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

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. Continue reading

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UCLA’s Anthony Jefferson joins Senior Bowl, Eric Kendricks out

UCLA defensive back Anthony Jefferson stands over Oregon receiver Keanon Lowe after making a tackle at the Rose Bowl during the Bruins' 42-30 loss on Oct. 11, 2014. (Keith Birmingham/Staff)

UCLA defensive back Anthony Jefferson stands over Oregon receiver Keanon Lowe after making a tackle at the Rose Bowl during the Bruins’ 42-30 loss on Oct. 11, 2014.
(Keith Birmingham/Staff)

Quarterback Brett Hundley declined an invitation to the Senior Bowl, but another UCLA player became a late add to the all-star roster: defensive back Anthony Jefferson.

Spending time at both corner and safety, Jefferson made 72 tackles and eight pass breakups this season, ranking third and first for the Bruins, respectively. The 6-foot-1, 192-pound defensive back was one of six UCLA players to make the All-Pac-12 second-team defense.

UCLA’s only other Senior Bowl participant will be defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa. Continue reading

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Alamo Bowl notes: UCLA ends 10-win season with new milestones

» With its 40-35 win over Kansas State in Friday’s Alamo Bowl, UCLA has now reached 10 wins for the ninth time in school history. The Bruins are now riding just their third-ever streak of back-to-back 10-win seasons, with the first two coming in 1997-98 and 1987-88.

Including K-State, UCLA played 10 teams that earned bowl berths, tying them for second-most in the country. The only exceptions were Virginia, Cal and Colorado.

» In his career finale, quarterback Brett Hundley didn’t have his best passing game, finishing 12 of 24 for 136 yards and a touchdown. He started the game 10-of-12 before a run of seven straight incompletions. Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said afterward that Hundley’s right hand was still a bit sore from the finger injury that forced him out of UCLA’s loss to Stanford in November.

But Hundley did plenty of damage with his legs, running 11 times for 96 yards and two touchdowns. The Bruins followed the blueprint that TCU used to beat K-State, 41-20, on Nov. 8. Horned Frogs quarterback Trevone Boykin also only threw for one touchdown, but ran for three scores and 123 yards. Boykin’s proficiency on the ground also helped open up lanes for tailback Aaron Green, who had 171 yards.

“Brett went to town with his legs, for sure,” said receiver Jordan Payton.

Hundley improved his UCLA career records to 75 touchdown passes and 11,713 total offensive yards.

» Paul Perkins ran for a career-high 194 yards and two touchdowns on just 20 carries, including a 67-yard scoring run with 2:20 left in the game that gave UCLA a 40-28 lead. His rushing total was the third-most in Alamo Bowl history, and earned him the game’s offensive MVP award. Continue reading

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UCLA 40, Kansas State 35: Jim Mora, Bruins talk after Alamo Bowl

UCLA head coach Jim Mora and the Bruins spoke to the media following a 40-35 win over Kansas State in the Alamo Bowl, one that clinched a second straight 10-win season. During the press conference, Mora grew testy when asked about the team’s inability to close out games — as well as when asked about what appeared to be a handshake snub with K-State coach Bill Snyder.

Also on the podium were quarterback Brett Hundley, linebacker Eric Kendricks, linebacker Myles Jack, defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa, and running back Paul Perkins.

Kendricks and Perkins were named Alamo Bowl MVPs on their respective sides of the ball.

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UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks accepts Senior Bowl invitation

UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks became the second Bruin to accept an invitation to the upcoming Senior Bowl, event officials announced on Monday.

“Eric showed up big all year for the Bruins,” said Phil Savage, executive director of the pre-NFL draft all-star game. “He is a run-and-hit linebacker that can play all three downs and help on special teams, too.”

The 6-foot, 230-pound defender has led the country in solo tackles in two of his three seasons as a full-time starter, and capped his final year in Los Angeles by winning the Butkus Award, the top honor for collegiate linebackers. He also became UCLA’s second straight winner of the Lott IMPACT Trophy, after former All-American and eventual ninth overall draft pick Anthony Barr.

Kendricks will be joined in Mobile, Ala., on Jan. 24 by UCLA defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa, who accepted his Senior Bowl invite just before Thanksgiving. Fourteen other Pac-12 players are also on the roster.

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Eric Kendricks named first-team All-American by Sporting News

UCLA’s Eric Kendricks was named a first-team All-American today by the Sporting News, part of a clean sweep by Pac-12 linebackers.

Alongside Kendricks on the Sporting News list are Washington’s Hau’oli Kikaha and Arizona’s Scooby Wright — both of whom were tabbed as unanimous All-Americans.

Kendricks became UCLA’s all-time leading tackler this season and won both the Butkus Award and the Lott IMPACT Trophy, but settled for second team on most of the five major All-American teams. In addition to the Sporting News, the other lists used to determine consensus and unanimous All-American status are the Walter Camp Football Foundation, the Associated Press, the AFCA and the FWAA.

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Eric Kendricks wins UCLA’s second straight Lott IMPACT Trophy

The Eric Kendricks award tour just keeps on rolling.

On Sunday, UCLA’s senior linebacker won the Lott IMPACT Trophy, becoming the second straight Bruin to win the award after former All-American Anthony Barr. Given each year to the top defensive player who also exhibits off-the-field character, the award was founded in 2004. This is the first time two players from the same school have ever won.

RELATED: Eric Kendricks may be just the latest piece in UCLA’s new linebacker pipeline.

Kendricks beat out three other finalists: Alabama defensive back Landon Collins, Duke linebacker David Helton, and Washington linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha. The Lott IMPACT Trophy also comes with a $25,000 contribution to UCLA’s general scholarship fund. Continue reading

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Jeff Ulbrich reviews first season as UCLA’s defensive coordinator

Jeff Ulbrich talked at length with the media on Friday, hitting everything from what it meant for Eric Kendricks to win the Butkus Award, to Jim Mora’s long-term future at UCLA, to — of course — how he’s evaluated his first season as UCLA’s defensive coordinator.

Despite a starting lineup loaded with future pros, the Bruins have been inconsistent on defense this season, holding Arizona’s explosive offense to seven points only to allow 31 to Stanford four weeks later. It was a year that saw the 37-year-old Ulbrich take significant criticism for not generating enough of a pass rush: UCLA is tied for 85th in the country with 22 sacks, 15 of which came in the final six games.

“Guys that I’ve been around a lot (in my career), their philosophy regarding scheme and calling a game is always put the game in the players’ hands,” Ulbrich said. “Keep it simple. Be great with fundamentals and technique, alignment, assignment. Let them know it and understand it at a high level so they can play fast and physical.

“The problem is that college football’s a little different. You’re seeing so much exotic stuff on offense, that you almost have to balance that with being exotic in your own right at times just to keep them off balance. … I gained a better understanding of that as the season went on.”

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