Evaluating the Freshman Class

In what's becoming an annual tradition, we rank the freshman class based on their potential impact on the program over the course of their careers...

After nine days of fall camp, we've seen enough of the freshman class to see who is most likely to make a big impact this year. As we did last year, we've ranked the freshmen in terms of their potential impact on the program -- so this isn't just a ranking of what they'll do this year, but what we think they'll do over the course of their careers at UCLA. So guys with tremendous upside might be ranked above guys who might play more their first year.

In general, this freshman class looks decidedly better than it did on Signing Day, or even in the first couple of days of camp. It doesn't have the star power of the 2013 class, but there are several potential starters in the group, as well as a few guys with considerable upside who could be stars down the line.

1. Kenny Young, ILB, 6'2, 225

Young has been the star of fall camp so far. He started getting first string reps after a few days, and is now almost permanently ensconced opposite Eric Kendricks as a first string inside linebacker. He is already built like a grown man, with huge arms and a broad upper body, but he moves very well and has shown excellent instincts and a nose for the ball. Even in just the short time he’s gone against Noel Mazzone’s offense, he’s already shown a great ability to sniff out swing passes and the rest of the short passing game. As of now, we expect him to start this season, and, once Eric Kendricks graduates, we’d expect him to become the key cog in the middle over his final three years at UCLA.

2. Zach Whitley, ILB, 6'1, 218

We really haven’t seen much of anything from Whitley in fall camp due to a variety of injuries. We saw enough of him in spring, though, to indicate that he’s going to be a player. He’s a very good athlete, with great lateral quickness and excellent speed for a linebacker. In the brief time we saw him in camp so far, he showed much better instincts than he showed in spring, which could indicate that he’s getting more comfortable. His health will determine how much he plays this year, but we’ve seen enough to say that his upside is pretty significant.

Mossi Johnson.
3. Mossi Johnson, Slot, 6'0, 185

Even though Johnson was originally a member of the 2013 class, he greyshirted last year due to a severe knee injury, making him a true freshman in 2014. He’s looked like an impact player through spring and fall camp, showing a knack for finding open spaces in a defense and presenting a solid target for quarterbacks. He has very good quickness, and his route-running has been excellent. He’s had a few drops in the last couple of days, but from watching him through spring and fall, that doesn’t seem to be a chronic issue. He’ll be in the rotation this year, and should be a significant cog in the rotation for his entire career at UCLA.

4. Najee Toran, OG, 6'3, 268

Toran impressed us in spring with his incredible mean streak, and he hasn’t let up in San Bernardino. There have been at least a half dozen times between spring and now when he’s pushed a defensive lineman 10 yards off the line of scrimmage and then buried them in the ground. He has a great motor, which makes us think that he can be pretty effective even though he’s underweight. At 268, he may have trouble with some of the bigger nose tackles and 3-techs in the country, but if he can get to 280 or 285 by his second year in the program, his strength and tenacity should make him very effective. He has the versatility to play both guard and center, and if he ends up starting this year, he could be a four-year starter at UCLA.

5. Adarius Pickett, RB, 6'0, 185

Pickett made the switch to running back from cornerback about five days into camp, and so far he has looked completely natural. He catches well out of the backfield, has a nice downfield running style, and looks good cutting. We thought he looked more like a running back just seeing him in spring, and he’s proven to be more natural there than at corner. We think there’s a good chance he breaks into the main rotation at running back this year, and going forward, he could end up the starter at that position as well as a potential kick and punt returner.

6. Alex Van Dyke, WR, 6'4, 215

Van Dyke has progressed considerably in just the week and a half of camp so far. The first couple of days, he looked a little uncomfortable, and wasn’t getting off the line well, which made us think he was almost certainly more of a Y than an outside receiver. He’s shown us more explosiveness and quickness over the last week or so, which indicates that he should have a chance to play outside. His ultimate future may still be inside as he adds more weight, but he’s shown good athleticism through the last week. At his size (6’4, 215) he has a chance to be a red zone target as early as this year, and as he gets more comfortable, we could see him potentially starting down the road.

7. Jaleel Wadood, S, 5'9, 170

Wadood may not have a great deal of upside to his body at 5’9-ish and 170 pounds, but he’s already shown that his instincts and ball skills have translated to this level. He worked with the first string yesterday in place of Randall Goforth, and he’s been a part of the two-deep at safety in every practice. He’ll play this year at safety, but we wouldn’t be shocked if he switched to slot receiver at some point in his career, where his quickness and size may be better suited. In any case, with his value at multiple positions and his potential at punt returner and kick returner, he’s going to be a significant contributor going forward.

8. Matt Dickerson, DE, 6'5, 265

Dickerson has gotten steadily better every practice. The first day, he looked like he was swimming a little bit, playing a bit too high and getting pushed around. He’s improved his technique as camp has worn on, and has been moving his way up the depth chart. Physically, he is in great shape at a rocked out 266 or so. He could probably add a little more weight to his frame, but he looks to have the strength to hold up this year. Of the three true freshmen, we’d say he has the best chance to play this year, which should put him a leg up on the other two when it comes to starting down the road.

9. Jordan Lasley, WR, 6'2, 190

We’ve only seen Lasley in a college camp for two days, but what we’ve seen has been impressive. He has great quickness and has shown natural hands. If you remember, he also ran a 4.4 40-yard dash at the UCLA camp before his senior year, so the speed is there as well. He does a great job of getting low and dropping his weight during his routes. He also has value as a potential punt and kick returner. Obviously, we’ve only gotten a short look, and he hasn’t done any team drills yet, but we think his athleticism and speed could get him on the field this year. One note: he has already started talking a lot in practice, and it’ll be interesting to see if that continues or if one of the veterans puts a stop to it. His trash-talking was an issue at times during his high school career.

Cameron Griffin.
10. Cameron Griffin, OLB, 6'3, 215

Griffin went down with a shoulder injury after only a couple days of camp, but those first two days were pretty eye-opening. He is a very good athlete, showing excellent quickness off the line. He has a good frame, looking to be 6’3+ and a good 215 or 220 pounds. What was surprising is that he actually showed a few pretty advanced pass rush moves at times, and that kind of technique wasn’t though to be one of his major strengths. He was a little raw dropping into coverage, and we don’t know how long the shoulder injury will hold him out, but he looked like he’ll have a chance to be a player down the road.

11. Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, DE, 6'3, 265

Tuioti-Mariner, like Dickerson, has improved pretty steadily through the first 10 days of practice, but he didn’t start at quite the same level physically. He is a better athlete, though, and has already shown enough athleticism for UCLA to try him out in Owamagbe Odighizuwa’s role as kind of a do-everything lineman. He could very well play this year, since UCLA likes to use so many defensive lineman, and then going forward he’s a likely starter by his third year in the program.

12. Denzel Fisher, CB, 6'2, 175

Fisher is a likely redshirt candidate at this point since he’s still skinny and learning the technique necessary to play effectively at this level. That said, his upside is considerable. For a long, tall corner, he moves very well, and when his technique has been good in camp, he has been very effective. The great news for him is that UCLA has shown enough depth through the first week and change that he probably won’t need to play this year, allowing him a full year of development.

13. Ainuu Taua, DT, 6'0, 298

We may sound like a broken record with the defensive linemen, and this is probably a credit to Angus McClure, but Taua has looked better every time we’ve seen him in camp. He seems to be adapting to the speed of the game and size of the offensive lineman as camp wears on, and has shown surprising athletic ability for a guy built as short and stout as he is. He looks like he could use a year to get his body right, but we wouldn’t be surprised at all to see him on the field this year.

14. Aaron Sharp, QB, 6'3, 195

We’ve only seen a couple days of Aaron Sharp, so there’s not a great deal we can say about him other than this: he looks like he’ll have a chance to stay at quarterback. Because it’s the most important position on the field, that pushes him up a few notches on this ranking. He has a fluid throwing motion, and seemed to throw with enough zip. We’ll have a better feel for him after a few more days, but if what’s said about his athleticism is true, he could have some real long-term value for UCLA.

Nate Starks.
15. Nate Starks, RB, 6'0, 190

Starks has looked a bit tentative running ball through the first week and a half, and hasn’t shown much explosion. He’s somewhat an upright runner, too, which he’ll likely have to correct going forward. He has caught the ball fairly well out of the backfield after a few drops the first day, and has had better runs over the past couple of days, but as of now, we’d imagine he’ll redshirt as long as the rest of the running back group isn’t depleted by injuries.

16.Kolton Miller, OT, 6'8, 305

Miller is probably not a candidate to play his first year, since he needs to get stronger and learn the technique to play at this level. He showed good feet through the first couple of days, but fatigue has made him a bit slower through the last week or so. We’ll get a better look at him over the year and through spring, which may move him higher on this list. Offensive linemen develop at different rates, and evaluating underdeveloped big guys like Miller can be a crapshoot, so consider this spot a placeholder until we see how his body develops.

17. Ron Robinson, S, 6'2, 197

Robinson has shown a good work ethic through spring and fall, and hasn’t looked completely out of place at safety. We still think he might be a better fit at linebacker, but that depth chart is pretty stacked as well. We figure he’ll redshirt this year, and then it’ll be a question of whether he bulks up to be a full-time linebacker or possibly moves into the Tyler Foreman-role as a hybrid nickel safety/linebacker.

18. Dwight Williams, LB, 6'1, 212

We really haven’t seen much of Williams yet since none of the three freshmen who were held out for the first week have practiced in team drills. His body doesn’t look great right now, like he might have added some bad weight or just lost some good weight, but Sal Alosi seems to be on a mission to have that melt off him as soon as possible.

Austin Roberts, WR, 6'2, 215 It’s obviously a shame for Roberts that he’s out for the year with an ACL injury, but you really have to feel for me and Tracy — Roberts was one of the two or three guys we were most excited to see in camp. If he comes back from the ACL well, he could be high on this list. His athleticism on film looked great.

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