It’s been a strange offseason in Westwood.
Two and a half months ago, the dismal 2016 season ended in a whimper in a Berkeley rainstorm.
It feels like forever ago.
But a near complete overhaul of the offensive staff, coupled with inevitable hand wringing from the fan base that accompanies any disappointing season, will slow down the time like that. Lest we forget, spring ball is still at least 6 weeks away.
The 2017 recruiting class kept in line with this offseason’s strangeness.
Allow me to explain.
UCLA pulled in two 5* prospects, cornerback Darnay Holmes and defensive end Jaelan Phillips, who were both ranked #1 nationally at their positions and from Southern California. Even for UCLA, a place that has every natural recruiting advantage you can imagine, that is a stunning achievement. A program that can keep elite talent close to home is doing something right.
And yet, this class is also noteworthy for its zero running backs and receivers; the complete turnover of the offensive staff had a huge effect on this class on that side of the ball. Of the 2016 offensive staff, only tight ends coach Rip Scherer will stay on in 2017. Eric Yarber became the latest casualty from the staff after he left to coach wide receivers with the LA Rams last week.
So there are valid reasons for both optimism and pessimism when it comes to the 2017 class. You can choose to focus on the strength of the defense or the dearth of offensive prospects to make a compelling argument to how this class will shape up.
UCLA 2017 Recruting Class.csv
|Name||Star Rating||Position||Nat'l Pos. Rank||High School||Hometown|
|Name||Star Rating||Position||Nat'l Pos. Rank||High School||Hometown|
|Martin Andrus||***||DT||27th||Los Angeles HS||Los Angeles, CA|
|Austin Burton||***||QB||65th||West Orange HS||Winter Garden, FL|
|Elijah Gates||****||CB||32nd||Buena Park HS||Buena Park, CA|
|Darnay Holmes||*****||CB||1st||Calabasas HS||Calabasas, CA|
|Odua Isibor||***||DE||36th||St. Mary's HS||Phoenix, AZ|
|Jimmy Jaggers||****||TE||11th||Roseville HS||Roseville, CA|
|Rahyme Johnson||****||OLB||19th||Salesian HS||Los Angeles, CA|
|Quentin Lake||***||CB||56th||Mater Dei HS||Santa Ana, CA|
|Morrell Osling||***||CB||64th||Antelope Valley HS||Lancaster, CA|
|Jaelan Phillips||*****||DE||1st||Redlands East Valley HS||Redlands, CA|
|Kanan Ray||***||OG/C||23rd||Sierra Canyon HS||Chatsworth, CA|
|Moses Robinson-Carr||***||TE||24th||Antelope Valley HS||Lancaster, CA|
|Greg Rogers||****||DT||8th||Arbor View HS||Las Vegas, NV|
|Sean Seawards||***||OG||108th||Saguaro HS||Scottsdale, AZ|
|Jaylan Shaw||***||CB||53rd||Centennial HS||Corona, CA|
|Zach Sweeney||***||C||24th||St. Thomas Aquinas HS||Fort Lauderdale, FL|
|Jax Wacaser||***||OG||34th||Saguaro HS||Scottsdale, AZ|
|Stephan Zabie||****||OT||23rd||Westlake HS||Austin, TX|
-Jaelan Phillips and Darnay Holmes are the jewels in this crown and cement it as a top 25 class by all services’ rankings. Any time you can lock in two elite prospects, both of whom are within 2 hours of campus, it’s a win. Defensive backs coach Demetrice “Meat” Martin deserves particular credit for his tireless pursuit of Holmes, who was a longtime UCLA verbal commit that was close to picking USC or Ohio State.
-UCLA got bigger in the trenches. Even with the well-publicized mishaps of UCLA’s offensive line and the dismissal of OL coach Adrian Klemm, the Bruins hauled in 4 interior lineman and an athletic tackle in Stephan Zabie. Sean Seawards brings the beef at 325 pounds, Kanan Ray and Zach Sweeney can play both center and guard, and Jax Wacaser can grow into a quick pulling guard. The line situation at UCLA is dire, but the new recruits will help replenish the depth right away. It’ll be a bonus if any of the 5 can crack new offensive line coach Hank Fraley’s rotation this year.
On defense, UCLA added two top 15 defensive tackles in the West in Greg Rogers and Martin Andrus, and Rogers could compete for a rotation spot inside straight away alongside Boss Tagaloa and others.
-There are only 3 non-lineman offensive recruits. UCLA is reasonably stocked already at the skill positions, but that’s a lot of faith to place in receiving and running back units that underperformed last year.
-The addition of both Jimmy Jaggers and Moses Robinson-Carr is a clear indication that tight ends will continue to feature in UCLA’s offense in 2017, even if Jaggers and Robinson-Carr don’t feature much themselves as freshmen.
Biggest Strength: Defensive Backs
UCLA hauled in 5 defensive backs in the 2017 class, making it the deepest and most talented position in this class.
Darnay Holmes is the obvious headliner. The nation’s #1 corner, he is a lightning-quick shutdown type who should compete for the nickel position right away. Don’t be surprised if UCLA uses him like USC did Adoree Jackson and puts him out at receiver and kick returner, especially since Jedd Fisch comes from having used Jabril Peppers on offense in creative roles at Michigan.
I’m predicting on February 7th, 2017, that Holmes returns a punt or kick to the house in the upcoming season.
But the rest of the class all fit defensive backs coach Demetrice Martin’s MO: finding versatile players who can play any position and are ready to step in at a moment’s notice.
-Elijah Gates is a future press-corner specialist
-Quentin Lake (son of UCLA legend Carnell Lake) is tall enough to play corner, safety or load the box as a linebacker
-Jaylan Shaw has the size and speed reminiscent of a Marcus Rios
-Morell Osling is tall and rangy like Nate Meadors
With UCLA losing Randall Goforth, Fabian Moreau, Rios and Tahaan Goodman to graduation, replenishing the defensive back depth was necessary. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Gates make a run for significant playing time this season.
You can make a compelling argument for defensive line being this class’s biggest strength, with Jaelan Phillips as the star alongside Rogers and Andrus up the middle and Odua Isibor rushing from the edge.
But I think the positional versatility of the defensive backs wins the day here by a nose.
Coach Meat brought the beef.
Biggest Question Mark: Quarterback
Quarterback recruiting is a fickle beast. Every year, 5 star quarterbacks flame out and transfer, while unheralded 2 and 3 star guys become program defining studs.
Yet consistent quarterback recruiting remains crucial to a program’s health, and UCLA has whiffed big time over recent cycles. Before last year, when both Devon Modster and Matt Lynch were recruited, only one recruited Mora-era quarterback has stayed on the roster: Josh Rosen.
One of the biggest struggles of the Mora era has been the nonexistent quarterback depth. Brett Hundley (and Jerry Neuheisel) were holdovers from Rick Neuheisel, and Mora got burned when Rosen went down and he had to rely on former walk-on Mike Fafaul. Fafaul did an admirable job in an impossible situation, but UCLA really shouldn’t be relying on walk-ons behind a star quarterback.
This is no slight against Austin Burton. Burton was lightly recruited before UCLA’s offer, and he has size and could grow into something after Josh Rosen leaves. But this has been yet another mostly barren quarterback cycle for UCLA, and the Bruins run the risk of running out another inexperienced quarterback (likely Modster) behind Rosen were he to go down again.
Your New Favorite Player: Jaelan Phillips
I’ll let the video below do the explaining:
#4sUp for the #1 Defensive End in the nation, @JJPhillips15!#TheBLUEPRINT #NSD17 pic.twitter.com/W30S8P0rNf— UCLA Football (@UCLAFootball) February 1, 2017
It’s wearing a Captain Obvious cape to say that the #1 overall recruit in the country is your new favorite player, but that’s a 265 pound defensive end RETURNING A PUNT FOR A TOUCHDOWN.
Phillips looks like he’ll already be one of my favorite UCLA pass rushers ever, and that’s a list that includes Anthony Barr, Datone Jones, Takkarist McKinley, Bruce Davis and the Ball brothers.
And he already wears number 15 like Myles Garrett. I’m not saying...okay maybe I’m definitely getting ahead of myself.
But Phillips is the surest thing in this class to start, and he could have an immediate (and painful) impact on Pac-12 quarterbacks coming off the edge in 2017.
Favorite player not ranked #1 at his position: Greg Rogers
Rogers, a 4-star defensive tackle from Las Vegas, had an awesome commitment video that paid homage to Goodfellas. Look at that 5-star smile.
4-Star DT Greg Rogers makes his commitment:— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) November 21, 2016
◻️ Colorado pic.twitter.com/8QPkCs0Yhh
Plus, he’s a top 10 defensive tackle who ca push for playing time right away. How can he not be my favorite?
Favorite Commitment Video: Martin Andrus & Rahyme Johnson
This was a banner year for UCLA in the awesome commitment video department.
4-star recruits @Martin_A__ and @rahyme_johnson commit 'Old School'-style. *Will Ferrell and Vince Vaughn not included. pic.twitter.com/7GvbDPSl5M— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 6, 2017
Overall, this is another fine recruiting class. I land on the side of optimism because of the two 5-star recruits and the defensive backfield’s versatility.
UCLA has always been able recruit, even when the program is at its lowest, and it’s really quite remarkable to bring in two #1 rated players at their respective positions in one cycle. Demetrice Martin and Angus McClure once again deserve major credit for busting tail on the trail.
But this class does raise some question marks. It’s imbalanced, especially on offense, and the whiffs at the non-tight end skill positions came home to roost in this cycle. The offensive staff turmoil really hampered the overall recruiting efforts.
It only adds more intrigue to the enigma that is UCLA football going into 2017.