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UCLA Football: 5 Newcomers to Watch for the Bruins

UCLA Football: 5 Newcomers to Watch for the Bruins

UCLA Football: 5 Newcomers to Watch for the Bruins

Growing pains defined UCLA's first season under head coach Chip Kelly, but three wins on the back-half of the schedule — including a rivalry defeat of USC — closed 2018 on a positive note.

The challenge of reestablishing the Bruins as contenders in the Pac-12 continues into Kelly's second offseason at the helm. The incoming signing class features only four-star prospect, and at No. 41 nationally per 247Sports.com composite metrics, is UCLA's lowest-rated in eight years.

Nevertheless, with transfer departures like Justin Murphy, Jaelan Phillips, Chigozie Nnoruka; graduates including Adarius Pickett; and NFL early exits Andre James and Caleb Wilson; the newcomers have an opportunity to outperform their star ratings.

Sean Rhyan, OL

The only top 100-ranked high school prospect in UCLA's 2019 signing class, Rhyan is an obvious candidate to make an immediate impact — and that's without factoring in the support the Bruins will need along their offensive line.

Offensive line play has been a recurring question mark at UCLA. The loss of Andre James to the NFL and Justin Murphy to the transfer portal this offseason compounds the uncertainty. Rhyan will have a chance to play his way into the lineup, either on the interior or at tackle. He comes to UCLA already with college size at 6-foot-4 and around 320 pounds.

Datona Jackson, DE

Experience is a precious commodity in college football, so adding a junior college transfer like Jackson to a defensive line seeking additonal playmakers could be a boon for the Bruins.

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Jackson is an early enrollee and thus will get extensive FBS-level practice experience to go with his JUCO game experience at College of the Desert, whose campus is about three hours away from UCLA's. He could be a player to watch coming out of preseason camp in the same vein as linebacker Tyree Thompson, who made the transition well enough in his transfer offseason a year ago to start Week 1.

Michael Martinez, TE

Chip Kelly-coached teams at Oregon and his first year at UCLA made effective use of tight ends as pass catchers. Caleb Wilson was the best in the Pac-12 at it a season ago, leading the Bruins in both receptions and yardage. Martinez joins the roster boasting a similar 2018 for prep powerhouse Mater Dei.

Martinez's 43 grabs and six touchdowns were both good for second on the team, behind only five-star prospect and Texas Longhorns-bound receiver Bru McCoy. At 6-foot-6, Martinez adds a big body to the Bruins' passing attack.

Shamar Martin, CB 

The secondary was a decided strength for UCLA in 2018, and should be again in '19 with the return of Darnay Holmes, Quentin Lake and Elijah Gates. But that doesn't mean there isn't a need for new bodies, particularly with Adarius Pickett and Nate Meadors gone.

Martin was a standout in the CIF San Diego Section for Morse High School, and should at the very least add depth to an already well-stocked secondary. Martin is an early enrollee and will get a jump on competing at cornerback.

Jaylen Erwin, WR

The other JUCO transfer addition to UCLA's 2019 roster, could be a contributor as a big-play threat in the passing game. Erwin comes to Los Angeles by way of Hutchinson College in Kansas, where the previous two seasons, he hauled in 14 touchdowns. Erwin also produced averages of 17.9 and 20.8 yards per reception in his two campaigns at Hutchinson.

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Kensing is publisher of TheOpenMan.com. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.