UCLA Football: Deep at Wide Receiver

UCLA Bruins
UCLA Bruins /

UCLA Bruins

With spring practice well behind us, and fall camp still a ways away, here’s a snapshot of the UCLA football wide receiver corps, as it projects for 2015. In a word: depth. The Bruins return a ton of experienced targets, which will give freshman QB Josh Rosen plenty of support as he takes the reins of the offense.

Key Returning Players

The leading receiver from last year’s team was now-senior Jordan Payton, with 945 yards. He’ll continue in the WR1, or X role.

Senior Devin Fuller, a converted quarterback, appears to be transitioning from the slot/F position to the flanker/Z, the spot vacated by Devin Lucien (more on him below). It’s not an easy transition to make, as it usually involves seeing much more man coverage than at the F, but Fuller performed well in spring practice. Fuller also worked out of a couple of wildcat setups in spring practice, which adds a wrinkle to the offense.

Nov 28, 2014; Devin Fuller against Stanford at the Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Junior Thomas Duarte had 540 yards last year in the tight end/Y, and he emerged as a crucial weapon for Brett Hundley as the season wore on. Most importantly, the offense struggled when he missed three games in the middle of the season, as his presence opens lanes in the defense for his teammates and creates options for the QB. He’s a guy who’s more important than his stat sheet bears out.

Redshirt sophomore Eldridge Massington continues to get faster and stronger, coming off of the injury that sidelined him in his true freshman year. He projects into the Z role and appeared to have passed Devin Lucien on the depth chart, which may have contributed to Lucien’s decision to transfer,

Previously: Go Joe Bruin projecting the offensive two-deep

Lastly, sophomore Mossi Johnson, with his quickness and breakaway speed is a perfect F receiver and looks poised to have a breakout year. This is a crucial position for coordinator Noel Mazzone‘s offense, with its quick-release passes.

Key Losses

Devin Lucien before the Sun Bowl vs. Virginia Tech. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

As mentioned above, redshirt senior Devin Lucien transferred to Arizona State. He had the sixth most receiving yards on the team (225), behind the five guys mentioned in the previous section, and found his role in the offense diminishing. So while his production never met his or our hopes for what he could do, UCLA will miss his leadership and experience.

Even though he was never on the team, I’m choosing to count incoming freshman Ryan Newsome as a loss. He was a surprise commitment out of Texas to UCLA in the weeks leading up to signing day, and he was as excited to become a Bruin as I’ve ever seen a recruit, but it appears that family pressure wore him down to decommit and eventually sign with the hometown Longhorns. I count him a loss not only because of his obvious enthusiasm for UCLA, but because his speed and quickness were otherworldly and looked to provide a much needed game-breaker for the Bruins in the F position.

Key Additions

One of the Bruins’ biggest successes on signing day was snagging tight end Chris Clark out of Connecticut. Clark was the nation’s number one or two tight end, depending on the source, and he has traditional tight end size, strength, and catching ability. While it’s possible that he could end up redshirting, he could also provide a change of pace alternative at the Y for the more hybrid-esque Duarte. We’ll learn more in fall camp.

The other big receiving recruit was Cordell Broadus out of Nevada, son of Snoop Dogg. Broadus has a similar skill set to Payton and could potentially fill that WR1 role. It’s slightly more likely that Broadus will redshirt, but, again, we’ll know more coming out of fall camp.

More: Inside UCLA’s post-spring practice position reviews: WR

Redshirt freshman Aaron Sharp will be following in Devin Fuller’s footsteps and transitioning from quarterback to receiver. Sharp apparently approached the coaches himself with the idea, in an effort to get playing time. He hasn’t played wideout since he was seven, so we can expect a bit of a learning curve, but he’s shown some promise in the F role.

Potential Breakouts

Jordan Lasley and Noel Mazzone at spring practices. Photo credit: Wayne Cook via Twitter, @bruin15tnt

The big name coming out of spring practice was redshirt freshman Jordan Lasley. He impressed the coaches last year with his work on the scout team, and he displayed what he was capable of this spring. He is perhaps the most athletic receiver, which is saying something on a roster with Johnson and Massington.

The biggest potential downside for Lasley? He’s a bit of a hothead. He likes to jaw at defenders, and that tends to bleed into taunting or even fights. He got into it a couple of times during spring practice, and the coaches had to warn him that he was in danger of drawing a flag or an ejection in a game situation. Hopefully the veterans can help him keep his head and not let that fiery attitude become a liability.

Sophomore Alex Van Dyke has always been a tall target, but he’s finally put on the 20-ish pounds of muscle to give him the strength to hold his own against the defense. Van Dyke may find himself in goal-line situations where his size will give him an advantage on corner fade routes.

UCLA Football Projected WR Depth Chart

That sounds official, but it’s just me doing the projecting (read: guessing), based on what I’ve read. This could always change a bit depending on fall practice. Additionally, Mazzone’s offense likes to rotate packages and spread the ball around, so any depth chart is going to be fluid.

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Additional Players

The following players could potentially contribute and/or have caught the eye of coaches or media during spring practices: Darren Andrews (RS Soph.), Zach Bornstein (RS Frosh.), Ahmaad Harris (RS Jr.), Stephen Johnson III (Frosh.), Austin Roberts (RS Frosh.), Tyler Scott (RS Sr.), Logan Sweet (RS Sr.), and Kenny Walker (RS Jr.).