2015 Projected Depth Analysis: Receivers

Jordan Payton

UCLA will have the deepest receiving corps it has had in quite some time in 2015, with just one weakness that may keep it from being a truly elite unit...

With spring practice over, we now have a much clearer picture of what UCLA's talent and depth looks like across the board. On the surface, and through most of the starting positions, UCLA is fairly set through 2015 with high-level talent at most positions. More specifically, though, we've identified a few issues based off what we saw through April that could require adjustments to the recruiting strategy for the 2015 class and beyond.

We already covered the defensive backs, linebackers, defensive line, and quarterbacks over the last month. Now, we'll turn our attention to the receiver position, which will have incredible continuity over the next two years.

Projected Depth Analysis: Receivers

UCLA's receiver recruiting has been consistently solid over the last three years, which might come as a shock to those on the "Email Yarber" bandwagon. Despite losing Shaquelle Evans in the offseason, it was pretty clear this spring that UCLA's receivers had taken a leap forward, thanks to the growing experience of the starters and the talented depth building behind them. Devin Lucien, Jordan Payton, and Thomas Duarte all seemed to grow throughout the spring, while Mossi Johnson and Kenny Walker emerged as potential threats off the bench.

So, UCLA will clearly have some talent in 2014. But here's the cool thing: of those five guys just mentioned (plus Devin Fuller, who sat our most of the spring), not one projects to leave after 2014. As one of the many, many positive side effects of playing freshmen, the Bruins will return virtually the same rotation of receivers in 2015 as they had in 2014. Jordan Payton and Devin Fuller will both be 2+ year starters at that point, and Devin Lucien and Thomas Duarte will have each had a full year of starting under their belts. That kind of continuity should prove extremely valuable when UCLA is breaking in a new quarterback in 2015 after Brett Hundley leaves for the NFL.

We're actually in an interesting position in assessing this unit, because UCLA loses precisely zero contributors from 2014 to 2015, barring injury or transfer. Since we're firmly of the belief that Eric Yarber is a very good receivers coach, we can safely assume that the individual receivers will improve between 2014 and 2015. As we've said throughout these unit analyses, though, the question isn't whether the unit will be a solid or good one — it clearly will be, for at least the next two years. The question, given the way Jim Mora has raised expectations at UCLA, is what steps need to be taken to make it an elite unit that can contribute to a national championship.

Thomas Duarte.
Right now, from top to bottom, UCLA has very good possession receivers. Payton and Duarte specifically have excellent hands, body control, and ability to create space, which lends itself well to constantly converting first downs and scoring touchdowns. Lucien has a bit more of the spectacular play-making ability, with a very good vertical and good hand-eye coordination, but doesn't quite have the elite speed to blow the top off of a defense. Fuller provides better speed, but hasn't yet shown the shake to make guys miss in the open field.

UCLA is actually not without speed at this point. Kenny Walker looked very good this spring blowing past cornerbacks in practice. Austin Roberts, for a big guy, has very good speed, and Jordan Lasley should also bring some good speed to the outside this fall. Eldridge Massington reportedly ran a 4.41 40-yard dash this offseason, which would be a very good sign for him.

What that groups mostly lacks, though, is the elite game-breaking ability you often find on championship teams — that player who can take a quick hitch and turn it into a touchdown. Walker may show that ability this fall when the pads come on and he becomes more comfortable after sitting out a year, but we're just not sure. It's hard to project any other player on the roster having that sort of ability, which makes it even more important to prioritize signing an elite game breaker in 2015.

In assessing the prospects on the horizon for UCLA, we'd say the Bruins likely have the best shot with either Ryan Newsome or Stephen Johnson, among that group of speedy/shifty receivers. Christian Kirk appears bound for Texas A&M, and UCLA is not yet recruiting Lavan Alston. Newsome is very high on the Bruins, and seems to have developed a very strong relationship with Jim Mora, but he also clearly enjoys the recruiting process and will draw significant attention from Texas and throughout the South. Getting at least one of those four, though, is likely going to be a significant priority.

Other than an elite playmaker (which, frankly, most teams don't have anyway) there simply aren't many holes in the rotation. UCLA has size, speed, athleticism, and, collectively, pretty good hands. If 2014 is likely going to be the deepest UCLA's receiving corps has been in a long time, then 2015 should be deeper still, with whichever recruits UCLA sews up in the upcoming recruiting class (with the hope being that at least one of Ryan Newsome/Christian Kirk/Stephen Johnson/Lavan Alston is among that group). If you want the clearest picture of the recruiting job Eric Yarber has done at UCLA, understand that the depth chart below includes just one player that was on the roster before he arrived, and that receiver (Devin Lucien) is arguably his biggest disciple.

Projected 2015 Depth Chart

X
Jordan Payton SR
Eldridge Massington RS SO
Austin Roberts SO

Y
Thomas Duarte JR
Mossi Johnson SO
Alex Van Dyke RS FR

F
Devin Fuller SR
Jalen Ortiz JR
Darren Andrews RS SO
Ahmaad Harris RS JR

Z
Devin Lucien RS SR
Kenny Walker RS JR
Jordan Lasley SO

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