UCLA Football: Projecting the Bruins' 2013 Offensive Depth Chart
As UCLA prepares to face Baylor in the Holiday Bowl next week, there are a number of seniors and draft-eligible players who'll suit up in the Bruin blue for the last time.
Among them are some key offensive playmakers, including star RB Johnathan Franklin, jump-ball expert Joe Fauria and leading receiver Shaq Evans.
Franklin and Fauria are set to graduate this year, while Evans is eligible to declare for the 2013 NFL Draft should he so desire.
Additionally, starting right guard Jeff Baca and senior WR Jerry Johnson will exhaust their NCAA eligibility in San Diego next Saturday, leaving the Bruins with serious question marks heading into 2013.
If UCLA hopes to return to the Pac-12 Championship Game for a third consecutive time next year, head coach Jim L. Mora will need to find answers on the offensive side of the ball.
In an effort to identify the biggest areas of need for UCLA, as well as the few certainties, here's a look at the Bruins' projected depth chart for next season.
Note: The depth charts found in this slideshow are projections for next season, so players are listed by their year in school for 2013-2014. Further, incoming freshmen do not have jersey numbers assigned yet, and thus they will be marked as "00" for the purposes of this article.
For the first time in close to a decade, there won't be an offseason quarterback controversy in Westwood.
Redshirt freshman QB Brett Hundley was electrifying in his first year under center, leading the Bruins to their best season since 2005 and an outright berth in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
Heading into the matchup with Baylor, Hundley has completed 68.2 percent of his throws en route to 3,411 yards passing and 26 TDs through the air.
But what has been most exciting about Hundley's explosion into the national spotlight is his dual-threat skill set.
Hundley is an athletic specimen with elite speed and an uncanny ability to escape pressure, traits that fit UCLA's new spread offense perfectly.
So far in 2012, Hundley has collected 365 yards and nine TDs on the ground, including a 72-yard scoring scamper on his first collegiate snap.
It's safe to say that Hundley owns the starting job for the foreseeable future, a reality that has the Bruin faithful expecting great things.
Behind Hundley on the depth chart are two youngsters from the 2012 recruiting class in Devin Fuller and T.J. Millweard.
Fuller and Millweard were both highly-touted QB prospects out of high school, but they will likely only serve as backups in 2013.
Millweard took a redshirt this season, while Fuller used a year of eligibility as a receiver and return specialist, amassing 300 all-purpose yards and two TDs.
Fuller has expressed a desire to return to the QB position, but his best chance to see the field is at the wideout spot. It's conceivable that Fuller could get some action in a Wildcat set, or to spell Hundley, but that seems like the ceiling of his signal-caller hopes in 2013.
17—Brett Hundley, 6'3", 223, RS SO
2—Devin Fuller, 6'0", 195, SO
14—T.J. Millweard, 6'3", 220, RS FR
11—Jerry Neuheisel, 6'1", 195, RS FR
UCLA started four underclassmen on the offensive line in 2012, including three freshmen, so the starting lineup heading into next year figures to be pretty solid.
However, the graduation of right guard Jeff Baca, as well as an extremely strong recruiting class of bigs, could shake up the two-deep in the offensive trenches.
Despite a propensity for untimely penalties, Baca was a seasoned veteran who brought experience to a young unit. Without him, the Bruins will be forced to find a suitable replacement from a large group of backups.
The first option looks to be Alberto Cid, a junior college transfer who started for UCLA in 2011 and saw the field this season in relief. If Cid can take the reins and lock down the right guard spot, the Bruins will be in good shape next year.
As far as newcomers, keep an eye on center Scott Quessenberry and OG Caleb Benenoch, two highly rated prospects that are currently committed to UCLA.
Quessenberry will likely take a redshirt year because of the emergence of Jake Brendel, but Benenoch could compete for the vacancy at right guard immediately.
Here's a look at the projected depth chart for the Bruins' offensive line in 2013.
77—Torian White, 6'5", 285, RS SO
58—Colby Cyburt, 6'4", 265, RS FR
56—Xavier Su'a-Filo, 6'4", 295, JR
76—Alexandru Ceachir, 6'5", 305, JR
54—Jake Brendel, 6'4", 295, RS SO
63—Kody Innes, 6'3", 275, RS JR
00—Scott Quessenberry, 6'4", 276, FR
72—Alberto Cid, 6'3", 310, RS SR
64—Greg Capella, 6"3", 290, RS SR
00—Caleb Benenoch, 6'6", 321, FR
70—Simon Goines, 6'7", 324, SO
73—Will Oliver, 6'7", 290, RS SO
The biggest loss that UCLA will have to deal with is the graduation of do-everything RB Johnathan Franklin, the Bruins' leading rusher and emotional spark plug.
Franklin rushed for 1,700 yards and 13 TDs in 2012 with a 6.3 yards per carry average. Along the way, the 5'11", 195-pound redshirt senior became UCLA's all-time leader in rushing and all-purpose yardage.
Needless to say, whoever finds himself atop the depth chart next year will have some massive shoes to fill, both on the field and in the locker room.
Despite his official listing as a WR on the Bruins' roster, Damien Thigpen looks to be the frontrunner for the starting running back spot in 2013.
Before tearing his ACL against USC, Thigpen had rushed for 262 yards and two TDs on 50 touches, as well as caught 18 balls for 211 yards and two more scores. He also racked up 376 yards returning kickoffs, exhibiting his big play potential and versatility in excess.
If Thigpen can rehab from his knee injury and take the field next season, he should be on the short list for starters in his final year of college football.
Right alongside Thigpen in the race to replace Franklin is Jordan "Joystick" James, the smallest and most elusive back on the UCLA roster.
James has piled up 212 yards rushing and 204 yards receiving to go with his three touchdowns in 2012, but lacks the ideal size and durability to be an every-down back.
If James can add more muscle mass to his stout frame in the offseason, he will have a shot to be the Bruins' starting RB in 2013. But even if he fails to secure the No. 1 spot, James will be a key contributor due to his ability to cut on a dime.
Another name to watch out for is Steven Manfro, a rising sophomore who works primarily as a receiver out of the backfield, but got some looks between the tackles as well.
Manfro figures to compete for touches in 2013, and his ability to make plays downfield will be hugely important to UCLA's success next year. If he can battle back from the psychological prison that a few fumbled punts put him in this season, Manfro will be well-known by season's end.
25—Damien Thigpen, 5'8", 178, RS SR
6—Jordan James, 5'8", 193, RS JR
33—Steven Manfro, 5'9", 192, RS SO
24—Paul Perkins, 5'11", 192, RS FR
Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone's spread scheme utilizes a huge arsenal of wide receivers, from traditional flankers to block-and-go slotbacks.
Interestingly, there is no official tight end position in UCLA's offense, so every pass-catcher is listed as either a WR or a Y (more on that later).
Most of Mazzone's formations feature two receivers split wide, a Y lined up in the slot and a WR alongside the RB in the backfield. As such, there are three true receiver spots on the Bruins' depth chart, not counting the Y or the running back that is often targeted through the air.
With that covered, let's get to the projections.
If junior WR Shaq Evans chooses to bolt for the NFL, UCLA will lose its four leading receivers from 2012, as seniors Joe Fauria, Johnathan Franklin and Jerry Johnson are all on their way out.
But if Evans returns for his senior season, things will be much more settled in Westwood.
The other options at wideout are rising sophomores Devin Lucien, Jordan Payton and Kenneth Walker, as well as incoming freshman Eldridge Massington.
Lucien was on pace to become the Bruins' go-to receiver this year, but he went down with a broken collarbone on September 29 at Colorado.
Prior to his injury, Lucien had hauled in 10 catches for 188 yards, including a 70-yard outing against Nebraska's No. 1 ranked pass defense.
Lucien has been cleared to play in the Holiday Bowl, so look for him to make a statement against Baylor's porous defense heading into the offseason.
Payton and Walker were both major in-state lands for UCLA's 2012 recruiting class, and they both showed flashes of their potential this season.
Payton caught 17 passes for 199 yards and a score, while Walker snagged eight balls for 68 yards. Payton is the more polished of the two and should be a starter in 2013, but Walker is also in the mix for serious snaps.
Massington, a former USC commit who flipped to UCLA last week, is a 4-star prospect who could compete for playing time immediately.
At 6'3" and 205 pounds, Massington will be the tallest receiver on the roster if his commitment holds true. That fact alone is reason for high expectations, but his top-flight athleticism and soft hands have UCLA fans dreaming big.
Operating under the assumption that Evans does not leave for the NFL, here's a look at the Bruins' WR depth chart for 2013.
Wide Receiver (Flanker)
1—Shaquelle Evans, 6'1", 201, RS SR
10—Jordan Payton, 6'2", 205, SO
00—Eldridge Massington, 6'3", 205, FR
Wide Receiver (Split End)
15—Devin Lucien, 6'0", 200, RS SO
21—Kenneth Walker, 5'9", 175, SO
88—Jerry Rice, Jr., 5'11", 186, RS SR
Wide Receiver (Slotback)
33—Steven Manfro, 5'9", 192, RS SO
6—Jordan James, 5'8", 193, RS JR
25—Damien Thigpen, 5'8", 178, RS SR
Note: The slotback position is often filled by a running back and isn't suited for the traditional body type of a tall, lengthy wide receiver. As a result, Manfro and James are likely to get the first look for the versatile SB spot.
Y (Slot Receiver/Tight End)
As the previous slide indicated, Mazzone's offense has no true tight end, but the "Y" is the closest thing you'll find on the roster.
The Y is a hybrid position that can line up as a slot receiver or on the strong side of the offensive line. Big Joe Fauria was UCLA's starting Y this season, racking up 578 yards and 11 TDs on 41 receptions.
The 6'7", 255-pound mismatch-nightmare will be sorely missed in 2013, but there is at least one experienced Bruin ready to step up to the plate.
Redshirt senior Darius Bell, a former junior college quarterback, logged a solid number of snaps this year before going down with an injury against California on October 6.
Bell snagged seven catches for 143 yards and one TD, which works out to an impressive 20.4 yards per catch.
There is literally zero collegiate experience behind Bell, so he is almost assured to start at the Y next season. Bell is undersized and his utility in the blocking game is limited, but his veteran status and proven productivity should earn him plenty of field time.
3—Darius Bell, 5'10", 205, RS SR
87—Ian Taubler, 6'4", 250, RS FR
85—John Young, 6'3", 255, RS JR