Fall camp just started, so let's lead off with some happy news, OK? Josh Rosen remains really good at football, and UCLA has the absolute luxury of slotting him in at quarterback for the next two seasons and letting him carve through defenses like so much lean meat week-in and week-out. Few teams can claim that level of confidence in a quarterback for a single year, let alone two, and we should all be happy that Stanford never offered him during his junior year.
So, that's good. UCLA has a surefire NFL first rounder to start at quarterback in 2016 and 2017 and that's just peachy.
After that? After that, UCLA's depth chart can best be encapsulated thus: ¯\_(?)_/¯.
There are some players within the program who could pan out. If we had written this article on, say, Sunday, we might have been more pessimistic, but after seeing Devon Modster and Matt Lynch in action on Monday, with both looking like they've made significant progress since the last time we saw them, we're a little more rosy about their potential to compete to start down the road. It's no sure thing, of course, and one day of padless practice doesn't a depth chart make, but there's reason to hope that one or both of them could pan out in a reasonable enough way to make it a fun competition for the 2018 starting job.
After that, though, there really isn't much -- we're still pegging Dymond Lee to move to receiver before too much time passes, and Mike Fafaul, after nine excellent years of service to the program, will move on from UCLA after this season. Beyond Modster and Lynch, who we really haven't seen much of, there just isn't much quarterback depth at all in the program.
And that, more than anything, is why it was critical for UCLA to nail down a high-quality 2017 quarterback -- and that, more than anything, is why it's a major concern that UCLA missed on Jack Sears this week. Sears may not have been a Rosen-level prospect, but he was another quality option to throw into the fray with Modster and Lynch in 2018, and only truly bad luck would have all three of those relatively touted prospects not pan out. Now, UCLA has two credible options for that year instead of three, and it doesn't take a math major to understand that this isn't a good development for UCLA's chances of nailing down a starting quarterback in 2018.
So where does UCLA go from here? The obvious choice for 2017 is the quarterback they've already offered, Austin Burton. Not to sound like a Karl Dorrell-era sunshine pumper, but there's reason to think that Burton is better than his ranking. Greg Biggins liked him quite a bit back in the spring of 2015, and from the little we've seen of him, he certainly doesn't look like a two-star prospect. Does that mean he's Rosen, or even Sears? Of course not, but he might be a slightly better option than his ranking would indicate.
Of course, that's not a ringing endorsement, and when we're talking about whether a particular two-star is maybe a little better than his ranking, we all know something went askew. We've heard enough info that UCLA is still going to kick the tires on a variety of 2017 options, some of whom are fairly elite-level prospects, but it's hard to gauge UCLA's chances with any of those situations, and, since most of those guys are committed to other schools, it doesn't really behoove any of us to get into the details at this point. So, let's just posit that UCLA ends up with a Burton-level prospect in this class after missing on Tua Tagovailoa and Sears. The Bruins could certainly pull a rabbit out of their collective hat and end up with someone better, or they could decide to take two replacement-level quarterbacks in the hope that one pans out, but let's just say they end up with Burton for the sake of this story.
So, heading into the 2018 season, when UCLA will absolutely need a new starting quarterback, the Bruins will have a depth chart that includes either redshirt sophomore or true junior Modster and Lynch, RS freshman Burton, and then a hopefully talented 2018 quarterback who, for sake of argument, we'll say ends up being Dorian Thompson-Robinson.
Thompson-Robinson, for his part, is a talented prospect from what we've seen over the spring, but it's hard to project how he'll look in 2018 when, to date, we haven't really seen him as a starting quarterback at the high school level yet. Entering that 2018 season, he will have had only one season of starting experience at the high school level, which means he'll be pretty unseasoned. Basically -- you can't count on him to start as a true freshman. There's just so much stacked against him in terms of experience that it seems like it would be a disservice to his development to throw him into the fire too quickly.
So, let's rule him out of the starting conversation that year, at least if UCLA wants to be an elite team and isn't in full rebuilding mode. Burton, even if he's somewhat better than his ranking, would have to drastically outperform his current standing to beat out those three other guys for the starting job.
It comes down to this: either Modster or Lynch has to pan out in a major way for UCLA to have a credible 2018 starting quarterback, or UCLA needs to get another option in the program soon, and that means either pulling the aforementioned rabbit out of the aforementioned hat or...becoming transfer destination of choice for whomever the best quarterback transfer is this offseason.
UCLA will have playing time to sell with Rosen almost assuredly moving on after the 2017 season, and it's unlikely that a depth chart of Modster, Lynch, and whoever has the best arm among the receivers is going to scare off the top quarterback transfer. Say Blake Barnett doesn't win the starting Alabama job this year and wants to move on -- UCLA can more or less open itself up as the spot for him, with two years of starting waiting for him beginning in 2018. And that's just one example -- more and more quarterbacks are moving on every offseason with the way the philosophy around that position has changed (now it's basically this: if you don't start in your first two years in a program, you transfer).
In any case, one of the biggest long-term keys for the program is to line up some sort of succession for the post-Rosen era. As we all remember, the post-Cade McNown years were not...ideal, and it'd probably be best for the general mental health of UCLA fans to avoid that sort of thing again. So, unless it looks very likely that UCLA will end up landing a high-quality 2017 quarterback, looking into transfer options this offseason could help increase the odds that UCLA has a credible starting quarterback in 2018, which would in turn give players like Thompson-Robinson (if he comes to UCLA) and whomever UCLA gets in 2019, time to develop, which would then, in turn, give UCLA the makings of a sustainable quarterback depth chart for the first time in seemingly forever.