UCLA recruiting of the 2014 class, so far, has been a bit spotty at different positions. But defensive back recruiting has been very good, thanks to UCLA Defensive Back Coach Demetrice "Meat" Martin. UCLA currently has 18 scholarships to give to the 2014 class, and could have upwards of 22-25 by the fall of 2014 and, so far, UCLA has commitments from only defensive backs and wide receivers. Martin has commitments from five DBs – three cornerbacks and two safeties – and almost certainly has room for more. We had heard UCLA would take upward of seven DB recruits, and could take more if the rest of the positions aren't recruited well and Martin has guys ready to commit.
With five DBs committed, and a few big names still left on the board, we thought an explanation/analysis of UCLA's defensive backs recruiting was in order.
Defensive Back Commitments:
Jojo McIntosh, S, 6-1, 190, West Hills (Calif.) Chaminade
National Position Ranking: 33
Ron Robinson, S/Mini-LB, 6-2, 195, Corona (Calif.) Santiago
National Position Ranking: 45
Adarius Pickett, CB, 5-11, 176, El Cerrito (Calif.)
National Position Ranking: 19
Denzel Fisher, CB, 6-2, 170, Compton (Calif.) Centennial
National Position Ranking: 40
Antreal Allen, CB, 5-10, 182, Auburn (Ala.)
National Position Ranking: 78
Primary Remaining Targets:
Juju Smith, S/ATH, 6-1, 185, Long Beach (Calif.) Poly
National Position Ranking: 1
Budda Baker, S/ATH, 5-10, 175, Bellevue (Wash.)
National Position Ranking: 4
Glen Ihenacho, S, 5-11, 177, Gardena (Calif.) Serra
National Position Ranking: 33
Adoree Jackson, CB/ATH, 5-10, 170, Gardena (Calif.) Serra
National Position Ranking: 3
Nick Watkins, CB, 6-1, 180, Dallas (Tex.) Bishop Dunne
National Position Ranking: 9
John Plattenburg, CB, 5-11, 187, Houston (Tex.) Lamar
National Position Ranking: 23
Jaleel Wadood, S/CB, 5-11, 180, Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco
National Position Ranking: 20, Committed to Cal
Mattrell McGraw, S/CB, 5-11, 175, River Ridge (Louisiana), John Curtis Christian
National Position Ranking: 34
UCLA's Defensive Back Needs/Analysis:
UCLA had a very good DB recruiting class in 2013, but the amount of DBs in the program over the next couple of years is still a question. Also, having so many young players at defensive back vying for a starting spot and trying to establish themselves makes for quite a bit of uncertainty about who will, actually, nail down the positions. It makes for a good competition among the young DBs, a competition that will completely be open and available to any incoming 2014 prospects.
Cornerback is such a tough position to recruit, for a number of reasons. First, it's simply really difficult to find the type of athlete who has the different attributes to play the position. They need to be fast, quick and very quick-twitch, with an ability to change direction on a dime – while also possessing good, wide-receiver like ball skills. Plus, a cornerback has to have a certain mentality, too, one of a little cockiness, since it's such a challenging position in which the odds are naturally against you. Most college coaches feel that they can't have enough good cornerbacks in their program. With a bit of uncertainty at the position at UCLA (with so many young guys still trying to establish themselves), it makes sense for Martin to keep bringing in prospects who have a chance to play cornerback.
Ideally, too, what you would like out of the cornerback recruits you get in any year is that they satisfy all of the specific needs of the position. You'd ideally like at least one that you believe is ready to immediately compete. Also, in today's college football, there has been a trend for a while toward the bigger wide receiver, so it's always good to have a big corner you can use to match up against them. Right now, with the commitments of Pickett and Fisher, UCLA has those needs potentially fulfilled. Pickett might be the best pure corner on the west coast, and the one most ready to immediately play. He's built like a safety, and is very strong, but has the quickness to play corner. Fisher is a good 6-2 and very long. This isn't to say that Fisher wouldn't be able to immediately play, but he could probably use some body development, being pretty thin. He, though, gives you that bigger corner to match up against bigger wide receivers, but he's just not a "bigger" guy; he has very good cover skills and instincts. We think he's a bit under-rated at #40 nationally.
It will be interesting to see what happens with Antreal Allen. He was UCLA's first cornerback commitment and, from what we hear from those that know him, he can play at UCLA's level. We don't know if he's capable of being a starter, given the young talent UCLA has (and is getting) in its program at corner, but as we said, it's a position in which every program needs a good stock of bodies. The question is, being an out-of-the-region kid, will Allen ultimately feel that there isn't room for him and he's more comfortable with a local program? We're not basing this speculation on any concrete information, but just on past history in situations like this.
After the commitments of Pickett and Fisher on the same day last week, many BRO readers asked if there was still room for Adoree Jackson. Easy answer: There is always room for Adoree Jackson. He could be one of the most gifted, electric talents to come out of the west in many years – a potential DeAnthony Thomas type. In fact, we think wherever Jackson does play his college ball he'll more than likely be primarily a wide receiver. His talent is such that you need the game-breaking, play-making ability on offense. He might project from a pro standpoint more as a cornerback, but we think he's one of those special talents that can overcome the size issue on the pro level at any position. So, if he did happen to come to UCLA we project him more as an offensive player, but there is, of course, room for him on the defensive side of the ball. Given that he would be taken as an "athlete," too, we believe wouldn't scare off either Pickett or Fisher, or even Allen. We thought back in spring and summer that UCLA was perhaps the leader for Jackson but, at this point, we are uncertain. We still have to believe that Jackson doesn't want to leave the L.A. area, and if he did it would be for Illinois, where he grew up, and we don't think Illinois is going to compete with UCLA and Los Angeles.
Wadood is an interesting situation. He had committed to Arizona State, then de-committed, and then committed to Cal. It's generally believed his commitment to Cal is pretty solid. But UCLA got more involved during the spring and summer, actually once he had de-committed from ASU and then was in pretty deep with Cal. Martin was at Wadood's game Friday night, and that's not just an idle night being spent casually at a high school football game; when you use one of your "nights out" to see someone it means you're prioritizing him, and we believe Martin is still prioritizing Wadood. What to like about Wadood: He's one of those guys that has the size of a cornerback while he might play more like a safety, but instead of, then, being a guy who can't really do both, Wadood is talented enough he could be a guy that actually can play both positions. Martin loves guys who have versatility and can play both corner and safety. In UCLA's defense, with the different looks and coverages, with the nickels, dimes, mini-linebackers, etc., versatility in a player gives him more of a chance to play. Martin's reputation as a great recruiters is well-earned, so we'll see if he can pry away Wadood from Cal. There does seem to be some interest from Wadood.
Watkins will take an official visit to UCLA, among his five, but we feel he's a longshot for the Bruins.We have heard that McGraw is a strong lean to Oregon, but if other recruits from his high school (like Kenny Young) decided on UCLA that could persuade McGraw. He's another safety type with the size and quickness of a cornerback, and many programs are recruiting him for both spots.
Every time Plattenburg takes an unofficial visit to UCLA, the general feeling is UCLA is the leader. But that tends to wear off pretty quickly. The last time was in August, and it appears that Washington has again supplanted UCLA as Plattenburg's leader. We think UCLA is a bit of a longshot at this point. Plattenburg is a very good cover corner, with good size and quickness.
Just like with Jackson, we think Smith could end up on the offensive side of the ball. He has shown natural ability at both receiver and safety and, at times, has looked more natural at receiver. But we also think that, at this point, UCLA is a bit of long shot for Smith. Perhaps if USC's situation continues to deteriorate and the Trojans' new head coaching hire isn't a dynamic one, and UCLA has a big year, Smith could look more favorably at UCLA.
Another guy who could project to either side of the ball is Baker, who is both a great safety and a talented wide receiver. It's thought that it's between UCLA, Washington and Oregon for Baker, and Jim Mora is going to try to pull off the same magic he did with Baker's ex-teammate, Myles Jack, to get Baker. We've heard, however, this one could be more difficult and that Oregon, actually, could be the team to beat for Baker, not the hometown Huskies.
Ihenacho is the other target UCLA is still gunning for, and has a very good chance to get. Even with 2014 recruiting looking pretty well-numbered, we know that Ihenacho is a big priority for the Bruins. He is physical, a hitter, but has very good speed, and is the kind of versatile player that could also fit in at the nickel. He's actually similar in many ways to Wadood.A class of Pickett, Fisher, Allen, Robinson, McIntosh, Wadood/Ihenacho, along with any of the three "athletes," Baker, Smith or Jackson, would be a huge haul for Martin and the Bruins.