UCLA Football Recruiting Reset: Defense

April 22 -- With the spring evaluation period now underway, we reset UCLA's defensive recruiting board...

UCLA football recruiting for 2017 is already off to a good start, with five commitments, four on defense and one on offense.

Holding on to Angus McClure was big for UCLA (Nebraska courted the DL coach a couple of months ago), especially with a deep and talented crop of defensive lineman out West this year. In fact, for the first time in three years, the Bruins had no turnover with the defensive coaching staff.

Each year, there are questions of just how many players UCLA will sign. When a class looks small and BRO predicts they'll have more numbers and scholarships to utilize, they always have the space available, so this year should be no different.

The spring evaluation period started over last weekend so here is a look at UCLA's defensive recruiting board in mid-April.


DEFENSIVE TACKLES (2-3)

This will be one of the best defensive tackle classes, and frankly, one of the best defensive line classes the West has seen in a long time. And the timing couldn't be better for UCLA, which is already heavily pursuing a ton of defensive linemen from the region. Angus McClure may be the most underrated recruiter in the Pac-12 and certainly is one of the most underappreciated, as he's been bringing in top defensive linemen yearly since he moved to that position and his diligence on the road has landed the Bruins some under-the-radar players like Takkarist McKinley and Chigozie Nnoruka. McClure was the only assistant coach in the country who did the homework to recognize that each of those players was eligible to transfer after their freshman year in junior college. UCLA held off Nebraska, who tried to bring McClure back to Lincoln where he was a one-time assistant. Stepping up to pay him and secure him in Westwood will help with defensive line recruiting moving forward. Speaking of McClure's diligence, several of what are now the top defensive tackles in the 2017 class were offered by UCLA last spring when they were very much under the radar. They've continued to play at a high level, validating McClure's early offer and eye for talent. UCLA would be happy with two standout DLs in this class, but if a third elite guy wanted to jump in the boat they wouldn't turn him down. 

Top Targets:

Martin Andrus, Los Angeles (Calif.)

UCLA has a very good chance with Andrus, who plays at Los Angeles High School, where he is coached by former Bruin receiver and assistant coach Eric Scott. Andrus has said he was a UCLA fan growing up. Scott and McClure coached together, in fact, during the 2007 season at UCLA, with McClure coaching the tight ends and Scott the receivers, so there is that connection.

Greg Rogers, Las Vegas (Nev.) Arbor View

Rogers is another one who grew up a UCLA fan and the Bruins have long been a factor for him. He said that the Bruins were one of his favorites growing up soon after he was offered. UCLA was out to see him in the fall and stopped by his school during January. USC offered Rogers too and he told Scout that UCLA and USC are two of his for sure official visits.  He visited USC last weekend and is planning to get to UCLA, which he's visited a couple of times before, this Saturday for the Spring Showcase.  And UCLA coaches are expected to be out in Vegas to see him once spring ball ends.

Jay Tufele, South Jordan (Utah) Bingham

Tufele has a lot of Pac-12 interest and McClure and Marques Tuiasosopo, who recruits Utah, will prioritize him inside. He's the top prospect in Utah in this class, where Tuiasosopo made his biggest impact in 2015 when he was across town. Tufele was recently offered by Ohio State and Michigan and Ole MIss have also offered him so he's gone national and he's also the focus of Utah and BYU.

Popo Aumavae, Stockton (Calif.) St. Mary's

Aumavae can play on either side of the line, but most schools appear to be recruiting him on the defensive line and that is where UCLA is focusing on Aumavae playing. He's got significant interest in the Bruins too and he's starting to blossom into a big-time prospect with nearly 20 offers, but the Bruins and McClure are on his very short list with Oregon and USC.

Noah Elliss, Highlands Ranch (Colo.) Valor Christian

The son of the former Detroit Lions and Utah defensive lineman, Elliss was offered by UCLA last month and the Bruins have somewhat of a chance with him, though he too is a national recruit now. Originally from Utah, his father is now on the Denver Broncos staff, which prompted the move to Colorado, but the Utes have made him a heavy priority and have the legacy ties.

Marlon Tuipulotu, Independence (Ore.) Central

Tuipulotu pretty much shocked everyone when he committed to Washington last weekend.  He had been mentioning UCLA, USC, Michigan and Notre Dame most prominently outside of home-state Oregon, but an unofficial visit to Washington landed the Huskies a big verbal.  That said, there is still talk that Tuipulotu could move back to Los Angeles (he lived in the Southland before he moved to Oregon in high school), and if he does, in fact, move back to L.A., expect USC and UCLA to be all over him.  They still will be in the meantime.

Other Names to Watch:

Marvin Wilson, 6-4, 309, Bellaire (Texas) Episcopal- Offered

Xach Gill, Wake Forest (N.C.)- Offered

Dalyn Wade-Perry, Sparta (N.J.) Pope John XXIII- Offered

Deiontae Watts, Plano (Texas) East- Offered

Damion Daniels, Dallas (Texas) Bishop Dunne- Offered


DEFENSIVE ENDS (2-3)

Like with tackles, this is a very good defensive end class out West, with three four-star ends in the state of California. UCLA got a jump on the competition, with the Bruins already getting a commitment from Jaelan Phillips and Hunter Echols, and they were first to offer Johnson. UCLA will probably stand pat with Phillips and Echols, but continue to recruit the others on this list, in case Phillips and Echols ever falls out. It'd be interesting to see if, in continuing to recruit others, if UCLA could possibly get a third DE commitment; we feel it'd have to be a very special case and elite prospect, however. 

Top Targets:

Hunter Echols, Los Angeles (Calif.) Cathedral- COMMITTED

Echols made it no secret that UCLA is his favorite school and runaway leader for his services, and, naturally, he committed about as soon as he was able, the day after Signing Day. While Echols has said he'll take some visits and may go through the process, we see some Breland Brandt in him, in that UCLA was his dream school, and the school he wanted an offer from for some time. He actually was trying to commit for a while, but the coaches wanted to wait until right after Signing Day. Echols has spent the time since his commitment recruiting, and he has said he thinks the 2017 class could be one of UCLA's best. He's one of the best pass rushers in the country, with almost 20 sacks, and one of two Cathedral commitments on defense with Rhedi Short. And he's been pretty active on social media showing his love for the Bruins.  He has taken unofficial visits to Washington and USC, but he's also been a frequent guest at UCLA this spring.

Jaelan Phillips, Redlands (Calif.) East Valley- COMMITTED

Phillips, the No. 1 defensive end in the West, is another prospect that UCLA identified early and had been on for some time. His family is all Bruin and that ended up paying off huge when Phillips picked UCLA last week.  He had blown up nationally, with offers from a number of SEC powers, including Alabama, and Stanford, who usually gets the better end against UCLA in head-to-head duals, was pretty confident that Phillips would head to The Farm.  Instead, he chose his childhood favorite and UCLA has the top two ends in the West now with Phillips and Echols, who've gotten close this spring.

D.J. Johnson, Sacramento (Calif.) Luther Burbank

Johnson camped with UCLA last summer and was offered that day and is now one of the most heavily pursued players in the West, with over 30 offers. But UCLA was his very first offer and he told Scout that they will always be on his short list because of that. Since then, most of the Pac-12 has offered along with Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Michigan, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Notre Dame and Oklahoma among others.

Donovan Jeter, Beaver Falls (Pa.)

Much of Jeter's attention is coming from Big Ten country, including Penn State and Michigan and Notre Dame is also pursuing him but the Bruins are the lone West Coast school on his short list and Tom Bradley has recruited his area forever.

Next Tier to Watch:

Luiji Vilain, Alexandria (Va.) Episcopal

UCLA offered Vilian in late February and now he's mentioning them among his top schools, but he'll be tough to pull out of the East. Still, he's expressed interest in visiting UCLA (and USC recently offered), so there is a chance if he takes a trip.

Jacob Callier, Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco

UCLA will see and evaluate Callier this spring. He hails from St. John Bosco, where UCLA has had some success of late, but with Phillips and Echols in the fold, its uncertain just how hard they'll pursue him.

Victor Jones, Sacramento (Calif.) Inderkum

Jones is teammates with two UCLA targets, defensive back Trajon Cotton and tight end Josh Falo and he took an unofficial visit to UCLA in March and said he thinks UCLA could be on the brink of offering. He's a good student too.

Other Names to Watch:

Alden Tofa, 6-4, 255, West Jordan (Utah)

Aliki Vimahi, 6-4, 245, Kahuku (Hawaii)

Jordan Jackson, 6-3, 233, Oakland (Calif.) Bishop O'Dowd


LINEBACKERS (3)

Thanks to the strong efforts of Pac-12 Recruiter of the Year Scott White, UCLA signed the No. 2 linebacker in the country and locked up the No. 1 outside 'backer in the country in Mique Juarez and the West's top two insider backers in Lokeni Toailoa and Krys Barnes. So linebacker recruiting isn't an issue at all under White and in fact is a strength. So now that White has that under his belt, expect him to at least duplicate that effort in 2017. He's has one commitment (they did have two, losing Jaquan Henderson's commitment, but that was pretty much expected).  We're no longer listing Javaris Steward, since he moved back to Texas and everything we've heard is that UCLA is no longer recruiting him and he wasn't a good fit for the Bruins.

Top Targets:

Rahyme Johnson, Los Angeles (Calif.) Salesian - COMMITTED

Johnson was UCLA's first commit in the 2017 class, committing back in the summer. He's a pretty good athlete with good size and he's looked solid this spring on the 7v7 circuit and fluid in coverage. He could outgrow the position and he was originally a receiver, so tight end wouldn't be completely out of the question, but for now, he's an outside linebacker. The big thing for him is with committing so early, he's talked about taking some visits and Nebraska is making a push for him.  In fact, he visited Nebraska last weekend with teammate Deommodore Lenoir and the Huskers are a legitimate candidate to flip him. He'll be at UCLA's Spring Showcase this Saturday. 

Addison Gumbs, (OLB), Oakland (Calif.) Stellar Prep

Gumbs is an intriguing player, playing at a small school in the Bay Area, where he's been extremely productive. We saw him two years ago on the camp and 7v7 circuit and he's grown a ton since then. UCLA saw what they needed on film, offered him and immediately made an impression on him to the point they're on his very short list. Interestingly, he played on the same 7v7 team with Bolu Olorunfunmi when he was a sophomore and is now playing with one of the top teams in NorCal, a team which will be in Southern California this weekend, so Gumbs will be at the Spring Showcase on Saturday.  He's already visited UCLA once this spring, and after that visit there was an indication he was strongly leading UCLA's way. He also said that he'd be making a decision in summer.  He has since visited many schools and has maintained he'll make his commitment soon, so UCLA is probably sitting pretty well with him. Washington, where he visited, might be the biggest threat. 

Baron Browning, (OLB), Kennedale (Texas)

Browning was a commit to Baylor but opened up things and UCLA is very much in the mix for him. He may visit UCLA this spring, but the Bruins will also have to battle a number of national programs who want the five-star on campus. Even when he was committed to Baylor, he was staying in steady communication with the Bruin coaches, however. We've heard Browning is one of those Texas kids who might not stay in the state for college, and that he has connections in Los Angeles, which all bodes well for the Bruins. 

Levi Jones, (OLB), Austin (Texas) Westlake

Jones visited UCLA last month and raved about the visit and his time spent with Jim Mora. He's a Texas native but he's talked about moving to the West Coast for college.  UCLA and USC both had him on campus and both are pursuing him.

Will Ignont, (ILB), New Market (Ala.) Buckhorn

Ignont left IMG Academy after a brief stay and is now in Alabama so that makes it a little more difficult for the Bruins, especially with Alabama and Georgia in heavy pursuit but he's been listing UCLA as a school he's still considering.

Next Tier to Watch:

Joshua Brown, (ILB), Long Beach (Calif.) Poly

Brown is the younger brother of Jayon, and he will get some UCLA interest this spring but he told Scout that UCLA coaches look at him more as a guy playing with his hand down, and he's not 100% sure he wants to make that move.

Sampson Niu, (ILB), San Diego (Calif.) Madison

Niu's recruitment has blown up in the past few weeks and he's nearing 20 offers. UCLA will check him out this spring but could offer him before then. Scott White is from San Diego and has ties to Niu and his coaches too.

Other Names to Watch:

Santino Marchiol, (OLB), 6-2, 225, Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy- Offered

Isaac Slade-Matautia, (OLB), Honolulu (Hawaii) St. Louis

Ariel Ngata, (OLB), 6-4, 205, Folsom (Calif.)

Lamin Touray, (ILB), 6-0, 215, Mission Hills (Calif.) Alemany

Ezekiel Noa, (ILB), 6-0, 220, La Mesa (Calif.) Helix)

Anthony Pandy, (ILB), 6-2, 220, Harbor City (Calif.) Narbonne


CORNERBACKS (3+)

UCLA has some needs at cornerback. In the last several years, they've been missing that true elite lockdown cornerback. It might be one of the biggest priorities in the 2017 class. They also generally needs corners, with many of the DBs on the roster more safety-like. They're doing well with the West's top corner in Holmes and, given these needs, he may very well be the most important defensive recruit in this class.

Top Targets:

Darnay Holmes, Calabasas (Calif.)

Holmes is the West's top defensive prospect in 2017 and is arguably UCLA's top defensive target in this class. The Bruins offered him when he was a freshman and have prioritized him for years. His father and Demetrice Martin grew up together in Pasadena and played together as youth. Holmes has a top seven, but said he's focused on five. We've actually heard its more like a top three, with UCLA, Stanford and Nebraska, but Ohio State and Washington are also getting mention. But UCLA is doing well with him and he'd be one of their biggest gets in years if they can reel him in.  He was originally supposed to announce in early summer, but has now decided to push things back, so he can take some official visits.  Still, UCLA is in a good spot for him.

Thomas Graham, Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.)

Graham was offered by UCLA early in his sophomore year but then he committed to USC just at the beginning of last summer. Since then, he's decommitted fully, after softening his commitment in February, and UCLA is all over him.  Arizona is also making a push for him too and is doing well.  It's uncertain how hard USC will pursue Graham now that he's decommitted, but they were his childhood favorite and his sister runs track there.  But he was also recruited by Keith Heyward, who is no longer at USC, so unfamiliarity with the staff went a long way in his decommitment.  With that, UCLA would be more than happy to bring in the No. 2 corner in the West.  There is also the Ground Zero connection -- Graham played on their top team last year with the six players who signed with UCLA in 2016.

Jaylon Redd, Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.)

Redd is another guy UCLA went in on early and the Bruins are doing well with him. He's been somewhat overshadowed by Graham at Rancho Cucamonga and while he may not have the upside that Graham has, his junior film might be even better than Graham's. Redd has offers from both Los Angeles schools and has said in the past he'd like to stay in California if he can.

Elijah Gates, Buena Park (Calif.)

Gates has been one of the best players this entire spring and UCLA offered him in February and are doing well with him. He visited unofficially last month and enjoyed his time with Martin and Jim Mora, saying that was a big deal for him to get to spend time talking with them. The Bruins should be on his real short list throughout his recruitment but Oregon is making a serious push for him.

Elijah Hicks, La Mirada (Calif.)

Hicks is really seeing his stock rise this spring too and UCLA offered him in February as well and that was a big offer for him. He's starting to attract some national attention too, with Oregon also making a run at him and a recent visit really helped their case. 

Deommodore Lenoir, Los Angeles (Calif.) Salesian

UCLA was doing well with Lenoir for much of his junior season but of late, the two seem to be cooling on each other. UCLA isn't completely giving up on him nor has he completely ruled UCLA out.  For Lenoir, his interest in UCLA wavers, and after a good visit to Nebraska, the Huskers look like they're the favorites.  If UCLA gets Holmes and one of Graham/Gates/Hicks, they may just move on entirely from Lenoir.

Next Tier to Watch:

Marques Evans, Newbury Park (Calif.)

Evans has just a couple of Mountain West offers but we think he'll end up with a slew of Pac-12 offers when it's all said and done. He's originally from Pasadena and his father is also a childhood friend of Demetrice Martin. Evans has looked very good this spring and could end up with a Bruin offer sooner rather than later. He said UCLA was his dream school growing up.

Jaylon Johnson, Fresno (Calif.) Central

Johnson is the younger brother of Bruin cornerback Johnny Johnson. He's significantly bigger than Johnny was at the same stage, but not quite the pure corner with the feet that Johnny had. He said he'd like a UCLA offer, but he's also said he's looking to carve out his own path as a prospect.

Javelin Guidry, Leander (Texas) Cedar Park

Guidry has an obvious history with UCLA, with his father and uncle both having played for the Bruins in the 1990s. Guidry doesn't have an offer yet, but he camped with the Bruins last summer. He was the DB MVP of The Opening Dallas regional last month.

Quentin Lake, Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei

Another son of a former Bruin, Lake is the son of UCLA great Carnell Lake, who also coached the Bruins secondary with Rick Neuheisel before going back to the NFL to coach. Lake is one of the best defensive backs in the state and has positional versatility too, much like his father, who was a Pro Bowler at both safety and corner in the NFL.

Elijah Blades, Pasadena (Calif.) Muir

Blades has been stellar this spring and is one of the best big corners in the region. He also has good speed, winning the fastest man at The Opening Los Angeles regional. Blades has said he's got work to do academically which he acknowledged has slowed down his recruitment but if he can get that cleaned up, UCLA may be able to pursue him more.

Other Names to Watch:

D.J. Brown, 5-11, 160, Fairburn (Ga.) Creekside- Offered

Tre White, 5-11, 170, Concord (Calif.) De La Salle

Jalen Cole, 5-9, 150, Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei

Tayari Venable, 5-11, 175, Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.)


SAFETIES (1-2)

Getting a big, physical safety is definitely one of the ten most important recruiting needs for UCLA this year. As we’ve said a few times, UCLA’s lack of size at safety in 2015 was a factor. So they signed two physical safeties in 2016 but still need more depth. They already have one commitment at safety but would probably take two, if they were both elite.

Top Targets:

Rhedi Short, Los Angeles (Calif.) Cathedral - COMMITTED

A UCLA commit since the fall, Short sometimes gets overlooked when talking Bruin verbals but he is a talent in his own right. That said, his recruitment has taken off of late, more schools are making a push for him and, while he told Scout he still considers himself a UCLA commit, he's open to other schools. UCLA, too, might not wait around and look elsewhere, so there's a decent chance Short ultimately doesn't end up at UCLA.  

Chaz Ah You, Saratoga Springs (Utah) Westlake

Ah You is the top skill prospect in Utah and some in the state have said he's one of the better skill guys the state has produced in a long time. The Bruins have long been a contender for him along with Stanford and Oregon but he has ties to a couple other programs, his uncle having played at Oklahoma and now on staff at Vanderbilt while his father is on staff at BYU. But still, we've heard he wants to carve out his own niche for college.

Brandon McKinney, Orange (Calif.) Lutheran

McKinney has a handful of Pac-12 offers but UCLA is doing well with him. He camped at UCLA last summer to really get himself on their radar and then was offered early in the fall. UCLA has the local edge he's looking for but with Short committed and doing well with Ah You, he may not be as high on their board as before.

Trajon Cotton, Sacramento (Calif.) Inderkum

Cotton has had his recruitment take off of late, with double-digit offers, but he said that three schools standi out to him: Colorado, Oregon and UCLA. He took an unofficial visit to UCLA in March and he said he has a great relationship with Demetrice Martin.  Oregon has made a big impression on him too and Colorado is the sleeper here, with Mike MacIntyre doing well with a number of Inderkum prospects and Sacramento natives at both San Jose State and Colorado.  An unofficial visit to Boulder left a big impression on Cotton. But we're hearing UCLA is probably still the leader.  Cotton, too, is considered a swing type of player, who could play cornerback. 

Josh Talbott, Long Beach (Calif.) Poly

Talbott was an early offer recipient from UCLA along with Oregon, but he told Scout in early April that the schools standing out to him were Texas A&M, Florida, Oklahoma, Oregon and Washington State. Still, being close to home, UCLA will be in the mix for him, especially being his first offer, but like with McKinney, it will be a matter of how hard they recruit him.

K.J. Jarrell, Scottsdale (Ariz.) Saguaro

Jarrell was another player UCLA offered early. He took an unofficial visit to UCLA in March and raved about his time with Martin and Jim Mora and about the school. Arizona State also has the local edge and Texas A&M, which has former Saguaro teammate Christian Kirk and Washington, which inked Saguaro teammate Byron Murphy last month, are both trying to reunite him with former teammates.

Next Tier to Watch:

Isaiah Pola-Mao, Phoenix (Ariz.) Mountain Pointe

Pola-Mao is the nephew of Bruin offensive coordinator Kennedy Polamalu and has looked really good when we've seen him this spring.  He's a versatile athlete, he can play safety or receiver but he may end up growing into a linebacker.  He's one UCLA will take a long and close look at this spring, but they have some obvious family ties.

Other Names to Watch:

Derrick Tucker, Manvel (Texas)- Offered

Jaylen Kelly-Powell, 6-1, 190, Detroit (Mich.) Cass Tech- Offered

Maleik Gray, 6-2.5, 200, LaVergne (Tenn.)- Offered

Scott Young, La Mesa (Calif.) Helix

Nick Pickett, 6-3, 180, Los Angeles (Calif.) Salesian

Christian Cumber, 5-11, 175, Denver (Colo.) Mullen


ATHLETES

UCLA mostly has a pretty good idea where it projects the prospects on its 2017 board, but there are a few exceptions who have some versatility. Given UCLA's overall penchant for using guys two ways during Jim Mora's time in Westwood, you could probably expect all of these players below to move around a bit if they came to UCLA.  

Top Targets:

Michael Onyemaobi, Temecula (Calif.) Chaparral

Onyemaobi was offered by UCLA in February and they're his top school right now. He's another Ground Zero kid, which had a half-dozen players sign with UCLA in the 2016 class. Onyemaobi can play safety or receiver, but we think his ceiling is higher at receiver.

Dylan Moses, Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy

Moses committed to LSU, then opened it up and is unlikely to leave the South. He has said he's interested in UCLA, and UCLA has to be pretty excited about that and would be more than willing to stay on him since he's the No. 2 player in the country. UCLA probably won't heavily pursue him unless he takes an unofficial visit to show he's as serious as he says.

Sione Heimuli-Lund, Salt Lake City (Utah) Brighton

Heimuli-Lund committed to Stanford around Thanksgiving last fall, but was offered by UCLA earlier in the spring and is legitimately interested in the Bruins. He's not a slam-dunk for Stanford admissions, though that's what he's aiming for- he'll actually attend a more academically rigorous academy in Utah, but they don't have a football team, so he'll continue to play for Brighton. But because he's not a lock for admissions, he's already putting back-up plans in place, and Marques Tuiasosopo has been recruiting him. He visited UCLA and raved about the trip. UCLA likes him as a power back in their offense, but he's also a very good linebacker, which is what Stanford likes him for. So wherever he ends up, his positional versatility as a jumbo athlete will give him options.

Next Tier to Watch:

Salvon Ahmed, Kirkland (Wash.) Juanita

Ahmed is another top prospect from Washington who camped with UCLA last summer. He can play running back or safety and UCLA likes him more as a running back. He doesn't have an offer from the Bruins yet. In fact, only UCLA and Colorado have not offered from the Pac-12, but we still think he'll be tough to pluck from Washington, regardless of an offer.

Other Names to Watch:

Bruce Judson, 5-10, 171, Cocoa (Fla.)- Offered

Jordan Genmark-Heath, 6-1, 210, San Diego (Calif.) Cathedral

Tayler Katoa, 6-2, 215, Layton (Utah)


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