The recruitment of the 2014 class so far, overall, has been solid. As we said before, UCLA recruiting fell asleep for a while in early summer, but it's been strong since the season started in fall.
It now, though, has some momentum, with UCLA having beaten USC, pretty convincingly, for a second time in two years, Jim Mora re-upping and re-committing to getting UCLA into the upper echelon of college football, and Mora able to sign and keep some elite assistant coaches. Mora and his assistant entourage have been on a private plan since Sunday, traversing California doing in-home and in-school visits with many prospects.
Whether the 2014 class will develop from solid to elite depends on five or so of those "Measuring Stick" recruits, the big impact four- and five star guys. UCLA is involved with a number of them, and if UCLA has a big run between now and Signing Day in February, makes a haul of those measuring stick guys – and has enough scholarships to give them – the 2014 class would have a chance at finishing top 10 and having an impact on the team like 2013 did this season.
Right now UCLA has 20 scholarships to give, and that includes the rides we're anticipating UCLA will, in fact, get back from the three players currently on the roster that we previously reported weren't returning. We never worry about UCLA having enough scholarships, because if a five-star prospect wants to jump in the boat there is no way UCLA is turning them down. But it needs to be said that UCLA currently has 12 committed players and just 8 open rides, and quite a few needs – like at quarterback, offensive line, defensive line and linebacker – that it will have to fill. If it fills those, and then also gets a good handful of those measuring stick guys, it's going to need to free up about 4 or 5 rides by next fall. Again, we don't worry about it, but it has to be pointed out.
So, here's our incredibly premature prediction as to how UCLA's recruiting class will fill out and finish, how it will potentially fill needs and then be ranked nationally.
Ainuu Taua, 6-0, 275, Lompoc (Calif.)
Even with all of the current young talent on UCLA's defensive line, projecting it out a couple of years it's still a bit thin. Actually, we're spoiled. If you dig up some of the defensive line depth charts anywhere from 5 to 10 years ago, you'd laugh – or cry. But just because UCLA is in a new era of depth and talent on the defensive line because of Jim Mora and Defensive Line Coach Angus McClure, it doesn't mean it shouldn't get loaded up on talent there. To keep a seamless high-level of play on the DL it's critical that an elite program load up in every recruiting class, and UCLA has a chance to do that in 2014.
UCLA could take up to four or five defensive linemen and what's exciting, and easy-to-sell in UCLA's new defensive scheme, you have so many different roles that certain recruits can fill, and project themselves playing early in.
Take Keenan Graham, who UCLA loses this year. He provided a unique role on the DL; being about 6-2 and 255 pounds or so, he played nose in a rush package. He had good strength, beyond his 255 pounds, but was particularly quick. It's a perfect role for those tweener types, that might not be bulky enough to play every down at defensive end but could give interior OL fits in pass protection.
UCLA just got a commitment from Taua, and he could easily fill that role because he is a beast in getting off the ball, with explosion and aggression. The thing about Taua, though, even though he's smallish for a nose, there is no way you would count him out as an every-down player. He might be only 6-0, and right now 270 pounds, but he could easily play the base nose spot if he only gets to 285, because he makes up for a lack of bulk with strength, quickness and ferocity. Even if he's about 4 inches shorter than what you want at defensive end in UCLA's scheme, we wouldn't count him out as an every-down defensive end. Taua is a huge get, and we just have one regret with him: That he didn't wait to commit until after we wrote this so that we would have gotten credit for the prediction.
Taua's versatility makes it easier for UCLA to recruit the other DL positions, too. UCLA probably, then, also could use a traditional nose type, and then at least two defensive end (in the 3-4) types. Think Datone Jones or Cassius Marsh.
The Holy Grail is Solomon Thomas, the #5-ranked defensive end in the country, from Texas. UCLA has been recruiting him a long time (he came to UCLA's camps under the previous regime), but in spring and summer he definitely drifted in his preference elsewhere. Stanford is generally considered the program to beat at this point, but Adrian Klemm, the recruiter extraordinaire, is on the case and was dispatched to Texas last week for an in-home visit. The word is that UCLA is back in it, and will get an official visit. Arkansas is probably some competition, too. The feeling is that it's a bit of a long shot, but UCLA usually does pretty well with Texas kids when they take official visits to UCLA.
Probably UCLA's most likely commitment at d-end is Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, the prospect from Bellflower St. John Bosco. Mariner is raw and still pretty thin (he's a volleyball player), but there are many things to like if you project him out: He's thin at 260 pounds and he has good athleticism and long arms. If you're looking for a prospect that gives McClure the raw material to work with, that's it. Because of that upside Scout.com just granted hi four stars. He has offers from Wisconsin and Arizona, but Boise State was his favorite – until Chris Petersen moved to Washington. We would expect the Huskies will now make a big pitch for him. He, though, has been waiting for a UCLA offer and the chance to play in front of his friends and family so we think this is a no-brainer.
The other local prospect that UCLA has a good chance to get is Uriah Leiataua, from Compton Dominguez. Physically and athletically he's a bit like Tuioti-Mariner, at about 6-4 and 265 and long-armed. He is the brother of former UCLA linemen Sonny and Shannon Tevaga, so early on UCLA had a big "in," but Stanford came on strong, offered him a while back and the Cardinal are thought to be the leaders. UCLA recently offered and the word is that things might have cooled for Leiataua with Stanford. Leiataua plans to go on his Mormon mission out of high school, so that's a factor. UCLA, though, would easily take his commitment, since it wouldn't count against the 2014 class anyway.
The recent word is that UCLA has a chance to flip LSU commit Davon Godchaux, the #18-ranked defensive end in the nation. Godchaux might not be completely happy with LSU and is visiting elsewhere – UCLA, Miami and Florida State – and the Bruins are definitely in it.
At that nose spot, there is Trey Lealaimatafao, the prospect verbally committed to Texas. He took an official visit to UCLA two weekends ago, for the USC game, and we've heard the visit, understandably, went very well. He also has visited Arizona State. Coming from a big program in Texas with connections to the Longhorn program, we think it's a bit of a longshot for UCLA, but there's a chance.
There is Austin Maloata, the DT committed to USC who took an official visit to UCLA this last weekend.
Marcus Griffin de-committed from Washington State and has interest from the Pac-12. Scout.com's Brandon Huffman saw him last weekend in the championship game for Bellevue (Wash.) and said he was impressive. We know he wants attention from UCLA, especially since he's close with Myles Jack and perhaps the best friend of Budda Baker. UCLA could probably get Griffin if they wanted him.
Mora and McClure had an in-home visit Monday with Harrison Phillips, the 6-4, 240-pound defensive end from Omaha (Neb.), who is committed to Stanford. Phillips was one of the recruits whose interest in UCLA we weren't reporting so as not to hurt UCLA's chances in the recruitment, but the in-home visit was made public yesterday. UCLA has a legit chance with Phillips, who has offers from the likes of of Ivies and Duke (obviously he's a good student), but Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas State as well. He has the right height and frame to grow into UCLA's d-end spot.
There is also at least one other DL prospect that we can't talk about at this time, but UCLA has a definite chance to get.
Taua is in the boat, Tuioti-Mariner, now with a UCLA offer, will want to stay close to home, and Leiataua will more than likely opt for UCLA, even though it doesn't matter since he's going on his mission. We are skeptical UCLA can make up enough ground on Solomon, and think Lealaimatafao, Maloata, and Godchaux stick with their commitments. We are a bit doubtful UCLA will offer Griffin.
We do think, however, there is a very good chance UCLA gets Phillips or the other recruit we haven't mentioned here.
Needs: Minmimum 3, could take up to 5
Will Sign: Taua, Tuioti-Mariner, Leiataua (but he won't count), and one surprise
Cameron Griffin, 6-3, 210, Los Angeles View Park
Talented but a bit thin is also a good description for UCLA's linebacker depth chart, even for next season. It will need three linebackers, and would even take a fourth if he were an elite prospect that wanted to jump in the boat. A key, too, is finding at least one 2014 prospect who can play as a true freshman, and even compete to start.
Griffin is a guy that you'd have to project is a longer-term prospect. He has a big frame that can add good weight, but he'll have to do that, and probably take some time to make the transition from small-time high school football to big-time college football. But we like his upside quite a bit.
We'll be straight with you: the word is that Kenny Young, the inside linebacker prospect from Louisiana, is coming to UCLA. Okay, there, we said it. He has established a very close relationship with UCLA linebacker coach Jeff Ulbrich, combined with the image of UCLA as an up-and-coming program and living in Los Angeles, has the Bruins leading at this time. And we've heard that LSU has backed away some. We think Young is the candidate to play next year, at the very least seeing the field as the back-up inside linebacker.
Gardena Serra's Dwight Williams has been a longtime lean to UCLA. There are questions of whether he's worthy of taking at this point, since he's had an iffy season. He has some considerable potential with his athleticism, and we think the UCLA coaches will feel there is the material there for them to make a player out of him.
We think the further and further Rashaan Evans gets away from his official UCLA visit the more of a longshot he becomes. He's already admitted Auburn is his leader, and it's awfully difficult to counter the Tigers' recent success.
Two recruits committed elsewhere have taken official visits, Bryson Allen-Williams and just this last weekend, Zach Whitley. Allen-Wiliams, committed to South Carolina, had a very good time on his UCLA official visit and it made him think a little, according to sources. Whitley, committed to Alabama, was compelled to take a UCLA official visit by his teammate, and UCLA commitment, OL Najee Toran. It was supposed to be a bit hush-hush, but the word got out. We have no idea how the visit impacted Whitley's opinion at this point.
At this time, UCLA isn't seriously involved with any other linebacker prospects.
UCLA has Griffin, and will get Young and Williams. If it gets any from Evans, Allen-Williams or Whitley it will be a major coup and take this from a very good to an excellent linebacker class.
Will Sign: Griffin, Young and Williams
Adarius Pickett, 6-0, 185, El Cerrito (Calif.)
John Plattenburg, 5-11, 180, Houston (Tex.) Lamar
Denzel Fisher, 6-2, 170, Compton (Calif.) Centennial
Ron Robinson, 6-2, 195, Corona (Calif.) Santiago
Jojo McIntosh, 6-1, 180, West Hills (Calif.) Chaminade
Antreal Allen, 5-10, 182, Auburn (Ala.)
UCLA is poised to bring in a second consecutive elite defensive back class. If it just brought in the present class, it'd be pretty darn good, but it has a couple of big fish on the line that could push the class over to elite status.
Pickett being ranked the #18 cornerback prospect in the nation could be under-rated. He's had a monster season at El Cerrito, on both sides of the ball. Plattenburg was one of UCLA's top targets dating back to last spring and it's a testament to the recruiting prowess of UCLA Defensive Back Coach Demetrice Martin that, even after he moved from California to Texas, Martin got his commitment. Fisher has a huge amount of upside, with height and length.
Robinson was a commitment UCLA took early and he recently signed a Grant-in-Aid and plans to enroll in January. McIntosh recently opened up his recruitment after talking with UCLA and determining that he might have a better chance at playing time elsewhere. Allen was an early fall commitment and, while he'd have a chance to be a two-deep guy at UCLA, we could see Allen and UCLA parting ways now that, first, UCLA is loading up with a big-time defensive back class and his teammate, linebacker Rashaan Evans, is leaning to Auburn.
The two big fish on the line are two of the best recruits on the west coast regardless of position, Jaleel Wadood, from Bellflower St. John Bosco, and Budda Baker, from Bellevue (Wash.).
If we have to confess our preferences, Wadood is our favorite prospect in the west for 2014. He's an absolute stud, just about anywhere you want to play him. He can play safety, corner and would be an impact receiver on offense. He had perhaps the most impressive all-around season of anyone in California this year. He took an official visit to UCLA a couple of weeks ago and was close to committing, but he and his family were still considering USC. The visit went exceptionally well, with Wadood really bonding not only with Martin but with Mora. It's gone back and forth a bit with USC lately, but the feeling has always been UCLA. So, as of right now, it looks very good for UCLA and Wadood.
Baker is right up there among our favorite prospects in the west for 2014. He could also play defensive back or receiver on the next level. UCLA, Washington or Oregon have all been considered the leaders at different times, but there have been some recent developments that have had a big impact on the recruitment. Steve Sarkisian leaving Washington for USC, and taking his DB coach with him, is pretty significant. Baker, then, took an unofficial visit to UCLA this weekend and we heard it was an excellent trip for him. Remember, Mora has known Baker since he was pretty young, with Baker being friends with Mora's daughter. And, of course, he's close with Myles Jack. The fact that Baker, then, moved up his Washington visit to this weekend and then will visit UCLA last, in January, is a very good sign. He'll probably visit USC, since it's now Sarkisian and Co., but it'd be surprising if he chose to come to Los Angeles and went to USC over UCLA and Mora and Jack. It's looking very promising for UCLA with the talented safety prospect.
And then there are some other possibilities, too. UCLA is one of two finalists for Mattrell McGraw, the safety from Louisiana who is teammates with UCLA targets, linebacker Kenny Young and receiver Malachi Dupre. It's been thought Oregon, the other finalist, was his leader most of the time, but we've also heard sporadically that McGraw had bought into the package deal to UCLA.
UCLA is also going to visit John Bonney, the nation's #9-ranked safety who is teammates with Plattenburg at Lamar. Bonney is very good, and camped with UCLA last summer. He is verbally committed to Texas, but Mora will have an in-school visit with Bonney probably today (Tuesday) and gauge the possibility of flipping him.
Jonathan Lockett just de-committed from Washington, as you'd expect but then, a bit unexpectedly, didn't immediately indicate he's locked up for USC, but said he's been talking with UCLA and Coach Martin.
UCLA, of course, is pursuing all-world Adoree Jackson, from Gardena Serra. From what we know UCLA is one of his top four or five, but it's known he's been leaning to Florida, and even with the Gator's disaster season, he's supposedly still leaning there. We've never heard literally or gotten the vibe that UCLA is doing well with him, and just haven't heard there was a connection between him and UCLA. Perhaps this will change, and maybe when it comes down to it, he'll want to stay close to home and opt for the program that currently owns the town and has shown it can feature two-way players and make them stars. But probably not.
We'll barely mention Juju Smith, the five-star prospect from Long Beach Poly who we think is about 99% sewn up for USC. There, he's mentioned. By the way, we think he's going to play receive in college – or should – anyway.
It will be very interesting – and really entertaining – if UCLA actually could get most of the guys it's leading for at this time.
Because UCLA might, in fact, get a couple more elite guys we think McIntosh and Allen will see the writing on the wall and end up elsewhere.
We're hoping Fisher doesn't do that. He's looking serious at Washington State because he'd have a chance at immediate playing time. We're going to believe that Martin will want to keep Fisher in the boat and make a big effort to make that happen.
We think McGraw will pick Oregon and Bonney will opt for Texas and its new coach.
We would be stunned if Lockett doesn't end up at USC.
All indications at the moment are that UCLA will get Wadood and Baker.
Will Sign: Robinson (already signed), Pickett, Plattenburg, Wadood and Baker.
This projected class (we predicted the offensive recruiting class Friday) will definitely fill some needs and come up, well, needy in some spots.
Quarterback – UCLA needs a 2014 QB for depth and another chance at someone winning the spot after Hundley leaves, so missing on a QB is significant. It also puts a huge amount of pressure for UCLA to sign a big-time guy in 2015. It leads for Josh Rosen currently, which is good, but it's a long ways away from Signing Day 2015.
Running Back – Getting Watson is solid, but UCLA would miss the homerun, impact player it needs at the position. UCLA will have to get that in 2015.
Wide Receiver – If it gets Roberts, Lasley, Van Dyke and Quick it fulfills every need at receiver. This would be an A class; with Dupre A+, perhaps the best UCLA receiver class in the last 20 years, or ever. If it gets the four, at least three of them could compete for playing time in 2014.
Tight End – You need to bring in one tight end a year, and Dixon would be a homerun.
Offensive Line – With the blows we witnessed to the offensive line this year, depth is key. Getting Toran, Delp and just one more recruit-to-be-named-later is decent but not great. Getting Mama doesn't even really fix it that much since he's going on his mission after one season of college. UCLA needs tackle types and this class would be short on that, even if the third signee was a tackle. We'll see if Klemm has any recruiting magic between now and NSD. If not, he'll have to kill it in 2015 if he wants to keep his OL at a high level of talent in 2015 and beyond.
Defensive Line – We love Taua and his versatility, think Tuioti-Mariner has some down-the-road upside, and think the unnamed prospect will be a guy who could potentially play as a true freshman. It would be a very good class in support of the excellent class McClure brought in for 2013, providing talent and good depth.
Linebacker – We like Young and Griffin, and are as skeptical as most on Williams. We think Young could play as a true freshman, but feel this class would be one good prospect short of fulfilling needs.
Defensive Backs – Far and away the winner of the 2014 class. To get one of the best DB classes in the nation after doing it in 2013 would be an astounding job by Martin. The talent in the secondary in 2014 and beyond would be mind-blowing.
WHERE WOULD THE CLASS RANK?
If UCLA gets the recruits we project, it's a class of 20, which is on the smaller side. Even though rankings can change, it would include one five-star (Quick) and about 11 four-stars, and, if you go by the rankings and scores from 2013, it would slot UCLA's 2014 class at about 10th in the rankings. That would a very good class for signing just 20 recruits.
We have to say, though, Mora is easily in his best recruiting form in December and January. He's pretty powerful in the home and UCLA has been knocking it out of the park on official visits. There are some surprise recruits UCLA is pursuing as of this moment, and we think there will be even more between now and Signing Day. So, we think Mora has a very good chance of conjuring up a little more recruiting magic, as he's done the last two Januarys, and vastly upgrade this prediction.