2015 Defensive Line Projection

Dec. 11 -- We finish off our 2015 projections with a look at the defensive line without Owamagbe Odighizuwa...

2015 Defensive Line Projection

Departures
DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa
DT Kevin McReynolds

Returning Starters
DT Eddie Vanderdoes
NT Kenneth Clark

Potential Contributors
DE Takkarist McKinley
NT Ellis McCarthy
NT Ainuu Taua
DE Jacob Tuioti-Mariner
DT Eli Ankou
DE Matt Dickerson
Assorted freshmen

A Look at 2015

UCLA loses Owamagbe Odighizuwa, but returns every other key contributor to the defensive line, including, most importantly, junior interior linemen Kenneth Clark and Eddie Vanderdoes. Clark and Vanderdoes have the potential to be the best interior combination in the Pac-12, and it should be noted that this offseason should be Vanderdoes’ first healthy one at UCLA, which should do wonders for getting him in better shape entering next season. If Clark and Vanderdoes do perform as we expect, though, it does present some issues for 2016, since both have the potential to be draft picks with strong junior seasons -- but we'll worry about that in some later piece.

Replacing Odighizuwa is a concern though. Right now, there are a few candidates. The most exciting one is probably Takkarist McKinley, who showed off some explosive pass rush ability after he came into the program before the Arizona State game. He’d have to put on some weight to really provide what Odighizuwa provided, especially in run defense, but he’d probably be a better pass rusher from that spot with a year of experience under his belt. Dickerson and Tuioti-Mariner are the other two real options, and if we had to pick one, it’d probably be Tuioti-Mariner, since he’s a bit better of an athlete and could potentially improve the pass rush, which we’d imagine will be a priority heading into next season. Dickerson showed some flashes this year, though, so that should be a fun competition — and if Dickerson doesn’t win it, he could also back up Vanderdoes, since he has the frame to play more of that three-technique, defensive tackle role if need be.

The enigma in the group is Ellis McCarthy. He’s never really been in shape during his three years at UCLA, whether due to a variety of lower leg injuries or just a lack of offseason work. He was touted by some (ill-informed) media as a potential draft pick after this season, but his stock, whatever it was, must have taken a hit with his lackluster performance this season. If he has hopes of a professional career, he’ll need to dedicate the next eight months to getting in the best shape of his college career. If he does that, there’s hope that he could back up at both interior line positions and be an impact player.

In 2015, the line flips from being a little inexperienced to finally being experienced, with two junior starters (or three, if McKinley starts), plus a senior as the fourth rotational player in McCarthy. We think the combination of the continued physical development of Clark and Vanderdoes, combined with the offseason work for McKinley and the rising freshmen, should make the defensive line an altogether better unit in 2015, even with the loss of Odighizuwa.

Will the unit be improved? Probably.

Projected 2015 Two-Deep
DE: JR Takkarist McKinley, SO Jacob Tuioti-Mariner
NT: JR Kenneth Clark, SR Ellis McCarthy
DT: JR Eddie Vanderdoes, RS JR Eli Ankou/SO Matt Dickerson
Check out our other 2015 Projections:
2015 Linebacker Projection
2015 Defensive Back Projection
2015 Quarterback Projection
2015 Running Back Projection
2015 Wide Receiver Projection
2015 Offensive Line Projection

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