2016 Recruiting Analysis: Offensive Line

Feb. 24 -- Adrian Klemm has recruited well enough that UCLA now has "wants" instead of "needs" on the OL...

This is the fifth 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
-- 2016 Recruiting Analysis: Tight Ends

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.

Offensive Line

Need and Recruiting Tactic: In just three years, the depth chart on the offensive line has gone from unmitigated Hindenburg-like disaster to one of the obvious strong points on the team. UCLA is now probably two talented players deep at just about every spot on the line, and there’s even a chance that UCLA’s freshmen this year will largely be able to redshirt their first year in the program. Wouldn’t that be something?

The talented, playable depth that Adrian Klemm has built does create a new set of issues when it comes to recruiting, but so far Klemm has appeared to be up to the challenge. In 2015, UCLA signed the No. 1 offensive line class in the country despite already having a depth chart full of talented, young players. Klemm has certainly proven he can recruit to both an empty depth chart and a full one, and the latter skill is going to become more and more important as time goes on.

So, as we said, it’s a talented and deep depth chart, but if we learned nothing else from the dark decade, it’s that you can never have enough offensive linemen. The goal has changed, though. Where before you’d say UCLA has plenty of needs on the offensive line, it’s now more a situation that UCLA has wants — the necessary tools are there to have a good offensive line for the foreseeable future, but which players would put UCLA over the top into the elite category?

Given the success we saw UCLA have with Xavier Su’a-Filo as a pulling guard, we remain intrigued by the idea of sticking a very good athlete with typical tackle athleticism inside at guard. Su’a-Filo’s mobility from the left guard spot significantly improved the running game, and we’d like to see UCLA continue to recruit with the idea of improving the athleticism at guard in particular.

If you were nitpicking, you’d also say UCLA could use one or two more true tackles. Andre James probably projects as a right tackle or a guard, and Zach Bateman, wherever he ends up, is only going to be in school for two years. Now, as we said — it’s not a desperate need. Between James, Bateman, Poasi Moala, Conor McDermott, Kolton Miller, Simon Goines, and even Caleb Benenoch, the Bruins have plenty of talented tackles to fill out a depth chart. But if UCLA got two more talented tackles in this class, that would elevate the depth chart to offensive line factory status.

So, generally speaking, we’d describe the recruiting wants as a player with very good athleticism who can play guard, and then two more tackle types.

Our Picks For the Right Fit:

Williams is the top tackle prospect in the West, and it’s easy to see why. He’s a very good athlete with the ability to get to the second level with ease. He has very good feet, moves really well, and has very good balance. He’s a tenacious blocker, and is equally good in pass protection and run blocking. He still needs to get bigger, but you’d much rather have an offensive linemen who needs to add weigh than have one who needs to shed weight. The frame is there for him to be 290+ pounds in college with relative ease, and that’ll put him in good shape to play either tackle or guard.

And that’s the interesting thing — as we said up top, we’re not just looking for tackles, but an athletic prospect who could slide in at guard and give UCLA some of the same production that it got from Su’a-Filo. While Williams is probably not the freaky cat of an athlete that Su’a-Filo is, he’s a good athlete and would give UCLA an immediate boost in athleticism at guard. He could absolutely play tackle, but the potential of sliding him in at guard and using him to block to the second level is very attractive.

Williams goes to high school in California now, but he’s originally from the South, so it’s uncertain how much of a real shot UCLA will have at him. He might very well want to return to the South for college, with some family influences pulling him that way. If the Bruins could snag him, though, it would go a long way toward pushing the offensive line depth ever closer to elite status.

Wattenburg has played both left and right tackle in high school, and he’s really improved as an athlete in the last year or so. He has good agility, and is frequently asked to play lead blocker on runs to the outside, and does a nice job of disengaging from his initial block to hit second-level defenders. Like Williams, you could see him playing either guard or tackle, especially in UCLA’s system. Also, like Williams, he still has to add some weight, but he has a nice frame that should be able to add weight with little problem. He’s probably not quite the athlete that Williams is, but he’s improved in the last year, and with continued improvement in the next year, he could surprise some people with his ability to move and get downfield.

UCLA is in pretty good position for Wattenburg early, but with the dearth of good tackles virtually every year, the Bruins will probably have to deal with plenty of suitors. He’s local, though, and that should only help UCLA’s chances. There’s some OL talent in the West this year, but it’s a top heavy class without a ton of depth, so snagging one of these top tier offensive tackles would go a long way toward making this class for Adrian Klemm.

Allen is a true tackle, looking all of 6’7 and really filled out. He plays with an incredible mean streak, frequently driving players into the ground long after the play is over, and that sort of tenacity is something Klemm covets in his offensive linemen. He’s an excellent drive blocker, especially for a tackle, and his pass protection is more than adequate. He’s not a phenomenal athlete, but for his size, he moves really well. You’d have to imagine he could play either tackle spot in UCLA’s system, and would give the Bruins another real option at left tackle after Conor McDermott leaves in a couple of years. He has great height and length, and with Goines and McDermott both gone within the next few years, adding another player with that kind of size to play tackle would be ideal.

UCLA would have to go outside the West to snag Allen, but if there’s one thing we’ve learned about Klemm in his time here, it’s that he’s good for at least one surprising pull nationally every year. Allen could be that guy: UCLA was his third offer, and the Bruins have been on him pretty steadily for over a year now. UCLA has shown it can recruit John Curtis Christian, snagging Kenny Young in the 2014 class, so it wouldn’t be a complete shock for Klemm to waltz into SEC territory and take one of the best tackle prospects in the country. He’s done it before with Christian Morris (even if that only lasted about ten minutes).

Others Who Could Fit

Smith has quickly blown up as a prospect in the last few months, with offers coming in from throughout the country, and from UCLA. Smith has a very good frame, looking all of 6’6 with plenty of room to get bigger. He’s a good enough athlete and fires off the ball well. Just getting bigger and stronger is going to be a priority for him, because he can get manhandled a bit by stronger defensive linemen. He’ll need to continue to refine his technique, as well, since too often he allows defensive linemen to get their hands on him before he gets a punch in. All that said, though, with his frame and natural ability, he’d be a good pickup for the Bruins, especially if Williams doesn’t turn out to be a realistic option at all.

Akingbulu is still a raw prospect, but there’s a ton of athletic upside there, which is what makes him so intriguing this year for UCLA. With no real needs on the offensive line, taking a flyer on a very good athlete who can really move wouldn’t be such a bad bet. He still is in the nascent stages of understanding what he’s supposed to be doing on the field, but on the plays where he gets it right, he can wow you with his athleticism. If he develops significantly in the next year, especially in his understanding of the game, he might be a future left tackle at the college level, and potentially an elite one. But if there’s still some trepidation about his ability to cover a quarterback’s blind side, we could see him transition to the right side or perhaps even inside in college, where the responsibilities can be simplified a bit. In any case, his athleticism alone makes him a real possibility for UCLA.

Eletise is a bit more of a straight guard than others on the list, but we could see a scenario where he plays some right tackle. He is a physical player and a very good, strong straight-ahead blocker. He’s not a great athlete at this stage, but he plays with good toughness and a nice mean streak. He plays left tackle for his high school team, but that’s almost certainly not going to be a fit for him at the college level since he’s only adequate laterally. As a big, strong guard prospect, though, he could give UCLA another talented body to plug in on the interior. Given the Bruins’ needs, though, we don’t know how much of a priority that is.

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