We go unit by unit on how UCLA is doing so far in the 2018 recruiting cycle.
In determining which way our Trend Meter arrows should point, we also took into consideration the recruiting needs we established for the 2018 class back in February (updated for May): UCLA 2018 Recruiting Needs.
There are a few minor issues remaining to discuss in quarterback recruiting for 2018. Issue No. 1: Does UCLA take another QB? In our February story on recruiting needs, we said UCLA needed two four-star quarterbacks. But since OC Jedd Fisch got the big fish in Thompson-Robinson, UCLA very well might opt to hold pat. We've heard, too, there was a possible understanding that, if Thompson-Robinson did commit to UCLA, the Bruins wouldn't take a second quarterback. While UCLA could certainly use as many potential chances to find its next quarterback after Josh Rosen leaves, and getting a second quarterback in 2018 would do that, we feel pretty confident about Thompson-Robinson. UCLA absolutely, though, needs a big-time QB recruit in the 2019 class.
http://www.scout.com/college/ucla/story/1773079-commitment-analysis-dori... No. 2: Will Thompson-Robinson stick? If UCLA is not taking a second quarterback, then it wouldn't necessarily have to keep recruiting quarterbacks, unless it feels it needs some insurance with Thompson-Robinson. And if UCLA made the deal not to take a second QB then Thompson-Robinson would have to hold up his end and sign in February. We've heard that Thompson-Robinson is very secure in his commitment, having known he wanted to go to UCLA for some time, and even turning down other big-time programs to commit to UCLA. UCLA will, though, continue to recruit Tanner McKee, the nation's No. 4-ranked quarterback prospect, since he's going on his Mormon mission right out of high school and is essentially a 2020 recruit. It's a great idea, and hopefully Fisch's offense will be a major selling point by the time McKee returns from his mission, and then he wants to stay close to home.
No. 3: Will DTR live up to the ranking in his first year as a high school starter? We're pretty confident he will. He lacks game experience, having backed up Tate Martell at Bishop Gorman for two years, but we we think he still has shown in 7-on-7 that he has a great feel for the position, to go along with a very strong arm and excellent athleticism.
RUNNING BACK (2)
In our February story about recruiting needs for 2018, one need was "a fast, elusive, minimum four-star running back." UCLA has since got a commitment from A.J. Carter, a 6-0, 220-pound back who is currently a three-star prospect. So, if we continue to honor our previous need, Carter doesn't satisfy it. It's funny, too, that since DeShaun Foster became UCLA's running back coach back in January, Foster has clearly shifted focus onto big, hard-running tailbacks similar to his own size and style as a player. We've seen it before; if you remember, when Eric Bieniemy was UCLA's running back coach under Karl Dorrell he pursued prospects similar to himself also. There's nothing wrong with it, and we're willing to give Foster the benefit of the doubt in his evaluation ability. But given the current roster at tailback and Carter's commitment, it does seem like the UCLA backfield could use an infusion of some speed. UCLA absolutely intends to take two running backs in the 2018 class, so there's still a chance, but most of the prospects Foster is pursuing aggressively are big-back types, like Demetrious Flowers, Chris Brown or Devon Lawrence. We know that Foster and UCLA are going hard after Flowers, that that's the guy they'd like like to finish off their 2018 running back recruiting class. We like Flowers, and he is a four-star, and probably the fastest among Carter, Brown or Lawrence, but he's still probably a 4.6 to 4.7 type. It will be interesting to see if UCLA hangs onto Carter; in recent years, early out-of-state commitments have tended to end up going elsewhere. Foster and Carter have a great relationship, though, and Foster was just down in Many, Louisiana, to see Carter during the evaluation period.
WIDE RECEIVER (3-4)
We said in February that UCLA needs at least three four-star receivers in the 2018 recruiting class, and they took a first step in accomplishing that in getting a commitment from Philips. We like Philips quite a bit, and that's a good first step. It's still a long way from getting at least two more four-star-or-better receivers, but we like UCLA's chances, given the receivers they're doing well with this early on. We have to qualify the "four-star" designation a little with the 2018 class, first. There is absolutely a great amount of receiver talent in the west for 2018, but we tend to question whether some of the guys who have four stars at this time should. Even given that, UCLA still looks goods for some legitimate four-star prospects like Devon Williams, Khalil Shakir, Isaah Crocker and Devon Cooley. And this is with UCLA having an unproven offense. Imagine if offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch's offense looks good this fall? Perhaps some guys higher up on the receiver ranking food chain might get seriously interested, like the nation's No. 1 receiver, Amon-Ra St. Brown. St. Brown did visit UCLA's spring practice and hung out with receiver coach Jimmie Dougherty. We're hearing that Dougherty is coming off very well in recruiting, and if he has a good passing offense to sell after this season we think he could potentially bring in UCLA's best receiver class in years.
TIGHT END (1)
The down arrow is a bit misleading. UCLA's current tight end depth chart is incredibly deep -- and young. Getting Michigan transfer Devin Asiasi really solidified it, and "solidified" might not be a strong enough word. And getting Asiasi when UCLA did -- after the 2017 class signed -- was really fortuitous since it didn't scare away 2017 signees Jimmy Jaggers and Moses Robinson-Carr. Bottom line, the tight end position is pretty loaded for the forseeable future. While UCLA wants to bring in a tight end with the 2018 class it's not make-or-break, given the current depth. Perhaps the downward arrow is most reflective of UCLA missing on Brevin Jordan, the nation's No. 1 tight end who had UCLA as a long-time leader, when he verbally committed to Miami this spring. If UCLA can snag Michael Ezeike, the four-star athlete it seemingly leads for, that would immediately make the arrow change upward.
OFFENSIVE LINE (4+)
Our previously-established needs for 2018 offensive line recruiting were three minimum four-star OLs and at least two (maybe three) offensive tackles. It's still a long way away from Signing Day in February, and there's so much that's going to happen between now and then -- namely the 2017 season, and new OL coach Hank Fraley recruiting for an entire cycle. UCLA got a commitment from McDonald, and that's a positive development. McDonald, on one hand, is a tackle prospect, on the other he is a three-star. We're skeptical a bit that UCLA will be able to hit the bar of three four-star OLs, given the prospects they've offered and those we think they're leading to get. Under Fraley, UCLA has absolutely changed its OL recruiting approach, offering a big number of prospects and many that, in recent years, probably weren't good enough to garner an offer. Right now we don't see a four-star tackle prospect that UCLA leads for. The closest might be Tommy Brown, but we can't say that UCLA actually leads for him, and even if it did, an offer from his father's alma mater, Alabama, would probably end his recruitment right then. With how many OLs UCLA has offered, we anticipate UCLA will get a big OL class, and probably three+ offensive tackle prospects, but if we had to guess we'd say the class will be dominated by three-stars. Given the OL talent on the team right now, UCLA needs to upgrade, and we just don't think stocking the shelves with three-stars will get it done. Perhaps we're wrong. Perhaps Fraley is a fantastic evaluator and some of these three-star prospects UCLA has offered are much better than their stars. We just don't know at this point and we're willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, at least for his first full recruiting cycle. Fraley has relied a bit on Angus McClure, who is the DL coach and recruiting coordinator, on some of these offers, and McClure has a great history for finding under-starred recruits that end up players. We do like the aspect of the new OL recruiting approach of loading up on OLs; having a big number of OLs on your roster improves your chances of finding starter-level players. So we like that UCLA is looking to take at least four OLs in the 2018 class, and we think McDonald is a solid first piece. But again, hopefully there are some four-stars willing to jump on board by February.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE (2)
In our February piece we said UCLA's need here was to get a true nose tackle in the 2018 class and, after, watching spring practice, we have to say that's even moreso. UCLA's current DL roster is very good, if not excellent, but it could absolutely use a true trench-eating, space-filling, double-team-consuming nose tackle. Even with two excellent tackle recruits coming in with the 2017 class, Greg Rogers and Martin Andrus, you wouldn't say that either of them clearly are nose tackles. UCLA has a commitment from Aaron Maldonado, who we like for his upside, but we wouldn't necessarily say he's a pure nose either. The type we're talking about is UCLA target Keondre Coburn, the 6-1, 325-pounder from Texas, or Trevor Trout, the 6-3, 320-pounder from St. Louis. UCLA is in good shape with Coburn and Trout, and both will probably officially visit. We're not saying UCLA has to get Coburn or Trout or its DT recruiting is a failure, but we do think UCLA needs to get a guy of that type for it to clearly be a successful recruiting year. The guy we really want to see is Niti Liu, the nose tackle from Sacramento Grant, who UCLA has offered and leads for. No scouts have yet to see him person, and we're hoping to get our first glimpse of him this weekend at The Opening Oakland. UCLA DL coach Angus McClure is a good evaluator and, being the NorCal recruiting guru, offered Liu. He does have offers from Arizona and Utah, but if Liu is actually a UCLA-level guy and a nose guard, and UCLA gets him, it would be a huge boost to 2018 DL recruiting.
Even if UCLA can't get a pure nose tackle type (and they're difficult to find), for the 2018 DT recruiting cycle to ultimately be deemed a success it'd have to sign a four-star tackle or better and, right now, UCLA isn't leading for any DT of that caliber.
DEFENSIVE END (2)
UCLA's current DL depth chart looks, well, fantastic at this point in time. It has young talent inside and outside, and four-year talent as well as NFL-level. McClure brought in the No. 1 defensive end in the nation in the 2017 class, Jaelan Phillips, along with an athlete with some considerable upside, Odua Isibor, and that had to be one of the best DE classes in the west and possibly the country. It also got a nice surprise this spring when redshirt freshman Marcus Moore looked like a potential impact player in practice. Of course, though, you're only as good as your last recruiting class, so McClure needs to keep it going in 2018, and that means at least one elite defensive end. UCLA doesn't have a commitment from a defensive end yet, but the arrow is sideways because it's looking good with three four-star prospects, the nation's No. 10 DE, Elijah Wade, No. 24 Jeremiah Martin, and Abdul-Malik McClain, the No. 30-ranked DE in the nation. The arrow would probably go up if it got any two of those three, and if UCLA just got Wade. UCLA will be a serious contender for John Waggoner, the prospect from Iowa, since we're hearing he wants out of the midwest. Wade and Waggoner are strongside types and Martin and McClain are razors. So, right now, DE recruiting looks good.
Linebacker recruiting is in a bit of a different place than it was just a few years ago, at UCLA and throughout college football. With defenses having to play nickel more often than their base, most of the time there are only two linebackers on the field. It makes it very important to get linebacker prospects who can cover, particularly drop into coverage easily. More and more programs are recruiting for a safety/linebacker hybrid type, too.
Programs, and UCLA, are still looking for three types of linebackers, Mikes, Sams and Wills, but they don't necessarily need many Sams and probably more Mikes and Wills.
http://www.scout.com/college/ucla/story/1778659-4-star-lb-winston-has-pl... UCLA linebacker coach Scott White has shifted a bit in his recruiting strategy, looking for more "outside" linebackers who can cover. And, after getting just one linebacker in the 2017 class, Rahyme Johnson, UCLA will look to sign three linebackers for 2018, and that might end up being one middle linebacker type and two Wills.
The commitment from Isaiah Johnson makes more sense once you understand all this. Johnson has primarily been a wide receiver in high school, or occasionally a rush end on defense. He's rated as an athlete on Scout, and White took him as a Will linebacker, with the athleticism to drop into coverage but also with a body and frame that could get quite a bit bigger. He's 6-3 and about 210 right now and he's actually been described as similar in body and style to Curtis Robinson, the Stanford linebacker. We'll get to see Johnson this weekend at The Opening Oakland.
With Johnson committed, White will look for one inside guy, like Jack Lamb (who could probably play all three linebacker spots), Ben Wilson or Eli'jah Winston (who could also be a Sam) and then another Will-type, like Reggie Hughes or DaShaun White. A guy high on UCLA's list is BYU-committed Brandon Kaho, who has versatility enough to play probably all three linebacker spots. What these six guys do -- Lamb, Wilson, Winston, Hughes, White and Kaho -- will determine the success of UCLA's 2018 linebacker recruiting, or guys who could be added later in the cycle that are talent equivalent. From what we hear, UCLA is doing well with all six. With Johnson a three-star, it's pretty key that the other two LB commitments be four-star level, and the only other guy on this list who isn't four star is White, and we've heard he's under-rated as a three-star.
UCLA got a pretty good haul in cornerbacks for 2017, signing four: Darnay Holmes, Elijah Gates, Jaylan Shaw and Morrell Osling. Perhaps Osling ends up a safety but still, it's a good haul -- and UCLA was already pretty deep at the position. It actually proved to be even deeper than we thought after watching Spring Practice, too. We said in February the recruiting need at cornerback is to get Tyreke Johnson, the five-star prospect from Florida, for a few reasons. Defensive backs coach Demetrice Martin, with the depth on the roster, has the luxury of stretching for that elite, five-star type of cornerback in 2018 -- to make five-star bookends with Holmes; also Johnson has had UCLA as his long-time leader.
Well, things are getting a little more complicated for Johnson, as we expected, and other schools are hitting him hard. Florida, in particular, is coming on strong and, because of proximity, he's been able to visit Florida's campus a few times. Martin did fly to Florida to see Johnson as soon as he was able during the spring evaluation period.
Even if UCLA doesn't get Johnson, we like the idea of Martin stretching for that elite corner in 2018, given the depth he has. A guy who had UCLA as a long-time leader, California transplant Bookie Radley-Hiles (who now plays in Florida), the No. 7-ranked corner in the nation, verbally committed to Nebraska, but we've been told by people close to him that they don't think he's a good match for Nebraska and they'd expect him to decommit sometime between now and Signing Day. UCLA was his other finalist, and we expect the Bruins to be involved until the end, especially since he's the ex-teammate and close friend of Holmes. UCLA hasn't really been seriously considered by the No. 1 corner in the west, Olaijah Griffin, and the word is that UCLA's depth -- and Holmes -- have scared him away a bit. We'd really like to see UCLA swoop in on Isaac Taylor-Stuart, who could be one of the best prospects in the west overall.
There's also the realistic possibility that UCLA does, indeed, get Johnson.
This will be fun to watch between now and Signing Day, mostly because Martin is really playing with house money because of his talented depth chart.
Talking about playing with house money, Martin is absolutely doing that with safety recruiting for 2018. The recruiting needs we established for the position in February were: 1) get three safeties and 2) get a hard-hitting one. Martin has already satisfied needs No. 1 and No. 2. We seen committed Cam'ron Jones play in person but on tape he looks like he satisfies the need of a big hitter, and Stephan Blaylock is a pretty big hitter himself.
http://www.scout.com/college/usc/story/1773433-final-four-turns-into-top... There still is some safety recruiting remaining for 2018, however. There's so much safety talent out there for 2018, and a good amount of it likes UCLA, so Martin has the green light to take a fourth safety. Sitting on three commitments, Martin can definitely try to stretch with safeties, too, and the Bruins are trying hard with one of the best overall prospects in the west, Talanoa Hufanga. One of the best players on the spring circuit has been Bryan Addison, who has said he really likes UCLA. UCLA is looking good with a guy we think could be one of the most under-rated on the west coast -- and he's a four-star: Ely Doyle. And there are other guys, like Aashari Crosswell, Treshaun Harrison and Julius Irvin that UCLA has a legit shot to get -- all four-star prospects.
Given all of this talent, we could UCLA taking a fourth safety, and/or perhaps three-star Jhevon Hill feeling the UCLA safety depth chart is a little too crowded for him and maybe looking elsewhere. If that's the case, UCLA could even improve its safety class by still taking only three prospects but upgrading on the talent level of Hill.
It has to be said that Martin is easily one of the best recruiters in the west, and it looks like he's continuing his DB recruiting excellence with 2018.