2016 Recruiting Analysis: Defensive Backs

Mar. 17 -- We finish the series that analyzes recruiting needs and the type of prospect that best fills them. UCLA is clearly in the market for a lock-down cover corner and, luckily, the west has a good supply...

This is the eighth and final installment 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
-- 2016 Recruiting Analysis: Offensive Line
-- 2016 Recruiting Analysis: Defensive Line
-- 2016 Recruiting Analysis: Linebackers

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.

Defensive Backs

Need and Recruiting Tactic:
On the surface, if you look at UCLA’s projected defensive back depth chart for the next couple of years, it looks loaded and deep. But if you really start breaking it down, you realize that’s an illusion. There are many question marks, like: Will cornerback Johnny Johnson be physically able to play, coming off extensive surgeries on his shoulders? Will the light ever turn on for Priest Willis and/or Tahaan Goodman? Will it be determined that some incoming 2015 recruits, like Nathan Meadors and/or Octavius Spencer, be better suited for offense? In the next two years, UCLA will graduate eight defensive backs; there are a decent amount of bodies on the roster, but how many will emerge to replace the long-time starters? UCLA brought in five defensive backs with the 2015 class and hope to answer some of these questions with the help of those five guys. But finding good defensive backs, starter-quality, is a tough proposition, perhaps tougher than some other spots on the field, so you need to keep a steady flow of talent coming in to maximize the chances that you find a handful of guys who can play. Given all of this, it’s easy to project that UCLA will bring in four defensive backs in the 2016 class.

Probably the top priority with the class of 2016 is to find a great cover corner. The five guys UCLA brought in for 2015 are talented, but you wouldn’t necessarily say there is an elite lock-down corner among them. Many times in UCLA’s zone defense, the staff has preferred bigger types at corner that can really have a physical presence on the edge, and we completely get that. But last season there was a glaring issue with UCLA’s defense that it simply didn’t have that great, one-on-one field corner type – the guy that every game you can put on the opponent’s best receiver one-on-one and be pretty confident he’s going to essentially remove him as a threat (Well, UCLA did have it for a few games, but that seemed to be linebacker Myles Jack, when he was used one-on-one against USC’s Nelson Agholor, for example). Defensive Backs Coach Demetrice Martin likes the bigger, more physical DBs, and likes those that have versatility, that can play both safety and cornerback. That’s given him many moveable pieces, and that’s truly an invaluable element to have in your secondary. But we think that elite lock-down corner is the element that will take Martin’s secondary to the next level.

Of course, while UCLA is looking for that guy, it still needs to bring in the Martin prototype – the physical, big DB – to sustain the type of physical secondary he wants to put on the field.

Our Picks for the Right Fit:

Jones was always thought to be a great prospect, but he blew the top off of it at the recent The Opening Regional L.A. He displayed the type of cover corner talent that is a once-in-few-years type of talent. He showed a level of quickness, feet, instincts and knack for the position that we, quite frankly, hadn’t seen much at the Nike Camp over the years. What’s scary, too, is that he wasn’t even sure if he was going to work out at receiver or DB at the camp – which is an indication that Jones is just getting started at playing the cornerback position and his upside is off the charts. Plugging him into UCLA’s projected defensive back depth chart, which has a good number of big, versatile types like Colin Samuel (Jones’ high school teammate, by the way), Dechaun Holiday, Meadors and Spencer, would really supply the last piece to the puzzle.

Jones took an unofficial visit to UCLA right before The Opening L.A., and he has said publicly that UCLA is his leader. We know he was very impressed with Jim Mora on his visit. The long-held theory was that he was one of those guys that was destined to go to USC, but we tend to actually put stock in UCLA having a legitimate chance with Jones. In the most recent re-ranking of the Scout 300 for 2016 Jones is now the #1 cornerback propect in the west.

We’re getting greedy. What if UCLA had two elite lock-down corners? The possibilities of what UCLA could do with its secondary are endless. If UCLA felt confident it could essentially put two guys on an island one-on-one it then frees up the safeties to do other things, like fill in the box or blitz. Coming away from The Opening L.A. we thought that David Long was another prospect, like Jones, who showed elite cover abilities, starting with exceptional feet and flexibility to change direction. He, like Jones, was effortless in being able to run next to a receiver and change direction quickly. We know Long is at the top of UCLA’s cornerback list (along with Jones), and that he and Martin have a very good relationship, with some common Pasadena roots. We’d be happy if UCLA got one of Jones or Long, but getting both of them would immediately make UCLA’s defensive back future about as bright as we could ever remember.

Sidney is one of our favorite overall prospects in the class of 2016. He’s not particularly fast (probably a 4.6 guy), and he might be on the slight side (lucky if he’s 5’11 and 165 pounds). He, actually, too, didn’t show he was particularly quick at The Opening, with a 4.41 shuttle. But if you watch him enough and look past those limitations, you’ll quickly notice that he transcends all of that on the field. At The Opening, playing receiver, he easily had the best and quickest moves (he was the one guy who Jones couldn’t stay with) and advanced ball skills. At the camp working at corner, he was right there with Jones and Long in terms of quickness and instincts. In a small space, on either side of the ball, he was perhaps the quickest guy we saw at the camp, which is crazy because his numbers didn’t reflect that. We think it has something to do with his exceptional balance and coordination, never losing his feet, always having his weight over him and having such great overall body control to go along with those ball skills. Sidney’s love is to be receiver, and we think he easily could be a very good receiver on the college level. The way these things work, though, is that eventually someone is going to convince him that his best pro potential is at cornerback, and it seems almost every recruit eventually succumbs to that, so we put Sidney here with the most-desired DBs for UCLA in the 2016 class. We know that UCLA now has him as a top target on their board as an athlete.

Parker is another good cover guy, among the best in the west. He could be the most physical among the corner prospects on this list, which probably puts him close to the top of Martin’s wish list. UCLA has been pursuing Parker a long time, with both Martin and UCLA Defensive Line Coach Angus McClure (is recruiting region is NorCal) heading up his recruitment. It was thought UCLA was the leader for him, but he said this spring that USC leads. We feel, though, that UCLA has a very good shot with Parker, especially with two of UCLA’s best recruiters, Martin and McClure, on the case.

In a year when it looks pretty evident that UCLA is prioritizing corner types, Jackson is probably atop the list of safety prospects on UCLA’s board. He is an exceptional athlete, and at 6’2.5 and 210 he’d be a pretty imposing physical force at safety, especially alongside Dechaun Holiday or Colin Samuel. But these aren’t your old-style safeties, that were big but not very flexible or good in coverage. These are a new breed, big guys who have come through high school honing their cover skills. Jackson is so versatile he’s played a number of positions in high school and, in fact, played cornerback last season. The recruiting duo of Martin and McClure are on Jackson, too, and Jackson has said UCLA is at the top or near it. He plans to visit UCLA sometime this month.

Murphy is the #2 ranked cornerback prospect in the west. He is long, rangy and very physical. He’s more in the cornerback mold of Iman Marshall than he is Jack Jones; he’s going to try to physically overwhelm you rather than out-quick you. Going to Saguaro and being close with 2015 receiver Christian Kirk, we had heard that Murphy was almost a lost cause and destined to go to Texas A&M. But recently we’ve heard that he might be more open than people assume, and that UCLA is one of the other schools he particularly likes. He’s also going to get national attention, from the likes of Florida State and Ohio State, and get hit hard by the in-state schools, so it’s going to be a tough recruitment.

In an effort to list Pittman at every position, we added him here, among the defensive backs too. To be candid, we really still don’t know where to put Pittman. We don’t think he’s a pure receiver, but he could probably fit in at tight end or Y. With the way his body is going, though, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him end up at linebacker. He’s all of 6’4 right now, and looks like he’s not finished growing. At 6’4, 210 pounds, he’s about the size you’d want in a high school outside linebacker or, heck, defensive end even. Scout just recently moved him to safety, and it's completely reasonable to think he ends up there in college. If we had to guess, we think he ends up a Y, regardless of where his body goes from here. His recruitment will definitely be one to watch; Verbally committed to UCLA he is talking like he's a bit of a soft commitment and wants to look around. If he ends up at UCLA, we anticipate it will be epic battle among the UCLA positional coaches over who gets him.

Bruin Report Online Top Stories