Because of a number of developments, in recruiting and personnel on the team, UCLA’s recruiting needs for the 2016 recruiting class have changed.
Recruiting needs at quarterback have altered some. You could say that it becomes more clear that, with Jerry Neuheisel opting to graduate and leave the team, UCLA could use another quarterback for next season. It has been looking around a bit, offering a Oklahoma State decommitment in Nick Starkel, and considering taking Victor Viramontes, who is a quarterback/athlete. More depth at quarterback is definitely a need, but we can't see, really, another true freshman in addition to Matt Lynch or QB/ATH Dymond Lee really providing playable depth next year. If UCLA takes another quarterback, it's mostly about the projected depth for 2017, or providing itself more options to find a starting quarterback when Rosen leaves. And, as we've always advocated, it's perhaps the most critical element of recruiting -- filling your roster with enough quarterback options from which to find your starter.
With the commitment of the #8-ranked receiver in the nation, Theo Howard of Westlake Village (Calif.) Westlake, receiver recruiting is almost set. Along with Howard, UCLA has commitments from Demetric Felton, from Temecula (Calif.) Great Oaks; Darian Owens from Clovis (Calif.) West; and you can probably count Dymond Lee, the WR/QB from West Hills (Calif.) Chaminade. That doesn’t leave much room. UCLA would probably take a commitment from one more receiver if he were elite.
UCLA’s primary need at receiver was to get a big playmaker, and it got perhaps the best prospect for that on the west coast in Howard. It also wanted to get a slot, and it got a commitment from Felton early on and he’s having a tremendous senior season.
Still remaining as the primary possibilities are Damian Alloway, the four-star slot receiver from Fontana (Calif.) Summit that UCLA has been heavily recruiting for a while; Adewale Omotosho, the Texas prospect who is high on UCLA; and another Texas prospect, Scout Top 100 Quartney Davis, who recently decommitted from Texas A&M. There is also Steffon McKnight, who UCLA is still recruiting, and we expect they would take, even after an Alloway commitment. It's uncertain if post-Alloway commitment that UCLA would take Dylan Crawford, but we expect, if he wanted to come, with so many scholarships open, they'd take him.
Offensive line depth always has a kind of ripple effect. If you add one player, it can sometimes change the entire talent outlook of the unit, both the starters and the two-deep. But, conversely, if you take away one player, it can also ripple to where suddenly the starters and two-deep look considerably less talented and thin.
UCLA's projecteed OL depth chart is right on that edge, and we continue to believe that the UCLA unit that could garner a bit of concern when you project out a couple of years is offensive line. The loss of Fred Ulu-Perry to transfer (wanting to return home to Hawaii because of homesickness) really is the catalyst to the ripple effect: with him for the next three years, the projected depth chart looks fine; without him, it's risky.
Like we discussed in the Analysis/Projection of OL Depth, UCLA's question marks at OL aren't just for next season, but beyond. UCLA is clearly in need of some offensive linemen in its program. We anticipate that Tevita Halalilo, when he returns fully from his fractured leg, will be part of any future OL plans, and we've heard good things about Andre James and Josh Wariboko. But the projected OL is still a bit thin, even if you factor in all three developing into players, because of some losses, particularly that of Ulu-Perry. It makes it particularly worse that the losses and potential losses coincide with offensive line coach Adrian Klemm being suspended, which resulted in OL recruiting practically falling off the cliff in spring. Klemm has rebounded with the commitments of Mike Alves and Alex Akingbulu, and is probably looking good to flip Cal commit Francisco Perez. We'd also bet that, if they offer, they'd get Donte Harrington. Looking at the depth chart, even if it brought in those four, it's still a little thin, particularly at tackle, over the next couple of years. Akingbulu is a pure tackle, but he's a project, with it almost certainly going to take a couple of years for him to physically be ready to play. Alves looks to have some versatility, that he could play either tackle or guard. Perez, too, has that guard/tackle versatility. Harrington is interior all the way, and probably a center. If Klemm could bring in those four, and then sign a huge OL class in 2017, then that would get the UCLA OL through this speed bump of Klemm's suspension and player losses.
Projecting out the roster, it has a few personnel questions on the defensive line and at linebacker. The secondary, though, actually looks pretty well-stocked.
With Kenneth Clark leaving a year early for the NFL, there's a pretty large hole in the middle of UCLA’s defensive line. Eli Ankou, who will be a redshirt senior, has filled in adequately after the season-ending loss to Eddie Vanderdoes. Vanderdoes will return, and hopefully be fully recovered from his ACL by next fall, and it’s logical that Ankou, then, will step into Clark’s open spot. UCLA just got a commitment from JC defensive tackle Nick Terry, which was a great thing to provide more bodies in that interior DL, but we still have to see if Terry can be effective at this level.
Ankou will be a senior, Vanderdoes a redshirt junior (and with a good, healthy season in 2016 could jump early to the NFL), and Terry will be a junior with two years of eligibility remaining. Ainuu Taua, who will be a redshirt sophomore in 2016, hasn’t shown he can play DT as a regular-down guy. Former offensive lineman Najee Toran is more of a three-technique, too, and we don’t know if he’ll ever see significant time on the DL and could move back to the OL permanently (he played OL in the Foster Farms Bowl out of desperation, bu we could see it being a permanent move). So UCLA needs to find its projected starting nose tackle after 2016, and that hopefully will be Boss Tagaloa, the four-star from Concord (Calif.) De La Salle, who has had UCLA as his long-time favorite. UCLA has a commitment from Osa Odighizuwa, from Portland (Oreg.) Douglas, and we believe he’ll be a solid player in college, but don’t think he’ll be a nose tackle, but more of a three-technique. Or, if UCLA goes to more of a 4-3, Osa could be a defensive end. So, interior DL is still a priority, as always.
It will be interesting to see how UCLA's defense gets tweaked going forward. We've made enough references to it, having heard that UCLA could go to more of a 4-3 next season. That would mean it'd be in need of more traditional defensive end types -- guys who are 6-3+ and 250+. Returning starting defensive end Takkarist McKinley will be a senior, and he fits the mold fine. Guys like Matt Dickerson and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner would probably fit better in that traditional DE role. Rick Wade redshirted in his true freshman year, and we’ve heard good things, but he’s still an unknown. UCLA has a commitment from Marcus Moore, who has some potential, but he projects more as a guy in the talent realm of Dickerson/Tuioti-Mariner. So, UCLA has decent depth at defensive end, but it’s lacking star power. After losing Oluwole Betiku, who would fit that bill, UCLA defensive line coach Angus McClure has been actively trying to find at least one more DE type in the Betiku aftermath, but there are only really development type guys available with UCLA interest at this point. Let's be candid here; Betiku really hurt UCLA. It’s been obvious this season, with UCLA going primarily with a four-man rush, the depth chart needs an elite defensive end who can really pressure the quarterback. It’s also obvious that UCLA needs more traditional defensive end types, the kind you commonly see in a more conventional four-man line, those that can be physical and strong enough to consistently stop the run. Betiku was probably that guy. McClure had spent a great deal of time helping Betiku, who is from Nigeria, with his visa; in fact, it's unlikely Betiku would still be in the U.S. if not for McClure. But loyalty doesn't mean much when the SEC and USC come calling, apparently. We have learned never to count out McClure in recruiting, but it doesn't look like there an odds-on star among those now left on the board for defensive end.
Wow, this season has been tough on the UCLA linebacker ranks. It’s shown, even if you have good, playable depth at a position, injuries can still devastate a unit. On one hand, it’s been tough to watch, but on the other, since some guys have stepped up this year, it makes next year look less uncertain. That is, if the unit doesn’t get hit by injuries again. Deon Hollins will be a senior, and is set at the linebacker/DE hybrid spot. That is, if it's still featured as much as it's been under Mora. We could see it becoming more of a nickel package-type of role. After this season, we’d have to project UCLA’s two starting linebackers for 2016 would be Jayon Brown and Isaako Savaiinaea, whether they're both inside or Brown is outside. Both, though, will be seniors. Whether UCLA sticks with the 3-4 or goes to the 4-3, the depth to fill out the remaining starting spot and the two-deep is decent for next season, and then a bit thin after that. There is Kenny Young, who will be a junior. We would expect Josh Woods, who will probably get his redshirt year back, to be a candidate for a starting spot or at least play a major role as a redshirt freshman. Mora recently said how he impressed he was with Woods' development. There isn't much experienced depth after that. As we wrote in this linebacker depth projection piece, you can see that next year probably projects to being okay depth-wise, but there will be question marks after that.
Luckily UCLA has secured two of the best inside linebacker prospects in the west for 2016 in Lokeni Toailoa and Krys Barnes. You never know how a prospect does in making that leap from high school to college, but it’s hoped for that at least one of Toailoa or Barnes can provide playable depth next season. And they fulfill the desperate need for inside linebackers beyond 2016.
There is Cameron Griffin and Keisean Lucier-South. Griffin looks physically impressive and appears to be a good athlete, but the word is that he's just not ready to garner much playing time. Lucier-South was a heralded recruit who redshirted this season, and we've heard he's been impressive in practice, with Mora saying he's up to 230 pounds. Then, UCLA has Breland Brandt coming in for 2016, and all three of these guys previously projected to that hybrid LB/DE spot. If UCLA goes with a 4-3, it will be interesting to see where the three fall in that scheme.
Regardless of what alignment UCLA utilizes, it's clear that the depth chart still could use an infusion of top-end talent, both next season and beyond -- someone of, say, a Myles Jack caliber. With the uncertainty over the scheme, ideally you'd like someone who can both play in the box or in the slot providing coverage. Who would that be?
The secondary looks pretty stocked, but probably deserves a mention since the depth and recruiting needs have change a bit since the beginning of the season -- and have improved. With the injury to starting cornerback Fabian Moreau, Johnny Johnson stepped in and emerged as a real multi-year starter-level player (even though Johnson has then been injured himself). That's really great news for UCLA DB Coach Demetrice Martin, who will have both of them back next season, along with the other starting corner, Marcus Rios. Then, also, there is good depth at cornerback, so much so that this season UCLA could even redshirt an elite prospect like Dechaun Holiday. Colin Samuel, who also redshirted, won the defensive scout player of the year. Safety also looks in good shape, with UCLA's top four players at free, strong and nickel all returning for 2016, along with some guys who have emerged that look very promising. Nathan Meadors, as a true freshman, played some big minutes and made some big plays this season, and that was playing at cornerback, where he might likely end up. Adarius Pickett is flashing some considerable potential and true freshman Octavius Spencer has impressed the staff. It's clear, though, after this season, UCLA could use some beefier safety types that can come up in run defense and provide some wood.
PROJECTED REMAINING TOP TARGETS FOR THE 2016 RECRUITING CLASS
UCLA currently has 19 commitments, with, currently, 26 available before it hits the limit of 85. But, of course, there are always players who will leave a program, and we anticipate there will be some before next fall. So, we expect UCLA to have 8-10 more to give out to 2016.
Here are the top priorities remaining on the board, then:
1) Mique Juarez, LB, Torrance (Calif.) North. Scout’s #1-ranked outside linebacker, Juarez could come in and start at UCLA immediately, regardless of the scheme it's running. He could project to outside or inside, with the athleticism and versatility to play either. Given what’s happened to UCLA’s linebacker ranks due to injuries this year, too,, Juarez’s elite talent along with his versatility, with athleticism to cover but also great size to hold up physically playing between the tackles, makes him the #1 target remaining on UCLA’s board. If you're looking to replace Myles Jack, get the guy who is routinely compared to him.
2) Boss Tagaloa, DT, Concord (Calif.) De La Salle. As we detailed out above, getting inside defensive linemen is perhaps the biggest positional priority on the team, especially if UCLA goes to a more traditional four-down linemen set. And it’s always so tough to find good nose tackles. Because of this, and how good Tagaloa looked in the California high school state championship, we were close to making him #1 on this list. Let's say he's really 1A.
3) An Offensive Lineman Who Can Play Tackle. Looking closely at UCLA's projected OL depth chart, there just aren't that many guys who project to being able to play tackle. If Alves can, and both he and Akingbulu develop into starter-level players, even if it takes a couple of years, that would satisfy #3. But it'd still be good to get another 2016 OL who can play tackle.
4) Defensive End. Like we said, UCLA has good depth at DE and the three-technique, but it would ideally like to have an elite-level talent. There probably isn’t anyone else out there that UCLA is recruiting that fulfills that, so getting someone at least of starting caliber is key.
5) Jack Jones/David Long, Elite Cornerback. While we said UCLA looks pretty stocked at defensive back, a lockdown corner is a difference-maker for a defense. Jones and Long are those types of recruits. We're skeptical UCLA gets either at this point.
6) Second Offensive Lineman. With the attrition at offensive line, UCLA needs four linemen in the 2016 class. Even if it's just someone who will never get past second string. This shows how imperative offensive line depth is, when a top remaining priority for the 2016 recruiting class is just a guy who can fill out the OL two-deep. Perez, actually, becomes a key recruit here; we think he's a potential Pac-12 starter-level prospect, so he's become a big priority target.
7) Big Safety. UCLA's smallish safeties struggled against the run this season, and it's going to keep happening unless UCLA brings in some bigger safeties that can hit and make tackles against big ball carriers. At least one from Brandon Burton, Lamar Jackson and Khaleke Hudson would fill the bill nicely. Two would be ideal.
8) Big Possession Receiver. We think UCLA will sorely miss Jordan Payton. In today's college football, you definitely need a game-breaker to stretch the field, but you need that sure-handed go-to guy who will probably lead your team in receptions every year. We don't see an obvious candidate to step into that role next year at the outside receiver spots when Payton leaves. UCLA has a decent amount of candidates currently on the roster, and hopefully someone will step up, but it'd be nice to get another one of those types in 2016, to hopefully fill the role down the line. From what we've seen, Omotosho and/or Davis would work.