UCLA earned commitment from 30 prospects in the 2016 class, and as of the time of writing, the Bruins had received 29 signed national letters of intent, giving UCLA a substantial class. With it being such a huge class, and such a highly rated one, UCLA obviously filled a lot of needs. Today and tomorrow we're going to go through what needs were addressed on each side of the ball, how each position group could be affected by the incoming recruits, and what needs remain for the 2017 class to address.
Today, we're going to break down the offensive class. In total, UCLA signed 13 designated offensive recruits, which doesn't include Brandon Burton, who could very well play receiver at some point in his UCLA career but will start out at safety, or Jake Raulerson, the graduate transfer who is coming in from Texas. The Bruins signed two quarterbacks, two running backs, five wide receivers, one tight end, and three offensive linemen (not including Raulerson). Below, we're going to go position by position, breaking down how successful UCLA was in recruiting each position, and whether the Bruins met their overall needs.
UCLA absolutely met its needs in quarterback recruiting. With the quarterback depth chart being in really bad shape beyond Josh Rosen, the Bruins needed to get a minimum of two players who weren't just depth, but had starting potential down the line, and UCLA did just that. Devon Modster and Matt Lynch give UCLA two talented prospects who have potential to be Pac-12 level starters within a couple of years, and that's something that the Bruins have failed to get in several previous classes. We also have to lend some credence to the idea that Dymond Lee will get a shot at quarterback as well -- Jim Mora was adamant about that in multiple settings yesterday, so even though we think Lee might end up at receiver, it sounds as if he'll start out in the quarterback depth chart.
That's a fun thing to write about now -- the quarterback depth chart. With Modster, Lynch, and Lee, UCLA has a real depth chart, with talented players with different skillsets to battle it out behind Rosen. Mike Fafaul is still in the program, and he provides quality experience as a fifth-year senior, but it'd be ideal if one of the true freshmen were able to seize the backup job, either this spring or in the fall. Lynch will be in school for spring practice, which could be key for him in getting a jump start on the physical development he'll need to compete for the backup job (he's 6'5 or so now, but still pretty thin, and needs to add some strength). Modster is the more physically ready of the two, so if we were handicapping it, we'd probably say that he would have a leg up in the backup competition this season, if the one of the true freshman were to beat out Fafaul. And, again, Lee could always surprise, as he did indeed have a good senior season at Chaminade playing some quarterback.
In any case, UCLA did a very good job recruiting the position this cycle, and landing Modster late, after the Mazzones departed, was key. It's a good bet that with new quarterbacks coach Marques Tuiasosopo leading quarterback recruiting going forward, UCLA won't be prone to the same sort of inattention recruiting the position that plagued the Bruins at times over the last four years.
UCLA landed its best receiver class in the Jim Mora era this cycle, and the real emphasis in this haul was clearly speed. UCLA landed players with excellent speed for their respective positions, with two quick and fast slot receiver types in Damian Alloway and Demetric Felton, one absolute burner on the outside in Theo Howard, and two bigger, longer players with very good athleticism and speed in their own right in Dymond Lee and Adewale Omotosho. UCLA lost Jordan Payton, Thomas Duarte, and Devin Fuller, their of the Bruins' best receivers the last three years, but they replaced them with players who have the talent to more than make up for the loss.
Howard is probably the jewel of the entire offensive class for what he brings to the table as a potential playmaker. He has been compared to Marqise Lee, and it's easy to see why. Howard has a excellent top-end speed, great quickness, and that knack for getting out into the open field and making guys miss. He's still a skinny high school kid physically, but with eight months to get ready for the season, it's easy to see him making an impact this year. Lee, as we just talked about, might start out at quarterback, but if he makes it over to the receiver meeting room at some point this season, the Bruins might have their replacement for Payton. Lee is probably a better athlete than Payton, but he has much the same crisp route-running ability in addition to excellent hands. If and when he fully commits to the receiver position, he could be special. We obviously haven't seen Omotosho in person much, but the reports are that he has deceptive speed for his size and likes to use his strength and physicality to out-muscle defensive backs for the ball. Again, he's another guy who could be in that mix to replace everything Payton brought to the table, from blocking to catching.
The slots have a little bit more in front of them in terms of depth. Alloway and Felton could absolutely make an impact this year, but they'll have to compete with guys like Darren Andrews, Stephen Johnson, and perhaps even Mossi Johnson, if he returns on the offensive side of the ball. Felton has some versatility, with the kind of body you'd typically see in a running back, so it wouldn't be a shock to see him make his way to the backfield at some point. Alloway, again, has very good speed and quickness, so we wouldn't be shocked if he sees the field this year.
This was a big year for UCLA to land a really good receiver class, with so many quality receivers leaving the program and Josh Rosen likely only being in the program for two more years. UCLA did exactly what it needed to do, giving Rosen another whole set of weapons, many of whom should be ready to play as early as this season.
UCLA landed one tight end in the class of 2016 in Jordan Wilson, a very good athlete who sat out much of the 2015 season with an injury. The Bruins had two other prospects they were pursuing heavily in Devin Asiasi and Thaddeus Moss, and while they finished top two for both, each decided to go elsewhere. Given that UCLA wants to move to more of a pro-style scheme, the Bruins really wanted to land more than one tight end in this class, so it's a bit of a miss. Now, UCLA will likely have to pursue options on the transfer market, or perhaps convert some current players over to tight end (Nate Iese would be one obvious option).
It remains to be seen how much of an impact Wilson will be able to make, obviously. He's certainly a big guy, measuring in at all of 6'4 and 245 pounds on his official visit a few weeks ago, so from a physical perspective, he should be ready to play early. How quickly he picks up on all of the blocking assignments, routes, and other things he'll need to do as a critical piece of the offense will likely determine how much of an impact he makes. UCLA is in an interesting position -- the Bruins have a clear goal of adding more pro-style to the scheme, but the personnel might not quite be ready for the full extent of whatever packages UCLA intends to install. It should make for an interesting spring and fall.
The way UCLA uses tight ends through spring and into fall will hopefully impact the next cycle's tight end recruiting in a positive way. UCLA hasn't recruited the position all that much over the last four years, so you have to figure they almost need to show something on the field before they start getting major interest from the big-time tight ends that the West seems to churn out annually. In any case, landing that big-time guy is probably going to have to wait until next year.
UCLA landed two running backs in the 2016 class, a big, bruising fullback in Jalen Starks and a more pure running back in Brandon Stephens. Stephens was a last-minute addition, decommitting from Stanford in January and then committing to UCLA in a span of about ten days. With those two, UCLA added more size to its running back depth chart, and with Starks, UCLA has a player who has the versatility to be both a tailback and a fullback depending on how UCLA wants to use him in its new scheme. This was a really nice running back class for the Bruins, with two talented players added to an already strong depth chart.
Stephens, as Mora mentioned yesterday, is intriguing, because he's already 205 pounds but has the frame to add another 15 or 20 with ease. He looks like he's the same sort of runner as former running back Paul Perkins on film, with good vision, shiftiness, and balance, but that potential size makes him even more on an interesting prospect. He's the kind of back that Stanford likes to have, which is why the Cardinal had him committed for so long. If UCLA wants to be the kind of offense that pounds the ball with regularity, adding backs like Stephens becomes even more of a priority.
But don't forget about Starks. He was a big, bruising tailback in his own right in high school, and while Scout has him projected as a fullback, it's no guarantee he'll be a pure fullback at UCLA. He absolutely showed the ability in high school to run the ball consistently, and he has deceptive speed for such a big guy. We'd have to imagine he'll play at least some fullback at UCLA, as not using a 250-ish pound running back as a blocker at times would be an almost criminal misuse of his size, but he has real value as a ball carrier as well.
We can't imagine running back recruiting is ever going to be a major problem at UCLA with Kennedy Polamalu on staff. Each year he's been here he has added quality players, from Nate Starks to Bolu Olorunfunmi and Sotonye Jamabo to now Stephens and Starks. The running back depth chart hasn't been in this good of shape in a long, long time.
It's obviously not one of those typical Adrian Klemm classes, where he lands a half-dozen four-star linemen projected to play immediately, but this also wasn't a typical Adrian Klemm year, with the uber-recruiter having to sit out full months of the recruiting cycle due to suspension. It also was a pretty down year out west for linemen, with many of the best prospects actually getting scooped up before Klemm was even able to return from suspension. That he was able to land the quality prospects he did, in particular Francisco Perez and the Texas transfer Jake Raulerson was a pretty impressive recruiting feat, given the constraints he was under for most of the cycle.
We've talked a good deal about Raulerson in other stories, but to sum up, snagging a player with his ability to come in and compete for playing time early at center or guard was absolutely critical, and elevates our sense of how good the offensive line could be this year. Again, if he comes in and plays either center or guard, that'll give UCLA five players with real experience starting on the offensive line in Conor McDermott, Kenny Lacy, Scott Quessenberry, Raulerson, and Kolton Miller.
The high school guys are also intriguing, but our favorite might be Perez, who plays with a real mean streak at guard and has the physicality to be a nice road grader in the run game. The other guard in the class, Mike Alves, has similar qualities as well, and it wouldn't be a shock to see those two both starting within a couple of years. The beauty of Raulerson's addition is that UCLA could at least think about redshirting both of them this year, and getting them college-ready, before they're thrust into the fire.
Alex Akingbulu almost certainly needs a redshirt year to get bigger and stronger, but there is a lot of intriguing athleticism there. When we watched him going toe-to-toe with Oluwole Betiku last year, he was giving up a good 10 or 15 pounds, but still held his own against the powerful, athletic defensive end. Akingbulu might be a couple of years away, with a need to add probably 40 pounds at least to his frame, but there's a lot to like about him as a long term prospect.
Obviously, the class didn't hit on all of UCLA's OL needs. Landing an immediate impact, or near-immediate impact tackle would have been key. There weren't a ton of options on the West Coast in the first place, and Klemm's suspension basically put UCLA behind for all of them, but that doesn't change that it was a need. Klemm has already put out offers to a host of 2017 offensive tackles, though, so it's a fair bet that UCLA will make good on the need in 2017 and land another big-time offensive line class.