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 unless UCLA had built good depth in the last several years. The program has 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 projected 2018 depth chart isn't as deep or talented as some other units, but it's not in distress, by any means. It definitely, though, provides a very clear path for recruiting over the next couple of years, and, with the de-commitment of 2017 defensive end Hunter Echols, really emphasizes some clear recruiting needs.
First, let's talk about what this depth chart has. It has some players that were (are) considered elite recruits in Keisean Lucier-South, Boss Tagaloa, and Jaelan Phillips, so there's some top-end talent. Then there are solid, potential Pac-12 starter types down the road in Rick Wade, Jake Burton and Osa Odighizuwa. If those six pan out to pretty much expectation, the top-end talent on the DL for 2018 would be very good. You could have one of the best pass-rushing DE teams in the country in Lucier-South and Phillips.
We have Phillips listed as a true sophomore here, because we think he'll play immediately when he comes in for the 2017 season. We also think, by this season (2018), he'll probably be starting.
We'd hope that Lucier-South has added enough strength and weight to where he's about 250 at this point, and hasn't lost his quickness.
Looking at what the depth chart doesn't have, however, is first, well, depth. If you fill in the 2017 recruit slots with some good talent, then it looks fine. And, like all of these 2018 depth charts, were not even considering the 2018 recruits that would also fill it out.
There is a thinness in the middle, not enough talent and some uncertainty. We moved Odighizuwa to the inside because that's where we project him playing when his body continues to get thicker. We did the same with JC transfer Chigozie Nnoruka. By the 2018 season, we'd expect both to be upward of 290. We would bet Tagaloa would be a solid starter by this season, but there's clearly a question of who the other starter would be. There's a clear opportunity for an elite 2017 defensive tackle talent to plug in here and win the starting spot. He'd be a redshirt freshman, so will have been in the program for a season, and have an opportunity to be a four-year starter, so just about the perfect scenario for someone like Greg Rogers, UCLA's main 2017 DT target. UCLA clearly, too, could use two defensive tackles in the 2017 class, with only one DT on this depth chart being a true DT at this point in time. Just one from Odighizuwa or Nnoruka developing into a Pac-12-level DT is really key in this scenario.
At defensive end, it's much better, with the top-end talent (Phillips and Lucier-South) as the swifter, pass-rushing types, and then Wade and Burton being the more burly run-stoppers. That's a good balance. With UCLA's projected thinness at tight end and how it's under-performing in 2017 tight end recruiting so far, we could see someone on this list moved to tight end, and we think the most obvious choice would be Moore. We know that the offensive coaches have already been trying to get their hands on Wade, and we'd expect them to do the same with Burton. Probably the guy who doesn't look to contribute as much at defensive end between Burton and Moore could move to tight end.
UCLA absolutely needs four defensive linemen from the 2017 class. If it can just get one defensive tackle of elite talent to go with Phillips, and then also add another defensive tackle and defensive end of projected-starter caliber, it'd be sufficient, as long as more talent jumps on in 2018, too.