NFL draft roundup: Will UCLA produce another first-round pick?

Brett Hundley (17) runs for a touchdown in a 38-20 win over USC, as former Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky, right, celebrates at the Rose Bowl on Nov. 22, 2014. (Keith Birmingham/Staff)

Brett Hundley (17) runs for a touchdown in a 38-20 win over USC, as former Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky, right, celebrates at the Rose Bowl on Nov. 22, 2014. (Keith Birmingham/Staff)

One of the lows in recent UCLA football history was the 2012 NFL draft. That was the year that not a single Bruin was picked, becoming a sort of epilogue on the recently expired coaching tenure of Rick Neuheisel. The same drought occurred in the 2009 draft, which followed Neuheisel’s debut season, and in the 1997 draft. Otherwise, the program had produced at least one selection every single year since the draft contracted to seven rounds in 1994.

But in the last two years, UCLA broke out of that 2012 slump in a big way, producing four picks in 2013 and five in 2014. That included a pair of first-round picks in defensive end Datone Jones and linebacker Anthony Barr.

Those nine picks signaled the team’s highest two-year draft total ever in the seven-round era — giving head coach Jim Mora and his staff a nice selling point on the recruiting trail. No longer can the school be depicted as a place that failed to maximize its talent.

This time around, UCLA’s three best prospects are quarterback Brett Hundley, defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa, and linebacker Eric Kendricks. None of them are locks for the first round, but all three have at least a chance to be among the first 32 taken. If that happens, it will mark the first time UCLA has produced at least one first-rounder in three straight years since 1994-96 — when Jamir Miller, J.J. Stokes and Jonathan Ogden all became top-10 draft picks.

Defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa

Unsurprisingly, Odighizuwa impressed everyone in Mobile, Ala., during the weigh-in — looking as shredded as usual at 266 pounds and half an inch over 6-foot-3. He also measured out with 11 1/8-inch hands, the largest of any defensive lineman at the Senior Bowl, and a wingspan of nearly 82 inches.

He didn’t disappoint once practices and started either, drawing attention for his first step and fluid hips. Three years ago, Jones was the UCLA defensive end who started generating momentum with a big Senior Bowl showing, eventually becoming the first Bruin selected in the first round since 2006. If Odighizuwa follows up with a strong NFL combine, he could echo that rise.

One hurdle for him might be out of his control. This looks like a deep draft for edge pass rushers, and other prospects such as Utah’s Nate Orchard also performed well at the Senior Bowl. Teams could be willing to wait on the position in that late-first-to-second-round range.

CBS Sports’ Rob Rang ranked Odighizuwa as the draft’s No. 29 prospect, writing:

Quarterback Brett Hundley (listed below) earned much of the attention for the Bruins’ win over Kansas State in the Alamo Bowl, but Odighizuwa also performed brilliantly, recording six tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack and two passes broken up. He followed that up with a strong performance during Senior Bowl week. Odighizuwa has an NFL-ready frame, a quick first step and good power. He’ll earn a first-round selection if doctors clear his surgically repaired hip, as issue that caused him to miss the entire 2013 season.

Hundley and Kendricks also made that list of top-50 potential draftees.

Quarterback Brett Hundley

Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage called out players who declined their invitations, and perhaps no one drew more attention for it than Hundley. ESPN, for one, called it a “missed opportunity,” comparing it to what befell A.J. McCarron last season. The Alabama quarterback didn’t play in the Senior Bowl, and was drafted in the fifth round; his replacement at the game, Jimmy Garoppolo, was drafted in the second.

This is not an entirely fair comparison for a couple of reasons. The first is that Hundley injured his hand in late November against Stanford, and still wasn’t 100 percent in the Alamo Bowl. Trying to gut it out could have turned the opportunity into a stock-sinking moment. (See: Teddy Bridgewater‘s Pro Day.)

The second is that Hundley is in a different situation than either McCarron or Garoppolo. The former had a lower ceiling, with draft hype that was buoyed as much by Alabama’s overall success as anything else. The latter spent his Eastern Illinois career in anonymity, playing in a home stadium that seats 10,000. Hundley is miles ahead of McCarron as a runner, and has already been on the cover of Sports Illustrated twice. With 40 games’ worth of film, he did not have as much to gain in the Senior Bowl.

The good news for Hundley is that no quarterbacks really stood out at the Senior Bowl. He still appears like the third-best candidate at his position behind Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Florida State’s Jameis Winston.

Linebacker Eric Kendricks

The reigning Butkus Award winner really doesn’t have anywhere to go but up. The biggest knocks on Kendricks are his size and speed, but that’s already factored into his floor as a prospect. What’s in question is whether or not his instincts and game performance will make an NFL team overlook that. As scouts pore over game film over the next few months, that process is unlikely to hurt someone that became UCLA’s all-time leading tackler.

Kendricks — who missed the Senior Bowl with an injured hamstring — seems like a safe bet for a second-day selection, with some upside.

  • CaliGrown

    Just more proof of the difference Mora and co’ have made in only 3 years. I’m predicting Owa gets selected in the 1st round, while Eric and Brett will be drafted early in the 2nd. Love the fact the we are reloading and not rebuilding. Even after 13-14 draft picks in just 3 years

    • VB

      I agree with your prediction. I think Owa will actually be a Top 15 pick.

      Brett Hundley might make his way into the first round if the Eagles want him that badly.

    • Cliff Sakata

      Agree, Mora has been the difference maker, though all those guys were recruited by Neuheisal.

      • jameskatt

        Mora and his coaches got the players to play to their potential. That is why they will be drafted.

        • Cliff Sakata

          Yes but Mora would have never coached them if Neuheisal never recruited them. Chicken and the egg lol.

          • 8 Krap

            And that’s no yolk !!! lol

  • WordsofWisdom

    It hurt that we didn’t have a RB coach that could recruit worth a damn until this year. Just look at what Coach Pol has done in a year… could land the #1 rb Soso.

    • jameskatt

      We definitely need more true tight ends and physical running backs. Ohio State is the model.

    • Laker Rod

      He hasn’t landed him yet and just an fyi Steve Broussard did get Paul Perkins. Even though Perkins was only a 3 star recruit he seems better than Craig Lee 4 star recruit also recruited by Broussard and also Nate Starks recruited by Polamalu. I wouldn’t worry about the running backs either. UCLA needs to take care of business on the O line and D line if it ever wants to compete with the big boys like Ohio State, etc.

      • WordsofWisdom

        Hundley being a close friend and HS teammate of 3 years had more to do with it than Broussard, lbh. Coach P has them running stronger which is why Perkins had his first 100 yd game under his wing (this year). Starks was a lucky get seeing how Coach Pol was hired in December and only had a couple of months to recruit while being in the top 4 for 5* Joe Mixon. All that in 2 MONTHS! In one year he has us in the running to snag Soso out of his home state of Texas. That’s big in itself. Starks so far hasn’t even looked better than Manfro and Lee can’t even see the field. Eric Yarbs should be in the hot seat too. He hasn’t developed any DBs… Moreno dear lord he’s awful. Our D-line is fine, Angus is the best coach we have.

        UCLA won’t miss a beat this coming season and end up in the top 10 again

        • Laker Rod

          We started to run the ball much more effectively once the O line was stabilized. Didn’t have much to do with any other reason IMO. I think you overrate a RB’s coach and the RB themselves. We should be better next year of course…every single O line guy of importance returns and we are much older, experienced, and deeper across the board on the O line. And we are not okay on the Dline. After 2015, if EV and Clark declare early you’ll be wondering what the heck happened.

  • Laker Rod

    The irony is that after the 2015 season it’s possible UCLA won’t have a 1st rounder unless Myles Jack leaves early. His measurables are not that great either for a LB at 6’1 230. Eddie Vanderdoes and/or Kenny Clark would need great seasons in 2015 in order for them to leave early and be potential 1st rounders. I hope they don’t fall into the same group as Ellis McCarthy.

    Best wishes to all the Bruins trying to make it in the NFL.

    • Bigwoof1

      Considering Myles speed and the way he is being used, his NFL position should be safety (a la Palomalu, etc. As such, his measurables are off the charts.

      • Laker Rod

        I would agree but will the UCLA coaches actually move him to safety? We can only hope at times he does play there. What happens to Goforth, Wadood, and Goodman? The starting corners will probably be Adams and Moreau. Some LB’s need to step up between Kenny Orjioke, Aaron Wallace, Kenny Young, Isaako Savaiaena, Jayon Brown, and Cameron Judge in order for Jack to play more safety.