Trend Meter on UCLA's 2017 Recruiting Needs

Apr. 15 -- Here's an update about how UCLA's doing on its top dozen recruiting needs for 2017. It obviously has checked the box with defensive ends, but how is it trending with offensive tackles or cornerbacks?

We established the primary recruiting needs for UCLA in the 2017 class back in February, right after National Signing Day.

With the spring evaluation period starting today (and going to the end of May), here’s a check-up on how UCLA is doing with those needs two months later. 

#1 -- Offensive Tackles  

This has gone from priority #1 to priority #1+, if that’s possible.  Texas tackle prospect Will Farrar decommitted last week.  With him, UCLA had a legit tackle prospect on the 2017 books and could pick and choose who to finish off the class with; without him, UCLA now looks very wanting for OTs, needing to probably get three offensive linemen in this class that can play OT.  And, after watching spring practice so far, the Bruins are going to absolutely need to bring in a high level of talent at tackle. At this point, though, we’re unsure if UCLA is leading for any offensive tackle types. Perhaps the Bruins lead with Andrew Vorhees, from Kingsburg (Calif.), who is ranked a three-star and the #55 offensive tackle in the nation. He’s probably a little under-rated, and perhaps one of the best OTs in the west, so UCLA could definitely use him.  In fact, given where they are with many tackles, UCLA needs Vorhees.  He just visited UCLA Monday for the second time in the last month, and it’s thought it’s between UCLA and Oregon for him.  

One upward trend in the last month could be with Alijah Vera-Tucker, the four-star and #14-ranked tackle prospect from Oakland (Calif.) Bishop O’Dowd.  He unofficially visited UCLA during a spring practice, and hung out with UCLA-committed OL Kanan Ray.  From what we’ve heard, the visit helped UCLA, and the Bruins could be in a better spot than previously believed, in perhaps the top three with Washington and Oregon.

We know UCLA is trying hard with Phoenix (Ariz.) North Canyon’s Austin Jackson, the five-star prospect ranked the #2 OT in the nation and the #7-ranked prospect overall. But we don’t have a feel that UCLA has a really good shot here; Jackson is getting recruited by the SEC and other national programs and has family ties to USC. We could see UCLA offensive line coach Adrian Klemm getting out to Texas this spring evaluation period to check out a few tackles, and one of his first stops will be Austin Westlake, to see Stephan Zabié.  Zabie is currently a three-star, ranked the #42 OT in the nation, but after a great performance at The Opening Houston, he’s started to blow up a bit.  UCLA hasn’t offered but we suspect they will if Klemm visits him, and Zabie has said UCLA would be a real contender if the Bruins offered.  

As of right now, however, there are going to have to be some considerable developments in UCLA offensive tackle recruiting for the arrow to start trending up here. 

#2 -- A Big Offensive Line Class  

We mean big, as in numbers, like four or five recruits, but also in talent, with a good number of future starters among that four or five.  In fact, we think the 2017 offensive line class has to be the one that makes the UCLA offensive line for the next five years, given the state of the younger talent on the UCLA OL roster right now. UCLA’s committed OL, Kanan Ray, from Chatsworth (Calif.) Sierra Canyon, is a solid get, and physically passes the eyeball test.  But there are two prospects that are key to this class – five-star Wyatt Davis, from Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco, and Jalen McKenzie, from Concord Clayton Valley.  Davis is the top-end talent UCLA needs to make the 2017 class a success; as of right now, we hear UCLA is trailing Stanford and other national programs.  McKenzie is a key because, after tearing an ACL in his junior season, if he’s legitimately a four-star prospect, with the ties UCLA has to him and his family, it’d be a major win for UCLA. We’ll pretty much find out during this spring evaluation period when UCLA coaches see him (if they really go hard after him as a result) and after we see him at The Opening Regional Oakland in late May.

UCLA did a great job of turning around Jaelan Phillips, the elite defensive end, from leaning to Stanford, with him committing to UCLA yesterday.  It looks like UCLA is the strong leader over Stanford for five-star cornerback Darnay Holmes.  So, to finish off the Stanford coup, UCLA will have to turn Davis from Stanford to UCLA.  Doing that would singularly make the OL class, and probably make the 2017 recruiting class overall.  

#3 -- A Pac-12 Starting-Level QB  

Everything we’ve heard in the last two months is that UCLA’s top prospect, Tua Tagovailoa, is leaning to USC.  UCLA is still in it, since UCLA quarterbacks coach Marques Tuiasosopo is a relative, and we expect UCLA will be involved until he actually commits somewhere.  But we have to still think USC will hold on to Tagovailoa.  And there really isn’t anyone else that UCLA is leading for that they’ve offered, in the west, or we know they’re doing really well with.

The evaluation period is going to impact QB recruiting in a big way, however. UCLA quarterbacks coach Marques Tuiasosopo will probably get out on the road to see some guys in person. Even though the evaluation period starts Friday, it’s smart for Tuiasosopo to wait for a couple of weeks, when high schools start their spring practice, so he can actually see prospects throw.  He’ll probably take a first swing down to Orange County to see Jack Sears from San Clemente and Chase Garbers from Corona Del Mar. Both have visited UCLA this spring and met with Tuiasosopo, and both are waiting on a UCLA offer and, from what we hear, the Bruins would immediately move to the top of their list with an offer.   We could see, however, Tuiasosopo waiting until the UCLA camps in June, to see the quarterbacks prospects side by side, before offering.  

One thing to watch for, too, which pertains here:  We expect Tuiasosopo to also go out to Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman to watch 2018 QB prospect Dorian Thompson-Robinson.  Thompson-Robinson has looked great this winter and spring, and he has openly said UCLA is his favorite. Given what we’ve seen from quarterback prospects in the west for 2017 and 2018, we think UCLA will offer and make Thompson-Robinson a priority.

While Tuiasosopo is at Bishop Gorman, a priority, obviously, is to take the temperature of the #1 quarterback prospect in the nation for 2017, Tate Martell, who is verbally committed to Texas A&M. As everyone has heard, the commitment, though, isn’t completely solid. We think, more than likely, UCLA gets its 2017 quarterback from Sears or Garbers, and our bet is on Garbers – that once Tuiasosopo sees Garbers and Sears throw enough in person he’ll opt for Garbers.   He has shown to be the better prospect when we’ve seen him in the last couple of months, even though we know UCLA currently might favor Sears.  We do think Garbers is a Pac-12 level quarterback, and we think that with him, the guys who will be on UCLA’s roster this fall, Matt Lynch and Devon Modster, and perhaps, Thompson-Robinson the following year, that’s a very good pool from which to find Josh Rosen’s successor.  

#4 -- At least One Great Defensive Tackle  

Greg Rogers

We continue to hear that UCLA is the leader for Greg Rogers, the nation’s #3-ranked defensive tackle, from Las Vegas Arbor View. You can expect a contingent of Bruin coaches to get out to Las Vegas over the next month, as we said above, and Rogers might be the top priority to see there.  

We’ve also heard that UCLA is at the top or close to it for the nation’s #14-ranked DT, Marlon Tuipulotu, from Independence (Ore.) Central.  Tuipulotu has a plan to come to UCLA’s campus in the next couple of weeks – and that will be his second unofficial visit this spring.

From what we hear, UCLA has a very good chance, also, at Popo Aumavae, the nation’s #25-ranked DT from Stockton St. Mary’s. 

We’ve heard, too, that UCLA has a realistic shot at Noah Elliss, the #18-ranked DT from Highlands Ranch (Col.) Valor Christian. 

If UCLA could get two of these prospects it would be a major win. If they got three – well, that could get UCLA defensive line coach Angus McClure the title of Pac-12 Recruiter of the Year for 2017, after he already has verbal commitments from two elite DEs in Jaelan Phillips and Hunter Echols

#5 -- Darnay Holmes He’s the jewel of the 2017 class, the elite, lockdown corner UCLA needs, and everything we’re hearing on him is that UCLA leads over Stanford. UCLA defensive backs coach Demetrice Martin has been working on this one for over a decade, knowing Darnay since he was about five years old.  We expect Martin to be out at Calabasas pretty soon to show Holmes some love.  As we said above, if UCLA could get Holmes to go along with Phillips, that’d be two very elite prospects they beat out Stanford to get.  Wyatt Davis would make it three-for-three.  

#6 -- Two Tight Ends  There have been a few minor developments in tight end recruiting in the last couple of months.  UCLA looks to be the leader for Jimmy Jaggers, the four-star prospect from Roseville (Calif.); They offered the #6 tight end in the nation – Hunter Bryant from Sammamish (Wash.) Eastside Christian – after he took an unofficial visit to UCLA; They offered Moses Robinson-Carr, the three-star who is probably better than that ranking, who also visited UCLA’s practice Thursday; and they could be on the verge of offering Erik Krommenhoek, from Danville (Calif.) Monte Vista, the son of Bruin grads.  It’s good, not quite enough to get the arrow trending upward, which would probably take a commitment, but it’s good.   We’d say, between those four, there’s a good bet that UCLA gets at least one.  Krommenhoek is slated to come to UCLA’s practice next week, and if the Bruins offer they’ll almost certainly be his leader. If that happens, and with UCLA leading for Jaggers, and UCLA probably no worse than top two for Bryant, that would be worthy of perhaps an upward arrow.  We think UCLA will go in hard on Robinson-Carr and Bryant with them passing the eyeball test in person during their unofficial visits.  Mora was showing Robinson-Carr a lot of love when he attended practice.

#7 -- Second Starter-Level Defensive Tackle It’s reasonable to expect UCLA to get one elite DT from the list above.  It’d be a coup to get two.  As we said, it’d be a grand slam to get three.  Looking at UCLA’s future depth chart, it could definitely use it, with the ranks losing some guys in the next couple of years.  It is probably one of the best recruiting years for defensive tackle in the west in recent memory, and UCLA is doing well with most of the elite ones, so that’s all good. 

#8 -- Elite Wide Receiver Watching early 2016 enrollee Theo Howard in spring practice you can see the difference a truly elite WR can make immediately.  Given how Howard’s looked, we expect him to be a contributor this season and have an impact as a true freshman.  UCLA, in the last few years, has had solid receivers, but just not the top-end, elite guys.  Howard has a chance to be that, but UCLA needs another one, or as many as it can get, to really give its new passing game a leg up.  As of right now, we don’t see any receiver prospect in the 2017 class that UCLA is doing well with that fits that description.   

UCLA could be on the very of getting a commitment from Alex Cook, the three-star (and probably under-rated) recruit from Nor Cal, as we really like Cook.

The guy who would make the trend meter point way up, though, would be Joseph Lewis, the five-star from Los Angeles Hawkins. It’s an interesting recruitment, too. On one hand, the feeling around recruiting circles is that the Hawkins recruits aren’t worth the effort.  On the other hand, we’ve heard that Lewis, despite some cockiness, might be a good fit for UCLA; he’s that elite guy, he’s a decent student, doesn’t like USC, and many feel he ultimately wouldn’t want to go far away from home, despite big national attention.  It would take UCLA giving Lewis some major love, and we’re uncertain if UCLA will do that, given the rep of the Hawkins recruits (You might remember the now-famous unofficial visit).  

If UCLA, though, is going to take two receivers in the 2017 class, it really needs at least one of them to be a Theo-Howard level-type of guy.  

#9 -- Big Physical Safety

This is trending up for one reason: UCLA is the clear leader for Chaz Ah You, the four-star and nation’s #7-ranked safety, from Provo (Utah) Timpview.  UCLA has a commitment from three-star Rhedi Short, from Los Angeles Cathedral, and that’s good to have in your back pocket, but signing Ah You would enable us to check off this need.  

#10 -- Two Starter-Level Linebackers After watching UCLA’s spring practice, we are more encouraged with the future talent and depth of the linebackers.  It helps that Breland Brandt is working as an outside linebacker and not defensive end, and has looked good.  It helps that Josh Woods has looked exceptional, before he got injured. And the same with Mique Juarez, who looked like he was starting to clue in before he suffered a slight concussion.  And there’s Lokeni Toailoa, who has shown great natural instincts at middle linebacker.   That’s all good, but UCLA will lose four linebackers in the next two years and it needs to keep restocking, and needs two starter-level guys, at least, in the 2017 class. 

We think Rahyme Johnson, from Los Angeles Salesian, who is verbally committed, is one of those guys.  He’s looked good this spring, with a great body to grow into.

We still believe UCLA is leading for Addison Gumbs, the nation’s #6 outside linebacker, from Hayward Stellar Prep.  

And there’s the verbal we consider soft from Javaris Steward, who is now at Denton (Tex.) Ryan.  

We think UCLA has a very good chance to get Johnson and Gumbs, and that would satisfy the need right there.

The one caveat: It’s not a great class for linebackers in the west.  So, there doesn’t seem to be many other guys UCLA has on its list – that it’s offered or is even recruiting aggressively.  There’s, of course, a chance that Gumbs commits elsewhere, and that Steward doesn’t ultimately pan out, and UCLA doesn’t have many other four-star level options if that happens.  UCLA is shooting high, going for guys like Baron Browning, the #1 outside linebacker in the nation, and Will Ignont, the four-star prospect from Florida, and that’s good – but in our opinion, more on the longshot side.   It will be interesting, then, to see if, after this evaluation period, UCLA offers someone like Lamin Touray, from Mission Hills (Calif.) Bishop Alemany, who has been to a couple of UCLA spring practices, or Joshua Brown from Long Beach Poly, the younger (but bigger) brother of current UCLA linebacker Jayon Brown.  

Gumbs is supposed to make a decision this summer, after visiting a number of schools, all over the country.  UCLA was leading when he said he intended to make a decision, so if he pushes that back, it would be an indication that he’s waffled a bit on committing to UCLA.  If UCLA does get Gumbs this summer, then you can come pretty close to checking off the linebacker need.  

#11 – Defensive Ends If there's a need you can already check off it’d be this one.  UCLA just got a commitment from four-star Jaelan Phillips (who will probably end up a five-star), to go along with four-star Hunter Echols.  That’s the #6- and #12-ranked DEs in the nation.  Of course, now it’s all about recruiting them to be able to hang onto them, but we think UCLA defensive line coach Angus McClure has a good shot at doing that.  He’ll also keep recruiting the DE position, in case one falls out – or there is a possibility he could get a third, perhaps D.J. Johnson, the four-star from Sacramento that McClure has been recruiting for a long time.  

To date, this is easily the recruiting need for 2017 that’s best filled so far, and it very well could end up being the best-filled need by Signing Day. 

Hunter Echols and Jaelen Phillips

#12 -- More Pac-12 Level Cornerbacks UCLA is looking good for many cornerback prospects in the west, probably leading for Elijah Gates, the four-star from Buena Park, and Elijah Hicks, from La Mirada.  It now has a real chance at Thomas Graham, who recently decommitted from USC.  Graham and Gates are the #5 and #9 corner prospects in the nation, and we think Hicks is underrated at #33, so any of the three would be great gets. 

With the evaluation period beginning, expect Demetrice Martin to go see all of these guys pretty soon. 

UCLA needs corners, with a DB depth chart that is a bit safety-heavy.  Or put it this way: it needs guys who are clearly great cover corners, rather than those that are more like safeties that can play some corner.

Holmes is the big priority, but a second, and even a third, corner is a pretty big priority.  We’ve heard there could be an issue that many 2017 cornerback prospects might not want to go to UCLA with Holmes, that he’ll suck up the cornerback spotlight. But that’s ridiculous, since, they might have noticed, there are two cornerback positions and plenty of spotlight to go around.  

If UCLA gets Holmes and just one among Graham, Gates and Hicks it would a great recruiting job by Martin, and definitely checking the box on this need in a way UCLA hasn’t done in a while.  


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