1. Adarius Pickett (Free Safety, RS Senior)
Pickett decided to forego the NFL Draft for his senior season and is going to be both a force and an emotional leader on UCLA’s defense this season. As a team captain last year, he was second on the team 85 tackles to go along with 3 pass breakups and an interception. It is highly likely that Pickett improves in all of these statistical categories for a number of reasons. The first is experience as Picket will bring 1.5 years of starting experience to a veteran secondary. The next is the departure of 4-year starter and 2nd-team All Pac-12 SS selection Jaleel Wadood, who had 79 tackles a year ago. Wadood’s role will succeeded by redshirt freshman Quinten Lake. Pickett will likely be expected to do more for the first year starter and will likely record more tackles. The final rationale for a breakout year is that it is very plausible that Pickett has more interceptions this year. I fully expect the UCLA Front 7 and specifically the defensive line to generate more pressure. Keisean Lucier-South, Jaelan Phillips Rick Wade, Chigozie Nnoruka, Osa Odighizuwa, and Marcus Moore all flashed potential last season, but none were able to truly break out. Phillips got injured and was only able to play in 7 games while Wade, Odighizuwa, and Moore all played behind seniors Jacob Tuioti-Mariner and Matt Dickerson. The talent for generating pressure is certainly present, as both Phillips and Lucier-South were rated 5-star recruits by ESPN.
Pressure and interceptions has a known correlation. The average of the top ten leading teams in interceptions from a season ago is 19.7 interceptions and 33.3 sacks. UCLA was ranked 89th in the nation in total interceptions with 8 interceptions and had just 22 sacks in 2017. New DC Jerry Azzinaro is known for bringing heat in terms of pressure on the quarterback and if any of these players can be our next premier pass rusher, such as Deon Hollins in 2015 or Takkarist McKinley in 2016, look for the pressure in the 3-4 scheme to lead to more interceptions for safety Adarius Pickett.