By Dan Kelley on May 17, 2014
The Arizona State Sun Devils come into 2014 with what should be one of the top offenses in the country. However, they also have to replace nine starters on defense. In the already offense-heavy Pac-12, the Sun Devils should be in their fair share of shootouts. With that in mind, here is a look at the five most intriguing playmakers who will help decide whether Arizona State can make a return trip to the Pac-12 Championship.
The Sun Devils have one of the top receivers in the country in Jaelen Strong, but they will need a solid second option as well. One receiver who looks like he could fill that role is redshirt freshman Ellis Jefferson. He is a strong route runner and, at 6-foot-4, is tall enough to go up make grabs over opposing corners. His size should make him an ideal target in the red zone.
Running back D.J. Foster should step into the starting role this year, after serving as more of a receiving threat last season. Foster will still provide Arizona State with an explosive receiving threat out of the backfield next season, but he will also be asked to improve on the 501 yards of rushing he recorded last year. Foster is certainly capable of doing that, as he averaged 5.4 yards per carry last season.
It's safe to say that the Sun Devils will score a lot of points this season. But they'll need to stop opponents occasionally if they are going to win many games, and the quickest way to stop an offense is to force turnovers. Damarious Randall is one of the few returning starters on defense, and picked off three passes last season. He will be looked to both as a drive stopper, and a leader, in 2014.
There may not have been anyone who improved his stock more this spring than running back Kyle Middlebrooks. The Sun Devils utilize multiple running backs, and Middlebrooks is competing for the No. 2 spot after Foster on the depth chart. Like Foster, Middlebrooks is an explosive runner, and he could be used on kickoff returns as well.
Taylor Kelly isn't exactly a new face, entering his third season as the starting quarterback. But in a season where the offense might need to carry the Sun Devils, he will be more important than ever. Kelly shouldn't have any trouble piling up yards, after throwing for 3,635 yards and 28 touchdowns last season. But he may need to have a Heisman-caliber season if the Sun Devils hope to win a Pac-12 Championship this season.
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