Nearly every pundit around deemed Coach Jim Mora's first recruiting class a huge coup. Not only did UCLA finish with a consensus top 20 class that reached as high as #11 in Scout.com's rating, Coach Mora effectively turned the momentum of the program and took a huge step towards reestablishing UCLA on the national scene. Of course, taking one step, however impressive, does not change the fact that UCLA is coming off a 6-8 season which included a beatdown on national television to a below average football team and a 0-50 surrender to USC, but it's a start. The countdown to next season has begun, and all Bruins should be excited to see Coach Mora follow up his recruiting efforts with a solid performance on the field.
Now that the dust has settled on the class, the frontpagers decided to hold a roundtable discussion to share our thoughts. The discussion will be broken into three parts, so be sure to check-in tomorrow and Wednesday to follow the discussion as well as share your thoughts.
1. What is your overall impression of the class? If you were to give it a letter grade, what would it be?
AHMB: The class is very impressive, especially due to the short time period in which it was actually put together. Given another month, Coach Mora and the staff may have pulled off some stunning shockers, but I'll take the class they put together this year happily. Normally, I'd call it a B+/A- class, but under the circumstances I'd bump it to an A.
Ryan R.: This is a talented, but not incredibly talented class. What I like about it though is that it addressed most of the major needs at keep positions. Wide receivers? Check. Quarterbacks? Check. Defensive line? Check. Defensive back? Check. On pure talent, this is a B+ class, but considering where the talent is, I'll call it a A-.
Achilles: B+ But the really important thing is how much better this class is than it would have been had we not had a coaching change. We were looking at a D+. Given a year to put together a class instead of a month, I expect this staff to earn an A next season.
Bellerophon: A-. In terms of talent, this class is very solid, with a lot of top-tier guys (McCarthy, Fuller, Porter, Adams, Payton, Castro, etc.) who a lot of other good programs really wanted. But, more importantly, the talent comes in where it'll be needed. We got two QBs, which we really needed for depth (plus bonus points for already being ahead of the game in getting a QB in 2013), we shored up the defensive backfield with a great pair of corners (Rios and Adams) plus a lot of other guys that will give us quality depth (which I expect we'll need in a conference with Oregon, Rich Rod's Arizona, and Leach's Washington State). Before Mora came in, this class was looking like a C- and up until Signing Day, it was only a B. Securing WRs (and good ones at that) which we really needed, in the last few days, brought this class up to being a solid A-. The only thing that would have made it better if we had secured some more top-tier OL guys (who all went to Stanford it seems like).
Nestor: Needless to say I agree with all of the points made above. I think it is really worth emphasizing what Mora and his staff were able to pull off in a matter of month. Think about it. Mora was officially named the head coach of the program on December 10. He did not officially take over the program until January 9. So in less than 60 days he transformed the program to an incredibly mediocre class (that was barely hanging on to the 40s in Scout.com ranking) to an almost top-10 class. This is nothing short of remarkable. It is not a surprise that he was named as national recruiter of the year by SI.com's Stewart Mandel even though the Urbanator grabbed all the headlines over at CBus. In terms of roster needs Mora addressed glaring issues at QBs with Fuller and Milweard. His staff also attacked the depth concerns at DB and at WRs. There was also the matter of nabbing Ellis McCarthy, who fingers crossed could turn out to be Brian Price 2.0. I am a pretty hard grader I think. If we were somehow able to flip Shaq Thompson, I'd give his effort an A. But there is really nothing to complain about here. So I will go with A-/B+, which is once again remarkable given where UCLA was less than two months ago. By the way it is worth nothing that as Chianti Dan is rushing to take credit over this recruit class, it was him who desperately wanted to hold on to Rick Neuheisel even after 0-50.
Freesia39: I like that this class addressed needs - WR, QB, and was put together so quickly. Mora knew his weakness would be recruiting, and picked up super recruiters. I'd give this class a B+ overall - a great first effort, and I expect to build on this for the future.
gbruin: A-. Given where we were, both as a program and with a new coach who had never recruited college players before, I was pretty skeptical how this class would turn out. I give Mora a ton of credit for recognizing the need to recruit for 2012 and not wait a year to get things rolling, and also for getting some great recruiters on the staff. I was also pleased with the diversity of talent at a number of positions. Now compared to the top programs across the country, this class may be a step below, but for where we were coming from, this class is really a fantastic effort.
2. Who is your favorite offensive recruit?
AHMB: Simon Goines is far and away my favorite recruit on the offensive side of the ball. Although he is 6'8 and well over 300 lbs., he moves his feet well and projects to be a solid tackle. I really like all of the offensive line recruits, but Goines really stands out to me.
Ryan R.: I'm also going offensive lineman, but I'm choosing Lacy Westbrook. One, he's the highest-rated of the big uglies who signed for the Bruins and for good reason (big, quick feet, strong, all the fun things), but as importantly, he came in from Dominguez, which is an important school for the Bruins to have a relationship with.
Achilles: Devin Fuller. The number three rated quarterback in the country. This is the kind of athlete that usually goes to Oregon or LSU. Even if he doesn't end up at QB, he'll end up in the endzone plenty ... and that's what matters most.
Bellerophon: Javon Williams. The kid has great height and the frame to put on more weight and be the big outside threat receiver we haven't had in a long time. You know, who we thought Nelson Rosario would be. He'll be in the program for the full four years and I suspect, by the time their UCLA careers are over, Williams will have done better than higher-ranked Jordan Payton.
Nestor: I was going to name Devin Fuller to answer this question. Achilles already picked him. Then, I was going to pick Javon Williams. Bellerophon picked him as well. So I am going to go with someone else. Let's go with T.J. Millweard. Man ... how long has it been since we have had a good QB in Westwood? May be Brett Hundley will live up to his potential once he gets the keys. Perhaps Richard Brehaut will have a redemptive senior year like Drew Olson paving the way for Hundley and this year's QB. I really like what I have seen from Millweard though. It is difficult for us to make any conclusions from watching YouTube highlight reels as we are not professional scout. But I do liked what I have seen and hear the assessment from Coach Noel Mazzone. Plus the kid has that beard thing going. Let's go with T.J. here. Maybe he will turn out to be like Brock Osweiller under Mazzone's tutelage and become the next great Texas QB out of UCLA since Tommy Maddox?
Freesia39: Since Fuller, Williams and Millweard were already taken, I'll give Colby Cyburt some love. The comments the kid made about loving Westwood and the coaching staff gives me warm fuzzies inside, and telling SC to buzz off? Perfect.
gbruin: I second (or third) all the responses above, but want to add a couple names. Ahmaad Harris. The fact he wasn't high on anyone's radar, but was someone Mazzone and Mora jumped at, is very intriguing. They must see something in this kid and I like that. Given his size and speed, he could fit in as a real weapon in Mazzone's offense. Also, Alexandru Ceachir. You all know I'm all about the OL. Like Albert Cid last season, this JC transfer has a better chance than the kids from HS to step in a play right away. You can never have enough brute and bad attitudes on the line. I think our big Russian (Moldovan, actually) has lots of both.
3. Who is your favorite defensive recruit?
AHMB: I've said for months that Ellis McCarthy is the most important target for UCLA in years. He had ties to go to UCLA and was said to have been looking for reasons to come to Westwood. Well, when Coach Mora came aboard and hired Coach Martin, the big 5* defensive tackle found enough reasons. McCarthy certainly looks like he can be a two gap defensive tackle in the 3-4, and he's athletic enough to play end.
Ryan R.: There's no doubt that McCarthy is the best defensive recruit, but my favorite is Marcus Rios. Anyone who jumped on the Mora bandwagon so early and then worked so hard to recruit more guys to the school is tops in my book.
Achilles: McCarthy. We struggle to get defensive tackles as a rule. But remember how much better we were with Brian Price? Heck, remember how much better we were last season when Datone Jones moved inside. McCarthy and Brandon Willis totally change the potential of our defense.
Bellerophon: Ishmael Adams. Not only does he come in at a position of need, but his attitude is just awesome. McCarthy is easily the "best" defensive recruit and he'll have a Brian Price impact on our defense, but Adams is the best Bruin so far. He recruited hard for UCLA and how can you not love a guy who bleeds blue and gold during the recruiting process and works to get other elite guys to Westwood. Oh, and there was this.
Nestor: I will go with Aaron Porter. Porter committed to UCLA when the times were rough as the Bruins were struggling through a 4-8 season. He stayed committed through the coaching transition and didn't waste any time in firming up his commitment to Mora. Sure, he took a trip to Norman to check out the Sooners. But I can't blame the kid when someone like Bob Stoops come calling. He never considered the Sooners in a serious way and stuck with his Bruins. I find that kind of loyalty incredibly endearing. I hope he has a really successful career in Westwood.
That said, I also have to give a shout out to Adams (for the reasons mentioned by B above) and Marcus Rios, who was the first 4 star to commit after Mora took over in Westwood. In some ways the commitments of Adams and Rios reminded me a little of the commitments of AA and JF when Ben Howland just arrived in Westwood. It is kind of fun envisioning those two manning our corner spots next few years.
Freesia39: Immediate first thought was Ellis McCarthy, which has been extensively covered. I will have to say I like Kenny Orijoke. He's young, which concerns me - moving across the country will be an adjustment - but he had offers from good schools across the country, and once again, I'm a sucker for quality kids who say they love UCLA.
gbruin: I still have to go with McCarthy. His combo of size and speed, and the struggles of the DL last year make him a huge get. A strong DL is as key to the defense as a whole as the OL is on the other side. I see McCarthy being both a run stopper and generating a pass rush by himself. I also have to give huge credit to Marcos Rios, for being the first player to commit to the new coaching staff. That showed a ton of faith, and signalled to other recruits that U.C.L.A. was a legit destination. Also, huge props to Ishmael Adams for singing the Bruins' praises loud and clear. It is hard to teach a team-first attitude, but these guys have loads of it and look to be natural leaders going forward.
That concludes Part I of our three part Recruiting Roundtable. Fire away with your own answers, and be sure to check in tomorrow where we'll discuss our choices for instant impact players and "favorite" recruits before we conclude on Wednesday with a discussion on filling roster needs and our predictions at the future of our quarterback and linebacker positions.