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2014 Fierce 40 Previews: #7 UCLA

by DJ Boyer on Aug. 18, 2014

#7 UCLA Bruins

 

2013 Recap:

10-3 and a nice win over Virginia Tech in the Sun Bowl make for a fantastic year but UCLA had a chance to take things to the next level under Jim Mora Jr. Off to a 5-0 start UCLA had back-to-back road games with Stanford and Oregon. UCLA was hoping for at least 1 win but they lost both games and were outscored 66-24. That stretch left a bittersweet taste in the mouths of Bruins fans everywhere.

 

Coaching:

Jim Mora has revved things up at UCLA and he is starting to win more and more recruiting wars. The roster has talent at every position and it wasn't long ago where this program was in trouble. Mora looks like he could carry the torch for Pac-12 coaches for some time.

 

Offense

Quarterbacks/Running Backs:

Brett Hundley had the opportunity to set himself apart last season and establish himself as an elite quarterback. While his numbers were good, he failed to impress against top caliber competition. Hundley threw for 3,074 yards with 24 touchdowns as a sophomore, but those numbers were actually down from his impressive freshman season when he was the top youngster in the nation not named Manziel. The consecutive losses to Stanford and Oregon sealed his fate and we think forced him to come back to UCLA, because as a redshirt sophomore he was draft eligible. Hunley had 748 yards on the ground with 11 touchdowns, so he moved well but needs to learn to slide and get out of harm's way faster. Hundley is slight of build and will have to try and avoid contact when possible.

Jordan Jenkins and Paul Perkins represented the UCLA running back by committee approach last season and we should expect the same for 2014. Together these backs had 1,107 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground. Then you have to throw in sophomore wonderkid Myles Jack. Jack is an All-American at linebacker but he gets work at running back and he posted 7.0 YPC last season with 7 touchdowns and just under 300 yards on the ground. Expect more of the same and with the two way contribution we could even hear whispers of Jack in the Heisman race if UCLA is in the Pac-12 hunt near the end of the season.

Best Draft Prospect: Brett Hundley QB 1st Round 2016 (Likely to declare for 2015).

 

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:

The Bruins lose their most capable receiver in Shaquille Evans but there are plenty of bodies able to haul in Brett Hundley passes. The real question will be whether the Bruins have a true #1 receiver on the roster. The top four options UCLA has catching the football combined for 116 catches and all players had at least 16 catches. If there is a true #1 option among the group it will be junior Devin Fuller who we currently have rated as a 5th round prospect for 2016. Fuller is a versatile receiver that can line up on the outside or as an inside slot option and has demonstrated above-average blocking ability with the Bruins running the ball out of a spread formation. Jordan Payton struggled with some drops early but he came on later in the season and became a reliable target. Expect the 1 lone touchdown he had for 2013, be a number that we see rise considerably. Another thing we can expect is the top running backs in Jordan James and Paul Perkins to see their catches increase as they become more involved with the offense. Expect some big things from freshman Mossi Johnson in the future but this soon may be a little soon to see his contributions.

Best Draft Prospect: Devin Fuller WR 5th Round 2016.

 

Offensive Line:

The UCLA line last season was characterized more so as run blockers with quick feet and mobility, than pass protectors. Opponents actually sacked the Bruins 36 times while UCLA got only 32 themselves, a dangerous precedent for a team ranked so highly in the preseason. Xavier Su’a-Filo was a rising star and a gifted guard that we told everyone last season was going to be a star and potentially the first guard off the board. Glad to see we can put one in the win column for our site, as Su’a-Filo was the first player chosen in the 2nd round. Alex Redmond is the new star at guard and the sophomore is projected as a 1st rounder for 2017, as he seems to have all the necessary tools to be a 1st round prospect. Caleb Benenoch and Jake Brendel were first year starters that are back and will ensure some stability along the offensive front. This looks like an improvement over last year's line that was very inconsistent and one that seemed to regularly draw penalties at inopportune times.

Best Draft Prospect: Alex Redmond OG 1st Round 2017.

 

Defense

Defensive Line:

This was a defense that performed better than expected with a bend-but-don’t break mentality in 2013. While nationally this defense ranked 54th in yards allowed, they were a very respectable 35th nationally and 5th in the Pac-12 in scoring defense at 23.2 PPG. UCLA will be playing in a 3-4 set with the linebackers being the focal point of the defense, but the line is not bad in it’s own right. Ellis McCarthy may be the best prospect if he declares, coming in with a 2nd round grade for the upcoming season, even though he will play end but is more like a traditional defensive tackle for the next level. McCarthy will see time in the middle but Kenny Clark will likely get more time there, as he is also a budding star as a sophomore. Owa Odighizuwa and Eddie Vanderdoes will be starting at defensive end with McCarthy. The backups are talented but largely untested at this point. UCLA usually does an exceptional job at getting the younger players experience, by putting them into games during times that matter while not overwhelming them.

Best Draft Prospect: Ellis McCarthy DT 2nd Round 2016 (Could declare for 2015).

 

Linebackers:

The linebackers at UCLA are among the best in the conference and the strength of the football team. The linebackers and their strength is summed up best with two star players in Myles Jack and Eric Kendricks. Jack has the look of a future star and possibly even a Heisman trophy candidate this season since he is a two-way player. Jack had 269 yards on just 38 carries last season for an impressive 7.0 YPC and he hit paydirt 7 times. Combine that offensive output with 75 tackles, 7 for loss, and a team-leading 13 passes defensed, which is impressive for a linebacker. Jack covers a lot of real estate and could be in the running for Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year. The other important defensive piece is teammate Eric Kendricks who led the team with 106 tackles a season ago and is currently projected as a 3rd round prospect for 2015. Kendricks' brother Mychal plays for the Philadelphia Eagles and he was a Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year playing the position at California. Young players Kenny Orjioke and Isaako Savaiinaea will be the other starters with Orijoke manning the outside with Jack. Sophomore Deon Hollins is another young athletic linebacker that will see a lot of time as the special teams ace and primary backup at the outside positions. This is a very talented group that will strike fear into a number of opposing teams.

Best Draft Prospect: Myles Jack 1st Round LB 2017 (Likely to declare for 2016).

 

Secondary:

This is a secondary that the coaching staff can be very excited about because they showed a lot of improvement during the season and it looks like a few players are on the brink of really asserting themselves as big time prospects. Fabian Moreau has been praised by his coaches and teammates alike. We currently have him ranked as a 4th round prospect but if what we are hearing is true, it could even be 2nd or 1st round. 51 tackles and 4 pass breakups a season ago indicate Moreau was very active. Anthony Jefferson made 89 tackles last season, a very high number for a cornerback. He has pro potential but right now he isn’t popping out at us on film. Randall Goforth has made great strides at safety and he is looking like a future prospect. While at the other safety spot, a true starter has yet to be named, and Tahaan Goodman is battling with a couple of freshman for playing time. This is a physical secondary that plays the run as well as any secondary in the conference, making them one of the best all-around units.

Best Draft Prospect: Fabian Moreau CB 4th Round 2016.

 

Special Teams:

Special teams have been hit or miss for the Bruins over the last few seasons but both punter Sean Covington and kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn have shown flashes of being very good at their positions and could be possible prospects. Fairbairn is seen as inconsistent, but to us he looks OK. It's more a matter of UCLA having a sterling reputation with kickers in the past, so the bar seems to be higher at UCLA. Ishmael Adams will be the return man for kickoffs and punts, and while he had no touchdowns a season ago he made a few big returns and has a knack for making big plays.

Best Draft Prospect: N/A

 

Schedule:

The start of the schedule is not as easy as some of their conference foes. A game at Virginia to open the season likely will be tougher than many people realize. Texas is played at a neutral site while the road game with Arizona State will be a revenge game for the Bruins. Oregon, USC and Stanford follow in the final two months but all three are home games so the Bruins will catch a break there.

 

Draft Outlook:

Plenty of big time talent here and with recruiting on the upswing you can expect the Bruins to continue to be a major force in the draft every season. The Bruins will be a school to watch when it comes to players declaring early since they have a few worthy candidates on the roster.

 

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