Fall camp preview: Wide receivers/tight ends

UCLA lost a 6-foot-7 target in tight end Joseph Fauria, but quarterback Brett Hundley shouldn’t have hard time finding capable pass-catchers. Although the Bruins return only one player who caught for more than 300 yards last season, they have a deep, young group with plenty of upside.

Key returners: Shaq Evans enters his senior season as one of the conference’s better receivers. A stable presence for UCLA both as a route-runner and blocker, he should be in line for more red-zone targets in addition to building on his 800-yard junior campaign.

Opposite Evans will be sophomore Jordan Payton, a thick-bodied target who displayed good hands almost every spring practice. Redshirt sophomore Devin Lucien is more physically gifted than Payton, but isn’t as consistent. After missing most of last season with a broken collarbone, the 6-foot, 200-pound wideout was an early spring standout who faded a bit later on. He’ll need to impress the coaching staff in San Bernardino and avoid mental lapses if he hopes back up his talk of winning a starting spot.

The offensive’s most tantalizing player may be sophomore Devin Fuller. Jim Mora once compared him to Percy Harvin, and expects to use the former quarterback all over the field — whether as a runner, receiver or in a Wildcat-type package. The former four-star recruit has exceptional athleticism, and easily opens up separation against one-on-one coverage. His potential transformation into a star would be a dream for offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone.

Senior Darius Bell struggled with injuries last season, but looked 100 percent in spring and should take over the Y receiver/tight end spot. Though he’s several inches shorter than Fauria, he sees the field well and prides himself on being a technician in the mold of Wes Welker. If healthy, he could catch for around 500 yards.

Kenneth Walker will miss the season after undergoing back surgery. The 5-foot-9, 175-pound sophomore likely would have made a greater impact as a returner than receiver.

Key newcomers: Tight end Thomas Duarte is primed to make an immediate impact as a true freshman. Named the OC Register’s Offensive Player of the Year, the Mater Dei standout has good size (6-foot-2, 225 pounds) and could blossom into an excellent replacement for Fauria down the line. He played mostly receiver in high school, so his blocking skills will need work. As a prospect, he was noted for his hands and body control.

Eldridge Massington looks like a prototypical wide receiver at 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, but was limited through spring as he rehabbed from a torn ACL. His hesitancy to cut and change direction diminished as the weeks progressed, so he could ease in as a good backup to Evans if he stays on schedule. Even then, an adjustment period is still likely after he missed his entire senior season of high school.

Freshman Darren Andrews is small but speedy, and could see some reps as a slot receiver.

Projected starters:
WR — Shaq Evans, Sr., 6-1, 211
WR — Jordan Payton, So., 6-1, 210
F — Devin Fuller, So., 5-11, 194
Y — Darius Bell, Sr., 5-11, 216

Other fall camp previews:
Offensive line

  • SonOfWestwood

    Excellent write-up Jack. What’s the story with Javon Williams? I had high hopes for this guy. At 6’5″, he could be the red-zone threat that to replace Big Joe.

    • Jack Wang

      He went to Iowa Western CC, just across the river from Omaha, after he failed to qualify. Could potentially transfer back later on, if not to UCLA then at least back into the Pac-12.

      • SonOfWestwood

        Yikes, not quite sure how I missed that. Thanks again Jack.