UCLA Fall Camp Preview: Wide Receivers

Jul. 30 -- The receiving corps returns virtually everyone, but there's a shakeup with the starters...

As with most units on this experience-laden team, the wide receiver corps returns almost wholly intact from a year ago. Like what you saw from guys like Jordan Payton, Thomas Duarte, Eldridge Massington, and Devin Fuller? Then you're in luck, because those guys all return from last year, along with basically everyone else of note besides Devin Lucien, who elected to take a graduate transfer option and head to Arizona State.

Last year, UCLA's receivers were very solid, and were especially good in the all-around way UCLA uses its receivers. They aren't a whole bunch of spectacular play-makers, but aside from really Duarte, the vast majority of them are accomplished blockers, and in UCLA's offense, where wide receiver screens became more and more prevalent as the year dragged on, the blocking was especially important.

Payton pretty clearly emerged as a top-shelf Pac-12 receiver last year, and he's expected to once again lead UCLA in receiving this year. He had a few truly spectacular games, including a 151-yard, 2-touchdown performance against Arizona State, which invoked one 80-yard catch and run for a score. He faded a little bit down the stretch as teams started to key on him a little bit more, and he'll likely earn a good amount of attention this year as well.

There might be some sort of adjustment period for the receivers dealing with a new quarterback in Josh Rosen, but we wouldn't imagine it being particularly significant. This receiving corps, coupled with the experienced running backs and offensive line, should make this year as easy a transition as possible for Rosen.

Injury/Personnel Updates

***Devin Lucien -- Lucien left for ASU prior to spring practice, and he's about the one loss from last year. He never really put it together at UCLA, though he did have a few spectacular plays at various points. He'll be immediately eligible at Arizona State, so UCLA will see him on the field this year.

***Darren Andrews -- Andrews seemed to move pretty well in non-contact drills during spring, and the last we heard is that he should be ready to go for the start of camp.

***Austin Roberts -- Roberts, who tore ligaments in his knee last summer, was limited this spring to individual drills, and we've heard his recovery is going well. He might be limited to start fall camp, but he should be fully ready at some point during August.

***Ahmaad Harris -- The last we heard on Harris's suspension for spring is that he should be back on the team this August.

Incoming Freshmen


Cordell Broadus

Broadus was the lone true receiver in this class for UCLA, and probably best fits the mold of a possession-type receiver. He's a good 6'2 or 6'3, and you can pretty easily see him getting bigger and stronger in college. He's not a great athlete, and isn't all that quick or fast, but if he commits himself to becoming a big, strong receiver, he has good size and pretty good hands, so he could be a nice fit for what UCLA likes to do offensively.

Stephen Johnson

We heard recently that the plan remains to bring Johnson in on the offensive side of the ball, at least initially. He's potentially an explosive playmaker at wide receiver, with great speed. He also has elite potential at cornerback, though, and we wouldn't be shocked if he makes the switch over to defense at some point before the end of the season -- or maybe even before the end of camp.

Chris Clark

We'll throw the big tight end in this group. Clark is coming in as UCLA's first really true tight end since Joseph Fauria left at the end of 2012 season, and should provide the mismatch in the red zone that UCLA has lacked since Fauria left. Clark has the ability to do everything you want from a tight end, and it's going to be very interesting to see how he fits in the offense.

Starters

Jordan Payton

Jordan Payton is probably more locked in to his starting spot than any other player on the team, with good reason. He had a very good year last year, showing off his great hands, great route-running, and excellent blocking to put together a very complete year for UCLA. He should be a very steady target for UCLA in year one of Rosen. He's the leader of the unit, and we'd be inclined to say he'll probably lead the team in receiving again this year.

The guy we think might have a shot to test Payton for that leading receiver crown, though, is Mossi Johnson. The sophomore slot receiver took over Devin Fuller's first-string spot about halfway through spring practice, and it was completely reasonable that it happened. He's one of those players who can just get open with ease thanks to his quickness and ability to set up corners with his routes. He is fast enough, though elite speed isn't his game. He makes perfect sense as a slot receiver, with that quickness, and has plenty of toughness to take hits over the middle. He already seemed to be becoming a favorite target of Rosen this spring, and we imagine these two will build a pretty quick connection this season.

Thomas Duarte will continue starting at the Y, where he has been a steady receiving force. He has great hands, and has surprising quickness and agility for a guy his size. The issue with Duarte that seemed to crop up even more last year is his blocking. On a team where virtually every other receiver is an accomplished blocker, Duarte stands out in a not very good way. Working on that should be a key for him going forward.

Eldridge Massington will probably be the other ostensible starter, and he seems like a pretty good approximation of Payton -- not elite speed, but pretty good speed, and a big, strong guy who can get yards after contact and block.

The interesting thing to note is that, unlike in years past, it's an open question how many four-receiver sets UCLA will actually run this year. With Chris Clark coming in at tight end, there might not be room for all of the aforementioned players to be on the field at the same time. We'll list Clark as the starter at tight end, and from everything we've heard, he has the potential to do everything a true tight end does (block, catch passes off of play-action) while also having the ability to flex out wide at times and present a mismatch against smaller corners.

Depth

Mossi Johnson

Here's how good Mossi Johnson was this spring: Devin Fuller, who has started for two years, was actually pretty good this spring, and still Johnson managed to take over his spot at slot receiver. Fuller actually moved outside for the last week or so of spring ball. He didn't look perfectly natural there, but that's understandable since he probably had no idea he'd be making that move at the beginning of spring ball. We imagine he'll see time both inside and outside this year.

Jordan Lasley drew a lot of praise toward the end of last year for his work on the Scout team, and with good reason. He looked like an explosive playmaker. This spring, it took him about two weeks to get going, but over the last half of spring practice, he looked again like a potential breakout player. He still has to work on controlling his emotions and not letting a simple series of one-on-one drills turn into elaborate smack-talking performance art, but if he can do that, he has plenty of talent. He's going to play significantly this year.

Kenny Walker had a nice spring, and we're hoping he puts it all together this year. He seemed to show better hands, and also looked a little more polished as a receiver, running a few different types of routes really well. Even if he can get on the field for just a few fly routes a game, that would be a solid use of his talent. He's still probably the fastest receiver on the team.

Alex Van Dyke had a couple of rough practices to start out spring, but after a few days filled with drops, he had a great final three weeks, catching everything thrown his way and looking surprisingly quick and fast for a long, lanky guy. After burning his redshirt last year for just a handful of snaps, it would be nice, this year, to get him some real time.

Logan Sweet and Tyler Scott both figure to reprise their roles from last season, when they both played a decent amount. Scott actually looked pretty decent this spring, fitting in at the Y. We thought they both played a little too much last year, and we'd like to see more time for guys like Van Dyke, Walker, Lasley, etc. since they all have more athletic talent. Scott is an accomplished blocker, though, which is important in this offense.

Everything we heard about Austin Roberts pre-injury is that he was very athletic and could be a dynamic player for UCLA with his size and speed. He looked to be working out primarily with the Ys this spring, which might be a permanent move or might just be where he fits best since he's still slowed by the knee injury. In any case, it'll be interesting to see what kind of player he is when he is finally healthy this fall.

Colby Cyburt actually looked surprisingly OK this spring at tight end after spending his first three years on campus on the offensive line. He caught the ball pretty well and actually moved well running routes. I've set the informal over/under on his catches this year at 1, and I'm taking the over.

Broadus and Johnson will both have to work to find spots in this deep receiving corps. If we had to pick one of the two to actually play this year, it would probably be Johnson. If he sticks at receiver, his speed could be a game-changer, either in the slot or at outside receiver. Darren Andrews could also provide some of that speed, assuming he's healthy.


Bruin Report Online Top Stories