2015 Defensive Back Projection

Dec. 9 -- UCLA returns both starting cornerbacks, and two safeties who started at points last year, but depth behind them could be a concern...

2015 Defensive Back Projection

Departures
CB/S Anthony Jefferson*

Returning Starters
CB Fabian Moreau
CB Ishmael Adams
S Randall Goforth**
S Jaleel Wadood

Key Potential Contributors
CB Priest Willis
CB Johnny Johnson***
CB Jalen Ortiz
CB Marcus Rios
S Tahaan Goodman
CB Denzel Fisher
CB Adarius Pickett
Assorted freshmen

*Anthony Jefferson might have the opportunity to take a sixth year after missing the vast majority of two years due to injury, but the last we heard about a month ago is that he was leaning toward not applying for the hardship waiver. We’ll check again this month.

**Goforth injured both shoulders during the season and underwent surgery in the early going. He’ll likely be granted a redshirt, preserving a season of eligibility, and it sounds as if he should be ready to go for next year.

***We’re not certain that Johnson will be ready for next year; his shoulder injury could be a chronic issue, and he’s already had to have two separate surgeries on it since arriving at UCLA. He’ll be one to monitor in spring.

A Look at 2015

Most likely, UCLA will lose one starter and significant rotational player in Anthony Jefferson, but will return everyone else. Jefferson’s loss is significant, though. He was arguably the best and most versatile defensive back on the team, with the ability to drop down to corner to cover the opposing team’s best receiver or play safety at a high level.

Safety depth will be a concern next year without Jefferson. Right now, UCLA has effectively two healthy safeties in Jaleel Wadood and Tahaan Goodman. Ishmael Adams showed he can play there in a pinch, but he’s not an ideal safety. Goforth will most likely be ready for next year, but it’s hard to count on a safety — one of the guys who has to tackle the most on the team — coming off of two shoulder surgeries. Goodman had some real struggles against Stanford in the final game of the year, and just hasn’t shown a good deal of progress in his two years in the program. Wadood, though, was a major bright spot this year, and we’d have to think he’ll be a starter heading into next season.

So, what do you do? Obviously, UCLA needs to bring in a safety or two this recruiting cycle, or move guys around. We actually wouldn’t be surprised if Myles Jack plays a little more safety next year than he did this year. It sounds crazy, we know, but there was actually a thought within the program when Goforth went down to have Jack play a significant amount of safety, since he has such great athleticism and instincts. He showed against USC that he can play a little DB, so he’s another emergency option there. Priest Willis could be another option, even though he’s a corner. In fact, many of the cornerbacks could pretty easily be converted to safety, much like Jefferson was, though it’s not an ideal situation. Adarius Pickett might make the most sense from a body-type standpoint, but that's something we'll have to watch in spring. We'll go out on a limb in the depth chart below and say he gets moved.

At corner, UCLA will have two returning starters in Moreau and Adams, which is great, and hopefully Moreau will start off next season the way he finished 2014, looking more and more like the elite player we thought he could be coming out of fall camp. Behind the two, UCLA has Marcus Rios, who had a nice bounce-back year and should hopefully be able to participate fully in offseason work. Willis has had an up and down career so far, but he’ll also factor into the rotation, and then Jalen Ortiz and Denzel Fisher (or Pickett) could provide some depth. We don’t know what to expect yet from Johnny Johnson, or whichever freshman defensive backs UCLA ends up with.

It should be a fairly good unit at the starting level, and assuming Goforth’s healthy return, a pretty experienced one. Depth is probably a bit of a question, or at least reliable depth, with Goodman and Willis not yet showing the level of consistency necessary to start competing for starting jobs. It really is a perfect situation for an impact freshman to come in and get immediate playing time. If that doesn’t happen, or even if it does, building some reliable depth through spring is going to be critical.

Will the unit be improved? Probably not.

2015 Projected Two-Deep
CB: SR Fabian Moreau, RS JR Marcus Rios
S: RS JR Randall Goforth, RS FR Adarius Pickett
S: SO Jaleel Wadood, JR Tahaan Goodman
CB: RS JR Ishmael Adams, JR Priest Willis

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