The top 10 UCLA football players you need to know for the 2016 season.
1. QB Josh Rosen
There were rookie moments along the way, no doubt. But Rosen consistently showed last fall why he was the most coveted true freshman on Signing Day 2015. He beat out journeyman Jerry Neuheisel with his poise and arm talent, and then proceeded as if he’s been at this for years. Setting the stage for what promises to be a celebrated career in Westwood, the 6-4, 210-pound Rosen completed 292-of-487 passes for 3,668 yards, 23 touchdowns and 11 picks.
2. DT Eddie Vanderdoes
Last season could have been the year that propelled Vanderdoes into the NFL Draft as an early entry. Instead, his year ended in the opener, the result of an ACL tear. Before the injury, he was the rarest of defensive linemen, tough enough to handle the interior, with the athleticism to line up at end. Vanderdoes is the kind of 6-3, 305-pound playmaker GMs covet. As a sophomore, he was named honorable mention All-Pac-12 after making 50 tackles, 5.5 stops for loss and two sacks.
3. CB Fabian Moreau
Jim Mora loves the pro potential of Moreau. A foot injury to the cornerback meant the coach would have his services for one final year. The 6-0, 200-pound Floridian hasn’t quite put it all together in his Bruin career, but he’ll be a high pick in 2017 if he does. Moreau is a naturally gifted athlete, with long arms, a solid frame and the ball skills of a former offensive playmaker. In his last full season, 2014, he was named to the All-Pac-12 Second Team for making 53 tackles, three stops for loss and nine pass breakups.
4. OT Conor McDermott
True, there’s still room for improvement in 2016, but UCLA feels it has a genuine anchor up front in McDermott. He started a dozen games at left tackle a year ago for a unit that only allowed 14 sacks all season. And his physical presence at the point of attack is undeniable. McDermott, who was named to the All-Pac-12 Second Team, is 6-9 and 310 pounds, which means he has the wingspan to consistently keep opposing pass rushers at arm’s length.
5. DE Takkarist McKinley
McKinley used 2014 to get acclimated to Pac-12 football after transferring from Contra College (Calif.) College. Last season, he emerged as one of the Bruins’ best pass rushers. McKinley is basically an outside linebacker at 6-2 and 250 pounds, though he’s strong enough to contribute as a run defender. The staff is hoping to do a better job of unleashing both he and Deon Hollins as more consistent presences off the edge.
6. S Randall Goforth
Once Goforth made the permanent shift from corner to safety, he instantly became a more effective defender for UCLA. The 5-10, 190-pound veteran returned from shoulder surgery last season to earn Second Team All-Pac-12 with 70 stops, a couple of picks and six pass breakups. The high-energy Goforth played more snaps than any other Bruin a year ago, so any questions about his health were adequately addressed.
7. S Jaleel Wadood
Wadood took a huge step in his evolution as a sophomore, earning Second Team All-Pac-12 by ranking third on the Bruins with 72 tackles, including four behind the line. While only 5-10 and 175 pounds, small for a safety, his tenacity and athleticism help ensure he’s never far from the action. Wadood will be a key run supporter again this fall, as he seeks to deliver more money plays as well.
8. RB Soso Jamabo
Junior Nate Starks could swipe this spot, depending on which Bruin wins the starting job. But Jamabo has a higher ceiling right now, even after spending just one season on campus. A top-rated back from Plano, Texas, Jamabo flashed his enormous potential with 404 yards and a score on 66 carries off the bench. He’s uniquely gifted in that he’s 6-3 and 210 pounds, with a long, effortless stride to simply blows past defenders.
9. LB Jayon Brown
Brown is nothing if not productive and opportunistic, stepping up and playing well after Myles Jack was injured early last season. A career-long special teamer, he racked up a team-high 93 tackles and six pass breakups in just nine starts. Brown operates with tremendous range and intensity, but at only 6-0 and 220 pounds he’s prone to allowing yards after contact.
10. OT Kolton Miller
Miller only started five games a year ago, but there was enough tape to feel bullish about his future. He’s got the frame, 6-9 and 295 pounds to simply overpower opposing linemen when he bends properly. And his flexibility and lateral movement is impressive for such a tall player. If Miller continues to sharpen his technique, especially in pass protection, he has a ceiling that could reach the All-Pac-12 Team before he’s through.