Assessing FB Recruiting -- Defense

Roquan Smith

There have been some key commitments recently that have put UCLA football recruiting in a great spot to, perhaps, finish with a super-elite class for 2015. We broke down the offense, now here's a unit-by-unit look at how UCLA's doing with defensive recruits for 2015...

After the flurry of commitments in the last week, UCLA football recruiting has put itself in an incredible position for the 2015 class. It has a basis and foundation for a great class already, and then, with whom is left on its recruiting board, has a chance to finish it off with one of the most talented classes, on average, in recent college football history.

We’ve maintained for over a decade (that Dark Era) that, if you win at UCLA, the level of recruiting that the program is capable of would be astounding. UCLA has so many natural advantages that lend itself to it. But UCLA also has had some traditional disadvantages, too, that the administration, program and Jim Mora are working toward eliminating, like salaries for its assistants, facilities, more realistic academic standards, and even alternate uniforms.

It’s very possible that UCLA is on the cusp of a Golden Era in football – and in recruiting.

Right now, the 2015 class is averaging a 3.90 star average (national 2015 class rankings), which is currently among the few highest in the country. As we wrote in this recent piece, UCLA has a chance to bring in a class in 2015 that would be among the best in average star ranking – ever in the history of Scout.com’s rankings.

And even beyond the stars, UCLA recruiting for 2015 has set itself up really well in terms of its needs, how many scholarships it has to give per position, who it already has committed and who is left on its board. In our time doing this, we’ve never seen a UCLA recruiting class at this stage of the recruiting cycle set up so well to already have fulfilled so many needs at different positions while having a chance to really take the class to a completely other level.

So, here’s a rundown of the class unit by unit, where it stands currently and where it could go.

We already assessed UCLA’s chances with offensive recruits for 2015. Here we tackle the defense.

Defensive recruiting for 2015 has a little bit further to go than offensive recruiting, with only 2 of the 10 committed prospects on the defensive side of the ball (and that’s counting Johnson as a cornerback). Even with no commitments on the defensive line or in the secondary, UCLA is still looking very good generally for 2015 recruiting of both units, leading or near the top of the list for many elite prospects.


DEFENSIVE TACKLE

Needs at Position: 1

If there’s a position that could be the most uncertain for 2015 it’s nose tackle. It might be the only position that there isn’t an elite prospect that clearly has UCLA leading for his services. The thing is, though, UCLA believes nose tackle isn’t necessarily a big priority for 2015, with a current depth chart that’s pretty young. But we’re the worrisome type here at BRO, so we tend to think that the depth chart might deplete pretty quickly with just a couple developments – like Kenneth Clark going pro after his junior season and maybe incoming freshman Ainuu Taua not quite having the size to be an every-down starter at the spot. Just for our own piece of mind here at BRO it’d be great if UCLA did bring in a potential starter-level nose tackle in 2015.

In the offensive rundown, we mentioned Fred Ulu-Perry potentially playing nose tackle. His first option will probably be to play on the offensive line, we could easily see Ulu-Perry making the transition to nose tackle. At the UCLA camp the UCLA coaches approached him about the idea, and Ulu-Perry said the coaches thought he’d be a natural at the position. Ulu-Perry wasn’t adverse to the idea, since it could possibly be the more viable NFL position for him. With the great state of UCLA’s depth at offensive line, with Ulu-Perry not desperately needed on the OL, it would be the kind of thing that would be probably be up to Ulu-Perry, where he felt he wanted to play and what position was best for him.

UCLA, though, can’t rely on Ulu-Perry as an option at nose, since he is coming to UCLA as an OL. Probably the next most realistic scenario is UCLA bringing in Kyon Clark, the 6-2, 350+-pound prospect from Rialto (Calif.) Carter. Clark is Kenneth Clark’s younger – but considerably bigger – brother. He came to UCLA’s camp and showed some considerable agility for a guy his size, and someone who probably would need to lose at least 40 pounds to be able to realistically play. But it’s definitely a possibility that UCLA could bring in Clark as a developmental guy, and not grayshirt him but bring him in for fall of 2015. You’d want to get him in the program as soon as possible to get the strength and conditioning staff working on him. Hopefully after a year, at the latest two years, he’d be a guy able to play the position at UCLA. It’s a bit of a risk, yes, but Clark has shown the desire and work ethic already to begin working on his body and there definitely is a good athlete there that needs to come out.

Bryce English
UCLA will probably be one of the finalists for Canadian Neville Gallimore, but the thought is that he’s more likely bound for Ohio State or Michigan State. Gallimore would be a perfect guy for UCLA for 2015 – a big body with some athleticism that probably isn’t ready to get immediate playing time as a freshman.

We’ve heard just recently that Bryce English, the 5-11, 305-pound prospect from Desoto (Tex.) is a possibility. English might be a little undersized, but he’s very good, and particularly athletic and strong for his size. He de-committed from Texas and is pretty wide open – while UCLA has been in contact and the word could end up on English’s short list. We've now heard the English will visit UCLA on July 17th.

Four-star Manassas (Virg.) Stonewall Jackson defensive tackle Tim Settle may also be an option, but he's one of the highest-rated defensive tackle recruits in the country, and every major program is on him. We have heard, though, that he is planning an official visit for the fall, which is significant. Even if he isn't seriously considering UCLA heading into the visit, visiting L.A. can be compelling for certain kids.

There is also the possibility of:

*DeShawn Fortune from Etiwanda, who came to UCLA’s camp and impressed enough that, if he has a big senior season, could get an offer. Fortune could be a defensive end in UCLA’s scheme, or most likely grow into a nose tackle, currently at about 270 pounds.
*Vaimoe Sekona, from Encino Crespi, who UCLA has offered but we haven’t heard too much going on with the recruitment as of late.
*Deonte Reynolds, the JC DT from San Pablo Contra Costa, whom UCLA hasn’t offered. If he has a big fall he could get an offer.

Again, UCLA hasn’t been too active in nose guard recruiting since the feeling is that it needs more defensive end types for 2015. How nose tackle recruiting develops through the fall is definitely something to watch. UCLA Defensive Line Coach Angus McClure has done an excellent job in recruiting since being the DL coach under Mora, stealing the likes of Ellis McCarthy, Eddie Vanderdoes and Matt Dickerson away from other big-named programs, and also recognizing the talent of prospects like Kenneth Clark, Ainuu Taua and Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, so there is quite a bit of confidence in McClure fulfilling the recruiting needs at nose tackle for 2015.


DEFENSIVE END

Needs at Position: 2

UCLA doesn’t have a commitment from a defensive end yet for 2015, but it’s looking good for enough elite prospects that you’d have to say that the state of DE recruiting is good. First, like with many positions, there isn’t a dire need at DE. UCLA only loses Owamagbe Odighizuwa after this coming season, but there is the possibility that Ian Taubler might have to take a medical retirement because of concussions and that Eddie Vanderdoes leaves early after his junior year (the 2015 season). Those possibilities were probably the impetus for UCLA needing two DEs in the class of 2015 when previously – a few months ago – it probably was targeting just one.

But, like we said, there are enough elite DE prospects UCLA is looking good with that you could easily seen the two spots being filled pretty easily.

Probably the #1 prospect is Rasheem Green, the Gardena Serra athlete, who ultimately had a good showing in The Opening last week. Right now UCLA is in the thick of it for Green, along with USC and Stanford, probably, but the recruitment has a long way to go. UCLA has the advantage of Green’s mom being a Bruin, the family being academic-oriented and proximity. He’ll visit a good number of programs from outside the west and it will be interesting to see if that piques his interest to leave the area.

Rasheem Green
We’ve heard that UCLA is probably the leader for JC DE Takkarist McKinley, leading many big-named schools from around the nation. UCLA has the advantage that McClure recruited McKinley out of high school and, even though McKinley committed to Cal as a high school senior (but didn’t qualify), UCLA is currently a more attractive destination than Berkeley at the moment for football.

The big mystery – probably of the entire 2015 recruiting class – is Canton Kaumatule, the elite defensive end prospect from Hawaii. No reporter has been able to talk to him in months, and we’ve even heard it’s difficult for college coaches to contact him. What we hear second hand is that he’s probably not going to Stanford, where his brother is, because he doesn’t have the academics for it, and that the schools involved are USC, Oregon, and UCLA. But we, honestly, haven’t heard much about Kaumatule’s recruitment.

UCLA has a chance, because it’s going to get official visits, from three nationally elite prospects – CeCe Jefferson, Tyrone Wheatley and Austin Bryant. Right now it’s safe to say that UCLA is a longshot for all three, but getting them to visit gives UCLA a puncher’s chance.

One guy we’ve said that we think UCLA could eventually get is Benning Potoae, the prospect from Washington. We’ve heard that UCLA is in a good spot for Potoae, and that’s even without him having ever visited campus. We also think he might be a little under-rated. We could see a scenario where UCLA might miss on some of the bigger, national names and Potoae takes a visit and wants to be a Bruin.

Christian Rector, from Los Angeles Loyola, and Porter Gustin from Utah are also possibilities, but we believe USC has the edge for both.

UCLA looked like it was close to getting a DE commitment from Rick Wade, the 6-6, 230-pound prospect from Santa Margarita, after he did well at UCLA’s camp and earned a UCLA scholarship offer. But USC offered Wade Monday and, with Wade’s father being a USC alumnus, that could trip up the plan that Wade was going to commit to UCLA before the end of the summer. He still plans to announce a decision by then but now the likelihood of it being UCLA is a question mark. On one hand, it’d be good to get a commitment from a DE, just to have one on the books, but UCLA looks like it has a realistic chance with Green, McKinley and Kaumatule, along with an outside chance at Jefferson, Wheatley and Bryant, while looking good for Potoae, so not getting Wade wouldn’t be a major loss.

We still believe that UCLA very well might get involved more seriously with Joseph Wicker, the Long Beach Poly prospect, if he shows well at the beginning of the season.


OUTSIDE LINEBACKER/RUSH END AND LINEBACKER

Committed:

Needs at Position: 3-5

Victor Alexander, 5-10, 225, Jacksonville (Fla.) Trinity Christian
Ranking: #35 MLB

Keisean Lucier-South
UCLA has pretty much created a linebacker position with a more specified role that they are recruiting – the Anthony Barr-type spot of outside linebacker/rush end. Now, they’ve told quite a few linebacker prospects that they could be the next Anthony Barr at UCLA, whether they’re the outside pass-rushing linebacker type or not. But there are clearly some guys that project to the Barr position, and many who might even project to the spot better than Barr, in that they could be better dropping into coverage than Barr was.

We put that position together with the rest of the linebackers in this analysis just for the sake of making it easier to conceive of UCLA’s approach and mindset to recruiting for 2015, and how the linebacker class could come together.

The guy that we can see fill that Barr role the best is Orange Lutheran’s Keisean Lucier-South. At The Opening he measured 6-4 and weighed 211. He ran a 4.81, which isn’t lightning fast, but he did record a 4.19 time in the shuttle, which shows some considerable lateral quickness for a guy his size. In the drills at The Opening, he looked skinny compared to the other defensive end freaks, but he also was just too plain quick for most of the elite offensive tackles to contain. So, despite maybe not having the same straight-ahead speed of Barr, he has shown he’s a very good pass rusher, while he’s probably quicker than Barr at the same stage of their development. That means he’ll probably be able to provide the pass rush from the Barr spot – but also possibly be able to use his lateral quickness to be better in coverage than Barr. He’ll probably end up about Barr size, too, in a couple of years – 6-4 and 240+. So, the comparison of Lucier-South to Barr is definitely apt. Of course, the word is that UCLA leads for Lucier-South, and it will just have to hold onto the pole position as he takes his official visits. Right now, however, we think the lead is solid enough that it’s very likely UCLA gets Lucier-South.

So, UCLA wants, ideally, at least four linebackers. One is the Barr type – the outside rush linebacker/stand-up end; then there is the other outside linebacker position, and Myles Jack is the prototype they’re using for that role. He’s more of a true linebacker, one who definitely needs to be able to cover, but also is fast enough to contain his edge in run support. The guy on the UCLA recruiting board that best fills that role is easily Osa Masina, the newly-minted five-star prospect from Utah. He is, actually, very similar to Jack, in person and on tape, but probably three inches taller. The word is that UCLA is doing well with Masina and more than likely leads for him.

Then, ideally, UCLA wants two inside guys. It already has a commitment from one in Alexander, whom we really like and think is a bit under-rated because of his size. Alexander, if he were 6-1 and had the same highlight tape, and did all the same athletic things, would be ranked higher – but no matter. From what we’ve heard we think Alexander is going to be the future heart and leader of UCLA’s defense.

The other inside guy UCLA is doing very well is Roquan Smith from Georgia, who’s an interesting prospect, being very raw but an exceptional athlete. At The Opening he struggled in the drills, but really excelled at the one-on-ones and 7-on-7s, where he could unleash that pure athleticism. Right now we’re hearing UCLA leads for Smith, but it’s going to be a chore to keep him away from Florida, Georgia and Clemson. Some sources close to the situation see him in a similar light to Kenny Young, the 2014 Louisiana linebacker who was leaning to UCLA last summer and stayed on the UCLA bandwagon when he signed in February. Other sources think Smith will go the way of Rashaan Evans, who was leaning to UCLA early but succumbed to that Southern pressure and signed with Alabama.

Osa Masina
So, even though UCLA has just one linebacker commitment, it’s in an excellent position to get perhaps its ideal scenario of Lucier-South, Alexander, Masina and Smith.

There are other options. Arizona prospect Cassius Peat could play either of the outside linebacker spots of the Barr or Jack role, and the feeling is that it’s UCLA or ASU, with hometown ASU probably ultimately prevailing. But there is a definite chance for UCLA with Peat.

There are some elite national pass-rush outside linebacker prospects UCLA has a chance with, like Malik Jefferson, the guy who more embodies the term “freak” than anyone in the 2015 national class and has a plan to officially visit UCLA. Others include Ricky DeBerry, Jeff Holland and Bo Wallace, all of whom UCLA might get an official visit out of but we’re skeptical they’ll ultimately choose to leave the South.

We don't think UCLA has much of a chance with John Houston, the highly-ranked prospect from Gardena Serra. It might sound like sour grapes, but we've been maintaining for a while that Houston, despite being a great athlete, is a bit soft and we question whether he'll be as good as projected on the college level.

We could see UCLA potentially getting Dedrick Young, the Arizona prospect UCLA has offered as a running back that many programs are recruiting as a linebacker. He, too, looks similar to Jack in his video clips. We’ve heard UCLA is doing well with Young and has a good chance with him, and we think that he projects as a very good college linebacker. If, say, UCLA doesn’t get Masina or Smith, Young would be a very good option – and would be a great fifth option if UCLA ultimately decides to take five linebackers and not turn down Young if he wants to come.

UCLA is also recruiting Quarte Sapp, a Georgia linebacker prospect they offered about a month ago. He’s a very athletic prospect who will almost certainly visit UCLA.

We can easily foresee a scenario in which UCLA offers Josh Woods, the linebacker from Upland. Woods had to sit out his junior season due to eligibility issues but has probably been the best pure linebacker prospect in the west this spring and summer at the various camps and combines. At 6-2 and about 215, he has a great linebacker prospect body, and has shown a very high aptitude and instincts for the position. He came to UCLA’s camp and looked very good. If he then shows well in his first few games of the season this fall we could easily see UCLA offering Woods. What would that do to the Ideal Scenario? Well, we don’t think Woods would commit on the spot, but he has said UCLA would move to the top of his list with an offer. It would definitely hedge UCLA’s bets against missing on the Ideal Scenario and, in our opinion, there would be little if any drop-off with Woods being a part of it.

Similar to Woods would be Ben Humphreys, the linebacker from Santa Ana Mater Dei, who has looked very good this spring. He might not have the pure athleticism of other prospects on this list, but he, like Woods, has great instincts and a superior feel for the game. In the one-on-ones against running backs at The Opening, when we were watching, Humphreys was the best at the camp – and that means better than all of the super-elite linebacker prospects at the event. We’ve heard that, if UCLA offered, Humphreys would be very compelled. We don’t think UCLA is recruiting him too actively at the moment; we actually understand to an extent since they’re doing so well and the Ideal Scenario looks fairly likely. But Humphreys would be a guy they should definitely keep warm just in case.

The Ideal Scenario has a very decent chance of happening and, if it did, it could be UCLA’s highest-ranked linebacker class in recent memory. If Smith falls out, however, we wouldn’t think twice about plugging in Woods or Humphreys. And if UCLA actually can pull a stunner and get one of the other national linebacker prospects then it could end up being the best linebacker class in the nation.

There’s also JayJay Wilson from Valencia, who is a nice athlete at 6-3 and 225 and, despite playing safety and receiver in high school, probably projects to linebacker.


DEFENSIVE BACKS

Needs at Position: 2-3

Commitments:

Stephen Johnson, 5-11, 185, San Leandro (Calif.)
Ranking: #30 CB

UCLA’s recent commitment from Johnson, as we said in the offensive rundown, is kind of a pivotal one, because of Johnson’s versatility. UCLA has recruited him as an athlete, and he could play cornerback or slot receiver, and that versatility in the fold gives UCLA some flexibility in taking corners or slot receivers. If they don’t get one of either position that could be where Johnson plugs in. If we had to guess we think, regardless of whomever else comes in 2015, Johnson will be a cornerback. He looked very natural playing the position at The Opening, with very good athleticism and that top-end speed.

With Johnson committed, UCLA is looking very good in its defensive backs recruiting in July. UCLA Defensive Backs Coach Demetrice Martin might only have two more spots remaining, and he’s doing well (read probably leading) for a number of guys UCLA has offered. Plus, Martin has, for the last three years, been one of the best recruiters in the west – and probably the country – so there isn’t much doubt he’ll get two or three very good prospects with the 2015 class.

Marvell Tell
It’s clear that Martin is looking for versatility in his defensive backs for 2015. If it’s a corner he wants him to be able to play some safety and nickel. And if it’s more of a safety type, he’s looking for guys who can cover like a corner. Perhaps because there might be a lack of cover corners in the west, or that Martin is targeting more safety types in 2015, UCLA is clearly recruiting the bigger defensive back in this recruiting cycle. The two main targets at this point are Marvell Tell from Crespi and Dechaun Holiday from San Marcos Mission Hills, both of whom are 6-2. UCLA has also offered Quenton Meeks from San Diego Del Norte, Ykili Ross from Riverside Poly, and DeAndre McNeal and Kylan Johnson from Texas, and they’re all at least 6-1. There’s also Philip Afia from Chino Hills, who doesn’t have a UCLA offer but could with a good showing this fall, and he’s close to 6-2.

At this point, from what we’ve heard, something would have to dramatically change for UCLA not to get Holiday. USC is probably the biggest threat, but UCLA has weathered the Trojan onslaught for a few months and remained Holiday’s leader. Holiday is the safety type who has some cover skills, so he’d be a great compliment to Johnson. If you then add Tell to this picture, well, the picture would look very pretty for UCLA. Tell is a big-time safety prospect, and he has at times this spring and summer invariably been leaning to UCLA or USC. If UCLA doesn’t get Tell, there are the other safety types on the list, even though we don’t think UCLA is currently leading for any of them. But, again, don’t underestimate Martin; if he targets any of the other guys on that list this fall he’d have a very good chance of getting them.

With the commitment of Johnson, you might ask the question of what UCLA would do with William Lockett, the Texas cornerback prospect that visited UCLA during its camp week, looked good and came close to committing (today’s front page story on Lockett). There is no question that UCLA would take a commitment from Lockett, even if it meant taking four defensive backs. Martin’s good-case scenario this fall would be to get a commitment from Lockett to go along with Johnson, with the heavy lean from Holiday while he still has a 50-50 chance with Tell.

Then there is Iman Marshall, the five-star defensive back from Long Beach Poly. We’ve heard quite a bit that UCLA is a serious player for Marshall, but also heard that it’s going to be hard to beat USC for him.

The other elite prospect UCLA will swing for is corner/slot receiver Donte Jackson, from Louisiana. They’ll more than likely get a visit out of him, but the word is he’ll likely stay home and go to LSU.

Bottom line, Martin, too, remember, has a fairly stocked secondary, so it’s not imperative that he get all of these guys. In fact, if he signed just two in February, a corner and a safety, he’d be in fine shape.

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