We see you out there, the real UCLA recruiting diehards. We know you haven’t left your computers since last Wednesday, so we’re here to feed your need.
The 2017 recruiting cycle for UCLA has already started off well, with the Bruins having four commitments for the class already in the fold. The most recent was defensive end Hunter Echols, from Los Angeles Cathedral, and that makes all four of the early commitments on the defensive side of the ball.
UCLA linebackers coach Scott White was named Pac-12 Recruiter of the Year for 2016, and he’s at it again for 2017, already with two commitments from four-star prospects, Rahyme Johnson from Los Angeles Salesian and Jaquan Henderson from Covington (Ga.) Newton, and then one we’re not counting, a soft verbal commitment from the #6 outside linebacker in the nation, Javaris Steward, from Pomona. We’ve also heard that UCLA looks very good for another elite linebacker prospect.
The other verbal commitment is from safety prospect Rhedi Short of Los Angeles Cathedral.
After the 2016 class, we’ve come upon the conclusion it’s almost completely a waste of time to keep track of how many scholarships UCLA has available. For 2017, UCLA probably has about 16 rides open, but you can expect the normal amount of attrition through transfer and injury, and that will probably become 22ish. However, that is what we said last year at this time, and UCLA went out and got commitments from 29+ for 2016. So, it’s probably accurate to think in the 22-25 range.
Given that, here are the top recruiting needs and priorities for the 2017 class. UCLA did really well filling many positions of need with the big 2016 class, but there are always needs.
#1 – Offensive Tackles
#2 – A Big Offensive Line Class
Yes, this list has an emphasis on offensive linemen. Not only does Klemm need tackles, he needs playable bodies across every position, with his offensive line ranks a bit thin in terms of numbers and talent. There just aren’t many guys in the program who are freshmen or sophomores that you would project as being strong contenders to be starters. So it’s just not about getting bodies, but some four-star-and-above prospects that have a very good chance of being starters. Jim Mora said in December that he’s going to shift more numbers toward recruiting offensive linemen and defensive linemen, realizing that you need the hogs, and a good number of them who can play, to be successful in college football. With UCLA down some in OL numbers, you can expect Mora and Klemm, given that mindset, to shoot for a big 2017 OL class, probably 5 guys at least. With Klemm and his talent and drive for recruiting, and having had to accept a 2016 class with an asterisk, we anticipate UCLA will be in the running for the nation’s best OL class for 2017. It should be the Year of Klemm.
#3 – An Elite Quarterback
This will probably always be at least at top-three priority, in any year. For UCLA, let’s play out the likely quarterback scenario when Josh Rosen leaves after his junior season. So, for the 2018, season, you have two redshirt sophomores, Matt Lynch and Devon Modster, battling it out for the starter spot. But remember, that will be after two years in the program, and it’s reasonable to expect that one of them is going to be seeing the writing on the wall – that the other one is slated to be the starter after Rosen leaves. Now, it would be foolish for a quarterback to leave a program at that point, but it’s happened many, many times before, in many programs. So, that’s a reasonable expectation – that one among Modster and Lynch decide to transfer when the other one looks like the future starter in the post-Rosen era. Then, we’d have to anticipate that Dymond Lee would be with the receivers at this point. So, in 2018, you might have one of Lynch/Modster as a redshirt sophomore, and then, of course, the 2017 quarterback recruit and the 2018 recruit. A 2017 QB would be a redshirt freshman and, actually, in a really good spot. He would have been in the program for a year, so very much had the chance to narrow any possible lead between him and Lynch/Modster. He’d also know that, even if he doesn’t beat out Lynch/Modster, there will be plenty of opportunities for him to play, as there always is in college football, and eventually have an open look at the starter spot when he’s a senior. We would expect, though, UCLA to be able to get a quarterback for 2017 that would have a very good chance of beating out Lynch and Modster in 2018. That’s especially so since UCLA now has a quarterbacks coach that can really recruit in Marques Tuaisosopo. Now, with Tuiasosopo, and his relationship with the Scout #7-ranked QB for 2017, Tua Tagovailoa, you’d think that’d be a no-brainer. We’ve heard UCLA is where Tagovailoa wants to be, and UCLA would be looking pretty good if they got him. But now, when you have a great recruiter as a quarterbacks coach, you can be a little selective. Jack Sears, the prospect from San Clemente, visited UCLA unofficially Thursday and, we have to say, watching his 2015 season clips (below), we think Sears might be better than Tagovailoa. It will be interesting to watch if UCLA offers Sears, wanting to do it before he blows up and gets huge, national attention, or his favorite, Stanford, clues in – and also given where UCLA is with Tagovailoa. Ah, isn’t it nice to have the types of problems you get when you have a good recruiter as a quarterbacks coach?
#4 – At Least 1 Elite Defensive Tackle
No matter what the defensive scheme, it was a huge get for UCLA to sign Boss Tagaloa. Take him away from the 2016 recruiting class and it’s not nearly as stellar as it is. After quarterbacks, defensive tackles might be the highest commodity in recruiting. There just aren’t many that fit the physical and athletic criteria to play the position. Now, with UCLA shifting to using a 4-3 alignment more often, it’s even more imperative that UCLA keeps stocking its interior DL. It’s critical to have enough bodies, of course, but it’s probably more important to have that top-end talent – your starter and potential all Pac-12-level guy. While depth is incredibly important, the vast majority of the reps at any position are taken by the starters and, again, DTs might impact the game more than just about any position besides quarterback and running back. So, it’s vital to have elite talent staring at DT. We think UCLA will have that in Tagaloa, but UCLA needs to get his counterpart, his partner in crime, for the next several years on the interior DL. If you only have one good interior DL, offensive lines can double him and have a good chance of taking him out of the game. If you have two elite interior DL, one of the two will have a chance to dominate. Projecting out the UCLA interior DL, there is just decent depth and no one you would project to anchoring down the other DT spot next to Tagaloa. If JC DT Nick Terry proves to be a starter-level that will help, but that would only supply the placeholder there for the 2017 season. The west is perhaps its deepest in defensive tackles for 2017 than it’s been in a while, so it’s a great opportunity for UCLA to snatch up one to be Tagaloa’s comrade in arms for the forseeable future. Martin Andrus, the #3-ranked DT in the nation from Los Angeles High, and Greg Rogers, the #4-ranked DT nationally from Las Vegas (Nev.) Arbor View, are guys who fill the bill. Rogers recently gushed about the offer from USC, but we’re hearing UCLA still leads for him.
#5 – Darnay Holmes or an Elite, Lock-Down Cornerback
UCLA’s defense has lacked that lock-down corner for years. UCLA likes its corners bigger, which fits its defensive scheme, but there’s no getting away from situations where a DB ends up on an island, one-on-one with a receiver. The value of having a cornerback that can, for the most part, shut down a receiver in a one-on-one situation is immense. It can change the entire outlook and approach of a defense. It can allow a defense to leave the lockdown guy alone on one receiver, and then provide safety support on the other side of the field. It can allow a defense to pressure the quarterback more. And in situations where an opposing offense has a big-impact receiver, the lockdown corner will give you a great chance to take the receiver out of the offensive gameplan.
UCLA has had very elite cover corners come through the L.A. area in recent years, but have missed on them. It’s a puzzle piece that UCLA’s defense hasn’t been able to find.
This type of prospect doesn’t come along every year. There isn’t one of this caliber in Southern California in every recruiting cycle. In 2017, there is a guy in SoCal who has a chance to be this type of player – Darnay Holmes. http://www.scout.com/college/ucla/story/1641029-get-to-know-2017-db-darn... He’s the #1 cornerback in the nation for 2017, and the #11-ranked prospect overall. UCLA has been recruiting him for a long time, and was known to be the previous leader, but there’s a feeling that Nebraska could be a big threat. Even with all the accolades, and being ranked the #1 cornerback in the country for 2017, we need to see Holmes in 7-on-7s this spring, just to confirm what we suspect – that he’s worthy of the lofty ranking and is that elite, lock-down type of cornerback prospect. If he is, it’s what makes him a big recruiting priority for UCLA behind a quarterback and offensive line for in 2017. UCLA defensive backs coach Demetrice Martin has a long relationship with the Holmes family, so this is a big one for Martin. UCLA has lost some lockdown type of prospects to USC in recent years; Holmes is going to announce on June 23rd and isn’t considering USC, and there’s the relationship with Martin, so here’s the best chance for the Bruins to get one.
#6 – Two Tight Ends
Jim Mora has said it repeatedly – UCLA is going to utilize more of a pro-style offensive scheme. He’s also said he needs tight ends to do it. We suspect, come spring practice, there will be some guys currently on the roster trying their hand at tight end. But UCLA, to go more pro-style, will need to stock up on tight ends. Luckily, 2017 looks to be a pretty good year in the west for tight ends, and even more luckily, quite a few of UCLA’s current top tight end targets are in Angus McClure’s recruiting purview. The nation’s #6-ranked tight end, Josh Falo, is from McClure’s home territory of Sacramento, playing at Inderkum High; #8-ranked TE Jimmy Jaggers is from Roseville (Calif.), and then there’s UCLA-offeree Tucker Fisk, from Davis. Not only is NorCal McClure’s recruiting region, he used to be UCLA’s tight ends coach. So you can expect McClure and new tight ends coach, Rip Scherer, to be traveling partners on many trips to NorCal in this recruiting cycle. There’s also Taariq Johnson, who doesn’t have a UCLA offer yet but is the #11-ranked TE in the nation -- and he’s been to a number of UCLA practices and is high on the Bruins.
#7 – Second Defensive Tackle
#8 – Elite Wide Receiver
#9 – Big, Physical Safety
As we’ve said a few times, UCLA’s lack of size at safety in 2015 was a factor. To answer that, UCLA went out in the 2016 class and signed Brandon Burton, a four-star prospect from Gardena Serra and Leni Toailoa, from Rialto Carter, both in the 6-1, 200-pound range. But it needs more, to increase its chances of finding an all-conference level. It has a commitment from Rhedi Short, from Los Angeles Cathedral, in the 2017 class, who is also about 6-1 and has a frame that could fill out. His 2015 season highlights look good (below) but we haven’t seen him in person yet. The #6-ranked safety in the nation is Chaz Ah You, from Saratoga Springs (Utah) Westlake, and he’s a top priority. You’d have to think UCLA has a good chance given Ah You said a while back UCLA was his favorite, and now UCLA has a great recruiter covering Utah in Marques Tuiasosopo, who also has the Polynesian connection with Ah You. Another big safety prospect we like is Brandon McKinney from Orange Lutheran, the nation’s #13-ranked prospect at his position who we know UCLA is trying hard with and has a good shot to get.
#10 –Two Starter-Level Linebackers
This one’s easy. It looks like UCLA linebackers coach Scott White is already pretty close to fulfilling this need. Even with White bringing in a stellar linebackers class for 2016 (#2 in the Nation, and that was not counting Breland Brandt), UCLA does need some four-star-or-better linebacker prospects for 2017. It will lose Isaako Savaiinaea, Jayon Brown and Cameron Judge to graduation after the 2016 season. But no reason to worry because White gets his elite classes taken care of early. As we said above, he has commitments from the #19-ranked athlete in the nation, Rahyme Johnson, and the #23-ranked outside linebacker, Jaquan Henderson. He also has a soft verbal from the nation’s #6 outside linebacker, Javaris Steward from Pomona and, as we said, has a very legitimate shot at one more elite prospect. Fulfilling #10 looks good.
Honorable Mention: Defensive Ends
With UCLA going to a 4-3 more often, it will need more defensive ends. However, you might expect guys like Keisean Lucier-South and Breland Brandt to be more of defensive ends than linebackers now. Given that, UCLA should have more defensive end bodies, but also have some candidates to be big pass-rushing DE types. And then there is Maxs Tupai, the 2016 prospect from Murray (Utah), who is officially visiting this weekend. On his senior highlight tape, Tupai looks like another elite pass-rushing candidate. If UCLA doesn’t get Tupai (and the word is that they’re in the pole position), the need for defensive ends will move up this list considerably – not just the need for a high-end talent, but the need for two high-end talents.