2016 Quarterback Recruiting Reset

Apr. 17 -- Where does UCLA go from here, now that Devon Modster has committed to Arizona?

Heading into this cycle, UCLA was already in a precarious position when it comes to 2016 quarterback recruiting. With Josh Rosen, the No. 1 quarterback in the country, signed in the 2015 class, it was naturally going to be somewhat difficult to pull in another top level quarterback in the 2016 class. In looking at UCLA's depth chart, though, there's a real need for solid depth. Beyond Rosen, there isn't really even a quarterback you would call an ideal backup at the high Pac-12 level (Jerry Neuheisel makes more sense as a third-string guy, where he can fill in for a series in the case of injury, but not necessarily a guy that, in an ideal world, you'd ever want to start a game). UCLA got inordinately lucky that Brett Hundley never missed a start in his UCLA career. While everyone would love for UCLA to get that lucky with Rosen, with quarterbacks and offensive line, it's always better to err on the side of depth. So, while you couldn't expect UCLA to land one of the uber-elites in this class, landing a solid quarterback who can be counted on to play competently early is an absolute need.

That job got a little harder this week with Devon Modster committing to Arizona. Modster was probably the No. 1 quarterback on UCLA's board at this point in the cycle, and the Bruins were on him hard. He would have filled the need of a pretty polished passer who could be projected to start down the road at the UCLA level. Now, UCLA is going to have to pivot to another option, but keep in mind: this isn't a year where you just want to get any old quarterback. Until UCLA has at least two quarterbacks on the roster who you would feel comfortable starting in the Pac-12 (and the Bruins do not have this right now), it's risky to go after players with significant bust potential, even if their upside if off the charts. You'd ideally want someone who's solid and polished, with good enough physical tools to compete at the Pac-12 level early in his career. Obviously as the cycle goes on, the available options may make that level of discernment impossible, but for now, UCLA still has enough options available to weigh their relative quality.

And, just to take a look at the bigger picture, quarterback recruiting is obscenely important. If we learned nothing from the dark years after Cade McNown, it's the importance of effective quarterback recruiting and management of the quarterback depth chart. Even though UCLA snagged Rosen last year, building the depth behind Rosen is critically important for maintaining the forward momentum of the program. In the last four years, UCLA has pulled in T.J. Millweard (who transferred out), Asiantii Woulard (who hasn't panned out quite yet), Aaron Sharp (who has moved to receiver), and Rosen (who's a stud). In other words, there isn't a great deal of playable depth behind Rosen, and that's the thing that needs to be adjusted in the next couple of classes.

Committed Options

Armani Rogers visited UCLA's practice on Thursday, and looked absolutely huge, at a good 6'5 and with a great build. We've seen him in some 7-on-7 action, and he has plenty of physical tools, with a big, strong arm and a pretty good motion. From watching his tape from last year, he's a pretty good athlete as well. He does have a reputation of being a little raw in the finer points of the game, including reading the field, going through progressions, and making quick decisions. UCLA made it clear to Rogers that he had an offer after the practice on Thursday, and it should give Rogers something to mull over. He committed to California last month, but since then, the Bears have taken a commitment from fellow 2016 quarterback Max Gilliam, and that may have made Rogers feel a little unsettled. The one significant issue we see with Rogers is, like we described above, figuring out how much bust potential there is here. UCLA really can't afford to have a bust in this class, and even though Rogers might have more upside than virtually any other available quarterback in this class, there's also some real risk there that he might not pan out. We completely understand the desire to take him, since again, he's got that great upside, but we'd have a little trepidation about it.

Max Gilliam, the second quarterback who committed to Cal in this cycle, is another option for the Bruins. He's somewhat the opposite of Rogers in that he doesn't have a tremendous amount of untapped upside, but he's already a pretty polished quarterback with a solid enough arm and a decent ability to get through progressions and make reads. He's also a pretty good athlete, with very good straight-ahead speed. We've also heard he comes from a UCLA family, and so an offer from the Bruins, even with the recent Cal commitment, would be a difficult one to reject. Gilliam is also a pretty smart kid, who, like Rosen or even Neuheisel, should be able to master the offense in a relatively short amount of time. We don't know yet how seriously UCLA will pursue Gilliam, since it seems that Rogers is the clear first option among the committed Cal quarterbacks, but if Rogers doesn't quickly jump on the offer, we could see Gilliam getting a call.

We're throwing Jacob Eason in here simply because he visited and we heard that if there was the slightest chance that he did break away from his Georgia commitment, UCLA would be an option for him. The odds of that happening are very slim, but if it did, and he did commit to UCLA, that would solve UCLA's quarterback issues for the foreseeable future. He's a big, strong kid with a great arm, great feel, and most other superlatives you'd like to throw at him. It's almost certainly not going to happen, but, hey, dream the impossible dream, right?

Uncommitted Options

It was a crappy day for quarterbacks at The Opening regional last month in Los Angeles, so most quarterbacks were throwing ducks, including the big-armed K.J. Costello. So, while I was filming all of these quarterbacks throwing balls that were hitting receivers in the feet, I started to notice this kid who was rocketing throw after throw through the wind and hitting his receivers almost perfectly in stride. That was Patrick O'Brien, who went on to win the quarterback MVP of the entire event. He has a good frame, looking all of 6'3 or 6'4 with broad shoulders. He's actually carrying some bad weight, or was at the Nike Camp, that makes him look, for want of a better word, a little dumpy. The physical tools were apparent, though, and watching his film later, he looks like he has a good feel for the game, showing a good ability to read the field, step up in the pocket, and make throws. He's obviously a guy UCLA will have to evaluate more, but we're heard they've started to evaluate his film, and we'd imagine again that if Rogers doesn't jump on his offer soon, O'Brien could be another they'll pivot to.

Kevin Davidson has been on the quarterback circuit for a while, and he has a cannon for an arm, except it's more like a 1810's-era cannon than one of the fiercely accurate artillery pieces from, say, World War II. He gets a lot of power behind his throws, but his accuracy can come and go. In UCLA's offense, which relies so much on efficiency and making the little throws, a guy like Davidson isn't a really great fit. UCLA could pursue him down the line, but with a local option like O'Brien who looks to be at least as good as he is, we have to imagine it would be only if they miss on several more before him.

Matt Fink had a lot of buzz heading into The Opening regional last month, but his performance there saw his stock plummet. And while we don't want to be so harsh that we judge completely off of one camp, it was a pretty rough performance. Every quarterback was struggling to some extent in that environment, with a decent amount of wind, but Fink's balls fluttered probably the most. He had a couple of throws that bounced full yards in front of his receivers, and it seemed like virtually every throw got caught in the wind to some extent. He is a good athlete, and can probably get stronger, so there's some upside there, but there's now an obvious concern that he won't be able to make all the throws at the college level. He's been offered by USC, and we're not sure how seriously UCLA will pursue him at this point. Between Fink and Rogers, we might be inclined to go with Rogers, since his upside is probably more considerable, and the bust potential may be greater with Fink, considering the concerns about his arm strength.

Dillon Sterling-Cole was offered last week, and UCLA started recruiting him about a month ago on the strength of his performance in The Opening regional in Texas. Sterling-Cole earned an invite to the Elite 11 Finals at the event. He's a good athlete, and he looks to have a pretty good arm, but having not seen him in person, it's difficult to make a perfect evaluation of his ability to read the field and make quick decisions. We're going to see him at The Opening in July, and that should give us a better feel for him, if UCLA happens to still be in the market for a quarterback at that point. He told us that he wants to visit UCLA sometime within the next month, and after that visit, we should get a better feel for the relative seriousness of his interest in UCLA.

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