UCLA Football Recruiting Reset - Defense

Kirby Lee-US PRESSWIRE

It's early in the recruiting season, but we take our first look at where UCLA stands with their current recruiting targets.

With recruiting season ramping up, we thought it would be a good time to take a look at where UCLA currently stands on the recruiting trail, as well as discuss some of the commits and prospects.  We'll start with a look at the defensive side of the ball, and move to the offense over the weekend.

Defensive Linemen

Status:  In the past two classes, UCLA has signed DT's Ellis McCarthy, Kenneth Clark, and Eddie Vanderdoes, with McCarthey and Vanderdoes being the top rated DT in the West in each of their signing years.  At first glance, UCLA probably wouldn't need to sign a DT this year given the depth at the position, especially considering that UCLA already has Eli Ankou and Brandon Tuiliapupu in the program, but DC Lou Spanos has creatively moved the big tackles around and played them at different positions on the line, so signing another tackle would be smart this year.

The biggest need along the line is at end.  Cassius Marsh and Keenan Graham are graduating, and the Bruins lost some depth in moving Nate Iese to offense and losing Jeremy Castro to transfer.  Thankfully the Bruins return Owamagbe Odighizuwa after an injury red shirt season, and will hopefully return a healthy Kylie Fitts and Ian Taubler next year.  Depth will be a concern, and UCLA could realistically bring in 3 ends this year.

Commits: DT Ainuu Taua.

Targets: DT Bryan Mone; DE Solomon Thomas; DE Malik McDowell; DE Davon Godchaux; DE Rashaan Evans; DE Jacob Tuioti-Mariner; DE Matt Dickerson; DE Kennedy Emesibe.

Outlook: UCLA's big catch so far came in versatile lineman Ainuu Taua.  He's a little undersized as a prototypical DT, but he is another body that can move around on the line and play multiple positions.  Taua is the west's #2 DT and #8 DT overall according to Scout, and the staff would find a spot for him along the defensive line.

Bryan Mone is committed to Michigan, but our staff has never given up on him.  Mone stands 6'4 316 lbs. and would be an ideal NT, and the Utah product may not be completely locked in to Michigan.

At defensive end, UCLA is chasing many top players.  Solomon Thomas is the #1 target out of Texas.  He's 6'3 256 lbs. and the #4 DE in the country.  He would fit well in our system and there has been mutual interest, but at this point Thomas hasn't indicated any clear leader.  Similarly, Malik McDowell would be a huge get, but the 6'6 300 lbs. prospect out of Detroit appears to be favoring other schools.

We are chasing two elite recruits out of the south in Rashaan Evans, a 6'3 215 lbs. DE out of Alabama, and Davon Godchaux, a 6'4 271 lbs. DE out of Louisiana.  Pulling them out of the South would be a coup, but they have both shown interest.  Unfortunately, Auburn appears to be Evans' leader now given their miracle run, and Godchaux has been pretty quiet..

In state, UCLA is chasing DE Jacob Tuioti-Mariner; DE Malik Dorton; DE Matt Dickerson; DE Kennedy Emesibe.  Matt Dickerson is currently committed to Notre Dame, and at this point its unclear if he is looking around or not.

One sleeper prospect to watch is 3* Kennedy Emesibe out of Oak Hills.  Emesibe's brother is a walk on at UCLA, and he'll be camping with our staff over the summer and will likely earn an offer.  At 6'4 240 lbs., he's a little on the small side for DE at this point, but he could move to OLB if he cannot put on the needed weight to play DE.

Linebackers

Status:  Spanos' defense relies heavily utilizing hybrid DE/OLB's, and the coaching staff is not slowing down in recruiting them.  Anthony Barr was absolutely dominant, and the staff will be hard pressed to find another outside backer like him.  Kenny Orjioke seems to be the best fit physically, and hopefully he can make a similar impact when he gets a bigger role.  Of course, Myles Jack has the other outside position locked up, and his versatility is a big key to our defensive scheme.  Aaron Wallace, Deon Hollins, and Cameron Judge provide quality depth and will each fit in specific roles next year.

Inside, Eric Kendricks returns. but the team will have to replace Jordan Zumwalt.  Isaac Savaiinea will likely step right in, and Aaron Porter will probably fill the third MLB spot.

It will be interesting to see how the defense expands the nickel linebacker role moving forward.  Last year, Myles Jack proved that he was capable of sliding into coverage and Zumwalt and Kendricks both had enough speed to stay on the field.  With Zumwalt gone, possibly Jayon Brown or Cameron Judge could see a lot more playing time.

Commits: MLB Cameron Griffin.

Targets: OLB Dwight Williams; MLB Kenny Young.

Outlook:  UCLA got a quick commitment out of Cameron Griffin, a 6'3 210 lbs. linebacker out of View Park.  Griffin was a long time commit at SDSU, but his stock rose and he jumped at UCLA's offer.  He's likely a redshirt candidate, but he has a lot of speed and could be a solid contributor when he puts on weight.

After signing three elite OLB's last year, the staff can be very selective this year.  The three OLB's that UCLA is chasing this year are all elite in state recruits.  At the top of the list, Serra's Dwight Williams is a little small at 6'1 210 lbs., but he's very athletic and has good pass defense skills.  He could fit right in at nickle backer and play immediately.

At MLB, Kenny Young out of Louisiana has consistently shown interest in UCLA.  At 6'2 225 lbs., the #9 MLB in the country should be ready to play immediately.  Given the fact that he is from Louisiana, it will be tough to pull him out of SEC country.

Cornerbacks

Status:  Ishmael Adams and Fabian Moreau were solid as red shirt freshmen this year, but there was a concerning lack of depth due to injuries to Marcus Rios and Johnny Johnson, as well as the freshman struggles of Priest Willis.  Of any position on defense, cornerback is the biggest need this offseason.

Commits: John Plattenburg; Adarius Pickett; Denzel Fisher; Ron Robinson.

Targets: Adoree Jackson.

Outlook:  UCLA has four current commits and is chasing a big fish at cornerback, clearly showing the staff's desire to add quality depth.  Adarius Pickett and John Plattenburg are two big cornerbacks that can step in right away and play next year.  Pickett is out of El Cerrito and has great size at 6'0 185 lbs.  Plattenburg has moved back and forth between Los Angeles and Texas a couple of times, but the 5'11 187 lbs. corner has been interested in UCLA for some time and recently committed.

Denzel Fisher and Ron Robinson are not as highly touted as Pickett and Plattenburg, but they both also have good size and provide versatitily at the position.  Fisher is 6'2 170 lbs., while Robinson is 6'2 195 lbs.  Robinson will be an early entrant and will count against last years class and be able to participate in Spring practice.

Of course, the big price UCLA is chasing is Adoree Jackson out of Serra.  Jackson is an elite athlete and the type of electric playmaker that UCLA desperately needs.  At 5'10 170 lbs., he has good size for corner.  Jackson could also move to WR, where he'd be one of the top prospects in the country.  Generally, I think DL recruits are the most important prospects of any class, but Jackson may be the most explosive prospect out of any of UCLA's targets, and he should be the staff's biggest priority IMO.

Safeties

Status:  Safety is another position in which UCLA needs depth, but adding Tyler Foreman and Tahaan Goodman really helps soften the pressure.  Randall Goforth is entrenched as the starter at one of the safety positions, and either Goodman or Foreman should fill the other.

Commits: Jaleel Wadood.

Targets: Juju Smith; Budda Baker; Mattrell McGraw.

Outlook:  Wadood is another versatile DB that could probably play CB or S at the next level.  Scout lists him as the #8 S in the country, and most recruiting reports that I've read are very high on him.  At 5'11 170 lbs., he probably needs to add some weight to stick at S, but he's a very good athlete that will play a role right away.

Juju Smith and Budda Baker are both national recruits that UCLA is chasing hard.  Smith is a Long Beach Poly product and #1 safety in the nation.  UCLA offered him early, but it will be a long fight for his services.  Baker is from Bellevue HS, the same school that Myles Jack attended.  In fact, the two are close friends, which bodes well for UCLA.  Landing either Smith or Baker would be a huge success, especially after last year's safety class of Tyler Foreman and Tahaan Goodman.

After the top two products, Mattrell McGraw out of Louisiana, is our top option.  McGraw plays for John Curtis HS, the same school that MLB prospect Kenny Young and WR prospect Malichi Dupre attend.  He is supposedly high on UCLA, but it is always difficult to pull talent away from SEC country.

***

That concludes our first round-up of UCLA's 2014 recruiting efforts.  Fire away with any additional comments.

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