuously earned snaps with the first team and should get plenty of looks in week one.

Jefferson was expected to be the starter prior to Harry’s emergence, but will likely receive less playing time than initially thought. He is the tallest wide receiver on the team, so expect him to get opportunities in the red zone.

After missing all of last season, Smith is back and will be one of the top targets of whoever wins the quarterback job. He had 596 receiving yards and six touchdowns as a sophomore in 2014, numbers he could reasonably eclipse this season.

Jalen Harvey has had a good showing in most practices and will be another wide receiver that will compete for playing time, especially if Smith shows any sign of rust.

White broke onto the scene last year and should continue to electrify Sun Devil fans with his speed both as a receiver and returner. The track star should also be a favorite target of the quarterback.

Gammage brings as much experience as anyone on the team and will receive some playing time in the slot, as has been with the case for him the past couple of season. He also will be featured on special teams.

Another receiver who has caught the eye of coaches and players is freshman Kyle Williams, who may make his way into game action if anyone struggles.

TIGHT END

Colton Dodgson

1. Kody Kohl
2. Raymond Epps
3. Jay Jay Wilson

Kody Kohl has the starting tight end job wrapped up after a successful season in 2015. Now in his redshirt senior year, Kohl will add yet another dynamic to an already multi-faceted offensive attack. Raymond Epps and Jay Jay Wilson could see time in ace or jumbo sets.

Jacob Janower

1. Kody Kohl
2. Raymond Epps

Kohl was another breakout star of 2015, so he is the easy starter at a position that lacks some depth. He had 368 receiving yards last season and was a red-zone favorite of QB Mike Bercovici.

Most of the second team reps during fall camp have gone to Raymond Epps, who had four catches for 52 yards and a touchdown last season.

OFFENSIVE LINE (STARTERS)

Colton Dodgson

Evan Goodman, Sam Jones, Stephon McCray, Quinn Bailey, Zach Robertson

Rivaled by only the secondary, the offensive line is the group with the most turnover on the roster. Having lost four of last year’s starters, Chris Thomsen will build an entirely new unit around redshirt senior Evan Goodman, who should be accompanied by McCray, another redshirt senior.

From there, the unit gets inexperienced – Jones and Bailey are both redshirt sophomores while Robertson is a redshirt freshman. The group, should this be the unit Thomsen elects to deploy, will endure some growing pains and will need to develop some chemistry.

For the team to find success this season, that process needs to take place sooner rather than later.

Jacob Janower

Evan Goodman, Sam Jones, Stephon McCray, Quinn Bailey, Zach Robertson

The offensive line is undergoing as much change as any position group on the team, with only Goodman returning as a starter. The other four players have just three combined career starts, all by Jones. It will be a tall task for this group to replace the likes of Christian Westerman and Vi Teofilo, but despite the inexperience in game action, the five players have been practicing together for most of camp.

A.J. McCollum, Cohl Cabral, and Steve Miller will also compete for playing time on the offensive line.

Defense

DEFENSIVE LINE

Colton Dodgson

Viliami Latu (Renell Wren), Tashon Smallwood (Emanuel Dayries), Joseph Wicker (Jalen Bates) (Devilbacker-Koron Crump, Malik Lawal)

Latu and Smallwood should be locks to start at both defensive tackle positions, the two combined for 15.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks last season and should anchor the defensive line.

The defensive end spot is where things get tricky.

Wicker was a force off the end last season as a freshman, racking up 7.5 tackles for loss and four sacks. Thus far in fall camp, the coaching staff has experimented with playing Wicker at Devilbacker due to his skill set. However, given the arrival of junior college transfer Kuron Crump who has the physical build of a Devilbacker, Wicker should predominantly play defensive end, but still, don’t rule out a rotation with Crump and redshirt junior A.J. Latu on a platoon at Devilbacker.

Jacob Janower

END
1. Edmond Boateng
2. A.J. Latu

DT
1. Tashon Smallwood
2. George Lea

NOSE
1. Ami Latu
2. Tramel Topps

DEVILBACKER
1. JoJo Wicker
2. Koron Crump

The senior Boateng will man the end position, which remains one of the bigger question marks of the defense. JoJo Wicker moving to Devilbacker clears the way for Boateng, although Wicker still should receive some playing time at defensive end.

Both A.J. Latu and Renell Wren will slide in behind Boateng on the depth chart. 

Smallwood has earned the starting role as a tireless worker and a dynamic pass rusher. He led all defensive linemen in tackles last season and will bring experience and leadership to the front seven.

There won’t be much of a need for a backup at defensive tackle if Smallwood continues to play how he has played in his first two years as a Sun Devil. George Lea, a freshman, and Emanuel Dayries are two depth guys who could end up forcing the hand of ASU’s coaching staff if they get a chance.

Latu, who has 5.5 sacks over the last two seasons, matches the experience brought by Smallwood on the line. He has put on weight since converting from linebacker and is well equipped to slide into nose tackle after playing defensive tackle much of last season.

The most recent scholarship given out by Coach Graham went to Tramel Topps, who is in his second year with ASU after transferring from Arizona Western College. His impressive camp should lead to him backup up Ami Latu.

The Devilbacker has been up for grabs this season and will be implemented in a new way in Keith Patterson’s defense. JoJo Wicker, the likely week one starter, will be lined up as the fourth defensive lineman rather than as a fourth linebacker, which is where Antonio Longino played last season.

Wicker, a sophomore who recorded four sacks last season, will also see time at the End position on the other side of the defensive line. Transfer Koron Crump is my pick for Wicker’s backup. Crump should still get ample playing time this season on defense.

LINEBACKER

Colton Dodgson

Christian Sam (D.J. Calhoun), Salamo Fiso (Khaylan Thomas), Tyler Whiley (Marcus Ball)

Christian Sam and Salamo Fiso will reprise their starting roles from last year, where both guys were as efficient as anyone on the defense. Sam and Fiso combined for 195 tackles, including 26.5 for loss and 7.5 sacks. Fiso was named to the Chuck Bednarik watch list in the offseason, an award given to the top defensive player in the nation.

The final linebacker position, which will likely be the Spur, could be impacted by who starts at Devilbacker. Should Wicker or even Latu get the nod at that spot, that opens the door at Spur for someone like Koron Crump, whose name has been mentioned as a viable candidate at the position. Realistically, Latu, Crump and Wicker could all be starting on the defense somewhere, it just depends on where.

Whiley, on the other hand, could be the dark horse candidate that forces someone like Latu back into a reserve role. He has impressed in fall camp and has worked his way into the conversation up to this point, so it wouldn’t come as a surprise if he sees meaningful, or even starting, snaps at Spur this season.

Jacob Janower

SAM
1. Salamo Fiso
2. Khaylan Thomas

WILL
1. Christian Sam
2. D.J. Calhoun

SPUR
1. Tyler Whiley
2. Marcus Ball

Fiso has been a mainstay on the defense for the last three years, so it is a no-brainer to slot him at SAM linebacker, a position he is very familiar with. Fiso had 87 tackles last season, which led the team, and it wouldn’t be surprising it he eclipsed that number this season.

An aggressive linebacker, Fiso excels against both the pass and run. With Fiso’s stronghold on the position, the primary backup, Khaylan Thomas, won’t get a ton of playing time but the young linebacker has definite potential.

Fresh off of a breakout season, Sam will be rewarded with a starting spot on the linebacking core. Sam and Calhoun started last season as the top two players at the WILL spot, and each of them will get a lot of playing time at that spot.

Sam finished second in tackles last season and will step into more of a leadership role this year, while Calhoun is great at getting to the quarterback. He led the team in sacks last season.

SPUR, a linebacker/safety hybrid of sorts, will experience a change after the decision to move Laiu Moeakiola to safety. Tyler Whiley has been one of the most impressive players on the entire defense in camp and may force his way into a surprising starting spot for the season. Whiley is a converted cornerback who has played almost exclusively on special teams so far in his career but has caught the eye of both Patterson and Todd Graham and could fill a hole on this defense.

Ball will provide additional depth and can also play both linebacker and in the secondary. The redshirt junior has the edge when it comes to experience and will be strong competition to Whiley if he struggles off the bat.

CORNERBACK

Colton Dodgson

1. J’Marcus Rhodes & Kareem Orr
2. Mo Chandler & De’Chavon Hayes
3. Bryson Echols & Robbie Robinson

Orr has already taken ahold of one starting corner spot, but there is still a competition between the two junior college transfers in J’Marcus Rhodes and Mo Chandler for the starting spot opposite Orr. Both have been praised by the coaching staff throughout both the spring and the fall, however Rhodes did run into some disciplinary problems with the team. The coaching staff seems to be long passed Rhodes’ rough patch and it seems that he now has a slight edge over Chandler. However, this should be one of those races that goes down to the wire. Expect Hayes to play as a nickel corner for the most part.

Bryson Echols also brings an interesting dynamic to the competition, having played for three seasons at the University of Texas. His veteran presence has been pointed out by secondary coach T.J. Rushing and should benefit the group. Robbie Robinson, a freshman, has earned looks with the first team in fall camp and will look to vie for playing time at some point this season.

Jacob Janower

1. De’Chavon Hayes & Kareem Orr
2. Mo Chandler & Bryson Echols

Orr is as sure of a bet as anyone to start week one. He led all freshmen with six interceptions last season, which were also four more than anyone else on the team. Graham has mentioned that Orr is having a great camp, which bodes even better for his future.

University of Texas grad transfer Bryson Echols will be slotted in as his backup despite an inconsistent camp due to his experience and lack of depth at the position.

Either player could fit as the starter opposite to Orr, but due to Chandler’s injury problems, converted RB DeChavon “Gump” Hayes is the best selection. The return specialist has not played much cornerback in college but has elite speed. He could also end up seeing time on offense this season, possibly at wide receiver.

Freshman Robbie Robinson has turned some heads and could be another player who will vie for playing time at cornerback.

SAFETY

Colton Dodgson

Laiu Moeakiola (James Johnson), Armand Perry (Chad Adams)

Moeakiola will transition from linebacker to safety as a redshirt senior in 2016. Graham has already committed to Moeakiola and Perry as his two starting safeties, so there will be little drama at the position.

Perry started at corner last season, but was limited to just two games before he was lost for the season due to injury. He finished with 11 tackles in last year’s season opener against Texas A&M.

Moeakiola will add a physical dimension to the secondary, he posted with 51 tackles, 6.5 for loss and two sacks at linebacker last season. In coverage, he broke-up five passes, deflected six, and added an interception.

Jacob Janower

Laiu Moeakiola (James Johnson), Armand Perry (Chad Adams)

After missing most of last season with injury, Perry is healthy again and has a firm grasp on the free safety position. He converted to safety from cornerback in 2014 after he played every game there during his freshman year.

Perry has loads of potential, as evidenced by his team-leading 11 tackles in the season opener last year against Texas A&M before his injury, it will just be a matter of staying healthy for him.

Rhodes will compete with James Johnson to play behind Perry. A transfer from Kilgore JC, Rhodes has been another player that has impressed coaches during camp with his combo of physicality and speed.

The other safety spot is also clear-cut, as Moeakiola has been an impact player for the last two years at linebacker. The conversion shouldn’t be too difficult for him, as he played SPUR, which involved some work in the secondary. He has battled some hamstring problems, but nonetheless he should be among the leaders in tackles for the Sun Devils.

Chad Adams received more playing time last year than initially expected due to various injuries in the secondary, which will give him more experience if he is thrust into an elevated role again this season.

KICKER

Zane Gonzalez

He is coming off of a down year, but Gonzalez should get the entirety of the playing time at kicker in his final season in Tempe.

PUNTER

Matt Haack

Another veteran on the special teams, Haack could be in contention for the Ray Guy Award in his last go-around.

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