Welcome to Bruins Nation’s 2015 UCLA Football Fall Preview: Wide Receivers. Senior, Jordan Payton, headlines a strong core of returning starters and, along with several returning rotation players and a few young promising stars potentially ready to have breakout seasons, UCLA is expecting big things from its receivers this season.
This preview is not going to make any assumptions about who will start at quarterback for the Bruins, Josh Rosen or Jerry Neuheisel. I would note, however, that whoever starts for the Bruins will need to be able to rely upon the receiving corps (as well as a strong running game) in order to have a successful season. Crisp routes, no dropped balls, and ball security will be the keys to Bruin’s success in the passing game as it relates to the wide receivers.
That said, let’s take a look at some of the wide receivers and tight ends who are expected to be impact players during the 2015 season. Jordan Payton is one of two seniors who figure to play a prominent role in UCLA’s offense the season. In 2014, Payton led the Bruins in receiving yardage (954 yards), receptions (67 catches), and touchdown receptions (7). Payton saw action in both his freshman and sophomore years, but he really blossomed last season as the Bruins’ go to receiver after the departure of Shaq Evans in the 2014 draft. Jordan was a favorite target of Brett Hundley, and he figures to be a major target for whomever is under center for UCLA. Payton just missed making it into the 1,000 yard club last season, and I expect him to break that barrier this season as he continues to mature as a player in his final year of college eligibility.
UCLA’s other senior, Devin Fuller, is also expected to play a larger role in the Bruin offense the season. Fuller, who played a lot of slot receiver in previous seasons, may get the nod as the other outside receiver. Some reports following UCLA’s spring practice indicated that Eldridge Massington didn’t have a great camp. That, combined with Mossi Johnson’s excellent camp, fueled rumors that Massington could move down the depth chart and that Mossi Johnson, who is 6’0" and 185 lbs., might get the start at slot receiver, moving Fuller over to the outside receiver position. Of course, that could change with Fall camp. You can also be sure that Noel Mazzone will have packages in which Fuller is in the slot. If Fuller starts on the outside (I personally do not think he will; I think he'll start in the slot), he'll be a bit undersized at 6'0" and 195 lbs.
Redshirt sophomore, Eldridge Massington, and true sophomore Mossi Johnson, had solid seasons for UCLA in their first year of action. Massington and Johnson caught 25 and 23 passes respectively. Massington racked up 367 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns, while Johnson amassed 232 receiving yards with one touchdown. As mentioned above, Johnson had a great spring camp, whereas Massington . . . not so much. Whether Massington (6’3" 210 lbs.) starts on the outside or Johnson starts in the slot (with Fuller filling the other position), expect both of these guys to have plenty of balls thrown their way in 2015. If he rounds into form, Massington could be a big strong target, sort of a lifeline, for either Rosen or Neuheisel. Despite his Spring practice, I expect Massington to play better in Fall camp, and start on opening day on the outside.
Because UCLA does not have a true tight end in most of its offensive formations, instead moving the so-called "Y" receiver into the other slot in Mazzone’s typical for receiver set, this preview will also talk about junior Thomas Duarte, reshirt junior Nate Iese, and 5 star true freshman Chris Clark, each of whom is expected to play some "Y." Simply stated, Duarte (6’3" 223 lbs.) had a monster season last year despite missing a few games due to injuries. Duarte had four touchdown receptions and 540 receiving yards, the second most in both categories by a Bruin. Duarte averaged 19.3 yards per catch, only behind Kenny Walker III, who had three catches on the season for 127 yards, a 42.3 yards per catch average. Because of his experience and the fact that he it’s the mold as a traditional Y receiver in Coach Mazzone’s offense, Duarte should start and get the majority of the snaps in 2015.
Nate Iese, listed at 6’3" 250 lbs., is truly a fullback but, since there is typically no fullback in Mazzone’s one back set, expect Iese to get most of his touches through the air at the Y position. Last season, Iese caught 12 passes, two of which were for touchdowns. Five star recruit, Chris Clark (6’5" 253 lbs.), is also not a traditional Y receiver, but is a traditional tight end. Iese and Clark will battle to get snaps at the Y position behind Thomas Duarte. Iese could see more snaps early in the season, whereas Clark, assuming he develops the player he could be, could move ahead of Iese on the depth chart by the end of the season. Due to his talent and athleticism, it is reasonable to conclude that Chris Clark will see plenty of time on the field in his true freshman season, whether he starts in the two deep or not.
Redshirt junior Kenny Walker III, redshirt junior Ahmaad Harris, redshirt senior Tyler Scott, and redshirt senior Logan Sweet caught three, three, two, and one passes last season respectively. Although Walker has blazing speed and 2 of his 3 cataches went for touchdowns, he has demonstrated that he is inconsistent at best at catching the football. That doesn't bode well for his chances in a situation with inexperience at quaterback, where the offense needs sure hands both to move the ball and to build confidence in a young quarterback. Plus, if Walker is in the game, defenses can bet that he'll be trying to extend the field, and adjust accordingly. Walker, Harris, Scott, and Sweet should see some action this season, but I do not expect them to play prominent roles for UCLA.
There are few young receivers who could have breakout seasons for UCLA. Redshirt freshman Jordan Lasley, has tremendous talent and could make his way into the rotation. The same can be said for redshirt freshman Austin Roberts, redshirt sophomore Darren Andrews, and true sophomore Alex Van Dyke. Four star, true freshman Cordell Brodus could also garner some playing time. The performance of these players in Fall camp will dictate, to a large extent, who will see the field, especially early in the season. For now, I am going with Lasley (because of his potential) and Van Dyke (because of his size--6'3" 212 lbs.) in the two deep.
Here is my projected depth chart for 2015 UCLA Bruins receiving corps in the favored four receiver set:
|Jordan Payton (Sr.)
|Devin Fuller (Sr.)
|Thomas Duarte (Jr.)
|Eldridge Massington (RSo.)
|Jordan Lasely (RFr)
|Mossi Johnson (So.)
|Nate Iese (RJr)
|Alex Van Dyke (So.)
Of course, because of the up-tempo offense, one can expect that UCLA will go beyond these eight receivers every game and will find ways to get the ball to other receivers' hands. Although I have not listed him on the two deep, I expect and hope that Chris Clark will develop and push Nate Iese hard for the backup Y position. Nothing against Iese, but Clark was not the top rated tight end out of high school for nothing.
That’s a wrap for the wide receiver preview. Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below. We are only 30 days away from UCLA football!! Go Bruins!