We understand that looking beyond the current season might be a bit disorienting and off-putting with so much unsettled and left to play in 2016. The jury is still definitely out on the current season, so drawing too many conclusions on how the 2017 version of the Bruins might be premature.
But it's what we do at BRO.
From what we've seen in the first four games of 2016, there is some reason for optimism for the 2017 season in terms of personnel. Here's a quick rundown how the 2017 UCLA football team could shape up, and make up for the personnel losses after this season.
Quarterback -- Josh Rosen should be improved after this season of growing pains, and probably getting used to the new offense and not having a go-to first option as a crutch. Those factors will probably go a long way toward making Rosen that much better in 2017. Rosen's development is probably the biggest factor for the 2017 season. Better in 2017
Offensive Line -- The OL loses just one starter. It's a big one in Conor McDermott, but just one starter needs to be found. In addition, there should be quite a few more players that will push the returning starters and compete to start, far more than this season. Current redshirt freshman Andre James probably slots in at right tackle, and he should be at least solid by next year, and current sophomore Kolton Miller slides over to the left tackle spot. Then the interior starters are intact with Kenny Lacy, Scott Quessenberry and Najee Toran, all a year bigger and better. Then hopefully you have freshman Paco Perez competing to start somewhere. Perhaps Tevita Halalilo, who was looking like a potential starter briefly before his injury at the beginning of the 2015 season, returns. Poasi Moala would be a senior and, at least, provide depth. Alex Akingbulu, from what we saw in fall camp, with a year of getting bigger and stronger, should be a solid tackle back-up. Then you'd hope that Josh Wariboko-Alali and Mike Alves have gotten better. Iincoming JC tackle Ronald Rudd should be able to compete, and Jaxson Kirkland and Kanan Ray, as true freshmen, should provide depth. If UCLA gets its top remaining 2017 OL target, Aaron Banks, he could probably come in and immediately compete at least for the two-deep inside. There's the loss of McDermott, but four returning starters and so many more options. About the Same in 2017
Wide Receiver -- They lose Kenny Walker, Ishmael Adams and Nate Iese. You'd hope that, if UCLA gets anything out of this season with its receivers, it's finding the guys that emerge as the best at catching the ball and the go-to types for next season. It looks like it could be Darren Andrews and Jordan Lasley (even though you will still have Eldridge Massington, Mossi Johnson and Alex Van Dyke on the roster as seniors). You'd have to think by then Theo Howard will emerge, and we expect Dymond Lee to be at receiver by then. Lee might not immediately have an impact while making the transition, but the thing about Lee as a high school receiver is that he had great hands and catch radius, so he's exactly what this receiver group needs. The feeling is that Adewale Omotosho is going to be a good one, but just still raw, and that's the way he looked in fall camp. Then there is Damian Alloway and Demetric Felton, who are redshirting, and Stephen Johnson, who has been the man-left-out so far this season. The tight ends should be good with Austin Roberts, who's pretty exciting to think about with a year of experience under his belt, Caleb Wilson and Giovanni Gentosi showing so far this year they are legit. Add Jordan Wilson after a redshirt season and freshman Jimmy Jaggers coming in. Better in 2017
Running Backs and Fullbacks -- Everyone returns. You'd hope, like with the receivers, the 2016 season sorts out who is the go-to tailback in this group (we think, by next year it will be Bolu Olorunfunmi, with current true freshman Brandon Stephens taking a big step by his sophomore year), but you have to still like the group as a whole, with one more year of experience. Better in 2017
Defensive Line -- This is where the team suffers its biggest losses to players leaving, losing Eddie Vanderdoes (to probable early departure), Eli Ankou, Takkarist McKinley and Deon Hollins. But all is not lost. Boss Tagaloa is the biggest bright spot among newcomers asserting themselves this season. JC transfer defensive tackle Nick Terry has looked solid, with potential to be very good. Even though there will be a drop-off in the interior without Vanderdoes, Tagaloa looks like he's going to be the next Vanderdoes/Clark-caliber type. If Terry can be essentially what Ankou is, the interior DL could be fine after the personnel losses.
On the edge is where UCLA is going to probably have its biggest challenge in finding replacements. UCLA doesn't have a great pass rush to begin with, but without McKinley and Hollins it's almost non-existent. It needs to find a pass rush, and a pass rusher. Keisean Lucier-South would be someone who has to step up and live up to the high school hype. Perhaps current linebacker Breland Brandt continues to get bigger physically and makes the move to DE to get more candidates in the search to find a pass rusher. But then, too, there is the nation's #1 DE for the 2017 class verbally committed to UCLA, Jaelan Phillips, who would be expected to come in and immediately play, at least in pass rush situations. Returning, too, are Matt Dickerson, Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, who is having a very good year, and Rick Wade, who has also looked good this season. Osa Odighizuwa and Chigozie Nnoruka have shown in practice they should at least be solid two-deep guys in 2017. There probably is some uncertainty where freshman DL Jake Burton ends up, potentially on the other side of the ball (tight end or even offensive tackle?), and there's true freshman Marcus Moore, who hasn't gotten off the sideline of the practice field yet due to injury. If just-committed JC DL Cassius Peat makes it into school by fall 2017 he'd be expected also to compete, at least for the two-deep, being a guy that was expected to contribute at Michigan State this season. And then there should be three other true freshmen coming in from the 2017 recruiting class. Overall, the defensive line should be good, probably not as good as this year, however. Drop-off for 2017
Linebackers -- Big loss in Jayon Brown. Also lose veterans Cameron Judge and Isaako Savaiinaea. After four games this season, however, you have to feel good about the guys coming back that are getting time right now, starting middle linebacker Kenny Young and first-off-the-bench Josh Woods. There isn't nearly as much concern since Young has played really well the last two weeks once UCLA tweaked its scheme. We think Woods is a potential star. Then there's Lokeni Toailoa, who we expect to get on the field somehow after having very good spring and fall practices. There's Krys Barnes, who has looked like he's a Pac-12 level player in practice, and perhaps Brandt. An engaged Mique Juarez, a year older and settled in, would be a big boost here, too. As we reported, he attended class this week and will meet with Jim Mora soon about a timetable for returning to the team. There's also Leni Toailoa and Dechaun Holiday, who by next year should be ready to contribute and fill in the gaps, both figuratively and literally. And then any true freshmen coach Scott White brings in with the 2017 recruiting class. Woods will have to step up and replace Jayon Brown, but he has the size, athleticism and instincts to be even better. About the Same for 2017
Secondary -- It loses one of the best cornerbacks in the conference in Fabian Moreau. You also lose Randall Goforth, Marcus Rios and Tahaan Goodman, and while there is some leadership qualities there in those seniors, right now they're all essentially back-ups because younger talent has overtaken them. Because of that, the secondary should again be a strength. Corner Nathan Meadors has looked very good, and he'll be a year better -- the Moreau for next season. They'll need to find the other corner among guys who have been in the program a while: Johnny Johnson, a former starter, Denzel Fisher, Colin Samuel and promising freshman Keyon Riley.
The safety spots, if this season is an indication, look to be very good in 2017, with Jaleel Wadood and Adarius Pickett as returning starters. There will be the depth of first-off-the-bench Octavius Spencer and promising William Lockett. True freshman Brandon Burton looked good in fall camp and then good in special teams in a couple of games, then got hurt. We'd expect him to try for a redshirt year, but after seeing what he can do it's exciting to see how good he'll be by 2017. Then UCLA looks like it will plug into this the #1 cornerback in the nation for 2017, Darnay Holmes, who could compete to start immediately at the open corner spot. Other true freshmen will be Jaylan Shaw and Quentin Lake, and any other 2017 recruits UCLA gets by National Signing day. About the Same for 2017
So the talent on the team, with another year of experience, looks good.
The biggest impediment could be the schedule. Oregon and Washington return to UCLA's 2017 slate. UCLA will play one of those on the road (probably Oregon?), along with road games at Stanford, Utah and USC.
But all in all, the sky isn't falling. There has been concern from fans about the talent in 2017, but after watching the first four games of this season there have been some younger players emerge, like Pickett, Tagaloa and Woods that look to fill some key spots.
If through the 2016 season, UCLA recognizes who is its #1 tailback and go-to receivers are that would really go a long way to making the 2017 depth chart look even better. And then, it still needs to find someone who can pass rush. Jaelan Phillips -- no pressure, but that responsibility might fall on your young shoulders.