UCLA Football Recruiting - Defensive Reset

Harry How

We take a look at UCLA's recruiting efforts on the defensive side of the ball.

Yesterday, we took a look at the status of UCLA's recruiting efforts on the offensive side of the ball. Today, we'll take a look at the defensive side of the ball.

Defensive Linemen

Status: After signing McCarthy two years ago and Kenneth Clark, DT looked like a position of strength. However, adding Eddie Vanderdoes takes the unit over the top in terms of future projection. Seali'i Espenesa started last season and will likely battle McCarthy for the starting spot this year. Vanderdoes may not be available this season, but the fact that he's in the program allows the staff to only chase elite DT's this year.

Cassius Marsh is entering his SR season and is a rock at DE. Owamagbe Odighizuwa is the other tentative starter, but he has some health issues and may require a red shirt year. Kylie Fitts projects as a future starter, and we'll also likely see Nate Iese and Jeremy Castro play here next year, and McCarthy may also end up at DE as well.

Commits: None.

Targets: DT Khairi Clark; DT Bryan Mone; DT Ainuu Taua; DT Travonte Valentine; DT Tashon Smallwood; DE Solomon Thomas; DE Malik McDowell; DE Nifae Lealao; DE Rashaan Evans; DE Qualen Cunningham; DE Malik Dorton; DE Matt Dickerson; DE Kennedy Emesibe

Outlook: Realistically, Khairi Clark and Travonte Valentine are little more than pipe dreams. Clark is the #1 DT in the country and looks to be favoring in state schools Miami and Florida. Valentine is also a Florida product, but he appears to be leaning towards Alabama.

Bryan Mone and Tashon Smallwood are committed to Michigan and USC, respectively. Mone stands 6'4 316 lbs. and would be an ideal NT, and the Utah product may not be completely locked in to Michigan. Smallwood is a little smaller at 6'1 285 lbs., but he has big upside. Smallwood plays for Central High East in Fresno, and he committed to USC quickly after receiving an offer. Our staff will continue to chase him, and given USC's questionable coaching situation, he may be obtainable.

UCLA has looked like the leader for Ainuu Taua for some time, but at 6'1 270 lbs., it's not clear whether he has the frame and size for NT. He's also a little short to play DE, and it's not clear where he would fit in. Despite the size concern, he 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.

At defensive end, UCLA is chasing 6 top 25 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, but we do appear to be falling behind in his recruiting. Similarly, Malik McDowell would be a huge get, but the 6'6 300 lbs. prospect out of Detroit appears to be favoring other schools.

Of the elite out of state prospects, we might have our best shot at Rashaan Evans, a 6'3 215 lbs. DE out of Alabama. Pulling him out of the South would be a coup, but he has shown interest. He would likely end up as an OLB in our system, but I'll list him here.

In state prospect Nifae Lealao out of Sacramento has ideal size at 6'5 270 lbs., but he does appear to be Stanford's to lose at this point. Thankfully, he is in Angus McClure's recruiting region, and we'll continue to chase him until signing day.

After those four, there is a mix of less heralded players and tweener types that only questionably fit our system. Qualen Cunningham and Malik Dorton are both 4* DE's, but they are both undersized for our system. Cunningham is 6'4 225 lbs. out of Hamilton HS in Arizona, while Dorton is 6'3 235 and plays at St. John Bosco. They would both likely end up as pass rushing OLB's in Spanos' defense.

Matt Dickerson out of Serra is less heralded than Cunningham or Dorton, but at 6'5 270 lbs., he has the size to fit at DE. He's a 3* prospect, but he has offers from Nebraska, Notre Dame, Oregon, and USC, so the staff will have to work for him.

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 has been absolutely dominant, and the staff will be hard pressed to find another outside backer like him. Kenny Orjioke, Aaron Wallace, Keenan Graham, and Aramide Olanyian provide quality depth, but the three freshman, Myles Jack, Deon Hollins, and Cameron Judge, will all likely come in and have a chance to play..

Inside, Eric Kendricks and Jordan Zumwalt return as incumbent starters. Redshirt FR Aaron Porter looked much better in the Spring, and he'll have a good chance at solid playing time next year. Isaac Savaiinea will also have a shot to play early.

Commits: None.

Targets: OLB Dwight Williams; OLB D.J. Calhoun; OLB Marquis Ware; MLB Kenny Young; MLB Michael Lazarus.

Outlook: 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. Williams has not said much about his recruitment yet, but his offer list is expansive.

D.J. Calhoun plays for El Cerrito, and similarly fits into the nickle backer role. At 6'1 205 lbs., he's even smaller than Williams and may end up at S. At this point, it looks like a battle between UCLA and USC for Calhoun.

The last OLB prospect is Marquis Ware, the #3 OLB in the west after Williams and Calhoun. Ware plays for Salesian and made it clear that he intends to take his time in the recruiting process. At 6'2 210 lbs., he's also a little smaller at this point, but he has a bigger frame and will likely be able to grow into a true OLB.

At MLB, there are two names to keep an eye on. First, 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. The other MLB to look out for is Michael Lazarus out of Berkeley HS. The #12 MLB prospect doesn't have an offer from UCLA yet, and oddly enough he doesn't have many offers at all, but the coaches have been recruiting him hard. If he decides to camp at UCLA, he'll likely earn an offer at that point.

Cornerbacks

Status: With Aaron Hester and Sheldon Price graduating, the defense lost two long term starters. Anthony Jefferson had an impressive Spring, but Ishmael Adams was limited and Marcus Rios could not participate, and Fabian Moreau is still learning the position. Behind those four, we'll see incoming freshmen Priest Willis and Johnny Johnson who will both likely earn playing time this year. At this point, CB is a position of need and the staff is pursuing a number of targets. The need for top flight CB's is magnified by Spanos' aggressive scheme, which relies on a lot of man coverage on the outside.

Commits: None.

Targets: Adoree Jackson; Tyler Whiley; John Plattenburg; Adarius Pickett; Jonathan Lockett.

Outlook: UCLA is in the mix for all 5 cornerbacks, all of which are 4* or better. At the top of the list, Adoree Jackson out of Serra 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. I said two years ago that Ellis McCarthy was the most important recruit of the class. We got him. Last year, I said Eddie Vanderdoes was the most important recruit of the class. It took some time, but we got him. This year, I think Adoree Jackson is the most important recruit of the class. Hopefully the pattern continues.

Like Jackson, Tyler Whiley is a candidate at receiver as well. He's a little bigger at 6'1 190 lbs., and the Arizona product is very high on UCLA. The staff likes big corners, and Whiley is definitely one of the top targets in the secondary.

Local products John Plattenburg out of Centennial and Jonathan Locket out of Mater Dei are both solid options and both like UCLA. Plattenburg shot up the recruiting charts after some standout spring performances, and the word is that the 5'11 187 lbs. corner is very high on UCLA. Lockett is similarly sized at 5'11 170 lbs. and has also stood out in the spring camp circuit.

Adarius Pickett is out of El Cerrito and has great size at 6'0 185 lbs. Pickett is also a very good baseball player, and he will likely end up at a school with a good hardball program. He has an extensive offer list, and will likely go through the entire recruiting process.

Safeties

Status: Safety is another position in which both starters from last season are no longer in the program. Andrew Abbott graduated and Tevin McDonald was dismissed, leaving Stan McKay, Randall Goforth, and Dietrich Riley. The team may also get Dietrich Riley back next year.

Commits: None.

Targets: Juju Smith; Budda Baker; Mattrell McGraw; Jeff Farrar; Glen Inhenacho.

Outlook: 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, and local Jeff Farrar out of Upland and Glen Inhenacho out of Serra are solid options. 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.

Farrar is a solid WR prospect with excellent size at 6'1 193 lbs. He has had a strange recruitment, and some outlets reported that he committed last year. He has been high on UCLA for some time, but UCLA may be slow playing him, which could lead to him looking elsewhere.

Inhenacho is yet another Serra prospect. If you recall, his brother was a standout at San Jose St., but the younger sibling is a much more heralded prospect. He has an offer from UCLA, and the staff's interest has been picking up lately. He may camp at UCLA, which would go a long way in his recruitment.

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

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