Spring football has been shut down. We’re left with more questions about the UCLA football team. Yet, we know enough about the returning players from their time on the field in years prior that I decided to take a look around the roster and rank the 10 best players returning to action later this fall.
This list is largely based upon film, not statistics, and should also be noted that this is just for returning players and not incoming freshmen or transfers.
Important to note that with any cross-positional rankings, the value of the player’s impact at his position is also weighed heavily as is his documented plus-play, ability to avoid negative play and other factors.
Here are the top 10 returning players to UCLA for the 2020 football season:
1. Jake Burton, OT
Last year’s starter at right tackle, Burton looked every bit like a seasoned veteran and future NFLer in 2019. He paved the way for Joshua Kelley with ease and kept his own in pass protection against some formidable foes. He may have bent at times, allowing multiple sacks, but he has tremendous movement and feet for a man his size. He improved from 2018 into 2019 and that should be expected again in 2020. Look for big, big things from the big, big man on the right.
2. Demetric Felton, RB/WR
With a whopping 229 carries to fill in 2020, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a majority of those to go to Felton this fall. And that won’t be because he’s just the next man up or the team’s leading returning rusher. It will be a product of his incredible elusiveness, sense of balance through contact and strength with the ball in his hands. What he lacks in statute, he makes up for in those aforementioned attributes and will play a major part in the rushing and receiving games for the Bruins in 2020. Either way he gets it, just get Felton the ball.
3. Osa Odighizuwa, DI
The team leader in sacks and total pressures from a season ago, Odighizuwa is primed to do so once again in 2020. He’s a sure tackler in the run game and a pass-rush specialist on the interior of the defensive line. He moves much faster than you’d expect a guy to move on the interior and can dictate where opposing offense heads in-game. Odighizuwa has the game-changing ability to make an offensive game plan shift during the game and if you want to see that in action, head to the Stanford-UCLA game from a season ago. He’s improved in every year on campus and 2020 should be more of the same.
4. Kyle Phillips, WR
Phillips took over at times in 2019, giving us glimpses of what could be for him in 2020. When he was on, he was on fire and his quarterback certainly could feel it. He saw at least double-digit targets in three different outings a year ago and those were absolutely his best games (Stanford, Utah, USC). He’s an after-the-catch threat with the ball in his hands and he runs a solid in-breaking route tree. Phillips has the chance to be the best slot receiver in the Pac-12 this season.
5. Stephan Blaylock, S
A monster at the catch point for opposing receivers, Blaylock made multiple plays on the ball a season ago, not by breaking it up, but by breaking the receiver at the ball. He allowed just two receptions over 30+ yards a year ago and though he didn’t come away with any of the ‘splash plays’ that box-score scouts love to see, still made a heavy impact in the passing game. He’s as a more-than-capable run defender and had a half a season of terrific tackling on display in 2019.
6. Quentin Lake, S
Lake played just four games a year ago, but in those four games, looked every bit of a top-caliber defensive back with the last name ‘Lake’ on his jersey plate. He was credited with six stops against Cincinnati in the season opener, proving his worth as one of the only defensive players to really show up against the Bearcats in Week 1 last year. He didn’t allow a big play at all in his snaps in coverage in 2019 after a year of domination in coverage during the 2018 season. A healthy return to form in 2020 should only mean good things for him and the UCLA secondary.
7. Chase Cota, WR
Color me a Chase Cota fan more than the next guy. There may not be a whole lot of documented top-end play from Cota, but when he does give us those big-time moments, he makes you say ‘wow’ more often than not. It’s not surprising to see a guy of his size out-jumping smaller defensive backs but his ability to navigate to the football in the air really outweighs that athleticism. With more targets will come more highlight-reel moments for Cota.
8. Carl Jones, LB
Much like Felton on the offensive side of the ball, there are a ton of tackles to go around with the loss of a few key defensive players from last year. Jones flew around the field last year and looks the part to be that guy to fill the loss of Josh Woods in the linebacking corps if his 2019 tape is any indicator. He was a sure tackler and has very good blitz timing on limited snaps when he rushed the passer. Improving his coverage skills will be paramount over the middle, especially against some pass-happy Pac-12 teams who utilize the middle ground with relative ease against the Bruins last year but he has the chance to be great.
9. Sean Rhyan, OT
The other tackle, Rhyan seemed to catch on as the season went along last year, unsurprisingly for the first-year player making his first 12 collegiate starts at left tackle. Rhyan had some rough performances to start the year, perhaps most notably at Cincinnati when he just couldn’t hold up his side of the line but as the year progressed, he improved greatly. With another offseason and a full year behind him, the sophomore leap is incoming.
10. Jaylen Erwin, WR
Haulingin 32 catches last season, Erwin is another after-the-catch threat for DTR and Co. on offense. He never had that ‘breakout performance’ in 2019 but the routes he runs are crisp and his presence outside could pay dividends if Phillips’ inside presence continues to explode. Getting Erwin the ball on scripted screens should be a priority as he lacks a bit of skill to separate from defenders but has every bit of the ability to make you miss in space.
Honorable Mention: Atonio Mafi, OL (DL); Otito Ogbonnia, DI; Jay Shaw, CB; Elisha Guidry, S; Shea Pitts, Edge; Dorian Thompson-Robinson, QB
So, how’d I do? Who are your top 10 returning players for 2020?