Now that we’ve had time to really look into the recently signed recruits and weigh the positives and negatives, the writers of Bruins Nation discuss their opinions of this class and where UCLA football needs to go from here.
1. Now that Signing Day 2017 is in the books, what is your overall impression of this class?
Nirya: I wrote about this a bit, but my overall impression is that the 2017 class both overachieved relative to the 2016 season and underachieved based on UCLA’s recruiting history under Mora. There are some studs, and the defensive drop-off won't be as bad as I initially feared, but there were some clear misses in the class.
AnteatersandBruins: I think we have deficiencies on offense that will affect us this year and next. We have no elite running backs and we have failed to develop the ones we have. We have some good additions coming in on the offensive line and some impact players on defense.
Joe Piechowski: I’ve got mixed feelings about this class. On one hand, there are some great prospects in it, like Jaelan Phillips and Darnay Holmes. On the other, we didn’t get as much help as we really need in certain areas like the offensive line.
2. Will the lack of a running back in this class greatly impact the 2017 season? Will this have implications down the line?
Nirya: No to either. The Bruins don't actually lose any running backs this year and are pretty loaded in the backfield, so RB recruiting was more of a luxury.
AnteatersandBruins: I really hope not. We had NO run game last year, and that had more to do with a bad offensive line and nothing to do with talent. I can only hope we continue to develop what we have.
Joe Piechowski: I’m not sure but I tend to say, “Probably not.” But, that’s because it’s my belief that the lack of a running game last season had more to do with a lack of coaching than a lack of talent.
3. We have a preferred walk on quarterback, but nothing compared to the elite status Rosen had coming in two years ago. Will this be an issue going forward, or are we OK with Devon Modster, Matt Lynch, and the rest of the group?
Nirya: Well, the Bruins also got Austin Burton, 3-star QB out of Florida, but I understand where this question is coming from. UCLA missed real bad at QB recruiting this cycle, failing to land any of their top targets in a year that should have been an easy sell (redshirt a year then take over for Josh in 2018!). This was why I was OK with coach Tui leaving, especially considering Jeff Fisch has a good track record at bringing in and developing QBs (it doesn't hurt that his hiring almost wraps up Dorian Thompson-Robinson for the next cycle).
AnteatersandBruins: As Joe said last year, Mike Fafaul was the most important person on the team last year, and he said it in August! We aren’t as deep as we need to be at that position and it really showed in 2016. I hope our new guys pan out.
Joe Piechowski: Jim Mora and staff need to do a better job recruiting in general. Why? Because that’s what it takes to win a national championship these days. It’s no mistake that Alabama, the team that has consistently been at the top of the recruiting class rankings has consistently been playing for the national title. That means having depth and I’m not talking about 3-star depth. I’m talking about the same kind of depth that you see with the elite programs out there like ‘Bama and Ohio State.
4. UCLA had some great additions on defense. Who will have the biggest impact?
Nirya: The easy answer is Jaelan Phillips, so I'm going to go with Darnay Holmes. UCLA has lacked a true lockdown cornerback in the Mora era, so getting someone with Holmes’ skill set is huge.
AnteatersandBruins: I’m taking the easy one. Jaelan Phillips, especially since he enrolled early. He’s getting acclimated to the college scene well before the season starts, and I really believe this can be a big factor in an 18 year old’s life.
Joe Piechowski: Phillips. He should step right in as a starter after being on campus early and participating in Spring Practice.
5. How will the offensive line look next season with the new additions to the line?
Nirya: I'd say that if any of the new offensive linemen find themselves playing a substantial amount of plays this next season, then something has gone terribly wrong. Of the additions, Zack Sweeney is probably the best option for early playing time due to being a 3 year starter at Florida powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas, but Stephan Zabie has the most raw talent of the group and was a huge pickup on NSD.
AnteatersandBruins: Since we have a new offensive line coach and offensive coordinator, I’m going to say that we’ll look a lot better due to the fact that we have a new coaching outlook and talent coming in with Stephan Zabie.
Joe Piechowski: I really like what I’m hearing about Stephan Zabie. Any time you can get a big tackle like him, it’s a huge plus. At the same time, we finally have some depth at center. I would have like to have seen a few more linemen in this class, but we’ll have to take what we got and hope we can add even more depth with graduate transfers.
6. Which coach is deserving of a shout out in this recruiting cycle?
Nirya: Two coaches in particular stood out: Demetrice Martin and Angus McClure. Coach Meat reeled in the two biggest fish in Phillips and Holmes to go along with a pretty stacked secondary class, while McClure augmented the Phillips signing with an incredibly-good defensive line class. Also quick shoutout to Hank Fraley for getting Zabie on such short notice.
AnteatersandBruins: Coach Meat. If there was a coach in a tweeted picture by a recruit, it was him. Definitely deserves props for his efforts.
Joe Piechowski: I’m with Nirya. Demetrice Martin and Angus McClure both brought the boom!
7. Final thoughts?
Nirya: Ok, I know I kinda skipped over him, but it cannot be stressed enough how good Jaelan Phillips is. He's a generational talent in skill and a great ambassador for the school, and it's going to be a joy watching him these next 3 years before he leaves early for the NFL and makes all the money.
AnteatersandBruins: We didn’t get a whole lot of five stars, but we have a lot of guys coming with talent that is yet to be tapped into. Our development of our “middle” recruits is going to be key since they usually stick around all four years and can have a longer lasting impact than a four or five star that leaves early.
Joe Piechowski: This was an atypical class for Jim Mora. Maybe it was the 4-8 season. Maybe it was something else. I’m not sure. But, for the first time in a while, I think Southern Cal really won the Crosstown battle on National Signing Day. I do remember that there was a point in late summer when our recruiting class had basically collapsed and that’s just not acceptable. The coaching staff needs to do a better job recruiting and keeping the recruiting class together.
I’ve also noticed that Jim Mora has suddenly changed his tone. He’s no longer talking about winning a national championship. Now, he’s just talking about winning the conference and I have a huge problem with that. By doing that, he’s starting to sound like Terry Donahue in the late eighties and early nineties and that’s not acceptable.
Given that the key to a national championship appears to be recruiting, I expect Mora and staff to re-double their efforts and have a better year next year and that starts now.