So, here's a realistic take on UCLA's recruiting class and how they project to fitting into UCLA's depth chart – for next season and beyond.
Jacob Brendel, OL, 6-5, 265, Plano (Tex.) East. Brendel projects as a center, and that‘s the position UCLA would like to see him take his first shot at in the program. It makes sense; next season UCLA will have Kai Maiava as an experience senior at center, but then the position will be up for grabs for the 2012 season. Greg Capella, last year as a redshirt freshman, was the back-up center, and by the 2012 season he'll be a redshirt junior. There's also Kody Innes, who was a true freshman this last season and will be a redshirt sophomore in 2012. So, those three will fight it out – junior Capella, sophomore Innes and Brendel, who will probably be a redshirt freshman, in 2012. Capella will have the most experience, but Innes and Brendel are thought to be more talented. It will be interesting to see this spring and fall who emerges as the second-stringer for 2011, Capella or Innes. There are then some people close to the program who expect Brendel to have a really good shot at winning the spot, that they believe he's the most talented of the three, being a very good, mobile athlete, and all he needs to do is develop at a conventional rate, and put on good weight and strength. His signing definitely gives UCLA some more depth and talent at the position, and some security in knowing that the guy who wins the position among the three will probably be pretty good. There's a good chance Brendel is a future starter at center, and as soon as the 2012 season.
Brett Hundley, QB, 6-3, 210, Chandler (Ariz.) High. So much has already been written about Hundley, and whether he'll be able to come into UCLA and make an immediate impact. Being enrolled at UCLA already, and the fact that he'll have two months in school before spring practice, is significant. Also, he could be getting the majority of the spring practice reps, with Richard Brehaut playing baseball and Kevin Prince's injury status completely uncertain. Keep in mind, though, that almost in every instance a true freshman quarterback will struggle to play high-major D-1 football. Most of the time, if they do play as true freshmen it's only because the program had no one else. But there are those that believe Hundley could be an exception, that he's already so advanced in his knowledge of the game and his physical tools. We really can't make a judgment call until we see him on Spaulding Field in April, but even then you'd have to expect his learning curve is going to be massive between spring practice and fall. If he's marginal in spring there's still a chance he could impact in fall. If he's really good in spring, well, then, fall is going to be interesting.
Devin Lucien, WR, 6-1, 190, Encino (Calif.) Crespi. Lucien was a key pick-up for the Bruins since, if you project out the depth chart a couple of years, one of the few positions that could be less deep than others is wide receiver. Next season it will probably be hard for him to crack the rotation, since UCLA will be able to go seven-deep with experienced receivers, and that's not even taking into consideration if Anthony Barr and Morrell Presley are moved to receiver because the F-back position is scrapped. But after next season, UCLA loses three of its top receivers, and Lucien will be expected to step in and fill a big role. He has good size and decent burst, and very good hands. The depth chart won't be in a critical state; in 2012 it will still have Jerry Johnson (SR), Randall Carroll (SR), Ricky Marvray (JR), Shaquelle Evans (JR), and, like I said, possibly Presley (SR) and Barr (JR). But you can see that most of those guys are upperclassmen, so it was critical UCLA bring in a receiver who could play in this class to maintain talent and depth beyond 2012. In terms of filling in depth on the projected roster, wide receiver was possibly the position UCLA really could have used another recruit in the 2011 class. They'll have to fill up next year with the 2012 class.
Steven Manfro, RB, 5-10, 187 Valencia (Calif.) High. Rick Neuheisel talked quite a bit yesterday how Manfro reminds him of Danny Woodhead, the undersized running back for the New England Patriots. We're not casting doubt on Neuheisel's Signing Day assertion, but the Woodhead comparison, realistically is a bit of a stretch. Neuheisel, admittedly, has a soft spot for the underdog, having been a walk-on himself. But just because one 5-10 guy can buck the odds doesn't mean everyone can. It'd make for a great story, if Manfro actually became a major contributor after his only other offer was from Wyoming. While people like to talk about sleepers who develop into big-time players, most of the time in college football (or basketball, for that matter), they're guys who develop quite a bit physically while in college, and are usually at positions on a college football team other than running back. For instance, it's quite a bit more common for a 6-4, 245-pound high schooler to grow into a 6-6, 300-pound offensive line starter in the Pac-10. For running backs, though, physically they're usually at just about their peak when they come to college, so Manfro doesn't have the same kind of potential to buck the odds. For every comparison to Woodhead, we could give you 100 comparisons to 5-10 running backs who never panned out. But we'll concede we don't want to put a dark cloud over the kid's head before he even steps foot on campus. He did have an exceptional high school career, but reportedly he doesn't have blazing but just decent speed. UCLA didn't really need a running back in the 2011 class, and with their depth chart pretty loaded, and not a great year for running backs on the west coast, it was going to be tough going no matter what. Manfro was a guy they could get, who helps the program's GPA and academic profile, and there were scholarships to give, so the stars were aligned to roll the dice on him. If, in a couple of years, he's capable of providing back-up minutes at tailback and be a solid contributor on special teams it will have been completely worth taking him.
Conor McDermott, OL, 6-8, 245, Nashville (Tenn.) Ensworth. I have to admit, I really have no idea what kind of player McDermott is, or his upside. It's not difficult to say that, if his brother hadn't been Kevin McDermott, the current walk-on longsnapper and tight end, there is very little change McDermott would have gotten a scholarship. But Kevin is such a great kid, one of the types that is a hard worker, good student and general glue guy, while also having a chance to contribute (he's in line to be UCLA's lonsnapper this season), that it was a great hands-on reference for Conor. So, look at it from Neuheisel's standpoint. You have a kid whose grown from 6-6 to 6-8 in the last year or so, plays basketball and has good feet, and has all the same intangible as his brother, and you have scholarships available. While many could be critical of giving McDermott a scholarship, you could make a case that it was worth the gamble. At the very least, if he never develops, he helps your program in so many ways. If he doesn't develop, you look like a genius, and you have a 6-8, 300-pounder with feet contributing to your offensive line.
Kevin McReynolds, DT, 6-2, 281, Washington D.C. St. John's Colege High. McReynolds is the highest-ranked defensive prospect in the 2011 UCLA class, ranked the 24th best DT in the nation. While you might think UCLA has good, young depth at DT, the theory is you never turn down talented DTs with good enough academics who want to come. And, if you look closely at UCLA's projected depth chart, they have more three-technique guys than nose tackle-types, and McReynolds is definitely more of a nose tackle. There is some question as to his motor, whether he plays hard all the time, but no question of his talent. It will be difficult for him to crack into the DT rotation next year, with six guys on the roster that will play (Cassius Marsh, Brandon Willis, Nate Chandler, Justin Edison, Seali'I Epenesa and Donovan Carter), so he'll more than likely redshirt. But you could easily see him passing up some of those guys by the 2012 season, after spending one year developing on the scout team and in the weight room.
Raymond Nelson, TE, 6-5, 240, Modesto (Calif.) Christian. UCLA has decent depth at tight end next season, and only one senior (Cory Harkey), so Nelson will probably not be pressed into playing. Nelson, though, is a solid pick-up, that will probably fulfill a couple of roles for the program down the line. UCLA usually will have some guys who can catch from the tight end spot, but it always needs guys who can block, too. Harkey is a good example, as was Logan Paulsen. Nelson is in that same vein. He's a physical player, who's getting pretty big already, and would project to be 250+ when he actually takes the field in a year or two, and very strong. Neuheisel said to envision his brother, Reeves, the Bruin basketball forward, playing football and, while that might be a little bit of a stretch, Raymond does have the same kind of big hands that his big brother does. Again, we don't know what UCLA might do with Presley and/or Barr; they could move to receiver or line up as pass-catching tight end in UCLA's new offense. Then there is Joseph Fauria, who isn't exactly a great blocker and John Young, who is about 6-3 and 260 and is thought to be a good blocker, but is still unknown, coming off an injury this season. So, Nelson definitely gives them insurance in filling a big role down the line, and as soon as 2012, when he's a redshirt freshman, after Harkey graduates.
Jerry Neuheisel, QB, 6-1, 185, Los Angeles (Calif.) Loyola. It's going to be interesting having the head coach's son in the program, especially at the position of quarterback. We have to be blunt: There is a precedent of head college football coaches having their quarterback sons in their program and it didn't turn out very well. In our opinion, Neuheisel projects as a back-up level quarterback in the Pac-10 but, then again, his father was a walk-on who then won the UCLA starting QB position. The issue will be whether Coach Neuheisel will be able to see his son accurately during his time at UCLA. If in three years, say, he is just a back-up level quarterback, will he be a back-up quarterback, or will he get an unjustified opportunity to be something he isn't? I have to think that Coach Neuheisel is too smart to go down that road, one I'm sure he's well aware has been the demise of other coaches with quarterback sons. Jerry could grayshirt, depending on the scholarship count, and that could mean he comes in later in the 2011-2012 academic year and could count against the 2012 recruiting class. In now trying to recruit a quarterback for 2012, Coach Neuheisel has to not let the situation with his son being on the depth chart scare away potential 2012 quarterbacks. Whatever scenario makes it easier for UCLA to recruit a 2012 quarterback – whether that's Jerry taking a scholarship this fall or grayshirting – would have to dictate when Jerry enrolls. There are positives to Jerry being a Bruin. For one, he's a charismatic kid, who helps with recruiting and team chemistry, he's a good student and he knows his football. He could function almost as a player-coach at times, being a guy on the quarterback depth chart that helps the other quarterbacks know their playbooks. This might not sound like much, but a sharp kid that knows offensive football is also an asset to have running the scout team offense. If it's all done in the correct perspective, hopefully he'll have a chance to help the team on the field down the line, in whatever capacity he earns. As Coach Neuheisel conceded in his Signing Day comments, Jerry will have to get bigger and stronger, and continue to add arm strength, so he's pretty far away from having a chance to contribute on the field. And with Hundley in the program, and even in the best case scenario, still a few years away from having any chance of going pro early, Jerry will have plenty of time to develop in the program before he's even considered as an option to get on the field. By then, hopefully, it will be clear whether he should warrant it.
The second eight of the 2011 UCLA recruiting class are coming soon...