UCLA's 2018 Recruiting Needs

Feb. 10 -- In analyzing UCLA's projected depth chart, here are the recruiting priorities for the 2018 class, the numbers it should get by position and the holes it needs to fill in terms of talent and depth...

UCLA should have about 20 or so scholarships available for the 2018 class and, like always, if there are elite prospects that want to jump in the boat, UCLA would take them and sort out the scholarship situation later.

Here’s what we see are the scholarship needs by position for 2018:

Quarterbacks: 2

If Josh Rosen does leave for the NFL after next season, and if UCLA got just one QB recruit in 2018, it’d have only four scholarship quarterbacks on the roster. You might think that’s plenty, but in this era when, if you don’t win the starting quarterback spot you transfer, it’s not.  Also, we’re not greatly confident that UCLA has its heir apparent starter from among Devon Modster, Matt Lynch or Austin Burton, so getting two in 2018 increases UCLA’s chances of finding the guy to take over the quarterback mantle after Rosen departs. 

Running Back: 1-2

UCLA didn’t get a running back in 2017, but it wasn’t going hard to get one, given that the depth chart is pretty deep.  But in the 2018 season, Soso Jamabo and Bolu Olorunfunmi will be seniors and Brandon Stephens and Jalen Starks juniors, so UCLA definitely needs to fill its young running back ranks.  Hopefully UCLA will find a quick, elusive type to provide a change-of-pace to the bigger types it’s had on the roster lately. 

Wide Receiver: 3

UCLA missed on its receiver recruiting in 2017, and it has four receivers leaving the program after the 2017 season.  It targeted bigger possession-types in 2017 and it will be a priority in 2018, with UCLA wanting to bring in at least two of that type. 

Offensive Line: 4

UCLA’s OL depth has a good amount of bodies. The question is whether it’s playable depth.  It will also lose four seniors after the 2017 season, so it not only has to refill its ranks, it needs to do so with some prospects that more aptly project to being starters. 

Tight End: 1 

The tight end depth chart looks good for the forseeable future.  You could see UCLA wanting to keep the talent coming in, however, and take one tight end in 2018, especially if that tight end is Las Vegas Bishop Gorman’s Brevin Jordan, the No. 1 tight end in the nation.  After two big blocking-type tight ends in 2017, UCLA looks to target more of the pass-first type in 2018, like Jordan.  If it comes to fruition that Michigan tight end Devin Asiasi does get his release to transfer and does end up at UCLA, the position will absolutely be loaded. So much so we could actually see some of the players attempting to catch on at other positions (and that might be the expected outcome anyway).  

Defensive End:  1-2

UCLA will have at least four defensive ends on its roster for 2018, and they’ll still be fairly young.  But it’s a position where there aren’t naturally a great amount of elite prospects, so when there is talent available you take it. 

Defensive Tackle: 2

In fact, finding elite defensive tackles – particularly nose tackles – that can play at this level and have good academics is probably the biggest consistent challenge in UCLA recruiting.  UCLA’s depth chart at DT might be the best it’s looked in a long time right now, but you have to keep stocking up when there are available prospects since you could go through a number of consecutive years when the talent is lean.  The 2018 defensive tackle class in the west looks pretty talented, so expect UCLA to take two, and especially a nose tackle type since it didn’t get a pure one in 2017.

Linebacker: 3

The biggest uncertainty right now for UCLA linebacker recruiting is: how much of an impact can Breland Brandt, Mique Juarez, DeChaun Holiday and Leni Toailoa make at linebacker?  If they all can contribute at this level, UCLA linebackers coach Scott White is sitting pretty.  If not, well, he needs some guys.  We’ll know more after spring practice, but we suspect that UCLA will need to load up in 2018 linebacker recruiting.   It will need at least one inside guy and probably a second, and then best available. 

Safety: 2

While UCLA got an A grade for its 2017 defensive backs class, it didn’t get a true safety, so safety will be its top priority for 2018, and preferably the big, physical type.

Cornerback: 1-2

UCLA secondary coach Demetrice Martin did haul in perhaps the best collection of cornerback recruits ever in one UCLA class in 2017, so we could see it getting scaled back to 1 or 2 for the 2018 class.

 

Early Swipe at UCLA's Recruiting Needs for the 2018 Class

This is the type of priority list we've used as the basis for our Trend Meter the last two recruiting cycles -- the holes UCLA needs to fill on its depth chart in terms of not just depth but talent. 

1) Two Minimum Four-Star Quarterbacks

Missing on a four-star QB for 2017 makes it essential it brings in two for 2018.  As we said above, it’s not just about getting the numbers on the depth chart, it’s about trying to bring in the talent that is capable of taking over the starting UCLA quarterback spot.  We really like UCLA’s top quarterback target right now, Dorian Thompson-Robinson, from Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman.  It’s a testament to how much potential he shows that he’s ranked the No. 7 quarterback prospect in the country and he hasn’t played the position beyond a handful of snaps the last two seasons (sitting behind 2017 Ohio State signee Tate Martell).   But on-field experience is invaluable, and Thompson-Robinson is lacking in it. 

http://www.scout.com/player/203820-tanner-mckee?s=12

It’s vital, then, that UCLA bring in another four-star-level quarterback in 2018, but new offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Jedd Fisch will have be playing catch-up with the elite prospects in the west since many have committed elsewhere. We know that Fisch went out during the contact period to Newbury Park to be seen by Cameron Rising, the 2018 quarterback committed to Oklahoma. We’re sure he’ll try to flip the nation’s No. 2 QB prospect, Oak Christian’s Matt Corral, from USC.  We’d expect that Fisch will use his east-coast contacts, too, to expand UCLA’s list of 2018 quarterbacks. We’re a firm believer in getting quarterbacks from your region, though, because when they might not win the starting spot they’re far more apt to stay and be a back-up if they’re close to home rather than transfer.  We’d really like to see UCLA get seriously involved with Tanner McKee, the Corona Centennial prospect who is a type that probably fits Fisch’s pro-style offense well (even though we haven’t seen Fisch’s offense yet).  It will be interesting watching 2018 UCLA quarterback recruiting over the next several months, especially in May when coaches can go out and evaluate.  It will give Fisch the time to get the lay of the land and recognize his top 2018 targets besides Thompson-Robinson, who he was recruiting at Michigan (DTR has said his top two schools were UCLA and Michigan, and a big part of Michigan’s attraction was Fisch).  Another big factor here, obviously, is how UCLA’s offense looks in 2017 – whether it’s dynamic and the type of offense that quarterbacks want to play in.  We’ve heard that Fisch is a great, personable recruiter, so we’re looking forward to having a coach of this caliber recruiting quarterbacks for UCLA, which it hasn’t had for perhaps the entire Mora era. 


2) A Fast, Elusive Minimum Four-Star Running Back

http://www.scout.com/college/ucla/story/1745357-2018-4-star-rb-pledger-m... As stated above, the running back group could really use some speed and elusiveness.  We’re hoping that Brandon Stephens provides that this year, but the roster would still need it longer-term. The No. 3-ranked running back in 2018, T.J. Pledger, formerly of West Hills Chaminade but playing his senior season at Brandenton (Fla.) IMG Academy, and the nationally No. 16 running back, Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman’s Kirby Bennett, fit the bill. Texas prospect Keaontay Ingram doesn’t have elite speed, but he is very elusive, with good size.  UCLA hasn’t offered Maurice Washington, from San Jose Oak Grove, who has offers from Ohio State, Georgia and USC, but that will happen soon.  The west coast is a bit skimpy on elite running backs for 2018, with only three in the Scout 300 and not one in the top 200.  Hopefully Pledger will remember UCLA when all the big southeast schools hit him hard in recruiting. Bennett transferred to Bishop Gorman, and since UCLA coaches will spend so much time at the high school recruiting QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson, TE Brevin Jordan and LB Palaie Gaoteote they’ll also be able to make some in-roads with Bennett. 

http://www.scout.com/player/198269-kirby-bennett?s=12


3) Three Minimum Four-Star Wide Receivers

http://www.scout.com/college/ucla/story/1753829-scout-300-wr-has-ucla-at-no-1 UCLA offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch and wide receivers coach Jimmie Dougherty, on one hand, have been handed a pretty stocked receiver group for the 2017 season. On the other hand, they immediately have to fill it up, too, with the 2018 class, since they’re losing three receivers to graduation and especially after UCLA missed on receiver recruiting for 2017.  It will absolutely need the bigger, possession types, but most importantly it’s about getting elite prospects that are future starters. 

Luckily, 2018 is a year with deep talent in the west.  As we just stated in this story today (), after UCLA has not been seriously involved with most of the top guys in the west for a while, Fisch and Dougherty will have to show their recruiting mettle this cycle with the nation’s No. 1 WR, Amon-Ra St. Brown, and No. 3 Jalen Hall being both local products.  But the west has a plethora of four-star WR talent for 2018 – guys like Marquis Spiker, Chase Williams, Devon Cooley, Nikko Remigio, Nikko Hall, Solomon Enis, Andre Hunt, Michael Wilson, Jevon Holland (who’s probably a cornerback), Isaiah Crocker and Isaiah Johnson – all four-star prospects UCLA has already offered.  And there’s Calabasas transplant Brian Hightower, who is now at Bradenton (Fla.) IMG Academy but has always liked UCLA. 

Cooley is one of our favorites, and he has been since we saw him for the first time at UCLA’s camp last June. He’s a Theo Howard play-alike, with similar size and quickness.  He had a big junior season and, in the article above, he talks about how UCLA is his leader – and that’s coming off a poor offensive season for UCLA and replacing the OC and WR coach. 

If UCLA could get Cooley, be seriously involved with St. Brown, Jalen Hall and Brian Hightower, and then have some real options among those other west-coast four-stars it’d be looking good for 2018 WR recruiting. Of course, so much will depend on how Fisch’s offense looks and the receivers in it.  If Theo Howard, for instance, has a huge sophomore year, UCLA could be hand-picking the guys it wants from this four-star list and probably have a shot with St. Brown and Jalen Hall. 

A guy to watch is a UCLA offeree Devon Williams, a 6-4, 200-pound athlete who plays quarterback, receiver, safety and returns punts in high school.  He's a three-star on Scout right now, and he probably projects as a receiver, and has very good quickness for a guy his size. If he gets some exposure this spring and summer on the 7-on-7/camp scene, he has a chance to gain that fourth star. He's from Lancaster Antelope Valley, and his teammates and close friends happen to be UCLA signees Moses Robinson-Carr and Morrell Osling.  


 

4) Three Minimum Four-Star Offensive Linemen

http://www.scout.com/player/206701-penei-sewell?s=12

As we stated above, while UCLA has good OL numbers in the program, it needs to upgrade talent.  We admit that the star system isn’t always a guarantee of a player’s potential, especially with offensive linemen, but it’s generally a good indication – and well, it’s all we have.  In the last two recruiting cycles, UCLA has gotten just one four-star-or-better offensive line recruit, Stephan Zabié.  It’s not great timing either, with the 2018 OL class in the west being average, and new UCLA OL coach Hank Fraley in his first recruiting cycle.  As of right now, there isn’t one four-star offensive guard prospect in the west in the class of 2018, only four offensive tackles and just one center.  Penei Sewell is the west coast's No. 1 offensive tackle prospect and UCLA and Fraley have to just about make him the No. 1 target in the 2018 class. There are some guys UCLA recently offered, like Max Barth, Will Craig, M.J. Ale and Miles Owens, who have a good chance of gaining that fourth star by the time they get through spring and summer.  But all in all, Fraley has his work cut out for him. As we all know, success on the college football field is so much about your offensive line, and UCLA needs to upgrade its talent on the OL if it hopes to be competitive at a high level over the next several years. Now, of course, winning changes everything. If UCLA wins in 2017, the offense and Fraley’s offensive line look good, UCLA will have a far better chance to satisfy this need by National Signing Day 2018. 


5) A Three-Linebacker Class

http://www.scout.com/college/ucla/story/1753236-focus-2018-ucla-lb-recru... Like we said above, there are some questions about whether guys like Breland BrandtDechaun HolidayLeni Toailoa and even Mique Juarez will be contributors at linebacker, so it needs some bodies for 2018.  It absolutely needs some four-star types, but in this case it needs bodies and depth.  Again, we’ll get a much better feel for playable linebacker depth after spring practice, but it’s pretty certain UCLA will have to widen its net, so to speak, in this recruiting cycle, and not limit its recruiting to super-elite types, but recruit enough prospects so it signs three.  It be really nice if UCLA could secure an early commitment from a solid prospect, like the guy they've offered early, Ben Wilson.

http://www.scout.com/player/207072-ben-wilson?s=12


6) Big, Physical Safety

It really didn't get one in 2017, and we've seen how they make an impact, and we'll see in the next couple of years with Adarius Pickett and Brandon Burton.  We like Stephan Blaylock, who has a UCLA offer but seems to be under-recruited a bit at this point.  It could be another case of very good evaluating by UCLA defensive backs coach Demetrice Martin. Blaylock isn't 6-2 and 200 pounds, but he is the type that likes to come up and put a hit on someone. 

http://www.scout.com/player/206226-stephan-blaylock?s=12


7) At Least Two (Maybe 3?) Offensive Tackles

http://www.scout.com/player/202587-tommy-brown?s=12

UCLA always seems to be lacking offensive tackles, and while it got two prospects in the 2017 class that project to tackle (Zabie and Jax Wacaser), there are natural uncertainties on whether either will pan out, so UCLA needs more tackles in 2018 to improve its odds of finding starting OTs. So much is uncertain here, since we really have no idea how good of a recruiter the new OL coach, Hank Fraley, is, and he has a challenge ahead of him -- doing most of his recruiting in this cycle coming off last season before he can get to the 2017 season and some evidence that he can coach.  The top tackle in SoCal is Tommy Brown, who has shown interest in UCLA but he comes from somewhat of a USC-factory program in Mater Dei (even though USC has yet to offer).  It'd be good if UCLA could get an early commitment from at least one tackle type, just even a solid three-star, and maybe one among the guys who recently were offered (mentioned above:  Max BarthWill CraigM.J. Ale and Miles Owens), just to get one tackle in the fold and get the Fraley recruiting train out of the station. 


8) Nose Tackle

This need might be higher, since NTs are always so valuable. UCLA probably has only one true nose on its roster, Boss Tagaloa. You can make do with playing guys next to each other who are more three-techniques, but you'd like to have a true nose in the pipeline behind Tagaloa.  It would certainly make it easy on UCLA defensive line coach Angus McClure if he could get Tuli Letuligasenoa, the nation’s No. 6 DT and probably a true nose tackle (and a close friend and former high school teammate of Tagaloa’s).  A big coup would be a guy like Keondre Coburn.

http://www.scout.com/player/202689-keondre-coburn?s=12


9) A Second Safety

UCLA took five prospects in the 2017 class that will, at least, start out as cornerbacks at UCLA. Quentin Lake will probably end up at safety but still, if you look at UCLA’s projected depth chart, it could use two safeties for 2018.  What would work really well here would be a combination of a solid four-star like Stephan Blaylock (whom we discussed above), and then another super-elite one, like the No. 7-ranked safety prospect in the nation, Texas'  DeMarvion Overshown.  Martin is a great recruiter and he has established good ties in Texas and Florida, so he could really try to stretch with safeties for 2018 since, as of now, there isn't a great deal of top-end talent in the west. 

http://www.scout.com/player/210491-demarvion-overshown?s=12


10) An Elite Defensive End

http://www.scout.com/player/208453-elijah-wade?s=12

After having Takkarist McKinley, and actually Anthony Barr a few years before that, and seeing how a big-time edge rusher impacts the defense -- and opposing offenses -- it's really imperative that UCLA keep bringing in high-level talent in this role. It just signed the premier guy for this job in the nation with the 2017 class, Jaelan Phillips, and we believe he'll fulfill this role for a few years. But, you want to keep someone always in the program who picks up where the next guy left off, so finding someone in 2018 would be good. Plus, let's get greedy: wouldn't it be great to have two McKinleys wreaking havoc on offenses?  The two candidates at the top of UCLA's list for this need in 2018 are Las Vegas (Nev.) Arbor View's Elijah Wade, the No. 1 defensive end in the west, and, of course, the No. 2 guy in the west, Jeremiah Martin from San Bernadino Cajon.  They are both elite guys and either or both of them could end up with five stars after the spring and summer.  Wade is high school teammates and friends with UCLA DT signee Greg Rogers and Jim Mora has put some time personally into recruiting Martin. Plus, when DL coach Angus McClure and Demetrice Martin (his recruiting region is the IE) team up on a recruit they've never missed.  

11) Five-Star Corner Tyreke Johnson

The fact that Tyreke Johnson is 11th on this list of priorities is no reflection on how valuable he is, just how needy UCLA is at other positions compared to cornerback.  Johnson is important to the 2018 class for a number of reasons. First and obviously: He's an elite prospect, a five-star and the No. 2-ranked corner in the country.  Second, he has said pretty candidly for a while that UCLA is his leader, and Demetrice Martin has done a great job of recruiting him. Third: Wouldn't it be incredible to have a two five-star cornerback tandem at UCLA, with Johnson and 2017 signee Darnay Holmes?

http://www.scout.com/player/187713-tyreke-johnson?s=12


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