Evaluating the Freshman Class

The freshman class UCLA brought into school this year has the potential to be one of the best in recent memory--so, naturally, we decided to rank them after a week of camp...

We're about halfway through fall camp, so it's time to start assessing some aspects of this year's team. One of the most exciting aspects, of course, is the true freshmen, because the 2013 class was ranked #3 in the nation by Scout.com. And here's the thing: Even though it's only six days into fall camp, it's entirely clear that UCLA's 2013 class is loaded with talent, and could potentially be the type that transforms a program. We can't remember this much talent in one freshman class at UCLA. It has made fall practice feel completely different than any in memory – just because of the pure depth of talent on the field.

We, then, decided to prematurely rank the UCLA freshmen, just six days into their UCLA career. These rankings are based on how good the player has looked so far in camp and their chance to get immediate playing time this season, but also the potential they've shown in what kind of player they could become and how much they can impact the UCLA program.

So, here we go, The Sweet 16:

1. Asiantii Woulard, Quarterback, 6'3, 205. Here's how talented this freshman class is: when Tracy and I started to talk about breaking down a top list of the freshmen, we figured 15 would be a good number and started rattling off names. After a little while, once we had moved guys around and settled on where we thought they'd fit into the list, it hit us: we hadn't included Asiantii Woulard. Of course, Woulard projects as having the most impact long term of any of the freshmen, since he projects to be the starting quarterback in two years. There's so much to like with his tools. Physically, he's a little bit taller than Brett Hundley and has a better body in general. His arm is the strongest on the team, and he also has the best throwing motion. Mentally, too, we've heard he's a quick study. Yes, he's looked a little lost during team practices over the last few days, but he is, in fact, a freshman. Given that he will likely not need to start for another two years, it's safe to say he has a little bit of time. And when you project two years of seasoning onto his immense physical abilities...it starts to get a little fun.

2. Myles Jack, Linebacker, 6'1, 225. Jack has lived up to his billing so far in fall camp, and we've heard from some within the program who think he might have the most upside of any of the linebackers not named Anthony Barr. He's an explosive and strong athlete who can slice into the backfield and blow up a running play behind the line of scrimmage, like he did last night with Steven Manfro. He also has excellent change of direction and quickness, which allows him to cover smaller receivers in pass defense. In short, he's the complete package at linebacker. Right now, he's playing outside and inside linebacker, depending on the formation, and we could project him having a big impact at both positions this year. Right now, it's no given that he will start this season, but he will play significantly. By next year, he will almost certainly start.

3. Priest Willis, Cornerback, 6'2, 190. Perhaps the most quoted quote from fall camp so far is Jim Mora saying, "Priest Willis is a cornerback!" With the way Willis has looked so far, we agree with coach. That potential to be a cornerback – at 6'2 and 190 – is what had him ranked as the #4 cornerback in nation and the #41 overall prospect, and that ranking, so far, has proven dead on. He has in San Bernardino shown that he has the agility and mobility to play corner, and he has done it surprisingly comfortably, without much awkwardness or confusion. Yes, he's been burned a few times, but with his athleticism and closing speed he's been able to generally stay with the UCLA receivers in 1-on-1s. It was one of the biggest questions coming into camp – whether Willis could actually play corner. Mora said everyone should have just listened to him.

4. Poasi Moala, Offensive Tackle, 6'4, 265. Yes, even though there's another freshman offensive lineman with the first string who will definitely play this season, we put Moala ahead of him on this list. Benenoch clearly is more able to come in and play immediately, and Moala looks like a young kid with a young body. But in watching him in the drills, Moala was stunning in his athleticism. His ability to move his feet is very impressive, and his strength, too, for being just 265 pounds, was surprising. Moala, from what we've heard, didn't necessarily always have enough nutrition growing up, so now that he has a training table – and is on a weight-lifting program – he easily has the most upside of any of the freshman OL. He's already slotted in at second-string tackle, weighing just 265 pounds, because even not close to physically developed, he's already that good just playing on potential.

5. Caleb Benenoch, Offensive Guard, 6'5, 320. It didn't take long for OL Coach Adrian Klemm to find his starting right guard. Benenoch stood out among the freshman offensive linemen in the combination of size and strength. He easily is the best on both those fronts. Among the big frosh OLs, he has the best body, put together pretty well, looking like he's already been playing in college for a while. He's looked a little lost at times, as you would expect, but when he can get his hands on someone it's clear his natural strength gives him a chance. What's been really impressive about Benenoch is, at all of 320 pounds, he hasn't been that gassed, and is actually in pretty decent shape, unlike the majority of the other frosh OLs. It's easy to project him as being a four-year starter and a potential all-conference player, at least.

6. Eddie Vanderdoes, Defensive Line, 6'4, 305. We haven't gotten to see much of Vanderdoes since he's been limited with a back strain. But in the glimpses we've had, he's shown some great athleticism for his size, and it's so unique he gets ranked this high.

7. Craig Lee, Running Back, 5'11, 188. If we're going by the criteria above, Lee might not play that much this season and, with a pretty loaded depth chart at running back for the next two seasons, he might not impact that much very soon. But running back is such a big-impact position and what we've seen of Lee is that he has unique potential among the running backs in UCLA program. For just a freshman six days into college, he already has a very good body, and in a couple of years it's easy to imagine him at 5-11 and 210. What we like the most is that he naturally runs the way Mora wants his tailbacks to run – to stick a foot in the ground and get up field, and not be afraid to pop someone.

8. Sean Covington, Punter, 6'1, 211. As the punter who will immediately play, Covington is high on this list. If he hadn't looked like he has the chance to be an all Pac-12 level punter we wouldn't have slotted him here, though. He can boom the ball 50-60 yards, and then, as you might expect, just about every five punts he'll shank. That's actually a better shank-ratio than Jeff Locke had as a freshman. His cool-headedness and maturity is impressive.

9. Isaac Savaiinaea, Linebacker, 6'2, 230. That Savaiinaea is so far down this list is a testament to the depth of the freshman class. In almost any other year, he'd be the crown jewel of the class. He's already running primarily with the 1s at inside linebacker (thanks to injuries to Jordan Zumwalt and Eric Kendricks). The funny thing is that, when Zumwalt was healthy at the beginning of camp, he and Ryan Hofmeister were the first string. When Zumwalt went down with dehydration issues, Savaiinaea stepped into his slot. Then, when Zumwalt came back, Hofmeister is the one who got sent back down—meaning, essentially, that Savaiinaea is close to being the clear No. 3 inside linebacker, and the primary backup at both positions. He moves really well laterally and can range sideline to sideline with ease—which is a far cry from how he played as a senior in high school, when he was carrying an extra 30 pounds. Now at about 230 pounds, Savaiinaea looks like he, too, will have a significant impact this year and could be in line to start next year in Zumwalt's vacated inside backer position.

10. Thomas Duarte, Receiver, 6'3, 221. Duarte has been dinged up a little over the last few practices, but in the first two or three days, he showed why he was such a highly rated prospect. He's a really smooth, natural athletes, gliding through his routes and looking more like an outside receiver than a tight end. He has excellent hands, and a really natural pass catching technique, not letting the ball get into his body. Physically, he looks good, at about 6'3 and 220 pounds, but you could see him adding weight and still maintaining his athleticism. As a Y in Noel Mazzone's offense, he seems like the perfect fit, and as long as he's fully healthy, we see him playing a role in the receiver rotation.

11. Kenneth Clark, Nose Tackle, 6'2, 305. Coach Mora said the other day that he suspects Clark will redshirt, given the two nose tackles currently in front of him on the depth chart, and that might very well be what ends up happening. However, that shouldn't take anything away from the way Clark has played this fall, nor his upside for the future. Clark is a load at nose tackle. He can really get low and use leverage to make plays in the backfield. He's also playing a little bit of nickel defensive lineman, which shows that he also has a bit of versatility for the future. He looks ready to play right now, but the depth in front of him might be too much to overcome this season.

12. Jayon Brown, Safety, 6'0, 200. Jayon Brown might be the biggest surprise of fall camp, when you factor in what the expectations were for him. Based on what we'd seen and heard from him in high school, we actually thought he might be a greyshirt candidate, back when it was still uncertain what the scholarship situation would be for fall. He's made an impact, so far, in every practice we've seen, and seems to have a nose for the ball, picking it off four times so far in camp. He's already improved in coverage from where he was at the beginning of camp, and, physically, he's big enough to cause receivers trouble at the line of scrimmage. Right now, he's playing nickel safety, but physically, he looks like he could get even bigger than his current 200 pounds, so it'll be interesting to see where he slots in over the next few years. As it stands right now, with the depth in the secondary being a little sketchy, we could see Brown playing significant snaps this season.

13. Kylie Fitts, Defensive End, 6'4, 270. Fitts has improved his body a great deal from where it was in the spring. At that time, he looked a little out of shape, and his conditioning wasn't particularly good. Now, he's trimmed up his upper body quite a bit and looks like he's redistributed his weight a little. So far in camp, he's looked pretty good, and has flashed a very good motor. He's currently running with the first string defensive line, with Cassius Marsh sitting out a few practices and Eddie Vanderdoes still on the sideline. He's already an easy 270 pounds. He'll have a good chance to play this year, especially if Vanderdoes takes a while to get healthy, and then in two years, you'd project that he'll have a very good chance to start.

14. Eldridge Massington, 6'3, 205. Massington is listed on the UCLA roster at 6-1 but there's no way he's less than 6-2. When he stands next to Woulard, who is easily 6'3, he looks about the same height. Massington has also gotten in better shape since spring, trimmed up a bit, and it's improved his agility. Of course, recovering from the ACL has made his debut a bit of a tentative one. To begin in San Bernardino, you could see he was moving slowly and very aware of the knee. But as he's gotten more comfortable in the last few days, he has started to show his potential. He, like we said, is a big kid, and that length has been tough to defend at times in practice. He hasn't shown the great explosiveness he was hailed to have, and that's understandable, but the fact that he has the kind of moments he's already had in San Bernardino while still pretty fresh off of his ACL recovery and with a big brace on the knee is impressive. His size and potential quickness give him a great deal of upside. The fact that UCLA isn't necessarily deep this season at WR means he very well could end up the #4 guy in the rotation, especially if he continues to improve at the same rate he has in the last week.

15. Tahaan Goodman, Safety, 6'2, 190. Goodman is just a great-looking all-around prospect. He doesn't quite have the size of Foreman, but he has a great body – one of those agile, lithe bodies that is able to change direction easily. He has shown such agility early on defending the receivers in 1-on-1s that you could actually see him as a cornerback (Yes, coach). In high school he had a knack for slicing through defenses to get to the ball carrier, and he's shown it in San Bernardino, too. With more physical development and maturity, Goodman's upside is considerable – like better than any safety UCLA has had in its program for a while.

16. Darren Andrews, Receiver, 5'10, 180. Andrews already looks to be one of the more explosive players on the team, with track speed when he gets up to full speed as well as very good quickness. He played primarily slot receiver through the first few practices, but has branched out into a wider role over the last couple of practices, catching the ball in a variety of different situations. His speed is something that UCLA desperately needs, especially with Damien Thigpen's status for the early season still uncertain, which is why we could see him making an impact this year. He's about 5'11 as of right now, and already looks well-built.

The rest of the class:

Tyler Foreman, Safety, 6'2, 198. Foreman looks the part of a big, physical safety, and so far has played like one. On blitzes, he's looked very good from the safety spot, and in the few periods of thud and tackle, he's looked good as well. He's not quite the athlete that Tahaan Goodman is, which is why Goodman gets the edge, but Foreman might be more ready to play right now. He's just a bit stiffer body-wise, which might put his upside a little below Goodman's.

Deon Hollins, Linebacker, 6'0, 216. Hollins has a very defined role in this defense as a rush-linebacker. As it stands right now, he looks good in that role, but his body doesn't project as one that will likely turn into an every-down linebacker. That being said, with his quickness, there's nothing stopping him from making an impact very early on.

Johnny Johnson, Cornerback, 5'9, 185. He's been nicked up a bit, with a dislocated shoulder that popped in and out, and that's set him back, especially on the depth chart. Unless he makes a remarkable surge in the next couple of weeks he's probably on his way to a redshirt year. What we've seen of him, though, has been impressive, with a great, physical ability to press receivers at the line and then great natural ball skills. If he were healthy, and there weren't a couple of healthier guys ahead of him, it wouldn't be a stretch if he had played this season. He has many of the same qualities of Ishmael Adams, but Johnson seems even quicker. Easily a potential starter down the line.

Jalen Ortiz, F Back, 5'9, 180. Ortiz has done well in San Bernardino, in just a week making a transition from being a tailback in high school to the F back in UCLA's offense. The F back catches the ball more than runs it from scrimmage, and Ortiz has shown a good, natural pass-catching ability. He's probably quicker than he is fast, and his smaller size has made it difficult for linebackers to stay with him in coverage at times. He could very well play this season, given the spotty depth at the F back position.

Scott Quessenberry, Center, 6-3, 288. Like we thought when he was recruited by UCLA, in the first five days of practice he's looked like UCLA's future starting center. He has a good first step off the line and has very good leverage. He'll need to get stronger, but he's already moved up to the #2 center spot.

Cameron Judge, Linebacker, 6'1, 218. Judge looks like the typical freshman linebacker in that he'll need to add some weight before he can be expected to play significantly. His body looks good, and it looks like he'll be able to add 15 pounds without too much trouble. With UCLA's depth at linebacker, he's a pretty obvious redshirt candidate for this season.

Alex Redmond, Offensive Guard, 6'5, 305. Redmond has gotten some work with the 2s in fall camp, and, like Benenoch, when he's gotten his hands on defenders, he's looked pretty good. Like Benenoch, too, he's had some typical freshman struggles in knowing who to block. Athletically, he's not quite as flexible as Benenoch, which might be what's holding him back in the competition.

Christian Morris, Offensive Tackle, 6'6, 315. Morris probably added a bit too much weight in the offseason and will need to shed some of that before we'll have a really good look at what kind of athlete and player he can be. He's struggling in the heat much the same way Simon Goines struggled last year, but his body needs significantly more work.

John Lopez, Offensive Guard, 6'5, 325. He clearly will redshirt, needing to trim up and transform his body. He spent the first few days mostly on the sideline with a sprained ankle, and Saturday suffered what looked like a concussion. He was working with the 3s at guard, but he'll have to really change his body and improve his athleticism if he's going to have a chance to compete for a spot on UCLA's offensive line in the future.

Kenny Lacy, Offensive Line, 6-4, 290. Lacy looks like he's put on some bad weight since high school, and looks to be an easy redshirt, too. Like many of the frosh OLs, he'll have to work to improve his body. He has slotted in with the 3s at guard and tackle, and had a couple of moments with the 2s, so far in San Bernardino. It's difficult to project him given that we know he was a pretty athletic prospect in high school but it's now hard to see given the added weight.


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