This is our first in a series of analyzing what UCLA’s football team will look like in the post-Josh-Rosen era. We’re pretty confident – as is the rest of the world – that Rosen will jump to the NFL early, after his junior season, so this is a projection of UCLA’s depth chart for the 2018 season.
Of course, it’s tough to project UCLA’s depth chart two years out. In fact, back in the pre-Jim Mora era, this exercise would have been impossible; UCLA just didn’t have the kind of depth to be able to project out two years (Heck, it didn’t have the depth to project out a couple of months). So, recruiting and depth-building under Mora has allowed us to do this.
So, since it does allow us a semblance of a depth chart, it provides some clear insight into UCLA most-immediate recruiting needs.
We’ll start with the projected offensive line depth chart for 2018:
|UCLA Offensive Line Depth Chart - 2018|
|Andre James (R-JR)||Najee Toran (R-SR)||__________??||Tevita Halalilo (R- JR)||Kolton Miller (R-SR)|
|Alex Akingbulu (R-SO)||Josh Wariboko (R-JR)||Michael Alves (R-SO)||Francisco Perez (R-SO)|
|_________R-FR?||Kanan Ray (R- FR)||_________R-FR?||_________R-FR?|
Note: We only are speculating here about how the 2017 class would plug into the depth chart, and not a potential 2018 class (since it’s too uncertain to project the 2018 class, given that it will be shaped greatly by the 2017 class).
The offensive line, quite clearly, is one of the thinnest on the team for 2018. It’s generally accepted that you ideally want 14 scholarship offensive linemen on your roster and, looking at this projected depth chart, that means, by 2018, UCLA has to sign at least six guys (and probably more, taking into consideration potential transfers, guys leaving early for the NFL, injuries, etc.).
UCLA offensive line coach Adrian Klemm has been hit by some transfers, early NFL departures, and one setback in particular. Klemm is a great recruiter, no question, but the recruiting roll he was on at UCLA hit a considerable speed bump when he was suspended from the team last year for about six months. That didn’t just set back UCLA OL recruiting for the 2016 class, but also for the current cycle of 2017. Klemm rebounded and signed a solid class for 2016, and he’s trying to put together a monster one for 2017. But it can’t be under-stated how that absence set back OL recruiting with 2017 elite OL prospects like five-star Wyatt Davis, Walker Little, the four-star OT from Texas, and Foster Sarell, the #1 offensive tackle prospect in the nation from Washington. This isn’t saying that UCLA would have gotten these guys had Klemm not been suspended, but it’s not a stretch to say UCLA and Klemm would probably be doing a bit better if Klemm’s recruitment of them and others hadn’t been interrupted for six months.
But this is where we are. Klemm, to his credit, has been hitting the 2017 class hard, and bringing in a big, talented class will go a long way to putting to rest the damage from the suspension.
In breaking down the projected 2018 depth chart, the guard positions actually look decently solid, as long as Tevita Halalilo returns from his broken ankle completely. Halalilo is a potential starter, and a potential all-conference-caliber player, and if you lose him from this depth chart it suddenly goes from solid to shaky. But if you count him, and then you still have Najee Toran in 2018, you have two guys that could be starters for the 2016 season still on the team in two years, and potential three-year starters in 2018. It be a huge bonus if Josh Wariboko developed to a starter level. He's still going through development pains at this point.
The depth at guard is, well, unknown. Again, we’re projecting out two years, so that’s not unusual. We’ve penciled in 2017 commitment Kanan Ray here, and UCLA will probably add three or more guard types between the 2017 and 2018 classes. You’d have to hope that between Ray and any other guard types that come in with the 2017 class, at least one would be playable depth by 2018, and not that outlandishly, be a clear competitor to start for that season. It’d be great if Ray turned out to be on this level; it’s difficult for us to tell at this point in time since we literally haven’t seen him, with Ray opting out of every competitive event this spring and summer. He physically looks great, and there was a video posted of him running that was impressive, but it’s still hard to evaluate and project him at all when you haven’t seen him in person.
Wyatt Davis, the 2017 five-star prospect from Bellflower St. John Bosco, would be the guy. He’s one of the best interior OL prospects in the nation and would slot in here really well. Davis is one of those difference-maker types; you pencil him into this projected depth chart and it make a huge difference in the overall quality of talent on the UCLA offensive line for the next several years. He pushes this depth chart over into the very good category. Davis, too, has to realize how, if he came to UCLA, he could easily compete to immediately start, even by the 2017 season as a true freshman, given UCLA’s lack of depth. Aaron Banks, the #5-ranked offensive guard in the nation from El Cerrito, would probably fill the need in the same way. Getting both would be a home run.
Center is a concern. UCLA will lose its two centers after the 2017 season, Scott Quessenberry and Texas transfer Jake Raulerson, and there isn’t anyone else who clearly projects at center on the roster. It’s interesting, because we’ve been saying how UCLA needs tackles, and it absolutely does, but it could also really use a center in the 2017 class. Yeah, most of the time, you can shift over a guard to play center and it’s workable. And many of guys on this depth chart are capable of playing center. We could see Halalilo move to center, or Francisco Perez, actually. But ideally you’d rather have them playing a position where their talent is best utilized, not a situation where a talented player is filling in at position well, but still playing out of position, and that probably would be the case for the current names on this list. Perhaps once someone like Mike Alves gets to UCLA he’ll look more like a center. But projecting out this depth chart, and without a clear center-type on the roster for 2018, it’s clear Klemm needs to find his center of the future after Quessenberry and Raulerson leave. One guy to watch is JC transfer walk-on Markus Boyer, from Saddleback College, who had lower D-1 offers but wanted to play at UCLA. We’ve heard good things about Boyer; his JC tape is impressive, and he has a chip on his shoulder about being “too small” at about 6-0.5. We could easily see Boyer making an impact and, with that shoulder chip only made worse by being a walk-on, potentially make this depth chart at center for 2018. It would seem, though, that Klemm could use a pure center type in the 2017 class.
The projected tackle depth chart, actually, isn’t that bad. It’s not that bad because you have a potential three-year starter at one spot in Kolton Miller as a senior, and a guy the staff is currently very high on and grooming to be the starter at the other tackle spot, Andre James. It could all go up in smoke, however, if 1) Miller goes pro early (don’t laugh, we’ve heard he’s considered the next-best NFL prospect on the team besides Rosen), or 2) James doesn’t pan out at tackle. Both of these aren’t far-fetched, especially if the trend continues for UCLA offensive linemen opting for the pros too early. James has shown flashes of being good, but then there are some days and reps where you’re not sure he’s a tackle. He might be better inside (or even at center, in fact). We think how he does in mop-up duty as the redshirt freshman back-up to starting left tackle Conor McDermott this year will greatly determine whether his future is at tackle. Alex Akingbulu, the 2016 signee, is a project, but if he does prove he can play on this level he could still be squarely in the middle of his development curve by the 2018 season. We like Francisco Perez, and think he’s a potential impact player on UCLA’s OL at some point during his career, but we don’t know if he has the quickness to play right tackle or is more suited inside. If Akingbulu does, in fact, prove to be a starter-level, or Perez proves he’s suited to play tackle – or both – it would be a huge boost to Klemm’s tackle depth chart. But with the thinness and uncertainty, and finding tackles being such a tough proposition, it’s clear why tackle recruiting has been our mantra this recruiting cycle so far: UCLA needs tackle types in the 2017 class – probably at least two.
As we’ve stated in the Trend Meter for 2017 Recruiting Needs, getting a big offensive line class for 2017 that fills needs is a huge priority for UCLA; with so many other units looking pretty deep for 2018 (as you’ll see as we continue this series), even two years out, building up the offensive line depth chart with talent could be the biggest key to UCLA’s long-term success in the post-Rosen era.null