With under one month to go until the start of fall camp, we're going to count down our 30 most important UCLA players for the 2016 season. These are the players we think are going to have the most significant impact for UCLA this year, so don't take this to mean that these are the players we think are the best long-term prospects, or even necessarily the most talented. Every BRO staffer has ranked his top 30 UCLA players, and from that we've drawn an aggregate list.
Today we'll continue with No. 13.
13. Isaako Savaiinaea, Senior Middle Linebacker
2015 Statistics: 62 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 1 interception (9 games, 3 starts)
Why He's Important: Isaako Savaiinaea has had a very strange career at UCLA. In 2013, as a true freshman, he looked like he'd be the obvious replacement for Eric Kendricks at Mike linebacker when Kendricks departed. Then, with the arrival of Kenny Young in the 2014 class, Savaiinaea's role seemed to be marginalized, and he actually spent long portions of the 2014 season at both fullback and defensive end, which was odd. Then, when Young was very ineffective to start the 2015 season, Savaiinaea filled in at Mike linebacker and looked...well, like he should have been starting there the whole time.
He was significantly more effective than Young last year, even though he was far from perfect. He just showed the natural instincts needed for that position, and he showed the ability to react quickly to plays. Young virtually always seemed like he was caught flat-footed, but Savaiinaea, even though he's probably not as quick as Young from an athletic perspective, actually looked quicker on the field because he always seemed to know where the action would be. Despite playing significantly less than Young, he finished with just seven fewer tackles (and actually two more solo tackles, which is an indicator of how quickly Savaiinaea was first to the ball).
Given his performance last year, you'd think it'd be a virtual certainty that Savaiinaea would start this year, but that really doesn't seem to be the case based on the spring. Through the entirety of April, Savaiinaea and Young split reps at Mike linebacker, and it certainly didn't look like there was much movement toward naming a starter there. Young looked better in practice this spring than he has during his UCLA career, but Savaiinaea also had a good month of practice, and he also had a much better season last year than Young. There's obviously something about Young that appeals to the staff, so it's going to be interesting to see how this competition plays out in fall camp.
At any rate, we have Savaiinaea ahead of Young, largely because we think he should start, but it's anyone's guess at this point who ends up starting. It's arguably the most important position on the defense, so whoever ends up in that slot is going to be a hugely significant part of the defense.
What's Been Said About Him:
"Isaako has a great feel for the game, does a great job in the run game. He's doing a great job, probably our most natural leader." -- LB Coach Scott White, April 11, 2016
Most Recent Interview:
30 Most Important Bruins for 2016
|Rank||Name||Highest Rank||Lowest Rank|
|13||Isaako Savaiinaea||11 (John Evergreen)||27 (Dave Woods)|
|14||Eldridge Massington||8 (Blair Angulo)||26 (Tracy Pierson)|
|15||J.J. Molson||9 (Blair Angulo)||21 (2-way tie)|
|16||Nate Starks||14 (Dave Woods)||22 (Blair Angulo)|
|17||Jaleel Wadood||6 (John Evergreen)||30 (Tracy Pierson)|
|18||Kenny Young||13 (Tracy Pierson)||Unranked (Blair Angulo)|
|19||Theo Howard||14 (John Evergreen)||24 (2-way tie)|
|20||Matt Dickerson||15 (John Evergreen)||29 (Tracy Pierson)|
|21||Randall Goforth||12 (John Evergreen)||29 (Blair Angulo)|
|22||Austin Kent||17 (Blair Angulo)||30 (John Evergreen)|
|23||Bolu Olorunfunmi||13 (Dave Woods)||Unranked (Blair Angulo)|
|24||Deon Hollins||15 (Tracy Pierson)||Unranked (Dave Woods)|
|25||Darren Andrews||12 (Tracy Pierson)||Unranked (2-way tie)|
|26||Kenny Walker||13 (Blair Angulo)||Unranked (2-way tie)|
|27||Mike Fafaul||11 (Tracy Pierson)||Unranked (3-way tie)|
|28||Josh Woods||23 (Blair Angulo)||Unranked (2-way tie)|
|29||Keisean Lucier-South||14 (Tracy Pierson)||Unranked (3-way tie)|
|30||Nate Meadors||20 (John Evergreen)||Unranked (2-way tie)|