With the evaluation period set to begin in two weeks, on April 15th, UCLA has a good idea of who their top targets are in the 2016 class.
Of course, several offers are likely to go out during the eval period, when the coaches can hit the road and eyeball guys they liked on film or see transcripts when at the schools.
Thanks to recruiting much of 2015's class with the mindset it would be a smaller class, there has been an earlier focus than usual by UCLA on the 2016 class. It already has six commitments, including four on defense, all in the top 160 nationally.
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.
It clearly is a new era in UCLA football recruiting, with UCLA not just being mentioned among the elite in California and the West, but also nationally, and beating some of the national powers for guys in their own backyard.
Here is a current look at UCLA's defensive recruiting board.
Check out 2016 Football Recruiting: Offense
Because he's played basketball, he's not been able to keep the weight on, but he still projects to end up as a defensive end in college. And with UCLA's linebacker recruiting, Brandt as an end allows them to pick up the two remaining outside linebacker targets they covet. Brandt is still new to football, only having played for two years, going to Windward to play basketball, and in a short time has become one of the most intriguing defensive prospects in the country. Brandt hasn't played much 7v7 this offseason because of hoops, but is one of four commits that are a part of Ground Zero, and he was at last week's announcement to support the two newest Bruin commits. When Brandt focuses on football exclusively, the sky is the limit. He's still raw, but he's ridiculously athletic and has more upside than he knows what to do with.
When it comes to recruiting Betiku, there are some significant helping points and some obstacles to overcome. First the bad news: he goes to Serra, and UCLA has consistently struggled at Serra against USC when the Trojans prioritize someone. The good news? His legal guardian is LaVar Arrington, the former Penn State All-American who now lives in Los Angeles, working for the NFL Network. And one of Arrington's closest mentors is Tom Bradley, who just happens to be UCLA's new defensive coordinator. So if there was ever a Serra prospect that would help UCLA grab some Serra momentum, it would be Betiku, who also happens to be Serra's top prospect this year. Betiku had an offer from Maryland a year ago, before he'd ever played a down of football. Coming from Nigeria, he was new to the game, but you couldn't ignore the physical tools and neither could the double-digit programs that have offered him. UCLA has had Betiku on campus since Bradley was hired and Arrington joined him. He is easily one of UCLA's top and most important targets in the 2016 class, for a number of reasons, but the key ones being that he's a talented defensive lineman and that he's a realistic possibility from Serra.
Kemp is the top prospect in Colorado and he's being recruited by UCLA as a defensive end. There are some connections too with UCLA. His uncle is John Pagano, who Jim Mora tried to hire as his defensive coordinator when he first got the UCLA job, but Pagano took the DC job with the Chargers, where he was the linebackers coach. He's also being recruited by graduate assistant Taylor Embree, who's father played and coached at Colorado, so there are plenty of connections. Kemp has the hometown Buffs in his top two with UCLA and the Bruins would love to bring the versatile four-star in.
Bledsoe is the No. 1 prospect in Kansas and plays in the backyard of the hometown Jayhawks. He's obviously a high priority for Kansas, but many feel he's headed out of state. He visited UCLA earlier this month and spent almost a whole day on campus with his mother and the visit went very well. It looks like Bledsoe will be returning in the fall for an official visit.
Utah's top prospect, Tupai has blown up in the last couple of weeks and has offers from all over the country. UCLA is definitely in the mix for Tupai, who's said that he wants to play on the West Coast in college. He's hoping to take an unofficial visit to UCLA sometime in the spring.
A bit of an unknown, Young's film has helped his recruitment take off, with UCLA and Michigan offering him in February and he's one of the top prospects in Central California. He's long and lean with room to still add more weight and he's a terrific pass rusher. He lived in Los Angeles for a time as a child and has spent time in Los Angeles since. USC was his favorite school growing up but Young said he's open minded now that he's being recruited.
One of Arizona's top prospects, Murphy has good bloodlines, with his brother Trent a former all-Pac-12 defender at Stanford before going to the NFL. Murphy has a slew of offers from all over, and while Stanford has offered, we've heard that its unlikely Murphy will seriously consider the Cardinal. The local schools are on him hard and he'll visit UCLA unofficially during his spring break so he can check out a spring practice.
Other defensive ends:
Shavar Manuel, 6-3.5, 255, Tampa (Fla.) Blake- OFFERED
Erick Fowler, 6-3, 210, Manor (Texas)- OFFERED
Malik Barrow, 6-3, 250, Tampa (Fla.) Catholic- OFFERED
Tomon Fox, 6-3, 220, Suwanee (Ga.) Collins Hill- OFFERED
Joel Dublanko, 6-3, 245, Aberdeen (Wash.)
Evan Weaver, 6-3, 227, Spokane (Wash.) Gonzaga Prep
Anthony Smith, 6-3, 250, Las Vegas (Nev.) Desert Pines
Defensive tackle isn't much better out West at this point, and the only real elite guy in California they've already offered in Tagaloa. The good news is that UCLA is doing well early with Tagaloa and he figures to be their top interior prospect on their board, if not their top defensive target, period. And with Odighizuwa they obviously have some ties to him and they're already his leader.
Tagaloa has a chance to be a rare four-year varsity letterman for the vaunted Spartans program. He's the top defensive lineman in the West and one of the best in the country and UCLA has made him a heavy priority for some time, offering him over a year ago. Tagaloa is getting a lot of attention from Michigan too and they're very much a factor in his recruitment. But the Bruins are going to do everything to keep him in-state and will pursue him vigorously till the end.
Odighizuwa is the younger brother of Owa Odighizuwa, who's set to be drafted next month after being a captain for the Bruins last fall. Odighizuwa is plenty familiar with UCLA and with defensive line coach Angus McClure thanks to his brother, but he said he's looking forward to visiting UCLA as a recruit and seeing more than just what he saw when he visited his brother. Part of a very good class in Oregon, Odighizuwa is also an accomplished wrestler, winning a state title in Oregon before winning a national title as a heavyweight in an invitational tournament. But Odighizuwa said that football will be his first priority. He said that he's open to anyone, but admitted that he's comfortable with UCLA and likes the Bruins a lot.
Gary is the No. 1 ranked prospect in the country in the 2016 class. And being on the East Coast would probably make him a long shot, but we've heard he and the UCLA coaches have been in consistent contact, that his mom values the UCLA education and he and Angus McClure have hit it off. Gary is hoping to take an unofficial visit to Westwood this spring or summer and UCLA would love to get him back on campus for an official visit. They'll have their work cut out for him, but it's not unrealistic to think UCLA could end up on Gary's short list.
Tupou was one of the first prospects to get an offer from the Bruins after Signing Day. We actually saw him play last fall when we scouted Darrin Paulo, with Tupou playing left guard next to Paulo. He was a solid offensive guard but UCLA wants him as a defensive lineman, where he could play inside.
The DL MVP at The Opening Los Angeles, Rand is another talented defender from Arizona. UCLA has offered him and he's mentioned trying to get back out to visit during the spring, but Stanford, Arizona State and Michigan State have been the schools he's mentioned more prominently.
Other defensive tackles:
Rashard Lawrence, 6-3, 300, Monroe (La.) Neville- OFFERED
Mike Williams, 6-3, 270, Fort Worth (Texas) All Saints Episcopal- OFFERED
David Marshall, 6-4, 270, Thomaston (Ga.) Upson-Lee- OFFERED
Christian Colon, 6-3, 300, Charlotte (North Carolina) Independence
Malik Walker, 6-1.5, 260, Montezuma (Ga.) Macon County- OFFERED
Jabari Watson, 6-3, 255, Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.)
New linebackers coach Scott White hasn't wasted any time recruiting, picking up commitments from the top two inside backers in the West. Their inside linebacker recruiting looks to be done already.
Toailoa is a big hitter who's gotten bigger since he was first offered by UCLA a year ago. Toailoa picked the Bruins last week over USC, which was the family favorite, and he had offers from 11 Pac-12 schools and several national programs. It was a big recruiting win for White and UCLA because of who they beat, but also because of the player that Toailoa, one of the more gregarious players in this class, happens to be. Toailoa said he's immediately going to work on Caleb Kelly.
While Toailoa had an offer from the Bruins for a year when he committed, Barnes had one for just a couple of minutes, and his commitment was just as big, if unexpected. Barnes had offers from LSU, USC, Oklahoma and Nebraska among others, but the Bruins hadn't offered him to that point, wanting to do so in person. When Barnes finally visited UCLA in mid-March, he was offered and committed on the spot. More importantly, he said he was shutting down his recruitment and wasn't just trying to save a spot. Barnes may have more upside than Toailoa, but the two can complement each other well. In fact, they play on the same 7v7 team, Ground Zero, and that team won the Pylon Elite 7v7 National Tournament. Barnes said he's also working on Kelly, who is also from the Central Valley. Barnes was the Linebacker MVP of The Opening Los Angeles and earned an invitation to The Opening Finals.
Other inside linebackers:
Devin White, 6-2, 260, Springhill (La.) North Webster- OFFERED
Dontavious Jackson, 6-2, 237, Houston (Texas) Alief Elsik- OFFERED
Devin Bush, 6-0, 207, Pembroke Pines (Fla.) Flanagan- OFFERED
Blake Walls, 6-1, 205, Gardena (Calif.) Serra
Sammy Duarte, 6-2, 220, Anaheim (Calif.) Servite
White wants at least two outside linebackers in this class, and with Brandt able to play defensive end, it gives him the freedom to bring in two more at this spot.
The top prospect in the West, UCLA is on the very short list for Kelly, who recently named a top ten. He visited Michigan this month and had a great visit, with the Wolverines making a big impact and possibly now considered the frontrunner for him. Oklahoma and UCLA, though, have been the two constants from the beginning for Kelly and it's likely going to come down to those three. What UCLA has going for it is the obvious proximity to home. Oklahoma has had great success in Fresno of late. UCLA will be in this one until the end, though, and with White's energy and ability to recruit already on display, the Bruins will be a factor for Kelly no matter what.
Juarez committed to USC before Signing Day and before USC got commitments from Osa Masina, Porter Gustin and John Houston. Not that those were unexpected, but the Trojans did stock up on linebackers. UCLA is still trying with Juarez, who, like Barnes, earned a spot in The Opening Finals. They'll continue to pursue him and he's one of the more versatile 'backers in this class, able to play inside or outside.
Robinson is one of the best jumbo athletes in the West, able to play linebacker, receiver or safety in college. He has offers from all over, but right now, it seems to be a Stanford-UCLA battle. Robinson's mother is a Spanish professor at UCLA and academics are big for him and his family, which is what makes Stanford a very real threat to the Bruins and a high priority for them. That it's a good year for linebackers helps the Bruins in case Robinson chooses The Farm over Westwood, but make no mistake, he's a big priority for the Bruins.
Speaking of professor's kids, Eifler is also the son of a professor in the UC system, with his mother a prof at Cal. His father also is a librarian at Cal so the Bears figure to have a big say in his recruitment. And you can bet that academics are just as much a priority in the Eifler home as the Robinson home. Eifler's coach is legendary Washington running back Napolean Kaufman and the Huskies are pursuing Eifler as well. He visited UCLA unofficially, loved his time in Westwood and said he may camp with the Bruins this summer.
Winston is the No. 2 player in Oregon and one of the more versatile players in the West. Like Robinson, he plays receiver for his high school team, but his ceiling is higher at linebacker and he's added 25 pounds from last spring, when we saw him for the first time. We went and saw him for a game in October and he had a sack, forced a fumble, tipped an interception and had a touchdown reception, so he makes his presence felt on the field. All of the Northwest schools have offered, including Oregon, who already has a commitment from his teammate, Brady Breeze, and they'll be a factor, but White recruits the Northwest and Winston said they already have a good relationship.
He's the No. 1 linebacker in Texas, and UCLA has had some success there under Mora. McCullough might be more of a DE/LB hybrid, and UCLA could actually add him to the mix there, like Brandt, if they got four other true linebacker types. McCulloch is planning to visit UCLA this spring. He has already been invited to The Opening Finals.
Divinity is the No. 1 linebacker in Louisiana and, of course, he's a high priority for LSU. UCLA has some good connections in Louisiana, especially with linebackers, namely Kenny Young. In fact, UCLA coaches have spent some time at Ehret, when it recruited 2014 running back Darrel Williams. From what we've heard, Divinity has an affinity for UCLA, and intends to unofficially visit, which is always a good sign.
Franklin named a top eight last week and UCLA was on it. He was offered by the Bruins last year so he's been on their list for some time. But we're not sure he's a priority for the Bruins right now especially with UCLA doing well with some other higher-rated outside backers. Being a local prospect, they may keep him warm.
Terry probably projects to that LB/DE spot, being a prety big kid, possibly now 6-3, and a body that looks like he could get bigger. He has consistently said UCLA is among his leaders.
Other outside linebackers:
Lyndell Wilson, 6-3, 225, Montgomery (Ala.) Carver- OFFERED
Maciah Long, 6-2, 200, Galena Park (Texas) North Shore- OFFERED
Dominique Ross, 6-3, 203, Jacksonville (Fla.) Trinity Christian Academy- OFFERED
Bryce Youngquist, 6-2, 210, Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) Los Osos
Andrew Pryts, 6-2, 200, Hermitage (Penn.) Hickory
Davir Hamilton, 6-3, 200, Los Angeles (Calif.) Verbum Dei
UCLA has offers out to four in-state safeties and has a legitimate chance with each of them.
Warner was teammates with Scout 100 signee Dechaun Holiday, who inked with the Bruins last month and will be a freshman this fall. In fact, Holiday told us before Warner ever was offered by UCLA that he was going to recruit him and get him to follow him to Westwood. Of course, Warner's brother, Fred, played at BYU and they were the first offer for Warner and he's recruiting him as well. Warner is LDS but doesn't have any immediate plans to serve his mission. The word is that UCLA is doing well with him.
Franklin played a little bit of everything for Franklin, including quarterback, before finally settling on safety. He has double digit offers from around the country, but the Bruins have some connections, namely Marcus Rios, who trained with True Grit Sports, where Jackson trains, and Franklin said Rios has talked up UCLA to him and he up to UCLA. Jackson could be the #1 in-state safety target.
Like Betiku, UCLA will have their work cut out for Burton, being that he's at Serra, but Burton visited UCLA last month and said he enjoyed his time and Demetrice Martin has been doing the heavy lifting with Burton. He's stepped it up this spring after a so-so junior year and he could also end up as a receiver but UCLA is pursuing him as a safety.
Thompson also had just a decent junior season, and interestingly enough, when UCLA went to see him play in October, they ended up offering a teammate who shined that night (cornerback Jordan Parker). UCLA is still after Thompson, who left Pittsburg and is now at Liberty High in Brentwood, and he said UCLA is one of the schools recruiting him the hardest. There could be some academic issues.
Eric Monroe, 6-0, 180, Galena Park (Texas) North Shore- OFFERED
Max Wariboko, 5-, 170, Oklahoma City (Okla.) Casady- OFFERED
C.J. Pollard, 6-1, 190, Gardena (Calif.) Serra
Chacho Ulloa, 6-0, 190, Corona (Calif.) Centennial
D.J. Morgan, 6-3, 185, Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco
Luca Vartic, 6-1, 200, Kona (Hawaii) Konawaena
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. Fortunately for UCLA, they're on the short list for three of California's best.
Few players have exploded this spring like Jones. He was already a Scout 300 prospect, so it wasn't like he was a secret. But he was originally a four-star receiver, and UCLA was the first to offer him, doing so after their camp last summer. Since then, he's played a lot of cornerback, including at The Opening Los Angeles, and was the DB MVP and earned an invitation to The Opening Finals. He was stellar at The Opening, showing all the makings of an elite cover corner. He said earlier in the month that UCLA was his top school, but now he's saying he's still pretty open. Wherever he stands, he's a priority of the Bruins, as he should be as the West's top cornerback.
Like Jones, Long was originally in the Scout 300 as a four-star receiver. Like Jones, it was at The Opening Los Angeles where he showed that he is a potentially elite cover corner. Long can play on either side of the ball but UCLA has prioritized him at corner, with UCLA Defensive Backs Coach Demetric Martin, who's a Pasadena native like Long, doing the heavy recruiting for Long. He'll be on campus at the end of the week for an unofficial visit.
Parker got his first offer from UCLA back in October, as mentioned above, when Angus McClure went to see Thompson play. Since then, Parker has only gotten better and is the top defensive back in the Bay Area and still may be underrated. He was terrific in Vegas at the Pylon Elite 7v7 and showed why he's a double-digit offer guy. He had said that Arizona State and USC were his top two, with UCLA right behind them, but has since backed off on having a top two, so UCLA, which will have him on campus in April, will continue to recruit him hard.
Murphy is the top corner in Arizona and has a number of offers from all over, including Texas A&M, where his good friend and teammate, Christian Kirk, is now playing. The Aggies are the team to beat, but UCLA will try for Murphy, who is also pretty close with Priest Willis, having been a freshman at Marcos De Niza in Tempe when Willis was a senior.
Fuller is the younger brother of receiver Devin Fuller, who's heading in to his senior season and third year as a starter for the Bruins. While UCLA is a longshot, they'll continue to recruit him given their connections.
Kristian Fulton, 6-0, 165. Metairie (La.) Archbishop Rummel- OFFERED
Trayvon Mullen, 6-2, 180, Coconut Creek (Fla.)- OFFERED
Nigel Knott, 6-0, 170, Madison (Miss.) Germantown- OFFERED
Jared Mayden, 6-0, 190, Sachse (Texas)- OFFERED
Damar Hamlin, 6-1.5, 175, Pittsburgh (Pa.) Central Catholic- OFFERED
Malek Young, 5-10, 173, Coconut Creek (Fla.)- OFFERED
Treyjohn Butler, 5-10, 185, Etiwanda (Calif.)
Traveon Beck, 5-10, 170, Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco
These are guys that UCLA will just take and figure out their best position later.
Pittman was the first commit in the class of 2016, committing to the Bruins just two days after he was offered. Since then, his recruitment really took off and he said he's a soft commitment, but he's not come out and opened it up, which is a good thing. UCLA will gladly take him and let him go through the process if it still means he's theirs come Signing Day. The biggest question for Pittman will be what position he plays in college. The question after that will be how big he gets. When he was offered, UCLA wanted him as a receiver, but he may be too big for that already, let alone where his body may go by the fall of 2016. He's a very good safety, and we've felt he was more a defensive player from the first time we saw him. But he's likely going to outgrow safety too. He could end up as an outside linebacker or even as a Y in college. Whatever he does and however he grows, UCLA would love to have the problem of figuring out where he'll play, because that means he's on campus.
Sidney was the WR MVP at the Oregon NFTC last year. At The Opening Los Angeles, he was terrific at both corner at receiver. His heart is at receiver but his higher ceiling may be at corner. He's a guy you take all the way and, like Pittman, you plug him in where you need him, but you get him on campus first. UCLA was his first offer but USC followed suit not long after and the Trojans could be the leader, but the Bruins will make him a priority throughout, with Martin using his Pasadena ties to keep on Sidney.
Lucas is listed as a running back by Scout but many schools like him as a corner and UCLA is recruiting him as an athlete. With two running backs entering for fall 2015 and a couple of other priorities at the position in 2016, it makes sense to recruit Lucas as an athlete, and he's open to it. UCLA has had some good success at Chandler, with Brett Hundley and Paul Perkins both former Chandler stars, and that's not lost on Lucas. He visited UCLA earlier this month and said he had a great time on campus.