LOS ANGELES -- The rebuilding of UCLA's football program took another step forward Wednesday when coach Jim Mora landed one of the school's top recruiting classes of the past decade.
Mora signed 23 players Wednesday, the first day football players could sign, and the class is currently ranked No. 12 in the nation by ESPN Recruiting Nation. Of the 23 players, five are among the ESPN 150 and nine are in the ESPN 300.
Priest Willis, No. 5 safety in the nation and No. 59 overall recruit, did not sign Wednesday and is expected to still sign with UCLA.
"We're very happy with the class that we were able to put together," Mora said. "We feel that it fills a lot of needs or areas of concern for this football team."
Looking at the class breakdown, offensive line, defensive back and linebacker were the major target areas for the Bruins. Mora and his staff brought in seven offensive linemen, three defensive backs (with Willis perhaps still to come) and five linebackers.
Defensive end Kylie Fitts, No. 85 in the ESPN 150 and the No. 8 player at his position, was the top-ranked player to sign Wednesday. Asiantii Woulard, the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback and No. 143 overall prospect, is UCLA's top offensive player.
The gaping hole in the class is at running back. Johnathan Franklin, the school's all-time leading rusher, left some big shoes to fill, but Mora and his staff didn't fill them. Craig Lee, a running back from Redlands, was committed but did not sign because of admissions issues.
Here is a breakdown of UCLA's class:
Asiantii Woulard, 6-foot-3, 205, Winter Park, Fla.
The skinny: The heir apparent to Brett Hundley will most likely redshirt and be groomed to take over when Hundley leaves in 2014 or 2015.
Mora: "Asiantii Woulard is a big, athletic, smart, strong-armed football player. We, quite frankly got lucky that he was out there and available when he was. He decommitted at a time that we were thinking that it was time to go get a quarterback. When Asiantii was there and expressed interest in UCLA, it just seemed like a perfect fit for our offense."
The skinny: Craig Lee of Redlands committed to UCLA but was unable to sign because of academic reasons. There is a chance he could get his grades and test scores in order in time to play in the fall.
Still, UCLA figures to use a running back by committee approach until someone emerges from the group of returners that includes Jordon James, Steven Manfro, Paul Perkins and Damien Thigpen, who is recovering from a torn ACL.
Mora: "You'd have to be a heck of a running back to come in here and replace Johnathan Franklin. I think that sometimes people worry about not getting a running back in this class yet. We're not done. Let's make that clear. We still have some spaces available. But there's probably not a freshman running back in the United States of America that was going to come in here and replace Johnathan Franklin this year."
Darren Andrews, 5-10, 160, Bishop Amat HS, La Puente, Calif.
Eldridge Massington, 6-3, 205, West Mesquite HS, Mesquite, Texas
Jalen Ortiz, 5-9, 170, Centennial HS, Peoria, Ariz.
The skinny: This was not a position of great need for UCLA, which is already loaded at receiver with Shaq Evans, Devin Lucien, Jordan Payton, Ricky Marvray, Kenneth Walker and Devin Fuller all coming back. Massington projects as a good prospect down the line if he returns to full health after tearing his ACL. Andrews and Ortiz may end up at other positions by the time they play in a game.
Caleb Benenoch, 6-6, 317, Seven Lakes HS, Katy, Texas
Kenny Lacy, 6-5, 270, Mountain Pointe HS, Phoenix, Ariz.
John Lopez, 6-5, 305, Orange Lutheran HS, Orange, Calif. 300 (#17 OG)
Poasi Moala, 6-5, 265, Rancho Verde HS, Moreno Valley, Calif.
Christian Morris, 6-6, 285, East HS, Memphis, Tenn.
Scott Quessenberry, 6-3, 265, Canyon HS, La Costa, Calif. 300 (#3 C)
Alex Redmond, 6-5, 295, Los Alamitos HS, Los Alamitos, Calif.
The skinny: Offensive line has been an area of need for many years at UCLA, and this year the staff made a concerted effort to add depth. Bringing in seven players at one position says a lot and this is a top-notch group. A starter or two next season could be among this class. John Lopez and Scott Quessenberry are the highest rated. Caleb Benenoch has the look of a guy who is ready to play right away.
Mora: "I see all seven of them coming in here and competing for a starting spot right away. We're not going to limit what they can do. I think that's the attitude that they all need to have. And I think that's the attitude that the guys that are on this campus now need to have, too, is there are seven guys coming to take my job."
Thomas Duarte, 6-4, 225, Mater Dei HS, Santa Ana, Calif.
The skinny: UCLA doesn't use a true tight end in its spread offense, but he has the size to help fill the seam-rout role that Joseph Fauria vacated.
Tahaan Goodman, 6-2, 190, Rancho Cucamonga HS, Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.
Johnny Johnson, 5-10, 180, Central East HS, Fresno, Calif.
Tyler Foreman, 6-2, 190, Crespi HS, Encino, Calif.
The skinny: The Bruins have a lot of holes to fill in the secondary with starters Aaron Hester, Sheldon Price and Andrew Abbott all graduating. Dietrich Riley is expected back from his neck injury, and Tevin McDonald and Randall Goforth will be back. Ishmael Adams should be back from injury and showed promise in his limited action last year. The Bruins have experienced players in Marcus Rios, Fabian Moreau and Anthony Jefferson, too, so the outlook isn't bleak, but this group will add some needed depth, especially if Priest Willis signs as expected. Johnny Johnson is the No. 20 corner in the nation, Willis is the No. 5 safety and Goodman is the No. 9 safety.
Jayon Brown, LB, Long Beach Poly HS, Long Beach, Calif.
Deon Hollins, LB, Ft. Bend Marshall HS, Missouri, Texas
Myles Jack, LB, Bellevue HS, Bellevue, Wash.
Cameron Judge, LB, Oaks Christian HS, Westlake Village, Calif.
Isaac Savaiinaea, LB, Punahou HS, Honolulu, Hawaii
The skinny: UCLA is pretty loaded at linebacker for this year with starters Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, and Jordan Zumwalt all returning, but those guys will all be gone after next season so bringing in some reinforcements was paramount for depth and development. The staff did a nice job by landing this group, probably the strongest position group top to bottom in this year's class. Savaiinea and Hollins are the standouts ranked Nos. 4 and 7 in the nation, respectively, but Jack is a future starter, too, and Judge can fill the hybrid role played by Dalton Hilliard last year.
Kenny Clark, DL, Carter HS, Rialto, Calif.
Kylie Fitts, DL, Redlands East Valley HS, Redlands, Calif.
The skinny: Not a huge area of need for the Bruins this season with a stable of returners that includes Cassius Marsh, Owamagbe Odighizuwa, Ellis McCarthy, Seali’I Epenesa and Brandon Willis. Fitts, a late commit to UCLA, is the No. 8 defensive end in the nation and could contribute right away. Clark probably needs to bulk up to be an effective nose tackle in UCLA's 3-4 scheme.
Sean Covington, P, St. Petersburg HS, St. Petersburg, Fla.
The Skinny: the graduation of Jeff Locke leaves a gaping hole in the special teams and Covington will be asked to fill that as a freshman. He was the No. 2 kicker in the nation, according to ESPN Recruiting Nation and averaged 46.5 yards per punt as a senior. He also has a strong leg for kickoffs. Like Locke, he is left-footed.
Mora: "Jeff Locke is an NFL punter for life. One of the best in the history of the Pac-12 if not college football and certainly UCLA. I don't want to make any comparisons between Jeff Locke and a young man that has never stepped on a college football field. He's got a good leg, he's got good get off, he's a good directional punter, he's got a strong leg on kickoffs. He's a young man that is unfazed by pressure. He's not going to be affected by the environments we put him in here in the Pac-12. He's pretty steady."