Spring Preview: Receivers

Despite losing Shaquelle Evans, Darius Bell, and Grayson Mazzone to graduation, the receiving corps should be in very good shape heading into spring...

Going into the season, we expected UCLA's receiving corps to be good and generally reliable, without that big-play gamebreaker that would have made it a truly dangerous unit. To a large extent, that's how the year turned out, with fairly consistent contributions from a variety of receivers, including Shaquelle Evans, Jordan Payton, Devin Fuller, Devin Lucien, and Thomas Duarte, among others.

Perhaps the most encouraging part of the season was Lucien's reemergence as a potential No. 1 receiver toward the end of the year. After suffering a shoulder injury early in his redshirt freshman season, Lucien took a while to get back to full speed, and it wasn't until the last four or five games of the season that he really hit his stride. Likewise, Fuller showed at times that he could be a significant threat out of the slot, and if he gets more opportunities to catch the ball at full speed on slants or drags this year, he could be explosive.

The hope for UCLA is that it can continue to develop consistent depth at the outside positions while uncovering a shifty, fast playmaker among the players already on roster.

A Look at Spring

Evans is now gone, graduating after leading the receivers for the last two years, which leaves a bit of a vacuum at the top of the food chain. To a certain extent, Evans is replaceable, in that he wasn't a particularly explosive receiver with a unique skillset – you'd have to assume that some combination of Payton, Lucien, Eldridge Massington or one of the freshmen can do a credible enough job of recreating his mostly reliable route-running and pass-catching. It's a weird thing to say about a receiver, but UCLA may miss his downfield blocking more than anything.

In addition to Evans' departure, the receivers also lose Darius Bell and Grayson Mazzone, two of the mainstays of the Y rotation last year. To an even greater extent than with Evans, though, we don't know how much their departures will end up being a loss. Thomas Duarte and Nate Iese are both waiting in the wings, and both are much more physically talented than either Bell or Mazzone, with a higher upside.

It's going to be an exciting spring, with plenty of opportunity for younger receivers to make their mark on the rotation.

What to Watch For

Eldridge Massington.
-- Is Massington ready to explode? When we saw Massington last spring, he was still heavily braced and obviously still favoring his injured knee (torn ACL in July of 2012). Then, in San Bernardino, he looked similar – maybe a bit more steady on his feet while running, but still a bit tentative. He really started to blossom by the end of the year, though, to the point where he was one of the best playmakers on the scout team, and usually Asiantii Woulard's primary target. With the brace removed this spring, we should see the vaunted speed that Massington was known for prior to UCLA, and that's an exciting prospect for us, since he's shown solid development in his catching technique and body control in even the short time we've seen him. If his physical tools have fully recovered from the knee injury, his progress could be key for UCLA's offensive growth.

-- Is Mossi Johnson a receiver? During the press conference after Signing Day, Jim Mora said that Johnson's first opportunity would come at safety or cornerback. Since then, though, we've heard rumblings that Johnson will get his first look at receiver, since that seems to be where his body fits best. It'll be interesting to see how his recovery has gone over the last year after suffering a knee tear last January. This will be just his freshman season at UCLA, so there's plenty of time for him to develop and figure out where his best fit will be.

-- Who takes over Evans' spot? Right now, we'd say that Payton and Lucien should have their starting spots sewn up, at least until the fall, but there's a chance that Massington could make a push for either spot. It really doesn't matter, of course, because UCLA rotates so many receivers through the X, Z, F, and Y, but we know the receivers are a prideful lot.

-- What can Kenny Walker bring to the table? Walker was intriguing his freshman year because he had such good speed, and looked like a potential playmaker out of the backfield and in the slot. He was hurt all of last year, and spring will give us our first really extended look at him since last spring. He didn't show great hands or a natural knack for making guys miss his first year, so it'll be interesting to see if he's developed significantly in either department. If he has, he could be a real option for a UCLA team that is missing that quick and fast component.

Projected Depth Chart for Spring

Jordan Payton
Darren Andrews
Mossi Johnson
Tyler Scott

Thomas Duarte
Nate Iese

Devin Fuller
Kenny Walker OR
Jalen Ortiz
Ahmaad Harris

Devin Lucien
Eldridge Massington
Logan Sweet

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