UCLA historically signs top 15 classes in football so we should always expect to lure top flight student-athletes to Westwood. I mean, UCLA sells itself. This year was no different as National Signing Day was indeed a bright spot for UCLA football as made some headlines signing the #1 California recruit, linebacker Mique Juarez.
1. Grade the recruiting class as a whole.
gbruin: A-. I can’t give it an A because there are still holes on the OL and we got nothing at corner after whiffing on some key targets. For the kids who signed, I think they are real quality players and I am very excited to see them play. The holes are on the coaching staff.
beer&math: 93%, A. Still 7% left on the table so to speak, but an A none-the-less. This class is solid on all levels with breadth, depth, and splash thanks to Mique and Boss. After reading gbruin’s comments, I have to agree that there are holes (CB, TE main ones) but, I feel, they were not priorities for this cycle. What I appreciate most of this class is that you can see that the staff appears thoughtful and deliberate by looking at who they brought in. Also, since I feel I’m in the minority with grading this class as an A, I need to explain what brings it up from the very reasonable A-. For me, I give credit for the surprises like Brandon Stephens, Adewale Omotosho, and Paco.
orlandobruin: As we all know, the merits of this class remain to be seen. Remember how many players we lost from last year’s stellar class? Chris Clark, Fred Ulu-Perry, Cordell Broadus. So, really, it is too early to tell. But, at this point, I think that the class is right on the cusp of being an A. As beer&math pointed out, we had some surprises. Nobody flipped. And we secured five of the eight prospects who announced on NSD and had UCLA as one of two or more choices. That is pretty darn good in my book. We will see about the OL and I agree with gbruin about the class being light on DBs, but that was not a huge position of need for us this season. We’ll need to do better with DBs next season.
Bruinette88: Let me break the grade down into components:
- Overall talent: A. This is one of the top 12 classes in the nation according to Scout, Rivals, and 247 Sports.
- Meeting needs: B+. As gbruin points out, we missed on our cornerback targets and we didn’t do a great job of meeting our needs on the offensive line.
- Fit to system: Incomplete. With a new offensive coordinator and some likely changes in our defensive scheme, it’s hard to know if we brought in the right players for the system. For example, if we need a traditional tight end, then can Jordan Wilson fill that role? I’m skeptical.
- Overall Grade: A-/B+
2. Who will have the most impact in the 2016 season on offense? Defense?
gbruin: Offense: Theo Howard. We have a great crop of receivers and this class really added to that, but Howard is special. He represents something we haven't had which is that burner who is a threat to make something awesome happen every time he touches the ball. He’s the player that defenses will fear and that will add a whole new dynamic to the offense..
Defense: Boss Tagaloa. I know Mique Juarez was the big prize, but we have good depth at OLB and Deon Hollins will still be the main focus for defenses. Tagaloa will fill a part of the enormous footprints left by Kenny Clark which is a much bigger hole on the defense. I think Boss will be effective enough as a freshman that offenses will have to account for him regularly, and he’ll relieve some of the focus on Eddie Vanderdoes and to a lesser degree Tak McKinley.
beer&math: Offense: It’s really no contest: Theo Howard. Gbruin nails it above as I’m excited to see what a truly elite (Christian Kirk-type) playmaker can do in Bruin Blue & Gold. I looked to the next option but, in my opinion, they are a year or two away. Stephens can be an even better Paul Perkins and Omotosho can be an even better Jordan Payton (HT BillytheSid)--but in 2017 or beyond not in 2016.
Defense: Defense: Late again, as gbruin has it right again. For our Bruins DL was a HUGE need with the absence of Kenny Clark and no heir apparent currently on the roster so Boss will (not can) immediately start from day 1. He’s already got the size and very advanced moves ready to wreck havoc on opposing Pac12 teams. His inexperience will be mitigated by playing alongside EFV. Yah, Mique is a stud and will play...but where? KLS is also a stud (I can’t wait to see him play!) who’s got dibs on OLB after Deon and Takk so Mique might just be unleashed as QB, RB, or OLB in some creative but minimal ways in 2016. Still, who will have more impact? Boss will play more doing the dirty work and Mique will get less touches but potentially more publicity (get ready for comparisons to Myles Jack ad nauseum). We’ll just have to wait and see.
orlandobruin: On offense, Theo Howard. I believe that he is an early enrollee so he’ll have plenty of time to develop chemistry with Josh Rosen and will participate in spring ball. Plus he gives us blazing speed. On defense, I am going with Mique Juarez, with Tagaloa a close second. Juarez is also an early enrollee and fills a huge position of need. The guy is the heir apparent to Myles Jack and I remember Jack making an impact in his second game as a true freshman (@ Nebraska).
Bruinette88: On offense, Jake Raulerson. Yeah, I know he’s not part of the actual recruiting class, but he’s effectively a recruit. More than any other incoming player, Raulerson’s ability to win the starting center job and be effective is likely to determine how successful the Bruins are next season.
On defense, Boss Tagaloa. The loss of Kenny Clark means that we desperately need a big body with a motor to anchor the defensive line next year and beyond. Tagaloa fills that need.
3. Which player are you personally most geeked over?
gbruin: Josh Rosen. Yes, still. Ok, this year? This year it’s easily Mique Juarez. His decision was the biggest recruiting story on the left coast, and getting him away from Southern Cal is a win on multiple fronts. He will be a huge addition on the field and his decision to leave SC and ultimately pick UCLA over the trogans and the SEC will resonate in the minds of future big time recruits, especially if he is successful in Westwood.
beer&math: This one is tough, very tough. Mique Juarez, Boss Tagaloa, Theo Howard, Krys Barnes, and Lokeni Toailoa would all be fine choices. But, I’m going to go with our first commit Breland Brandt. He’s a blue-chipper himself, a DE/LB tweener, and already on campus so he’ll be given a chance to compete with the big boys early. Watching this video, you can tell Breland is just such a great, grounded kid. Oh &, watching his tape he reminds me a lot of AB11 (had he played DE in HS) though I’m not sure if he has AB’s speed but he makes up for it with his overall freakish athleticism.
orlandobruin: Mallory Pugh? Oh, we’re talking about the other football. I’m going with Adewale Omotosho, out of Plano, Texas. I like the Texas recruits. Plus, I was not expecting to land Omotosho with UCLA already having Howard and others at WR. Rosen will have lots of options with this WR class. Honorable mention goes out to the special teams guys, punter Austin Kent, kicker JJ Molson, and long snapper Johnny Den Bleyker. I hate that those guys are devalued in the recruiting rankings. Den Bleyker was only a 2 star, and he is the top long snapper in the nation. People take punting and kicking for granted because those skills are so automatic in the NFL. Not so in college. As fans of the 2015 Florida Gators how important it is to have a guy who can make a field goal. Plus, we at UCLA are spoiled because we have a strong tradition of great kickers, punters, and long snappers.
Bruinette88: Brandon Burton. First, getting a top recruit from Serra High is a big deal. Second, Burton has great size and speed for a safety. I think he’s going to be a really good one.
4. Who was the best recruiter(s) on the staff?
gbruin: Josh Rosen. Oh, coaching staff? Got it. Scott White. He brought in the best LB class in the country. He was getting love on twitter on NSD from people who would know, like Anthony Barr. Now I wonder how much of Ulbrich’s recruiting was really White. Now, if the kid can perform at the level of a position coach and develop players to their potential and beyond, then we’ll have something very special. Adrian Klemm’s results were a disappointment this year, but he has set the bar really high in the past, and missing a bunch of time for whatever his violations were never helps. If he’s really going to stay on staff, (because maybe, hopefully, his coaching style works better in a pro-style offense compared to Mazzone’s spread) then we need to see a lot better results next year, both on the recruiting trail and along the line of scrimmage.
beer&math: The entire staff pulled their weight in my opinion, but the best group is easily the linebackers. Scott White has been with UCLA since Mora arrived so he’s not ‘new’ to working with our talented linebackers for the past few years. However, last season was his first as the official linebackers (and special teams, might I add) coach replacing xCoach Brick. With all the injuries last year, White gets a pass but what can’t be denied is that he’s already a proven stud recruiter. Going forward, this will be a fun race to watch out for. Who will be the best recruiter next year among White, Tuiasosopo, Polamalu, Klemm, and Mora?
orlandobruin: I gotta go with Scott White after I just published a Bruin Bites headline announcing that White was named PAC 12 Recruiter of the Year, right? gbruin is also correct, Johs Rosen was huge in the recruiting game, volunteering to host numerous recruits. Plus, if you are a receiver, don’t you want Rosen throwing you the ball?
Bruinette88: Scott White. My only reservation about choosing White is that the Pac-12 selected him as the conference Recruiter of the Year, and as we all know, the Pac-12 rarely gets anything right.
5. Rank the top 5 (or 6 if you prefer symmetry) teams in the Pac-12 with the best talent adding the 2016 recruits to the classes of 2013-2015.
gbruin: Including this class, it’s hard to think a team has a better combo of depth and pure talent that UCLA. Of course, Stanford recruited perfectly for their system and needs once again, and Southern Cal will always get their unfair share of talent. Washington and Colorado also pulled in very good classes this year. For pure talent on the roster, I’d rank UCLA & USC as 1 and 1a, followed by Stanford, UW, Oregon, and ASU.
beer&math: When you aggregate the classes for the past 4 years it’s tough to separate UCLA and $c even though the strategies are different in each case. After these two there’s a drop to Oregon & Stanford*, then another drop to ASU & Washington. That’s the gut/memory reaction. Let’s see how it stacks up to the data. Using the past four classes (per Scout):
|School||Recruiting Class ranking ('13-'14-'15-'16)||Average|
Stanford average is skewed by the 2013 class which was ranked 57. Throw that clear outlier out and their number rises to 18.7; right at #3 behind UCLA-$C where we'd expect. Oregon and Stanford have been 1 or 2 in the conference while they are not in recruiting. Moral: Coaching matters. Having an identity matters.
orlandobruin: UCLA and Southern Cal are about even as #1 and #2. Then Stanford. After that, I think that there is a significant drop to Oregon at #4. After that, I would say U-Dub and ASU, but Cal is a very, very close #7.
Bruinette88: In my opinion, talent alone matters less than bringing in talent that fits the system. Therefore, while I agree with beer&math that UCLA has done the best job of accumulating talented players, I rate the Bruins third in recruiting talent that matches the system. I have Southern Cal and Stanford ahead of UCLA, with Oregon, Washington and the party school in 4th-6th.
6. What conclusions (if any) can you draw about the direction of the offense with new offensive coordinator Kennedy Polamalu?
gbruin: I can’t say really. The wealth of incoming wide receivers makes me think that even if the Bruins do move to a more pro-style offense, they’ll still be throwing the ball a ton. You’d be crazy not to with Rosen, right? But Polamalu always struck me as a classic football guy: line up head up and beat up the guy across the line.
beer&math: I want so bad to draw firm conclusions about the offensive philosophy next year, but really I can’t. We have no record of Polamalu as a playcaller so who really knows? Polamalu is known to be a very smart guy who is a meticulous planner but what separates ‘good’ from ‘great’ OC, in my opinion, is calling plays after the defense makes adjustments. Everyone at this level can scheme and plan, only the elite can adapt. Easily one of the most intriguing storylines to watch out for in the spring and beyond.
orlandobruin: I wish we would have landed Asiasi. That would have cemented for me the fact the Bruins are moving more toward a pro style offense that utilized a traditional tight end and full back. You know, an offense that can punish defenses and grind clock when it wants too. Jalen Starks (6’1” 240 lbs.) definitely meets the definition of a traditional full back. Jordan Wilson (6’5”, 210 lbs.) fits the mould of a Thomas Duarte type, non-traditional tight end (at least with respect to his size. Frankly, the direction of the offense remains to be seen. Coach Mora stated in his NSD presser that there would be position changes. That might have an effect. Also, let’s not forget that Polamalu played fullback in college, so there’s that.
Bruinette88: It’s too early to draw conclusions. I hope that we make the transition to a more pro-style offense. I think that, for the most part, we have the players to be successful in a pro-style offense. However, as orlandobruin notes, landing a traditional tight end would have been helpful in that respect.
7. The Extra-Point. The floor is yours…
gbruin: I’m going for 2… First, the unheralded part of this class is the special teams players. Getting the nation’s top 1 or 2 at punter, kicker, and long snapper is just sick. If those guys live up to the hype, it will be a huge advantage for UCLA. BTW, Alabama has no dedicated special teams coach, and we all saw that onside kick versus Clemson.
Second, this is Mora’s 5th year coming up. Every player on the roster except Steven Manfro is his. Mora said we needed to be bigger and stronger and this is the class he brought in. The recruiting rankings and the eye test both make it clear: the Bruins have the talent necessary to win the conference and go deep in the national race. If we don’t, there’s only one place to point. Get it done, coaches.
beer&math: I have written a bunch of posts detailing UCLA’s top-tier recruiting (see here, here, here, and here). It’s time for UCLA to win a Pac-12 championship. Win now (2016), or I fear we will never win one under Mora. No excuses.
orlandobruin: I swear I wrote my portion about Kent, Molson, and Den Bleyker before scrolling down to gbruin’s praise for those guys and how important those types of players are to a program! I am glad that UCLA makes it a priority to get those guys, even if it (unfairly IMO) lowers out average star rating. But I digress. My extra point is this: the 2016 class is step two (step one was the exit of the Mazzones). It does not guarantee a thing. Step 3 is getting our players (old and new) physically ready for the 2016 season. Coach Mora said at some point in San Bernardino before the season that the Bruins “looked like a football team,” referring to the increased size of the players. Well, five losses later, including humiliations against Stanford, Souther Cal, and a loss to Nebraska, in which UCLA was literally pushed around like a teenage boy harassing his 9 year old little brother, Mora said we need to get bigger and stronger. Well, this year, there can be no lip service. We need to get bigger and stronger and we will not know if that is the case until we line up against the likes of Stanford at the Rose Bowl. If we do not complete Step 3, was will not move the needle closer to where we all want this program to be.
Bruinette88: As others have noted, the addition of a tremendous group of special teams players is an extremely important addition to this class and isn’t reflected in the class rankings. In particular, we’ve suffered through two seasons without a top-notch punter; it’s easy to underestimate the value of a good, reliable punter. Here’s hoping that Austin Kent is a four-year solution to our punting problems.
That’s it for the Post-NSD 2016 Roundtable. Thanks to everyone for sharing their thoughts and I welcome anyone else to share their own answers in the comments.
If you have any of your own questions, fire away in the comments as well.