Pac-12: Ellis Jefferson

Arizona State Sun Devils

Players come and go.

In a perfect world, the teams only have to reload, not rebuild. But following this season, there are a lot of shoes that need to be filled due to early departures and expected graduations.

That leaves the question: Will these spots be reloading or rebuilding? Your humble Pac-12 Blog takes a look at some of the biggest shoes that need to be filled entering the 2015 season.

ARIZONA STATE

Biggest shoes: WR Jaelen Strong

It took just two seasons in Tempe for Strong to move up to eighth on the Sun Devils' all-time receiving yards list (2,184) and establish himself as one of the best receivers in the country. At 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, he possesses a rare blend of size and speed and presented matchup problems that won't be easily replicated. His decision to leave early made sense considering he's widely regarded as a potential first-round pick -- ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. projected him at No. 29 overall in his initial mock draft. Not since 1988, when Aaron Cox was drafted No. 20 overall, has an ASU receiver gone in the first round.

Stepping in: TBD

Strong was responsible for 29.2 percent of ASU's receptions last season -- the third-highest rate in the Pac-12 -- and the only other true wide receiver with more than 11 catches was Cameron Smith (41). Point being, there's still a lot to learn about ASU's stable of receivers. Running back D.J. Foster had 62 catches last season and is a proven commodity, but even though he figures to play more receiver next year that won't account for Strong's absence. At 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, Ellis Jefferson has comparable size to Strong and after serving as his primary backup last year will be one of the main candidates to step into a similar role. Eric Lauderdale (6-2, 190) remains an intriguing prospect after redshirting last year, too. The junior college transfer received a four-star grade and was the No. 3 receiver in the country coming out of Saddleback College following the 2013 season.
Arizona State Sun Devils

2012 record: 8-5
2012 conference record: 5-4 (Second in South Division)
Returning starters: Offense 6; defense 8; Kick/punt: 2

Top returners: QB Taylor Kelly, DT Will Sutton, LB Carl Bradford, RB Marion Grice, RB D.J. Foster, LT Evan Finkenberg, TE/H Chris Coyle, S Alden Darby, DE Junior Onyeali

Key losses: RB Cameron Marshall, LB Brandon Magee, WR Rashad Ross, P Josh Hubner, OL Andrew Sampson, OL Brice Schwab.

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Marion Grice* (679)
Passing: Taylor Kelly* (3,039)
Receiving: Chris Coyle* (696)
Tackles: Brandon Magee (113)
Sacks: Will Sutton* (13)
Interceptions: Keelan Johnson (5)

Spring answers
  1. Dynamic duo (1): Running backs Marion Grice and D.J. Foster should make up one of the most prolific 1-2 punches in college football. This was the first time for both to go through full springs at a major college (Grice was a JC transfer, Foster is a sophomore) and the reports are both have added speed and muscle to their frames. With the way ASU uses its backs in the passing game, expect big total yardage numbers from both in 2013.
  2. Dynamic duo (2): On the opposite side of the ball, DT Will Sutton and linebacker Carl Bradford make up an equally dangerous tandem. There are only 10 players in FBS football returning with 10-plus sacks from 2012. And ASU has two of them. Sutton, the league's defensive player of the year, had 13 and Bradford notched 11.5. Combined with several other returning starters, the Sun Devils boast one of the top front sevens in the league.
  3. QB depth: Per head coach Todd Graham, Mike Bercovici had a fantastic spring. We know Kelly is entrenched as the starter. But with Bercovici surging and Michael Eubank bringing the dimension he brings, the Sun Devils have fantastic depth at the position -- something very important for a team hoping to make a championship run.
Fall questions
  1. WR questions: Help should be on the way. Graham called wide receiver his biggest need and the 2013 class includes Jaelen Strong, Ronald Lewis, Joe Morris, Cameron Smith and Ellis Jefferson. When they get put into the fold, it should make an immediate impact on depth and athleticism at the position. All five are at least 6-foot, giving Kelly plenty of options and wiggle room in the red zone.
  2. Line depth: It's always a concern. And while the Sun Devils look stacked on the defensive line, they are working to replace departed Andrew Sampson and Brice Schwab. The staff spent the spring working Sil Ajawara (LG) and Vi Teofilo (RG) into the starting five. Behind them is some versatility in Tyler Sulka, Devin Goodman and Mo Latu.
  3. Special improvements: Graham called ASU's special teams middle of the road last year -- stressing they need to improve in the kicking game if they want to be a better team. Departed punter Josh Hubner was one of the best in the league. Dom Vizzare looks to step in but will be pushed by incoming freshman Matt Haack. Zane Gonzalez was brought in to push returning kickers Alex Garoutte and Jon Mora.

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