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Former No. 1 recruit Jaelan Phillips reportedly left UCLA, and it’s not clear what’s next

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Phillips, an outside linebacker with defensive end skills, was the class of 2017’s highest rated player.

NCAA Football: Cincinnati at UCLA Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

UCLA sophomore edge defender Jaelan Phillips has left the program and is unlikely to return, 247Sports reported Saturday.

Phillips has only played in 10 games across two college seasons, and the report says his exit from the Bruins is “injury-related, even though it’s not being characterized as a medical retirement.” It also says if Phillips returns, it’s likelier that instead of playing again for UCLA, he’ll transfer.

Phillips’ departure from UCLA would be big news, as would a transfer. He was the top-rated recruit in the country two years ago.

Phillips finished No. 1 on the 247Sports Composite in the class of 2017. Not everyone had him as the No. 1 player in the country, but he was the closest thing the sprawling recruiting industry had to a consensus top pick that year. Most recruiting analysts saw him then as a defensive end with the potential to play outside linebacker, as he’s done in college.

The Redlands (Calif.) product committed in April of 2016, more than a year before he enrolled, and was seen as a crown jewel of Jim Mora’s efforts to build UCLA into a Pac-12 contender. Of course, Mora’s gone now, and UCLA struggled in Chip Kelly’s first year. Phillips had been ruled out for the season since mid-October due to a concussion.

Phillips’ health is the most important thing. If he does find himself looking to play for another program, he’ll be in extreme demand. Given that he only played four games in 2018, he’d be in line to be a redshirt sophomore next year at UCLA.

If he transferred, he’d run the risk of losing a year of eligibility at the end of his career because of the NCAA rule that requires players to use their four seasons of competition over five calendar years. Alternatively, the school could treat Phillips as a sort of double-redshirt sophomore and take a crack at an NCAA waiver sometime down the line. It could also seek a waiver to let him play immediately, though it’s often not clear how the NCAA decides which of those to approve and which to deny.

Phillips has 41 tackles and 4.5 sacks across his 10 college appearances.