It's our next installment in the series 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.
As we said in the other installments, we would have never been able to do this until Jim Mora arrived at UCLA; he’s recruited and built out depth so well that you can actually project a depth chart two years out, and it helps to analyze UCLA’s current, specific recruiting needs – as opposed to previous regimes where you could assume UCLA needed help at every position.
The 2018 projected depth chart for linebackers isn't at deep as other positions, but it boasts five guys that were all four- or five-star prospects out of high school, and pretty sure-fire contributors, if not starter-level players. That's really phenomenal, being able to project those five guys (along with someone you could easily see develop into a contributor, Leni Toailoa) two years out to make up your depth chart.
There are a few things that jump out at you when looking at his projected depth chart.
First, wouldn't it be great if Josh Woods gets a redshirt year for the 2015 season? We're saying this vastly prematurely, and we'll probably have the people on the Premium Message Board that call us out for everything we've ever said do it again a couple of years from now on this -- but Woods has the potential to be an early NFL jumper anyway. But what if he actually is just a redshirt junior in 2018 and returns for 2019 as a redshirt senior?
If so, in 2018 UCLA will probably be replacing just one potential starting linebacker from the 2017 season, Kenny Young. We think, too, that Lokeni Toailoa and Krys Barnes will probably have played quite a bit by the end of the 2017 season, so replacing Young for the 2018 season might not be a drop-off but an upgrade.
So, then, in 2018 UCLA will be returning two starters, say Woods and Juarez, and two guys who are starter level at Mike, Toailoa and Barnes. If, say, Woods comes back for his hopeful redshirt-senior year in 2019, these guys will all be returning starters.
The other thing that jumps out is Barnes. He's a talented kid, whom we really liked in high school. Eyeballing him recently on campus, he looks like he's continued to develop physically. He's one of the guys we're most excited to see in fall camp. We, though, also really liked Toailoa when he enrolled early and participated in spring. We could envision both of them being starter-caliber someday, and pretty soon. So, how do you get them enough minutes to keep them happy? If both are exceptional and there isn't any drop-off with either, the UCLA coaches would love to tag-team them. That's ideal, since you'd always be playing with a more-fresh starter-caliber player. But players generally don't like a platoon system. You'd have to say that Barnes or Toailoa, if they're one of the top three best linebackers on the team, will start. But it's tough to say that will be the case when they'd have to beat out Woods and Juarez.
Then there's Brandt. There's a possibility that Brandt ends up a defensive end, depending on how his body develops. But if he remains at linebacker, that's a five-star prospect who you have backing up another five-star prospect.
It's exciting to think about all of the guys on this depth chart just moderately developing into the players they projected to be as prospects. Juarez was the #1-ranked LB in the nation, and Toailoa, Barnes and Brandt were all top 10 at their positions. And Woods might be the most talented of all of them.
UCLA linebackers coach Scott White clearly has a luxury of a problem that many coaches would love to have.
White could, though, have to deal with potential transfer(s) as a result of some guys on this list getting limited playing time. It's a reality in today's college football.
It's why it's pretty essential that White and UCLA probably get at least two linebackers in the class of 2017, and three if they're elite, potential starter-caliber. The 2018 projected depth chart shows that there is a real opportunity for an elite weakside linebacker type to come in and make an immediate impact on the two-deep, and inherit the starter spot relatively soon. We think it's key UCLA get a Mike and Sam, too, because of the possibility of position change or transfer.
It's a wonderful thing that the motivation in recruiting for UCLA has changed compared to past coaching regimes. Comparatively to previous years of the other regimes when you'd project out depth charts and suggest UCLA needs bodies since there were big blank holes, you now suggest they load up in case four- or five-stars transfer out because they couldn't win the starting spot.
In the video from spring practice above, Woods is #19, Juarez #32, Lokeni Toailoa #52 and Brandt #55.