Spring football is done, and over three months still stand between us and the start of UCLA’s third season under Jim Mora — one that comes with national title aspirations and accompanying media glare. Over the next week, this blog will cover each of the Bruins’ position groups. Next up …
Even after losing No. 1 target Shaq Evans, UCLA won’t lack for targets. Just look at how Evans’ numbers changed from his junior to senior season: he tripled his touchdown total to nine, but dipped from 60 catches and 877 yards to 47 and 709 in 2013. The Bruins ranked 44th in the country in passing yards per game, but no individual was among the top 100 nationally in receiving yards per game.
The diversification of UCLA’s receiving corps continues this fall. Though the Bruins lack a gamebreaker in the mold of, say, Brandin Cooks, the offense spreads out enough targets that that type of player isn’t essential. The starters are locked in, each with a solid experience base and complementary skill sets: Devin Fuller creates separation with ease, Jordan Payton breaks tackles, Devin Lucien is the most athletic. The trio combined for 100 catches, 1250 and seven scores.
Inside at Y-receiver, Thomas Duarte looks primed for a breakout — and could conceivably lead the Bruins in touchdown catches. After setting a school freshman record with three scoring receptions in 2013, Duarte grew half an inch to nearly 6-foot-4, and showed off a strong connection with quarterback Brett Hundley through spring before spraining his ankle. Watching him now, it’s hard to imagine how he only managed 16 catches and 214 yards last season — sixth on the team behind running back Paul Perkins.
A few promising backups also make this unit even deeper than it was a year ago. Behind Duarte is Mossi Johnson, who was the surprise star of UCLA’s spring. Originally committed to the Bruins in the last recruiting cycle, he grayshirted to recover from a torn left knee. Even while still wearing a cumbersome brace, he flashed impressive quickness and sticky hands as he turned himself into one of Hundley’s favorite targets.
Redshirt sophomore Kenneth Walker and redshirt freshman Eldridge Massington both have a chance to contribute after coming off back and knee injuries. The former is arguably the fastest player on the team, and could grow into the deep threat that wasn’t present a year ago. The latter is a big target who could be a nice possession receiver. Even sophomores Jalen Ortiz and Darren Andrews, who each had four catches out of the slot last season, have a chance to contribute.
Level of concern: 2/10
*With 10 being the highest cause for concern this upcoming season, the scale is based mainly on the unit’s top talent as well as its depth. The latter might be weighed more or less depending on the position group; it would be more important to have multiple running backs than multiple quarterbacks, for example.