2020 UCLA Football Season Preview: Changes in Play for Receivers and Tight Ends
With transfers, movement to other positions, and new additions, the UCLA receiving corps will see a lot of new faces in 2020.
Kyle Phillips will be one of UCLA’s top receivers this year. (Photo credit: @UCLAFootball)
The next installment of UCLA Football previews covers wide receivers and tight ends, which puts up a huge question mark for UCLA. With only a few returning upperclassmen in this group and an inexperienced offensive line, what is UCLA’s production going to look like at this position? Will presumed starting quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson have time to connect with receivers and read progressions? Here is a look at what was lost, who is returning, and new additions to the wide receivers and tight ends group.
UCLA is really going to feel the loss of tight end Devin Asiasi, who was picked in the third round by the New England Patriots in the 2020 NFL Draft. He had a total of 44 receptions for 641 yards and four touchdowns in 2019.
Along with Asiasi, senior tight end and former quarterback Matt Lynch transferred to Colorado as a graduate transfer and will be eligible to play this year, and redshirt junior tight end Jordan Wilson took his final year of eligibility to Florida State.
With regard to wide receivers, there were transfers, but of a different kind. Redshirt freshmen Deavyn Woullard and Kain Medrano are moving to the other side of the ball, with Woullard at the defensive back position, and Medrano moving to linebacker.
UCLA is returning two exceptional receivers in junior Chase Cota and redshirt sophomore Kyle Phillips. Phillips topped the roster with 681 yards in 2019, and became DTR’s go-to man in tough situations. Cota’s numbers weren’t quite as impressive with 350 yards, but his average catch is 14 yards, which makes him a good option for the deep ball.
Also returning is senior Jaylen Erwin, redshirt senior Ethan Fernea, juniors Michael Ezeike and Delon Hurt, redshirt sophomore Josiah Norwood, and redshirt freshmen Ashton Authement Hudson Habermehl. At tight end, redshirt sophomores Greg Dulcich and David Priebe, sophomore Mike Martinez, and redshirt freshman Michael Churich will be back. All of these guys will be in the mix as UCLA is looking to replace and revive talent.
UCLA is bringing in a large group freshmen, with Matt Sykes, Logan Loya, and Devanti Dillard at wide receiver and Bradley Schlom, Lucas Egurbide, and Grant Norberg at tight end. So, once again, youth will be an issue. An addition with family ties includes Evidence Njoku, who decided to leave the University of Miami after not getting a starting role. He is the older brother of UCLA wide receiver Charles Njoku, and both are younger brothers of former first round pick of the Cleveland Browns, David Njoku.
In addition to the new faces on the team, an unlikely newcomer to the receiving corps is Colson Yankoff, moving over from the quarterback position. Yankoff transferred to UCLA from Washington in 2019, sat out last season, and did not see the field at all in 2018 as a Husky. So, Yankoff is the second quarterback to move to a different piece of the offense in the Chip Kelly era, following former quarterback turned tight end Lynch.
Sykes comes to UCLA from St. Louis school in Hawaii as a four-star recruit, and actually enrolled at UCLA back in the spring along with Loya. Loya comes from football powerhouse St. John Bosco after spending his first three years at Orange Lutheran, and logged 71 catches for 1,109 yards and nine touchdowns in his senior season. He is definitely one of the more skilled freshman on the roster, being a four-star recruit and the 20th ranked recruit over all in the 2020 class. Dillard rounds out this group as a graduate of Etiwanda High School and 2020 Tiki Bowl invitee.
Schlom comes from Corona del Mar High School in Newport Beach, where he logged 91 catches for 1,151 yards and 17 touchdowns, helping del Mar go undefeated. There is a lot of talent in front of these guys, so while they may not get a lot of playing time, they will be learning the system and gaining momentum for next season. Egurbide is a versatile tight end that, according to his Hudl profile, can not only catch, but block and run as well. These skills will serve him well gaining yards after the catch. Finally, Norberg hails from Scripps Ranch and was also a talented baseball and basketball player. Basketball skills easily transfer to the football field, as can be seen in players like NFL tight end Darren Fells, who now plays for the Houston Texans but actually played college basketball at UC Irvine.
Projected Depth Chart
With so many new faces and changes, especially at the tight end position, it looks like the depth chart could be pretty fluid with this group. You have unknowns like Yankoff, who has experience with the program but not with the position, and Loya, who is highly touted but brand new. There are some obvious players who will get more reps than others like Phillips and Cota at receiver, but there will be some experimentation going on, especially at tight end. And in the shortened 2020 season, there won’t be much time for anyone to get settled and move players around very much.
This chart puts Njoku and Loya way down the depth chart, but this isn’t to say we won’t see them on the field. Yankoff is pretty buried as well, and there is a good chance we won’t see much of him at all, and instead see individuals like redshirt Ezeike and the elder Njoku.
It will also be interesting to see what Kelly can do with newer tight ends like Martinez that have seen little to no game action, but have the size and skill to be successful.
There will be a domino effect starting with the offensive line, as usual. If the line can hold and Thompson-Robinson can set and make good reads, that will go miles in helping some of these new receivers be successful.