2015 Class Analysis: Defense

Feb. 6 -- Though there were some holes in the defensive class, UCLA upgraded at defensive back...

Overall Defensive Analysis:

UCLA had a few big needs on the defensive side of the ball. First, as we discussed multiple times, the Bruins needed a lockdown cornerback -- or, better yet, a couple. Second, UCLA needed to improve its pass rush with some good edge rushers. Finally, UCLA needed at least one defensive tackle to mitigate the possibility of losing both Kenneth Clark and Eddie Vanderdoes as soon as next year. In two areas out of three, UCLA nailed its needs, but there is that hole in the middle.

The good news for UCLA is that missing out on a defensive tackle this cycle will probably not be an issue until the 2016 season, since Clark, Vanderdoes, and some combination of Ainuu Taua, Eli Ankou, and even perhaps Jacob Tuioti-Mariner should be enough to man the middle in 2015. Signing that defensive back class and adding Keisean Lucier-South to the pass rush addresses many of the immediate needs for 2015, but the misses at defensive tackle and, to an extent, at linebacker will absolutely need to be addressed in 2016.

Recruiting Grades:

Defensive End: A
Defensive Tackle: F
Linebacker: C
Defensive Back: A-

How He Plugs In:
Lucier-South has drawn plenty of comparisons to former UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr, with great length and pass rush ability off the edge. He's probably not the versatile athlete that Barr was, though, and possesses nowhere near the coverage skills or ability in space (you have to remember that Barr was a safety in high school). That said, Lucier-South has tremendous pass rush skills off the edge, and, if we had to guess, he'll play very early on thanks to his specific skill set and how those skills match the desperate needs of UCLA's defense. Early on, we think he could contribute on the level of Deon Hollins this last year, and as he improves his ability to play in space, could see a much bigger role as time goes on.


How He Plugs In:
UCLA has some issues in the defensive backfield. First, both Ishmael Adams and Fabian Moreau were underwhelming this year as cover corners, and it's an open question whether each will develop into the kind of player who can be trusted regularly in one-on-one man coverage. Second, from what we've seen and heard, Priest Willis and Tahaan Goodman are both going to struggle to develop into starters at UCLA. Combined with a few injuries, there were big holes at defensive back this cycle, which is why a player of Holiday's caliber and athleticism is so critical. It'll be interesting to see if he's able to play corner at his size, but if he is, that'll give UCLA the bump-and-run corner they've coveted for a while. If not, he could slide into the safety spot and make an impact there.


How He Plugs In:
It's obviously not the linebacker class UCLA wished for (though there's still a chance to land Roquan Smith), but Woods is a very nice pickup. With his youth and athleticism, Woods' upside is considerable. Right now, he projects as an outside linebacker, somewhat in the Myles Jack mold, but he has the versatility to play both inside and out in UCLA's system. We think he'd probably redshirt in year one to develop physically and then be ready to play a considerable role and perhaps take over for Jack as early as 2016 (since Jack would be able to go pro following the 2015 season).


How He Plugs In:
If there's a lasting image from the losses to Stanford over the last three years, it's those long-armed Stanford defensive ends dominating the line of scrimmage and causing serious issues for UCLA's guards and tackles. Now, Rick Wade is 30 or 40 pounds away from being that kind of player, but his frame makes him look like that typical Stanford defensive lineman. As with Woods, we'd imagine the goal will be to redshirt Wade in year one to begin bulking him up a bit, and then have him be a big contributor in the years to follow. Wade is also an underrated athlete, having played tight end and even outside linebacker at the high school level.


How He Plugs In:
You can take everything we wrote about DeChaun Holiday and say it here, except with this caveat: Samuel may be better able to play corner. Samuel is a very good athlete, with excellent flexibility, which should go a long way toward allowing him to play corner even at his height. He's a bit raw in his technique, and will need to continue to work on his hands, but he has the ability to be a big-time contributor for UCLA. It'll be interesting to see if he can contribute in year one, but we have to imagine most of these freshman defensive backs will be given a chance to earn a spot in the rotation. Samuel also told us he might be given a look at receiver, at least in a part-time package, so that's something to look out for.


How He Plugs In:
Of the players brought in as cornerbacks, we think Lockett has the best chance to make the switch to safety sooner rather than later. He has a solid build, and doesn't quite have the speed and athleticism of some of the other players brought in at corner. We've only seen Lockett in person once, at the UCLA camp in June, and he looked good there, showing nice instincts. We think he'd be a redshirt candidate, but, again, the defensive back depth chart is such that everyone will be given a good chance to compete for playing time.


How He Plugs In:
As Jim Mora opined on Signing Day, Octavius Spencer very much looks like a Mossi Johnson clone, to the point where we'd have to suspect he ends up on the offensive side of the ball before too much time has passed. If he does stick at corner, he certainly has some ability there, with good athleticism, quickness, and fluidity in his movements, but he really does shine with the ball in his hands. It's tough to anticipate what his impact in year one will be, but we're high on his long term potential at receiver.


How He Plugs In:
Meadors, like Spencer, was discovered to a large extent during his senior year, and while he rose up in the rankings once he showed up on the radar, he might even still be a little underrated because he's so new to the recruiting landscape. He's a good athlete, having played considerable Wildcat quarterback in high school in addition to his work as a returner and defensive back. He projects as a safety, but he's another one who could find a fit in a variety of different roles. Again, given his versatility, it's difficult to anticipate what his first-year impact would be. For the sake of argument, and given the generally stacked UCLA depth chart, we'll say he redshirts.



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