Spring Preview: Receivers

Mar. 20 -- UCLA's receiving corps returns every starter from last year and should be poised for a big season...

We’ve talked extensively about the situation that Josh Rosen is coming into at UCLA, with experience and depth at every level of the offense. Nowhere is this more apparent than the receiving corps, which, barring unforeseen circumstances, will return every scholarship player from last year, when the Bruins had a very productive receiving corps.

Jordan Payton emerged last season as a good No. 1 option at the Pac-12 level, Thomas Duarte continued to show that he’s a mismatch as a big slot receiver, and Mossi Johnson burst onto the season as a potential weapon at slot receiver in his own right. With Eldridge Massington another year removed from his knee injury, and Jordan Lasley, Alex Van Dyke, and Austin Roberts better able to contribute, we’re expecting the receiving corps to be improved in 2015, and that starts with the spring.

A Look at Spring

Jordan Payton, Thomas Duarte, Devin Fuller, and Devin Lucien are all absolutely known quantities at this point. Payton has shown that, despite not having overwhelming athletic gifts, he has the ability to be a true No. 1 receiver for UCLA. Last year, he demonstrated real ability to generate yards after the catch, which is a near necessity in Noel Mazzone’s offense. Duarte has arguably the best hands on the team, and is another big, athletic target who creates mismatches against whomever he is lined up against. Fuller, who hasn’t been quite the speedster he was billed as coming out of high school, has still been a fairly consistent receiver, and Lucien, who hasn’t gotten many opportunities, could finally have a breakout year in his final season. He’s athletic enough to be a big play threat downfield, but he just hasn’t been able to put it together on the field yet.

So, those guys we know, and to a lesser extent, we know what we’re going to see from Kenny Walker (speed, shaky hands), Logan Sweet and Tyler Scott (solid, decent blockers), and Ahmaad Harris (quickness, very small). The interesting part of spring will be figuring out what UCLA is going to get out of the remainder of the receiving corps.

Eldridge Massington.
Eldridge Massington showed real flashes last year that he could be a very good receiver for UCLA, though maybe not the type that many expected. He’s not super explosive off the line, which is seemingly what many expected, but he’s such a big-bodied receiver that he more than makes up for that lack of explosion with his ability to make tough catches and break tackles. He’s actually a little like Payton, but with arguably better deep speed (we fully believe that when Massington gets to his top speed, he’s among the faster players in the receiving corps — it just takes him a while to get there). Now, the interesting thing will be if putting another year of distance between him and his ACL surgery will give him a little bit more explosion. That’s something we’ll watch for this spring.

Mossi Johnson was our standout player in spring of last year and in fall camp last year, and when he finally got a real extended shot about halfway through the season last year, he showed he could be a real weapon. He has very good quickness and elusiveness, and while he’s not a track star, he has good enough speed. As far as receivers currently on the team, he probably fits the bill as a “playmaker” more than any of them. As with Massington, he had a serious knee injury of his own in recent memory, so another offseason to get stronger and go through speed training could give him some nice physical improvement heading into spring.

Lest we forget, UCLA actually signed a pretty solid receiver class in 2014, but two (Jordan Lasley and Austin Roberts) redshirted and one (Alex Van Dyke) may as well have. Lasley, as we talked about extensively in the Scout Team Review, was one of the more impressive players in practice last year, drawing comparisons on the coaching staff to Nelson Agholor. He really developed physically in the fall, looking like he gained ten good pounds between the beginning of fall camp and the end of December, going from looking like a skinny true freshman to a seasoned veteran. He was really impressive in practice in December, frequently making big, leaping catches and showing off the speed to run away from defenders. We’re expecting a big spring out of him.

As for Van Dyke and Roberts, they’re a bit more on the wildcard side of things. Everything we heard about Roberts heading into his ACL injury last year was overwhelmingly positive, with observers impressed with his combination of speed and size. He was the player I was personally most looking forward to seeing in fall camp last season. We’ve heard he’ll be limited in spring after undergoing surgery last August, but it’ll be good just to get a feel for what he looks like running on the sideline. Van Dyke played very, very sparingly last year, and probably should have redshirted. He was very skinny last year, with such skinny legs that, as we’ve written a couple of times, he earned the nickname of “Bambi”. Physical development was his big key coming out of his freshman campaign, and we would imagine he’ll be in the midst of that transformation this spring, and should be a significantly bigger receiver by the fall.

Darren Andrews is another injured receiver who we’re hoping to see this spring, after he sat out most of his freshman campaign and all of his second year. He showed off good speed in fall camp of 2013, and was more of a natural receiver than Walker, the other very fast receiver on the team.

Aaron Sharp could also get a look at receiver this spring, as we’ve written. Sharp will start out at quarterback, but there’s a chance he recognizes the reality at quarterback in the first couple of weeks and decides to give receiver a shot to see the field quicker. He played some receiver on the Scout team last year, and looked good, with good speed, surprisingly good hands, and nice size for the position. We’d love to get a more extended look at him playing receiver this spring.

Projected Depth Chart Post-Spring

SR Jordan Payton
RS FR Jordan Lasley
SO Alex Van Dyke
RS SR Logan Sweet
RS SO Darren Andrews

JR Thomas Duarte
RS SR Tyler Scott
RS FR Zach Bornstein*

SR Devin Fuller
SO Mossi Johnson
RS JR Ahmaad Harris

RS SO Eldridge Massington
RS SR Devin Lucien
RS FR Austin Roberts*
RS JR Kenny Walker

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