We'll start with the defensive backs. The unit, on the surface, may be one of the deepest on the team, but there is reason to believe that early playing time could be available for freshmen as early as 2015.
Projected Depth Analysis Defensive Backs
It would be difficult to make the claim that any secondary coach in the country has recruited as well as Demetrice Martin over the last few years. Martin has pulled in a ton of talent over the last two years in particular, signing excellent classes in back-to-back years, which usually isn't an easy feat at any position. He has also done an excellent job of developing talent, turning Anthony Jefferson, Fabian Moreau, Ishmael Adams, and Randall Goforth into one of the better secondaries in the Pac-12.
In some ways, UCLA, and Martin, may be a victim of its own success. We've heard that some high-level 2015 defensive backs have noticed how stacked the secondary is — at least on the surface — and it has affected their recruitment. As Tracy pointed out in his look at which freshmen could make an impact, USC is actually negatively recruiting UCLA because UCLA has so much talent.
The issue for UCLA in looking at the depth chart is that, although the perception may be that the secondary is deep for the foreseeable future, the reality may be very different, as early as the 2015 season. In fact, there's a good chance that any high-level defensive backs signed this year will have a chance to make an immediate impact during their freshman season.
First, let's take a look at the current starters. Anthony Jefferson will graduate after this season, which will take a versatile player out of the equation. We can probably safely assume that Randall Goforth will return for his senior year, with his talent level probably not that of an NFL early-entry candidate. Ishmael Adams, too, would be a near lock to return for what would be his redshirt junior year.
So, from the starting group in 2014, you can safely assume that two players will return in 2015, with a chance of a third if Moreau either has an underwhelming year or elects to take another year of preparation before heading to the NFL.
With two starting spots potentially up for grabs, and another three or four players likely needed to fill out a nice depth chart, let's take a look at the backups. Tahaan Goodman, as we saw this spring, is clearly on a good developmental track, looking like he could be a star at safety over the next few years. We have virtually no reservations in saying he'll take over for Jefferson in 2015. We'd also say that, from what we saw of Jaleel Wadood in high school, we feel pretty confident that his talent should translate to this level fairly well, and at the very least, he should be a credible option at nickel.
Beyond those two, though, we have several question marks. First, there are the injured. Johnny Johnson just underwent his second shoulder surgery in under a year to repair the same injury, and there's some concern that there could be a chronic issue there. Marcus Rios, who is still on the road to recovery after going through a life-threatening fungal infection, is still probably a good distance away from getting back to where he was pre-infection, if he ever does get there. There's at least some doubt that both players end up contributing heavily during their UCLA careers.
There are also the players that might fit much better at other positions. Ron Robinson, from what we saw this spring, looked better than we expected, but we would question his ability to cover at a high level. He's a good 6'2, and has the body to fill out considerably, so we, and some within the program, think he could eventually project as a linebacker. Adarius Pickett looked OK this spring, but looking at his lower body and the way he moves, we think he's ultimately likely better suited to play a different position, like running back. Again, as with the two injured players, there's at least some doubt that they ultimately stay in the secondary.
So that leaves a group of Priest Willis, Tyler Foreman, Denzel Fisher, and Justin Combs. Combs isn't a realistic option, without the athletic gifts or the build to ever be much more than a special teams contributor. We've yet to see Fisher in college, obviously, but we'd say he's probably a year away based off the last time we saw him. He's still very skinny, and could probably use a year in the weight room. We like his upside, and think he could be a contributor as early as 2015, but it's not a guarantee. Willis made some strides this spring, but we think he still might be a better fit at safety, as he hasn't shown the natural cover ability of a corner. Foreman had some moments in the spring, but is more of a traditional safety than the type that UCLA uses, since he is more of a run stuffer and less of a cover guy.
|Likely in Secondary||Goforth||Willis||Foreman||Fisher|
Judging by what we've seen this spring, it would make sense for UCLA to bring at least three defensive backs in this class, and the coaching staff can honestly still pitch early playing time as a real possibility. We'd say that based off the way some players have developed within the program, it'd make sense for UCLA to secure at least two cornerbacks along with at least one safety. Actually, given the way UCLA uses its safeties, recruiting nothing but cornerback-type players wouldn't be a bad bet, because every DB in this system needs to have excellent cover skills.
The difficulty for UCLA will be explaining what is a complex situation — players who could potentially move positions, players with career-threatening injuries, players who might just not be as capable as their high school rankings would indicate — to high school recruits who can easily be scared off by negative recruiting and the names in a depth chart. In the face of all that, if Martin is actually able to pull in three very good DBs, it would be one of his best recruiting feats to date.