As we continue our “Most Underrated” series, we move forward to UCLA Football’s defensive line. Which under the radar player will improve the Bruin’s defense and play a major role in their chase to win the PAC-12?
In case you needed a reminding, the UCLA Football team were gashed in the run game in 2015. Injuries ravaged the defense but excuses can only take you so far. The struggles against ground-based teams started with the defensive line and their inability to clog lanes and get off blocks but UCLA also struggled getting after the passer.
It didn’t help that the Bruins lost stud defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes early in the 2015 season to a knee injury. He’s back but his potential running mate Kenny Clark declared for the NFL draft and was a first round selection of the Green Bay Packers. The Bruins have moved to a 4-3 defense and that should help their run defense while giving them a chance to unleash their edge rushers.
The starting line should have some familiar names like Takkarist McKinley at defensive end, the return of Vanderdoes at one tackle spot, likely Eli Ankou at the other tackle and the end job will be up for grabs between Keisean Lucier-South, Rick Wade, Deon Hollins, or even Jacob Tuioti-Mariner. My choice for underrated player doesn’t come from any of the named players here or even any of the incoming freshmen.
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Matt Dickerson is now in his third year at UCLA. As a junior in high school he was dominant moving all over the defensive line in both 4-3 and 3-4 fronts. However a back injury cost him his senior year and although he was healthy as a freshman for the Bruins, he was still rounding back into form.
Last year I thought he would continue to show more glimpses of his old self and maybe even become the player he was back in high school. Instead injuries forced him to be thrust into a much larger role than he seemed prepared for.
Take his game against Stanford for example where he struggled to anchor and play the run. That was much of his 2015 so why am I saying he will be vital to this season?
Growth. Dickerson has added even more weight to his 6’4″ frame. He’s gotten stronger in the weight room and that will translate to the field. He’s had three offseasons in the college game and will be in his second year under defensive coordinator Tom Bradley‘s scheme.
Most importantly, the shift in defensive scheme, the 4-3, will keep him from having to take on nearly as many double teams inside. Dickerson fits best as a base end 3-tech which will allow him to use his length and speed to get into the backfield for tackles for loss. I’d bank on him making 2016 his last as an underrated player and you should too.
Next week we will take a look at an underrated linebacker as we continue our list of underrated players at each position. Did we have the same player this week or do you believe there’s better choice for underrated defensive lineman? If so let us know below or on Twitter. If you missed our first post in the series make sure you see it here.