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UCLA Football 2014 Pre-Season Preview: Receivers

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As part of Bruins Nation's ongoing pre-season preview, our attention moves to a talented group of receivers poised to break out.

Jonathan Ferrey

Given the tempo that OC Noel Mazzone wants to run his offense, depth at the four receiver positions is a critical component to the success of the offense.  We've already seen how Mazzone uses the depth, constantly using different receiver packages and spreading the ball out to many players.  Last year's leading receiver, Shaq Evans, led the team with only 47 receptions.  Let's take a look at how I think the depth chart will look when the season starts:

WR

SLOT WR (F)

TE (Y)

WR

Jordan Payton (JR)

Devin Fuller (JR)

Thomas Duarte (SO)

Devin Lucien (RS JR)

Eldridge Massington (RS FR)

Jalen Ortiz (SO)

Nate Iese (RS SO)

Kenneth Walker (RS SO)

Logan Sweet (RS JR)

Darren Andrews (SO)

Alex Van Dyke (FR)

Tyler Scott (RS JR)

Mossi Johnson (FR)

Roosevelt Davis (RS JR)

Austin Roberts (FR)(Out for season with knee injury)

Jordan Lasley (FR)

Ahmaad Harris (RS SO)

As mentioned above, the biggest loss will be Hundley's top target in Shaq Evans.  While he led the team with only 47 receptions, he turned those opportunities into 709 yards and 9 TD's.  Generally, he was the receiver who could consistently take the top off defenses.  His replacement will be talented but thus far inconsistent Devin Lucien.  Lucien has shown flashes of brilliance in his two years at UCLA, and he's the best chance at a legit deep threat on the roster.  Lucien has also disappeared at times and dropped catchable balls, so hopefully he turns the corner this year and turns his promise into reality.  Last year he managed only 19 catches for 339 yards and 2 TD's, but with more opportunities it would not be hard to envision him matching Evans' production.

UCLA really lacks an ideal substitute behind Lucien, so we'll list Walker here for now even though he's more of an F type.  Walker's 5'9 175 lbs. frame may not be suited for the outside, but he apparently looked good in Spring practice at that spot.  I think Andrews could get a good shot outside as well.  Although he's not much bigger than Walker, he has elite top end speed.

At the other wideout spot, Jordan Payton and Eldridge Massington form a pretty solid duo.  Payton managed 38 catches for 441 yards and 3 TD's last year while Massington redshirted and rehabilitated an injured knee.  According to multiple practice reports, Massington was essentially fully healed by the end of last year and could run full speed with the scouting team.  When he finally suits up and plays, he will have had over a year and a half with the program because he enrolled early and red shirted, so he should be able to come out the gates ready to contribute.  Payton has consistently improved and should be Hundley's favorite target next season.  He's not the biggest or the fastest receiver, but he runs great routes and finds ways to get open.

The Bruins do return a lot of depth at the F spot.  Fuller returns as the obvious starter.  He tallied 43 receptions for 471 yards and 4 TD's last year.  Remember, he played QB in high school and is still refining his skills, so expect him to be even better this year.  After Fuller, Ortiz, Andrews, and Walker are all capable options.  Ahmaad Harris has not done much since arriving in Westwood, and given the talent in front of him on the depth chart this year, I don't expect to see him much this season.

The Y position was somewhat underutilized last year because of youth, but I believe Duarte will have a big showing this year.  He had some good moments last season, and his frame and receiving ability are perfect for the position.  I wouldn't be surprised if he matches Big Joe Fauria's receiving numbers from 2012 (45 receptions, 620 yards), but matching his red zone production (12 touchdowns) may be a stretch.  Iese's only catch last year was a TD, and he fills more of the blocking Y role.  He has good athleticism and size, and I believe he'll have better production this year.

The incoming group of Austin Roberts, Jordan Lasley, Alex Van Dyke, and Mossi Johnson took an early blow this summer when Roberts suffered a season ending knee injury over the summer.  Roberts would have likely stepped in and played early at the Y, but now the staff may look to move Van Dyke's 6'4 frame into that slot.  Van Dyke has the size to play early, but if he does move to Y, he'll be a clear third on the depth chart.  Mossi Johnson took a grey shirt season last year while rehabbing a knee injury, but he apparently looked very good in Spring Camp and surprised a lot of onlookers.  I wouldn't be surprised if he moved into a rotational role quickly based on what I've read.  Lasley is probably the most likely red shirt candidate, but he should bring a lot of attitude the position which may help him get some early action.

Overall, this is a very solid group of receivers that only lacks a legitimate homerun threat.  Lucien, Payton, and Fuller are all capable of making plays, but neither has developed into the type of receiver that forces defenses to game plan around.  If one of those three, or someone outside that group, steps in to that role, UCLA's passing offense could develop into one of the best aerial attacks in the country.

Go Bruins!