Isaako Savaiinaea (Steve Cheng, BRO)

30 Most Important Bruins for 2016: No. 13 Isaako Savaiinaea

July 19 -- At No. 13 in our countdown is a middle linebacker who is still in the heat of a position competition...

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

RankNameHighest RankLowest 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)

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