With National Signing Day in the books, it makes sense to take one last look at the incoming class of UCLA Bruins to get a better handle on who is coming to Westwood. With this piece focusing on the offensive recruits, I’ll be looking at who the headliner is, who could break out as soon as next season, and who to watch out for down the line. Let’s get started.
Headliner: Sean Rhyan
On the one hand, of course the only consensus 4-star recruit would take this spot. But UCLA could have also convinced any number of 4-star and 5-star recruits to come, and I’d still have a hard time not giving this spot to Rhyan, because he’s that good and that important to UCLA’s success going forward. The story of Rhyan’s recruitment really was a best-case scenario for the UCLA recruiting strategy of 2019; Rhyan is the rare recruit who lacks much of a social media presence and was extremely receptive to UCLA’s business-style recruiting pitch. Famously, Rhyan took his official visit during the Southern Cal game (both schools were considered the finalists for Rhyan), and UCLA’s line play that day was enough to convince him that Westwood should be his home.
To give you an idea of how good Sean Rhyan is, it should be noted that Rhyan played all 5 positions along the offensive line in the lead-up to the All-American Bowl and hegraded extremely well at each spot. Given the departure of Andre James to the NFL, the left tackle spot would appear to be Rhyan’s to take, though I would say that he is ultimately destined for a guard spot. Either way, Chip Kelly and OC/OL coach Justin Frye now have some incredibly good building blocks for the offensive line going forward.
Honorary Mention: No one really, Rhyan is that talented.
One to Watch: Michael Martinez
I watched a lot of Mater Dei football games this past year. I don’t know why beyond being bored on a Friday night and needing a football fix. But I will say that Michael Martinez made every game a fun viewing experience as it felt like he averaged one amazing catch per game.
To say that Martinez is a phenomenal pass catcher would be doing him a disservice as the 6’ 6” tight end also showed that he is an excellent blocker and glue guy. In fact, that blocking ability, combined with Martinez’s frame, has led to speculation on whether Martinez ultimately can bulk up and end up as an offensive lineman. Personally, I feel Martinez will be given every opportunity to stick at tight end to start, especially with the loss of Caleb Wilson. Martinez does actually remind me a lot of Wilson, with his soft hands and ability to high point the ball, and I would not be surprised to see him on the field in 2019 acting as a complement to Devin Asiasi.
Honorary Mention: Duke Clemens, Chase Griffin
Best Position Group: Receivers
Here are two sentences that seem contradictory but are both true: UCLA could not convince top-end talent to come catch a football for the Bruins and UCLA filled all of their needs with this receiver class.
On the first sentence, UCLA swung and missed with a number of top recruits like Bru McCoy, Kyle Ford, Puka Nacua, and others. This was one of the reasons why the “Chip Kelly doesn’t need 5-stars because he got the guys he wants” arguments doesn’t hold water with me because Kelly absolutely did want these guys. It had been reported that Kelly was personally recruiting McCoy and even believed he would ultimately sign with UCLA, while TMZ had footage of Kelly taking Nakua to Craig’s in West Hollywood during his official visit, a break from the standard of staying on campus during OVs.
But, on the second sentence, UCLA absolutely filled their needs with quality guys. Jaylen Erwin, the wide receiver prospect from Hutchinson Community College, fills the speed role that was lacking last year and he should see the field immediately. Charles Njoku is a big possession receiver with a pedigree (one of his brothers plays in the NFL and another plays for the University of Miami) and developed into a very good possession receiver over the past few years. Kain Medrano is the kind of project you want to bring in and develop while you have guys who are more ready now. And, of course, I already talked about Michael Martinez. Essentially, this was the only offensive position that I really feel comfortable with on depth and need going forward.
Honorary Mention: Running Backs
Biggest Miss: Quarterback Depth
This is not a knock on Chase Griffin. Tou don’t win Gatorade High School Player of the Year in Texas without being a good football player. But UCLA absolutely needed to grab two quarterbacks in this class, if only to give them some actual playable depth. Including Griffin, UCLA will only have 4 scholarship quarterbacks on its depth chart going into next season, and there are questions on whether Austin Burton will eventually transfer out, and even whether Matt Lynch will shift over to tight end. I think UCLA will absolutely be looking at the transfer market to bolster depth here, but those are only temporary solutions.
Honorary Mention: OL Depth
This is a small recruiting profile for players who weren’t mentioned above.
Chase Griffin - UCLA has raved about Griffin since he committed and he did win Gatorade Player of the Year in the state of Texas, which is no small feat. He will need to develop his arm more and, while I don’t think he’ll challenge Dorian Thompson-Robinson for the starting spot, stranger things have happened.
Jahmon McClendon - He’s a big, bruising runner who went for almost 3,000 yards this past season. He will get the chance to get stronger behind the three-headed hydra of Joshua Kelley, Martell Irby, and Kazmeir Allen, but don’t be surprised if he gets some play.
Keegan Jones - Technically, he’s a 2018 recruit who greyshirted, Jones originally chose Navy, then reopened his recruitment, which is when schools like UCLA and Michigan jumped into the fray. He’s fast (was Tennessee state champ in the 200m) and shifty, and can potentially play in the slot.
Duke Clemens - He’s a multi-sport athlete, which speaks to his talent considering he slims his body down for basketball and baseball. A sole focus on football will do him wonders, and he has the tools necessary to become an impact lineman in a year or two.
Beau Taylor - He played with DTR at Bishop Gorman, He’ll be more of a project and needs to build out his frame, but he has potential to be a contributor down the line.
Josh Carlin - He was offered on the first day of the Early Signing Period and signed later that same day. He’s the definition of an OL project, but offers flexibility at guard and center, which is nice.