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Breakout Bruins

Breakout Bruins: Five UCLA Football Players to Watch in 2019

UCLA quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson passes under pressure vs. Arizona last season.  |  Getty Images

By Andrew Corbett, SportsPac12

Despite an underwhelming 3-9 record in 2018, there were signs of improvement for UCLA to build on next season. Five Bruins in particular seem poised to have breakout seasons. (A breakout player is one who hasn't yet performed up to expectations, so proven players such as Joshua Kelley, Darnay Holmes and others are excluded from consideration.)

5. Michael Ezieke, Sophomore Wide Receiver

The Bruins have a history of producing legendary receivers, and it appears they're about to welcome the next one into the fold. As a freshman, Michael Ezieke caught 12 balls for 136 yards and a pair of touchdowns, averaging a respectable 11.2 yards per catch. But those numbers don't tell the whole story. At 6-foot-5, he's a substantial target at slot wide receiver, making him a challenge for defensive backs to cover. His size, in combination with his ability to run a clean route, should make him a daunting red zone threat come fall. Having been thrown into the mix straight out of high school last year, Ezieke stands to benefit from his first offseason with the team, both in gaining more extensive knowledge of the offense, and in adding body muscle. Look for dramatic improvement this season after a promising 2018 campaign.

4. Kazmeir Allen, Sophomore Running Back

UCLA has a sure-fire starter at running back in sensational redshirt-senior Joshua Kelley. But who will back him up? The top two candidates appear to be sophomores Martell Irby and Kazmeir Allen. While Irby seems most likely to emerge as Kelley's go-to sub in most situations, Allen brings a decisive dimension to the position: Speed. In high school, he set the California state record for the 100-meter at 10.4, and he showcased it in a 74 yard touchdown run against Cincinnati last year, the third-longest by a Bruin true freshman. Allen ran for 188 yards on only 30 attempts in 2018, tallying two touchdowns, one receiving, and one rushing. He's likely to be used as a change-of-pace back, capable of providing big plays with his blazing speed.

3. Krys Barnes, Senior Linebacker

Krys Barnes is developing a reputation as a clutch performer. After starting off the year slow in 2018, Krys stepped it up late in the season, recording 85 tackles, including 10 for loss. He also added a sack and an interception. Most impressively, among his six passes defended was a key fourth-down breakup late in the game vs. USC to secure the win. Barnes wreaked havoc in the backfield at times, and made some big plays in coverage. Now he just needs to put together a complete season. All indications point to him improving his game, and becoming even more of a menace to opposing offenses in 2019.

2. Elijah Gates, Redshirt Sophomore Cornerback

If offensive coordinators didn't know about Elijah Gates last season, they know about him now. After redshirting in 2017, Elijah Gates was a bright spot as a young corner for UCLA in 2018. While not the most physically imposing player at 5-foot-10, his footwork and downfield technique make him a formidable defender. The infrequency with which opposing quarterbacks tested Gates is a testament to how tight he was in his coverage. He hits harder than his size might suggest as well, recording 28 solo tackles, including one for a loss, with 3 passes defended and an interception last year. If he continues to develop, Gates has the potential to become an all-conference defensive back as a sophomore.

1. Dorian Thompson-Robinson, Sophomore Quarterback

Chip Kelly couldn't have inherited a better quarterback for his system. And having played the position for just one year in high school—and less than a full season at UCLA—it's safe to say Dorian Thompson-Robinson's best football is still ahead of him. In 10 games last year, he threw for more than 1,300 yards with seven touchdowns. A gifted athlete who can hurt you with his arm and legs, Thompson-Robinson has a knack for avoiding sacks. His uncanny ability to spin out of trouble, fend off hits, and scramble is likely to give defensive linemen nightmares this fall. The former four-star should benefit from his first offseason with UCLA, allowing him to emerge as the clear starter.

Andrew Corbett (@AndrewUCLA_) covers UCLA football and basketball for

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