In 2012, UCLA Head Coach Jim Mora and his staff brought in the #12-ranked class, only a matter of days after coming on the job in Westwood.
In 2013, after the Bruins had a good season in 2012, and much was made of Mora turning around UCLA football, UCLA then signed the nation's #5-ranked class.
The 2014 UCLA class will be a little different, with UCLA probably not having the 25-27 scholarships to give like they did in 2012 and 2013, but probably more in the 17-20 range. Given that the Bruins have filled up on bodies for 2012 and 2013, and the smaller projected class, UCLA will almost certainly take a decidedly different tact with 2014, and be far more selective.
It might feel a bit different to all the BRO recruitniks, too; there will be recruits you would normally think that UCLA should be on in any other year, but they simply aren't in 2014.
It's March, so it's very early, and we know that any list of UCLA's top targets is going to look considerably different by next January. But with the smaller projected class, and UCLA being more selective, with its big board having far less names on it for 2014, it gives us a chance to perhaps get a better earlier handle on how the class might ultimately shape up.
The following list isn't at all comprehensive. It doesn't even have all of the prospects UCLA has offered on it. But, as of right now, in March, these are the guys that 1) UCLA has as a top target and 2) are doing really well with so far, and we think they'll have a legitimate chance to get and 3) we can see the scenario of how they'll end up at UCLA. So that means there are plenty of players, like say Michiah Quick, Nathan Starks or Malachi Dupre, that aren't on the list -- not because UCLA hasn't offered them or isn't recruiting them hard, but we just don't think they're prospects that UCLA ultimately will get.
In other words, this could be a far-premature but realistic guess (based on what we know at this time) at how UCLA's 2014 class might shake out.
DEFENSIVE END: (2)
Others Most Likely:
Rashaan Evans, 6-3, 220, Auburn (Ala.), #15 DE
Nifae Lealao, 6-5, 270, Sacramento (Calif.) Capital Christian, #7 DE
Connor Humphreys, 6-4, 230, Portland (Ore.) Central Catholic, #45 DE
Qualen Cunningham, 6-4, 225, Chandler (Ariz.) Hamilton, #20 DE
Kennedy Emesibe, 6-3, 245, Oak Hills (Calif.)
Jalen Jelks, 6-6, 250, Phoenix (Ariz.) Desert Vista, #24 DT
Uriah Leiataua, 6-4, 245, Compton (Calif.) Dominguez, #37 DE
Even though UCLA has seemingly had some unprecedented depth on the defensive line recently, it's going to lose two three starters on the DL after the 2013 season, and it brought in just two DL with the 2013 class. So, defensive line is a recruiting priority for 2014, with a need for two defensive ends.
Finding prospects that fit the bill, and fit the role of defensive end in UCLA's 3-4, isn't easy, however. At UCLA, they need to be over 6-3, ideally 6-4 to 6-5, and about 270. Kylie Fitts, the 2013 committed prospect, is the prototype defensive end recruit, at 6-4ish and 260 in high school. They should have good length, with long arms, and good quickness. These are not easy parameters to necessarily fill, and that's why finding two defensive ends for 2014 could be a challenge.
Thomas is clearly UCLA's #1 target. He camped in Westwood last summer, the coachs have been recruiting him steadily since and, while he's getting national attention, he's still expressing high interest in the Bruins.
Dorton is an interesting case. He doesn't have the ideal size, more like about 6-2 and 220 at this time. He probably doesn't project as an outside linebacker because he doesn't seem to have that kind of mobility. While he's probably on the small side right now for defensive end, he has some close relatives that are big, Dorton looks like a baby in person, and he does look like he's grown some, so there is some potential for Dorton to get 6-3ish. His frame, also, look like it could hold 250ish. He has said UCLA is his leader for a while, even though there's been some uncertainty about that recently.
We haven't included too many non-west-coast prospects in these analyses, limiting them to the ones we think UCLA will ultimately have a decent chance of getting. Evans might be one, since he's consistently listed UCLA in his top four and plans on visiting this spring. He's much like Dorton in terms of his size.
The only other defensive end prospect UCLA has offered on the west coast is Lealao and, while he's an elite prospect, he's a heavy lean to Stanford, and probably projects as an offensive lineman anyway.
The other guys listed above are on the list because they have the potential to show the UCLA staff this May (evaluation period) and June (at UCLA's camps) that they're worthy of a scholarship, and UCLA has some type of advantage in recruiting them. Humphreys and Cunningham have some Pac-12 offers, and have been in contact with the UCLA staff. Emesibe and Leiataua have family connections to the UCLA program; Emesibe's older brother is a walk-on running back and Leiataua is the brother of former Bruin linemen Shannon Tevaga and Sonny Tevaga, so he was a childhood UCLA fan. Jelks just recently took an unofficial visit to UCLA after being in L.A. for the Nike Camp. We think Emesibe might have what it takes to garner an offer at one point, a good body and great length (very long arms). He could easily end up 6-3 to 6-4 and 270.
NOSE GUARD: (1)
Ainuu Taua, 6-0, 270, Lompoc (Calif.), #7 DT
Others Most Likely:
After getting Kenneth Clark in 2013, UCLA is in the market for one defensive tackle/nose guard type. Taua is overwhelmingly the #1 target at this time, being a great-looking prospect and having UCLA as his favorite for a while. He's starting to blow up nationally, so UCLA will have to be very active in their recruitment to stave off the challengers. If UCLA could get his commitment, DT recruiting would be over.
The word is that Mone, while he's committed to Michigan, the coach he committed to at Michigan has since left, so he's been contacting a few programs he'd like them to continue to recruit him, and we've heard one of those is UCLA. Valentine is a soft verbal to Florida, but has also expressed interest in other programs, one being UCLA.
We think Williams is intriguing. He's not getting recruited much, mostly because he was trying to get recruited as an OL, but recently has looked very good as a DL. He has slimmed down from last summer and has looked good at some events. It couldn't hurt that he's at the same high school as UCLA-committed Johnny Johnson. We've heard the plan is for him to check out UCLA this spring.
Others Most Likely:
Michael Lazarus, 6-2, 215, Berkeley (Calif.), #11 OLB
Curtis Bolton, 6-2, 215, Murrieta (Calif.) Vista Murrieta
Zach Brown, 6-3, 230, San Diego (Calif.) Henry, #26 OLB
Marquis Ware, 6-2, 210, Los Angeles (Calif.) Salesian, #14 OLB
Chandler Leniu,6-1, 225, Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco, #25 ILB
It's tough to know just how many linebackers UCLA will need in the class of 2014 until some things shake out on the current roster. Where the likes of Nate Iese, Jeremy Castro, Kenny Orjioke, and the incoming 2013 prospects shake out in terms of position will determine if UCLA takes 2 or 3 linebackers for 2014. You can safely say at least two, since that's almost the default number every season for linebackers.
Here's the good news: UCLA is probably leading for the top two linebackers in the west, Williams and Calhoun. Both, though, are going to necessitate UCLA staying on them diligently to keep them leaning toward the Bruins.
After those two, UCLA's linebacker recruiting is up in the air. You would think, if they were feeling they were going to get both Williams and Calhoun, they'd need a bigger, beefier type. The only other west coast linebacker prospect to have a UCLA offer is Ware, and his stock is dropping some. May and June will, of course, go a long way in determining what other prospects get offers. We think, among the west coast prospects, Lazarus, Bolton, Brown and Leniu could be primary candidates. Lazarus has good height and frame to go with good quickness, and he's tight with the El Cerrito prospects that are leaning to UCLA (we'll get to that with the DB recruiting). Bolton is a bit of a tweener, but he likes UCLA and goes to Jeremy Castro's high school.