Pylon 7on7: Evaluating UCLA Defensive Targets

Mar. 9 -- There were plenty of UCLA targets in attendance at the Pylon Elite 7-on-7 tournament in Las Vegas last weekend. Check out our evaluations for the prospects on the defensive side of the ball...


• Not a lot of representation at this position as far as the Bruins are concerned but commit Rahyme Johnson was as good as a linebacker can be against smaller receivers in the 7-on-7 setting. The lanky four-star prospect anticipated plays well and, when running backs took off up field, he turned well and maintained coverage. Johnson is tremendously long and covers a lot of ground, and it should be interesting to see how he develops as a pass rusher in the next year given his length on the edge.

Rahyme Johnson

Isaac Slade-Matautia camped with UCLA last summer and, though he doesn’t hold an offer at the moment, could certainly be in the conversation for one. The 6-foot-1, 220-pound prospect was impressive from the inside linebacker spot, moving well laterally and closing quickly on the football.

• Outside linebacker Palaie Gaoteote, considered by some to be the top 2018 prospect at Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman, was a physical presence matching up with receivers in the slot. He used his hands effectively and showed good footwork in coverage, helping the Gorman-dominated ‘702 Elite’ to the tournament title.


Darnay Holmes again displayed special traits as a cover corner. The five-star prospect looked comfortable being left alone to blanket his side of the field, and even when he had zone responsibilities, showed great instincts to break toward the football. Holmes wasn’t afraid to get physical, either, tightening his coverage up the middle to break up throws. The Bruins have missed on elite corners in recent years, so it’s clear why he’s valued as a top priority in this 2017 class.

• A Richard Sherman comparison was being tossed around rather liberally when mentioning Elijah Blades, but that might not be too farfetched at least at the high school level. Florida offered the Pasadena (Calif.) Muir prospect Tuesday and it looks like it will only be the start of the attention for him. The 6-foot-3, 170-pound Blades was terrific in staying with receivers deep but also showed the agility to disrupt their rhythm underneath. His 7-on-7 teammate, Elijah Gates, was very good on the opposite side.

Trajon Cotton, who has a top two of UCLA and Oregon, looked good playing safety and, even though Cotton said UCLA assistant Demetrice Martin likes him at corner, Cotton fits the mold of a utility defensive back the Bruins have coveted in recent classes. He was smooth when he had to turn and run, and met the football at its highest point when he was tested. Los Angeles (Calif.) Bishop Mora Salesian four-star Deommodore Lenoir, who earned an invite to The Opening Regional recently, primarily played safety and fared well there, too, showing an ability to scan the field and react. Marques Evans, who matched up well with Theo Howard in a game last fall, also showed the versatility to play anywhere in the secondary.

• The Bruins have already offered 2018 corners Bookie Radley-Hiles and Olaijah Griffin, and they were certainly two of the better underclassmen defensive backs in attendance. Both showed flashes of being scrappy defenders that don’t back down from receivers.

Olaijah Griffin


• It was difficult to evaluate UCLA commit Rhedi Short with his team running a zone scheme and the likes of Blades and Gates on the edges, but Short covered the flats and broke toward the inside to disrupt crossing routes when he had to. It should also be noted that this wasn't necessarily his environment given that he's thought to be one of the better tacklers in the area. Team Utah utilized four-star Chaz Ah You in a similar fashion, but Ah You looked more athletic and made a ton of plays, getting into passing lanes to tip a few throws that went for interceptions. He said UCLA, Oregon and Stanford are standing out to him the most, with the Bruins holding a slight lead at the moment. Derrick Tucker, the former teammate of Will Lockett at Manvel, Texas, was great in a rover role and was physically impressive.

• Isaiah Pola-Mao, the nephew of Bruins offensive coordinator Kennedy Polamalu, had a great tournament on both sides of the ball but looked a bit better on defense. He stands at about 6-4 with long arms, and he was very instinctual particularly inside the red zone when he had to make quick decisions. The Phoenix (Ariz.) Mountain Pointe prospect has very good film and could be considered one of the more physical defenders in the Mountain region.

Jaiden Woodbey of Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco had another solid showing for GroundZero and could be the nation's top safety in the 2018 class. He was long, physical and fluid, looking like a natural as the last line of defense.

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