2016 Recruiting Analysis: Tight Ends

Feb. 23 -- There are a couple of intriguing options at tight end in 2016...

This is the fourth in a series that gets into some deep analysis of UCLA's recruiting needs for 2016 position by position.

Already, we've published:

-- 2016 Recruiting Analysis: Quarterbacks
-- 2016 Recruiting Analysis: Running Backs
-- 2016 Recruiting Analysis: Wide Receivers

UCLA clearly signed a considerably talent-laden class for 2015. Plugging that into the existing talent in the program, UCLA is definitely at its most talented point in quite a long time.

In analyzing the projected depth chart after plugging in the incoming freshmen, it’s fun to nitpick and analyze what are some areas of need for the program, specifically for the 2016 recruiting class.

It definitely is a new era in UCLA football recruiting. Just a few years ago, we couldn’t write the type of article this is – where we selectively pinpointed specific needs in the program. Pretty much under the last couple of coaching staffs you didn’t have that luxury – you’d just say UCLA needed to load up on talent at every position from top to bottom.

So, here it is, what UCLA needs position by position, in 2016, and the 2016 prospects out there that UCLA has a chance to get that best fills that need.

Tight End

Need and Recruiting Tactic: Now that UCLA has proven it’s ready and willing to recruit true tight ends (see: Chris Clark), it’s interesting to theorize about what changes could be made to the Bruins’ offense. In 2012, the last time UCLA truly had a real tight end, Joseph Fauria was one of the key cogs in the offense, working as a significant red zone target. Since then, though, the position has basically disappeared at UCLA, with Thomas Duarte mostly acting as a big inside receiver than as a true tight end — in point of fact, he might be the worst blocker among the receivers. With Clark in the fold, the Bruins might be able to return to the offense from 2012, and perhaps even build in some more power formations that allow for a blocking tight end. At worst, his presence could limit the amount of defensive players needed on offense when UCLA goes to its goal line presence. The possibilities are certainly interesting.

If the recruitment of Clark represents a shift in philosophy for UCLA’s staff, though, the Bruins will need to start stocking some more tight ends. On the roster right now, there’s Clark, who’s definitely a tight end, and then a variety of bigger receivers who don’t really fit that mold. Duarte, Alex Van Dyke, Austin Roberts, even Eldridge Massington — these are all bigger receivers, but not one is a classic 6’5, 250 pound tight end who can block like an offensive lineman while also flexing out as a receiver. If UCLA wants that position to be a consistent part of the offense, and indeed want to build aspects of the scheme around that position, then recruiting more players to fill the role will be imperative.

The tricky part is figuring out how to recruit for something that hasn’t really been used in two years here. UCLA can point to the film from 2012, and how the staff used Fauria, and once the season starts, they’ll be able to recruit based on whatever production they get from Clark. But it’s a tough sell, especially considering whoever they recruit will have to come in a year after the No. 1 tight end in the country. The ideal candidate would be someone with a good deal of versatility who could conceivable see themselves stepping into Duarte’s shoes as readily as Clark’s. With the way the tight end position is evolving at the professional level, it might even make more sense to pitch prospective tight ends on the possibilities of flexing out wide in UCLA’s offense.

Our Pick For The Right Fit

Asiasi is a big, athletic stud, who possesses all the attributes you’d want in a modern tight end: physical blocking, excellent hands, decent speed, and good athleticism. Physically, he has great size, already 260+ pounds an a legit 6’4 or 6’5. He’s such a good athlete that he even plays Wildcat quarterback at times for his high school team. He’s a very, very smooth athlete for a bigger guy, and runs very well after the catch. It’s rare to find this complete of a tight end at the high school level, but Asiasi can really do it all. He’s a tenacious blocker, too, and if his body continues to grow and thicken, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him become a really athletic offensive lineman.

Asiasi is a true tight end, yes, and his ideal role probably involves equal time as both a blocker and a receiver. That said, he’s probably a good enough athlete, if he stays around his current size, to play some of the Thomas Duarte/Y-receiver role. So, Asiasi could probably fit in to UCLA’s offense even with Clark in the fold, without the offense turning into double tight-end Stanford sets all the time. Clark, for that matter, has some versatility as well, so it isn’t necessarily the case that both would need to be hugging an offensive tackle on every play.

Being California-based, Asiasi also makes some sense because UCLA doesn’t have to travel across the country to pursue him, and there’s already some mutual interest, with the Bruins probably among Asiasi’s early group of favorites. The four-star is likely to be pursued nationally, with offers already from schools like Michigan and Alabama, but we’ve heard that there’s going to be some pressure on him to stay local. Landing Asiasi to go along with Clark would give UCLA a massive influx of talent at the position.

Another Who Could Fit

We watched enough of Pittman last weekend to come away with the impression that he’s probably going to grow out of a traditional receiver role. Already 6’4 and what looks like 210 pounds, Pittman is clearly still growing and filling out, and it isn’t a stretch to imagine him as a 6’5, 240-pound guy. The thing is, he’s still a good athlete, still runs really well, and has, usually, pretty good hands. His physicality wasn’t consistent last weekend, but everything we’ve heard is that he’s actually a pretty physical player who plays with an edge. Considering the way his body is going, we might be inclined to slide him in on the defensive side of the ball, but it’s intriguing to think about what he could do as a tight end/Y-receiver.

If his body stays fairly thin (let’s say he just grows to 6’5, 230) he could end up playing the Duarte role as a big, athletic inside receiver who very rarely has to do anything resembling tight end dirty work. If he thickens out more than that, though, and gets to the 6’5, 250 pound range, he could be a much more traditional tight end, with the ability to block at the line of scrimmage as well as run routes downfield. Either way, if he stays on offense, he looks like much more of a fit as an inside receiver than as an outside one.

Pittman is obviously committed right now, but it does appear that there’s some shakiness to his commitment to the Bruins, even after visiting last week. That said, if the Bruins can retain him through Signing Day, he’s a really intriguing athlete who could slot in at multiple spots for UCLA.

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