Payton, for his part, had an effective spring, and looks like he's built on his strengths from last year – his hands are great, he runs good routes, and he's become very savvy about getting separation in the red zone, using his big body to shield defenders off the ball.
While the first string guys did what they needed to do to hold onto their jobs, the real story of the spring was the younger receivers. Mossi Johnson, the true freshman who greyshirted last year after tearing his knee, was arguably the MVP of the entire spring. From day one, it was clear that the brace on his knee was really just a precaution, because he moved as if it wasn't there. He has good speed, but his quickness in and out of his routes was the truly impressive part, especially with the brace. He showed off good hands and a good ability to get open over the middle throughout camp. It's going to be very interesting to see him without the brace on come fall.
Eldridge Massington also had a good spring, if in a different way than we expected. His billing out of high school was as a speedster who could stretch the field deep, and we really haven't seen that yet. On the other hand, he's really improved his body control and physicality over the last year, and has developed into a good jump ball receiver and red zone threat. His hands have also improved considerably. If he does get the speed back fully (or demonstrates it on a more consistent basis) that would go a long way for him, but as it stands, he provides real value as another possession-type receiver.
Alongside Johnson, probably the most exciting development for the receiving corps was the emergence of Kenny Walker after sitting out last year with a back injury. Walker, who didn't show exceptional hands his first year in the program or a great feel for route-running, has improved in both departments, which has allowed him to use his exceptional speed much more effectively. He says, and we agree, that he's probably the fastest guy on the team. There were times during camp where he'd get 10 yards past a cornerback on a 20 yard route, with Adarius Pickett and Priest Willis both getting victimized at times.
Thomas Duarte, who has gone unmentioned to this point, was on track to have one of the most effective springs of any receiver before he sprained his ankle in the second to last week. Duarte's hands are the best on the team, and his body control is exceptional. He has developed a knack for creating contact to get open, using the most minute of pushoffs to get free. As long as his ankle heals well (which we expect it will), he'll likely be UCLA's best red zone weapon this year.
Devin Fuller was limited much of the spring by a nagging back injury, but when in, looked like much the same player as last year.
All told, this might be the deepest receiving corps that UCLA has had in quite some time, and we haven't even hit fall yet, when the incoming freshmen will get their chance to break into the rotation.
Our Best-Guess Two-Deep Heading Into San Bernardino:
Our Not-Wild, Not-Ill-Advised Guess for Who Starts Against Virginia:
X Devin Lucien
F Devin Fuller
Y Thomas Duarte
Z Jordan Payton