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2013 Fierce-40 Previews: #24

by DJ Boyer on Jul. 23, 2013

2013 Fierce 40 Previews

 

#24 UCLA Bruins

 

2012 Recap:

After years of mediocrity and a few coaches unable to get the program over the hump, the Bruins broke through with Jim Mora Jr. UCLA went 9-5, yet they lost their final three games of the season including the Holiday Bowl 29-26 to Baylor. It was a season that exceeded all expectations but leaves fans of the program hungry for success.

 

Coaching:

Well Jim Mora gets to coach in the PAC 12 after all (just not that elusive Washington job he “jokingly” claimed he wanted when he was coaching the Atlanta Falcons) and had a terrific first season in Los Angeles.

 

Offense

 

Quarterbacks/Running Backs:

Brett Hundley and his 3,740 yards passing as a freshman surpassed all expectations. Hundley was the best freshman quarterback in the nation that didn’t have the last name Manziel. Like Manziel, Hundley is a redshirt freshman and is actually draft eligible for 2014 if he chooses. Hundley will have a chance to showcase his talents on the national stage once again and leaving early in 2015 versus 2014 is probably the best bet at this time. Hundley can run the football and is mobile so he is a dual threat. Hundley throwing for 4,000 yards this season is not out of the question.  Hundley projects as a first rounder.
The big key will be replacing Johnathan Franklin who set nearly every UCLA record there was to set in 2012 with nearly 1,800 yards on the ground. Look for UCLA to do their work on the ground with a committee approach with two or three backs getting the bulk of the work. Freshman Paul Perkins looks like he will be the starter. All the backs at UCLA are receivers who are accomplished and can run routes, so I expect all of the backs will have their chances in the passing game.

Best Draft Prospect: Brett Hundley QB 1st Round 2016 (Possible 2014 or 2015 early entrant).

 

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:

Shaquelle Evans was the leading receiver for the Bruins and the senior draft prospect is back for 2014. Evans posted 60 catches for 877 yards and 3 touchdowns in 2012 and while he was the leading receiver he was not the red zone target Hundley was always looking for. Joseph Fauria had 12 touchdowns from the tight end position but he has moved on to the NFL. Darius Bell takes over at tight end with newcomer Thomas Duarte looking like someone who could be a big time NFL prospect down the road. Bell doesn’t have the same type of presence or ability to separate and get open like Fauria, but he will get plenty of looks and most likely score 5 or 6 touchdowns. Devin Lucien, Devin Fuller and Jordan Payton are all sophomore receivers who will start, as UCLA will use a lot of 3-4 receiver sets. You even have junior Jerry Rice Jr. added to the mix. Yes, you were reading the name right, Jerry Rice Jr.  Backup tight end Duarte only weighs 230 pounds and there is a possibility on some plays he could end up in the wide receiver position. This is a talented group of receivers and UCLA will be looking for the next person to come out and be the leader since this is the senior season for Evans.

Best Draft Prospect: Shaquelle Evans WR 5th Round 2014.

 

Offensive Line:

UCLA had Hundley break all kind of records throwing the ball and Jonathan Franklin set a single-season rushing record for the school, so one would think the line did a tremendous job. Yet Hundley was sacked 52 times last year, so UCLA is looking to get that number under 40 and even 35 if they can for the 2013 campaign. UCLA is still very young up front as there is not a senior in the starting bunch. Xavier Su’a-Filo is in a interesting position this season. I have Su’a-Filo ranked as the #1 guard in the 2014 class so the possibility is there of foregoing his senior season to declare for the draft. Yet if he declares this year there still might be 2-4 guards drafted ahead of him but if he hangs on to come back as a senior, the chances are stronger that he would be a 1st or 2nd rounder and top guard off the board. A player always risks injury by coming back to school and this will not be an easy decision. I expect Su’a-Filo will be tracking the progress of the other top senior guards in this class to see what type of year they have before making a decision. Left tackle Simon Goines went through some growing pains being thrust into the starting lineup as a freshman but he is now the left tackle with a year of experience under his belt and I like him. The same can be said for right tackle Torian White. This team is deep but they are not an elite unit. They look to be another year away from being one of the top lines in the Pac 12.

Best Draft Prospect: Xavier Su’a-Filo OG 2nd Round 2015 (Possible 2014 early entrant).

 

Defense

 

Defensive Line:

I chastised UCLA for allowing a large number of sacks (52), but UCLA can get the job done themselves hunting down opposing signal callers as they had 47 in 2012. UCLA had four players that posted at least 5 sacks and two of the players are back for more in 2013. Cassius Marsh is the top lineman returning and with 8 sacks and 10.5 stops coming for loss he is a player you have to account for. Marsh is just an all-around athletic powerhouse as he caused a couple of fumbles, recovered a few, and even blocked a pair of kicks on the season. UCLA utilizes the 3-4 base set and the fellow starters up front like Marsh are seniors. They are led by nose tackle Seali’I Epenesa who had 21 stops clogging up the middle, allowing the speedy linebackers to penetrate the line and make stops behind the line. Aside from Marsh the top prospect for this line is the backup at nose tackle, sophomore Ellis McCarthy, who should really shine in 2014 and beyond.

Best Draft Prospect: Cassius Marsh DE 7th Round 2014.

 

Linebackers:

Does UCLA have the best linebacking corps in the Pac 12? There are many who feel the Bruins do field the best linebackers in the conference and I have to agree with this assessment. It starts with running back turned star linebacker Anthony Barr. I currently have Barr rated as a 1st round selection for 2014 and a likely top 10 draft selection who could also be the first linebacker off of the board entirely. Teams like the production for Barr but you also have to factor in that he has only played the position for a few seasons and is still learning the ropes, so the potential to be even greater is still present (what we hear draft pundits call “upside”). 83 tackles with 21.5 coming for loss and 13.5 resulting in sacks. Those type of numbers not only get you on the All-American team, but if UCLA wins the conference or finishes in the top 20 they will get Barr some Heisman Trophy consideration (especially in a year where voters will be looking at defense with Jadaveon Clowney of South Carolina being one of the preseason faves). As impressive as the stats are for Barr he is far from being a solo act as junior Erik Kendricks is back after leading this team with 149 tackles. Kendricks hopes to follow in the footsteps of brother Mychal, who was the Pac 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2011 at California and a second round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles where he had a successful rookie campaign as a starter last season. Jordan Zumwalt also shows some NFL potential and the senior is back after making 71 tackles and forcing 3 fumbles in 2012.

Best Draft Prospect: Anthony Barr 1st Round 2014 (Possible top 10 selection).

 

Secondary:

2012 was UCLA’s first season in the 3-4 front and while the line and linebackers showed early success, the secondary struggled a bit. UCLA ranked 85th and certainly wants to improve upon only 15 interceptions as they made 25 their benchmark for the upcoming season. There are no returning starters from the 2012 campaign but players like Anthony Jefferson and Randall Goforth have plenty of game experience and will not worry the coaches with their added responsibilities. Goforth is a player I have listed as a 7th round safety and he will likely be joined by freshman Tahaan Goodman at strong safety. A few of the spots currently do not have starters penciled in as over half the secondary spots will be occupied by freshman or sophomores. Ismael Adams looks to be the leader of the blue chip players the Bruins have in the secondary for 2013, and is another freshman who could start at corner opposite Jefferson. Johnny Johnson and Priest Willis are also incoming freshman who will see the field.

Best Draft Prospect: Randall Goforth S 7th Round 2016.

 

Special Teams:

Special teams is an area where the Bruins normally excel but have question marks abound for this year. Kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn started slowly but came on near the end of the year to post 16-22 in the field goal department, but he was only 2-6 beyond 40 yards. Punter Jeff Locke has been lost to the NFL so freshman Sean Covington takes over and the Bruins hope he has a better start to his freshman year than Fairbairn did. The return game remains a mystery as UCLA would like to have someone split punt return duties with Shaquelle Evans.

Best Draft Prospect: Shaquelle Evans WR 5th Round 2014.

 

Schedule:

UCLA has an interesting early non-conference game with Nebraska on September 14th and they have to believe Nebraska will be looking for revenge after UCLA won last year at home 36-30. Back-to-back road games to close October come against Stanford and Oregon. If UCLA can win one of those games it will go a long way towards going back to the conference title game.

 

Draft Outlook:

Anthony Barr is an elite prospect the nation will be watching this year and Brett Hundley has certainly captured the attention of various NFL teams. We will be watching the young secondary for future prospects but UCLA has it’s share of players who will hear their name called in May and in the years to come.

 

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