5 Arizona State Football Players Who Will Make or Break the Sun Devils' Season
Expectations are high in Tempe as the Arizona State Sun Devils have their eyes on the Pac-12 South title.
While it will take a total team effort for ASU to reach this goal, the Sun Devils will also need guys to step up and make an impact at key positions.
ASU will look for guys like Marion Grice, Evan Finkenberg, Darwin Rogers and Carl Bradford to play well next year because their play will have an impact on the Sun Devils' success.
No player will have more of an impact on ASU's season though than quarterback Taylor Kelly.
Kelly will control the offense, from how fast it runs to what plays are called. He will also be a leader on the team and somebody they will look to when the chips are down.
Based on how their play will impact the Sun Devils' success next season and how much of a leadership role they hold, let's rank the five players who will make or break ASU's season.
All stats, unless otherwise indicated, come from ESPN.com
Tight End Darwin Rogers
Darwin Rogers isn't exactly a household name in Tempe by any means.
The senior tight end is mainly used for blocking and didn't see many receptions last year.
The reason Rogers is an honorable mention as a player to make or break ASU's season however is because he could play a key role in crucial moments next year.
The tight end only made three receptions last year for 31 yards, but each catch resulted in either a first down or a touchdown.
After the breakout season Chris Coyle had last year, defenses will be keying on him, which will likely cut his production. If Rogers can make some catches next year, it will force defenses to play him as well, thus freeing up Coyle.
Rogers has all the intangibles needed to become an impact tight end. As his Sun Devil Athletics bio shows, he was a quarterback in high school and can run a 4.60 40-yard dash. He understands the game and could really help Taylor Kelly out as another receiving option.
Safety Alden Darby
Alden Darby earns himself an honorable mention as a player to make or break ASU's season because he will be the Sun Devils' best player in their secondary and a strong leader.
While he will have the task of shutting down some of the elite passing attacks of the Pac-12, he won't have the same impact on every play like some of the other candidates do.
Darby has emerged over the past few years as a solid safety, but the real reason he is on this list is because of his leadership ability.
ASU lost a lot of defensive leaders after last year, but Darby seems ready to fill their shoes and some.
Darby says setting a good example is the biggest key to good leadership:
You need to reach out and go beyond. You need to work out and study film when people are sleeping. When times get hard, people are going to look to you: ‘Darby, what do we do?' You want to be able to answer those questions for them. That right there separates you.
If ASU continues to have a stingy pass defense, it will be because of the play and leadership of Alden Darby.
No. 5: WR Jaelen Strong
Jaelen Strong was a big pickup for ASU this offseason.
The JUCO transfer spent time at Pierce College before transferring to ASU last December and could make an immediate impact for the Sun Devils.
The reason Strong is the No. 5 player who will make or break ASU's season is because Taylor Kelly is in desperate need of a go-to target at the wide receiver position.
Last year, only one receiver ranked in the top four in receiving yards for ASU. That is something that will have to change for ASU if they want to win the Pac-12 South.
Insert Strong here.
ESPN's scouting report of Strong (Subscription Required) says Strong certainly has the physical abilities to become a go-to target for Kelly:
Strong is tall, physical and fast with long arms and great leaping ability. He possesses good top-end speed for a big player, does a nice job of tracking balls downfield and is a threat to make the big play in the vertical passing game. He has good athletic ability, is smooth getting in and out of cuts and is capable of creating separation against man coverage. He catches the ball with hands away from his frame and can catch the ball in-stride. He has very quick hands.
If the JUCO transfer can play well this year, he could be a major factor in a Sun Devil championship run.
No. 4: LB Carl Bradford
Carl Bradford will be expected to wreak havoc on the defensive side of the ball in 2013.
One notable omission from this list that may come come as a surprise is Will Sutton. The reason Sutton isn't on the list of make or break players and Bradford is is simple.
Sutton is expected to dominate like he did last year and anything short of domination will be a disappointment. In order for this to occur however, Sutton will need Bradford to get into the backfield, as he did last year, so defenses can't double and triple-team Sutton the whole game.
Bradford ended last year by recording at least one sack and four tackles in every game during the last six weeks of ASU's season.
All last season, Bradford lined up at different linebacker positions to keep the offense guessing. It worked quite well and with a year under his belt, all signs point to Bradford having an even better 2013.
Bradford is the No. 4 player on our list because not only will he have a huge impact on the defense by potentially freeing up Will Sutton, but he will also be a leader this year.
ASU lost their biggest leader from last year in linebacker Brandon Magee.
Bradford will have the opportunity next year to become not only the leader of the linebackers but also a leader on the defense alongside Sutton and Alden Darby.
No. 3: RB Marion Grice
Marion Grice was a magician last year.
Many times it seemed like he had nowhere to go and would be stopped, only to reverse field or unleash an ankle-breaking juke to get into free space and turn on the jets.
Sun Devil fans hope Grice has more tricks up his sleeve in 2013.
Grice finds himself as the No. 3 player who will make or break ASU's 2013 season because he is their most versatile player on offense.
Last year Grice was a force at running back, receiver and at times a blocker.
The senior out of Houston is the type of player you want to get the ball to because once it's in his hands there is always a chance he could go to the house.
ESPN's Ted Miller says Grice is very similar to one of Oregon's best running backs:
Grice was basically a push with Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas as the Pac-12's best dual-threat back/receiver last year. He averaged 6.6 yards per carry rushing and, in 103 total carries, lost just five total yards.
With the skill of ASU's receivers still in doubt going into 2013, Grice will start the year as not only the team's best running option but also one of their best receiving threats.
The reason Grice is No. 3 is because he will have the most impact on the field of anybody on this list so far, but he will need the blocking of Evan Finkenberg to open up holes for him and the decision-making of Taylor Kelly to really have a season to remember in 2013.
No. 2: OL Evan Finkenberg
Senior Evan Finkenberg will play a major role in the offensive success of ASU next season.
Finkenberg will be in charge of protecting Taylor Kelly's blind side in 2013, but this is something the offensive lineman has become used to.
The 6'4'', 293-pound lineman has done this job for the past couple seasons and against some high quality opponents, so he will be up for the challenge.
Coming into 2013, it appears that Finkenberg is at peak physical condition.
ASU's strength/conditioning director Shawn Griswold says Finkenberg had an impressive offseason:
A lot of guys went over 405 (squat), including offensive lineman Evan Finkenberg at 585. Those are great accomplishments. They've all had unbelievable summers and really bought into what we’re trying to sell.
The main reason Finkenberg is the No. 2 player who will make or break ASU's season is because while he's in charge of keeping Kelly on his feet, he will also play a big role in opening up running lanes and will be a leader on this years team as well.
Finkenberg will essentially have an effect on every offensive play.
This isn't anything new for Finkenberg though. As Kerry Crowley of House of Sparky writes, Finkenberg has always been a major part of ASU's offense:
Every time the Arizona State offense unleashed a big play this season, left tackle Evan Finkenberg had a hand, or his entire body, in the play. Whether the junior found himself smashing linebackers or sealing off pass-rushers, the Sun Devil tackle was a consistent force on the offensive line all season long.
Player like Jaelen Strong and Marion Grice will rely on Finkenberg to keep Kelly on his feet long enough to see routes develop and to open up holes.
With Kelly's mobility, Finkenberg will also play a key role in blocking downfield.
While offensive lineman might not get much of the spotlight, ASU's offensive success next year will rely heavily on the play of Finkenberg.
No. 1: QB Taylor Kelly
Taylor Kelly came into last year with something to prove; in 2013 his job is to take ASU to the next level.
Kelly is going to be the reason the Sun Devils win the Pac-12 South title next year or the reason they come up short.
One major reason ASU lost the Pac-12 South last year was due to their four-game losing skid in the middle of the year. Unfortunately for Kelly, as is with most quarterbacks, these losses were partially blamed on him.
Kelly threw nine interceptions last year, and all of those came in the Sun Devils' five losses. If Kelly can have better ball security, ASU's offense will be scary good and they can win the Pac-12 South.
Another reason ASU's hopes of winning a Pac-12 South title rely on Kelly is because he controls the whole offense.
In his second year, Kelly should be able to run the offense at an even faster rate and should be able to get through his progressions quicker to make better decisions.
He also should be more confident in his second year as a starter and shouldn't put the ball in jeopardy as much as he did last year.
Kelly finds himself as the No. 1 player who will make or break ASU's season because while he is responsible for the entire offense he is also a figurehead on this football team alongside Will Sutton.
His combination of leadership and responsibility makes him enormously important to ASU's success.