I struggled with how to open this article, with whether to relate an anecdote or play a song or write some poetry, but the longer I thought about it, the more obvious the answer became. So let me start out with a simple statement:
National Signing Day 2019 ended with a whimper for the Bruins, capping off a positively Dorrellian recruiting cycle that will make things difficult in the coming years.
Is that too alarmist? Possibly, but consider it from all angles.
Let’s start by talking about Bruins Nation’s biggest topic of contention: star rankings. UCLA only has one composite 4-star in this class in offensive lineman Sean Rhyan (there are a few guys, like Shamar Martin and Duke Clemens, who are rated as 4-star recruits by some recruiting services and not by others). As has been discussed before, you can win with lower-ranked recruits, but if you want to win big, you need that high level talent, and recruiting rankings, more often than not, tend to give a pretty good idea of which teams will do well.
Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at the 2018 Blue Chip Ratio teams that Bud Elliott stated would have a chance to win the national championship. You may notice that among the 13 teams that qualified, all four College Football Playoff teams made the list. 5 other teams on the list made New Years Six games. That left the dumpster fire that is Southern Cal, the cultural rebuild that is Florida State, an 8-5 Auburn team that was close to firing their head coach this offseason, and a 9-4 Penn State team that had the unfortunate issue of being in the same division as Ohio State and Michigan. Oh, and looking at the New Years Six games, the three teams that made those games without having a BCR over 50% include Group of 5 auto-bid Central Florida, and two squads in Florida and Washington that will qualify for a 50% BCR this coming season, so they weren’t exactly bereft of talent.
As of this writing, UCLA will not have a good Blue Chip Ratio for this class. The composite rankings put UCLA at 43rd nationally, 7th in the Pac-12. That’s not good and they represent the worst recruiting finish for the Bruins since 2011, when the Bruins ranked 45th nationally and 8th in the Pac-12.
But for the “stars don’t matter” crowd, consider this: UCLA’s current class doesn’t do a great job of addressing the actual roster needs of the team. I’m going to focus on linebacker, in particular, because UCLA is going to have a huge problem here going forward. In 2019, the Bruins will have 11 scholarship linebackers on the roster (12 if you want to consider incoming recruit Noah Keeter a linebacker). There’s enough to put together a 2-deep, but following the coming season, six of those guys will be out of eligibility, barring things like a surprise redshirt season. Oh, and it’s not like the current level of linebacker play was anywhere close to acceptable this past year. Considering that, the coaching staff should have put a focus on linebackers, getting a host of guys into the program ready to contribute at a high level right away. Instead, UCLA only brought in 2-3 linebackers, of which only John Ward has a chance at contributing early. And there were guys like Jalen Goforth and Joshua Calvert, both linebackers with family ties to UCLA, who instead went to Pac-12 rivals Southern Cal and Washington respectively. The linebackers could continue to be a major issue through 2020 and beyond just because UCLA failed to recognize those roster issues.
And, again, those roster issues are present up and down the roster. Only one quarterback was brought in for a pretty thin roster position. The running back group is down to five scholarship backs after today. Both lines could always use more bodies, especially on the defensive line that has lost more than a few guys to transfer.
If anything, the only two position groups that didn’t need help, defensive back and receiver, are the only ones that really did a good job of recognizing their strengths and finding a few guys to plug some holes, with the defensive backfield grabbing a fantastic corner and safety prospect in Shamar Martin and William Nimmo, and the receivers grabbing a desperately-needed deep threat in Jaylen Erwin to go along with two fantastic big targets in Michael Martinez and Charles Njoku.
Now, all of this isn’t to say that UCLA did not get some solid recruits. Despite my feeling that they needed another body, offensive line recruiting did very well. Sean Rhyan is talented enough that you could see him plugging into the starting line as early as this season. Duke Clemens and Beau Taylor also project to be high-level players in a few years. Defensive line recruiting really needed more bodies, but they did get a good nose tackle prospect in Siale Liku (and in the 3-4, you always need nose tackles) and a ready-to-contribute JC prospect in Datona Jackson. In the next few days, I’ll be breaking down both sides of the ball to give you a better idea of what UCLA got.
There is, of course, the question of what the coaching staff does going forward. Chip Kelly can publicly talk about how thrilled he is with this recruiting class all he wants, but when local guys are choosing Kansas State over your program, you may have a process problem. The Bruins only put a paltry amount of offers out in this last cycle, maybe the new #8CLAP8TH program changes that, but there were way too many reports of recruits who had received offers from UCLA only to not be in contact with the coaching staff for months. Official visits under Chip Kelly have earned a reputation of being business-like, which is noble but isn’t winning over recruits who want to be shown that they are wanted. To make a comparison, let’s say I’m being offered a job by two similar companies. Company A gave me a walk-through of my job down to the day-to-day routine and paid for a meal at the company food court. Company B spent its pitch meeting showing me all the company perks I would receive, then took me out to a nice steak dinner. Guess which company I’m probably going to lean toward? Obviously, there will be some recruits that the UCLA strategy will work on, but most players are going to choose the program that shows them how much they are wanted. This is especially true in a world where the choice of college is the last time a football player will realistically have a choice of where they get to play until they reach NFL free agency.
It does appear that changes are coming. Jason Kaufusi was brought on staff to replace the departing Roy Manning, and Kaufusi’s reputation as a great recruiter cannot go unstated. Director of Player Personnel Geoff Martzen is out, having now taken the same job at Colorado and that position is integral to how Kelly approaches recruiting. Puka Nakua’s recent official visit featured a trip to LA hotspot Craig’s, a sign that the visits may finally start to take advantage of all that LA has to offer rather than keeping things on campus. You’d have to assume other changes are coming to make sure UCLA coaches keep in contact with recruits throughout the season, so we’ll see how that works out next cycle.
But at the end of the day, UCLA entered National Signing Day needing to fill a number of holes and, instead, had an underwhelming day. There is still the chance to add some extra names to the recruiting class, but, for now, UCLA football fans will turn their attention to the transfer market and see if there are any players that can come in and fill some of the gaps.
Here is a list of all the recruits UCLA has signed this cycle:
2019 UCLA Football Recruiting Class
|Recruit Name||Position||Current School||Composite Rating||NLI Submitted?|
|Recruit Name||Position||Current School||Composite Rating||NLI Submitted?|
|Sean Rhyan||OT||San Juan Hills HS (San Juan Capistrano, CA)||4-Star||December|
|Shamar Martin||CB||Morse HS (San Diego, CA)||3-Star||December|
|Charles Njoku||WR||Wayne Hills HS (Wayne, NJ)||3-Star||Yes|
|William Nimmo||S||Mater Dei HS (Santa Ana, CA)||3-Star||December|
|Duke Clemens||OG||Punahou HS (Honolulu, HI)||3-Star||December|
|John Ward||LB||Palmdale HS (Palmdale, CA)||3-Star||December|
|Datona Jackson||OLB||College of the Desert (Palm Desert, CA)||3-Star||December|
|Beau Taylor||OG||Bishop Gorman HS (Las Vegas, NV)||3-Star||December|
|Chase Griffin||QB||Hutto HS (Hutto, TX)||3-Star||December|
|Siale Liku||DT||Oakland HS (Oakland, CA)||3-Star||December|
|Jahmon McClendon||RB||Monte Vista HS (Spring Valley, CA)||3-Star||December|
|Carl Jones||DB||Bakersfield HS (Bakersfield, CA)||3-Star||December|
|Kain Medrano||ATH||East HS (Pueblo, CO)||3-Star||December|
|Jaylen Erwin||WR||Hutchinson CC (Charlotte, NC)||3-Star||December|
|Noah Keeter||OLB||Bucholz HS (Gainesville, FL)||3-Star||Yes|
|Hayden Harris||ATH||Eastside Catholic (Sammamish, WA)||2-Star||December|
|Josh Carlin||OG||Sierra Canyon (Chatsworth, CA)||2-Star||December|
|Keegan Jones||RB||Cleveland HS (Cleveland, TN)||2-Star||December|
|Michael Martinez||TE||Mater Dei HS (Santa Ana, CA)||3-Star||Yes|
Welcome to Westwood to all the new recruits!