UCLA Football Recruiting: 2016 Defensive Big Board 1.0

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Sep 19, 2015; Pasadena, CA, USA; UCLA Bruins safety Jaleel Wadood (2), defensive back Randall Goforth (3) and defensive back Adarius Pickett (6) warm up before the game against the Brigham Young Cougars at the Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports


UCLA Bruins
UCLA Bruins /

UCLA Bruins

Unlike the situation at cornerback, the situation at safety looks set to have a really nice yield if all materializes as expected for the Bruins. Of course, UCLA will already have a 2016 safety on campus in January when early enrollee and 3-star Leni Toailoa (Rialto, CA/Carter) joins the team. Leni is the younger brother of the aforementioned middle linebacker Lokeni Toailoa. But Leni’s commitment is not just some add-on in a package deal with his more highly-touted brother; it is very much a big deal in its own right.

Leni has an interesting story: Leni’s natural class would be the Class of 2017, but his father moved him up a grade so that he and Lokeni (who is older by one year) could be peers in school and on the football field. As a result, Leni has been consistently playing with and against players older and more physically mature than himself, which served to dim his star a bit for a while.

But now that Leni’s body is catching up with those of his older peers, he’s beginning to show himself to be a really nice prospect with his nose for the ball and physicality. He’ll have to work on his backpedal in coverage as a safety, but he already has nice skills in run support and closer to the line of scrimmage. It also wouldn’t be a complete shock to see Leni grow into an edge linebacker down the road as his body fills out.

Among the uncommitted safeties it is recruiting, the one who has long been UCLA’s highest priority is 4-star two-way athlete Brandon Burton (Gardena, CA/Serra). Although Burton attends a high school for which no self-respecting Bruin fan has any fondness, UCLA does actually have a really good shot at bringing in Burton because he’s one of those Serra recruits that USC isn’t pursuing, thus leaving UCLA to pick up the pieces with a fantastic player.

A standout wide receiver and safety in high school, Burton is one of those dynamic players who UCLA will be happy to get on campus first and ask questions about his position later. It seems likely, with Demetrice Martin as his recruiter, that Burton would get his first crack at safety if he ends up in Westwood, but either way, Bruin fans will be happy as long Burton is part of the UCLA class in one way or another when Signing Day rolls around.

24/7’s Crystal Ball has USC as a heavy favorite for Burton, but most of the predictions for USC are months old and not reflective of the fact that Burton is no longer a USC target. Among the schools Burton is still considering, the local school UCLA is his most likely landing spot, though Florida State will remain under Burton’s consideration until the very end.

Another local safety who is a longtime UCLA target is 3-star Keyon Riley (Anaheim, CA/Servite). UCLA is the prohibitive favorite to land Riley, whose style of play is reminiscent of current Bruin safety Tahaan Goodman. Riley is at his best getting a head of steam and viciously hitting anyone who crosses his airspace, but will need to get better backpedaling as a coverage man in order to be a true impact player in Westwood.

Last but not least, the Bruins have a potential Tom Bradley special brewing with the recruitment of severely underrated 3-star Pennsylvania athlete Khaleke Hudson (McKeesport, PA/McKeesport). Although UCLA is a longshot to land Hudson from across the country, its pursuit of Hudson is totally understandable, given that the monster athlete possesses some the most impressive film in the entire 2016 class:

Hudson officially visited UCLA in the middle of December, so there is a healthy amount of mutual interest present. Although the Bruins will have their work cut out for them in their pursuit of Hudson, he is definitely a target worth working for as he would likely be an instant two-deep player in Westwood should he choose to join the Bruins.

Next: UCLA Football Recruiting: 2016 Offensive Big Board 1.0

Hudson will be back in Southern California to play in the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl at the beginning of January, so UCLA will definitely be hoping Hudson’s two trips out West in a month’s span are enough to convince him of the value of moving to the Southland to become a Bruin.