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2023 UCLA Football Position Preview: Wide receivers, tight ends

Senior tight end Hudson Habermehl runs downfield. (Daily Bruin file photo)

By Benjamin Royer

Aug. 22, 2023 2:10 p.m.

This post was updated Aug. 27 at 9:20 p.m.

With the first snap of UCLA football’s 2023 season rapidly approaching, Daily Bruin Sports will be previewing each of the Bruins’ position groups before gameday. Assistant Sports editor Benjamin Royer continues with the offense by breaking down the wide receivers and tight ends.

Personnel

The Bruins lost their top two wide receivers to the NFL.

But coach Chip Kelly – known for his reliance on transfers in recruitment since coming to Westwood – once again bolstered the position group with the addition of two in-conference threats.

Redshirt sophomore J. Michael Sturdivant and senior Kyle Ford, who transferred from California and USC, respectively, will immediately become red zone options for UCLA football’s starting quarterback – whoever that may be on day one.

Sturdivant tallied 755 receiving yards for the Golden Bears last season, a total that would have slotted in just below former Bruin Jake Bobo’s numbers as the team’s second-highest receiver in 2022. Ford tallied 365 receiving yards of his own in 12 games for the Trojans.

Both receivers stand at 6 feet, 3 inches tall, and they add a dynamic, albeit similar, profile for Kelly to work with in offensive schemes. As wideouts, the transfer portal duo can be All-Pac-12 candidates from early on.

The rest of the position group includes familiar faces. Seniors Kam Brown and Logan Loya and junior Titus Mokiao-Atimalala will all earn snaps, with the latter two likely lining up in the slot as short-yardage options.

Brown trailed only Bobo and former Bruin Kazmeir Allen in receiving yards last season, although the additions of Sturdivant and Ford may hinder his ability to have a breakout campaign.

Redshirt senior Josiah Norwood and senior Keegan Jones provide veteran experience to help guide the younger receiving options who are unlikely to see the field in 2023. However, both should appear as the fourth or fifth eligible receiver on the field in spread formations, depending on which tight ends are involved.

Among tight ends, Kelly has his guy for a big-yardage role – senior Hudson Habermehl. The 6-foot-7-inch deep threat, who earned a scholarship last season, hauled in 167 receiving yards and two touchdowns a year ago.

Redshirt sophomore Moliki Matavao, an Oregon transfer, tallied 134 yards on 10 receptions for the Ducks last year and should be the second tight end in most formations.

Sophomore Carsen Ryan and redshirt freshman Jack Pedersen, while both listed as 6-foot-4-inch running backs, should both factor into the tight ends group as versatile options in the offense.

Predictions

While other areas around the offense seem to have more questions than answers, the receiving corps should shore up the offense and improve across the board in 2023.

Sturdivant and Ford are set to have emergent campaigns and lead UCLA in receiving. Most offensive sets should include both receivers, and the duo could each average four to six receptions per game.

Although he will be the third option in the receivers’ room, watch out for Brown. The 6-foot-1-inch wideout has big-play potential that could be harnessed given the right opportunities. Brown improved from 2021 to 2022, and another stat increase could be due for the third-year Bruin.

Loya and Mokiao-Atimalala will try and fill the Allen-shaped hole as speed threats, but the dynamic nature of the former track and field athlete will be difficult to replicate.

Kelly has relied upon tight ends to do the heavy lifting as receivers, and Habermehl should become an NFL draft pick with a strong season. Tied for the tallest player on the team, Habermehl, from Roseville, California, moves more like a receiver than a tight end and has solid catching ability.

Matavao could line up at the opposite end of Habermehl on the offensive line as two large downfield targets. The rest of the tight end group will probably all see action in 2023, but that is to be expected with Kelly’s offense-focused nature at UCLA.

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Benjamin Royer | Assistant Sports editor
Royer is the 2023-2024 Assistant Sports editor on the baseball, gymnastics and men's water polo beats and a reporter on the football beat. He was previously a staff writer on the baseball, football and gymnastics beats. He is also a fourth-year communication student.
Royer is the 2023-2024 Assistant Sports editor on the baseball, gymnastics and men's water polo beats and a reporter on the football beat. He was previously a staff writer on the baseball, football and gymnastics beats. He is also a fourth-year communication student.
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