A look ahead to the 2018 NFL Draft and the hot prospects out of USC.
After the departure of Pete Carroll, and NCAA sanctions, USC hasn’t experienced the success that they are used to. They got off to a slow start last year but finished strong and won the Rose Bowl. Head coach Clay Helton will look to keep the momentum rolling next season.
Although the team went through a bit of a rough patch post-Carroll, they continued to send players to the NFL. They always seem to have a prospect or two near the top of their position group. That will likely be the case at the end of next season as well.
Meet the Prospects:
USC lost key members of their offense and defense. The biggest loss was Adoree’ Jackson. Jackson played corner, returned kicks at a high level, and helped on offense at times. Another big loss was Juju Smith-Schuster.
Luckily USC has some talented players they hope will step up and help replace some of the production they lost. They also have one of the best quarterbacks in the country so that helps ease some pain as well. Let’s look at some of their prospects:
Quarterback Sam Darnold, 6’4” 225, Redshirt Sophomore:
Darnold didn’t start last season as the starter. He started for the first time in the teams fourth game and never looked back. He completed 67.2% of his passes and threw for 3,086 yards, 31 touchdowns, and nine interceptions.
He has most of the traits that NFL teams look for in a quarterback, such as size, arm strength, accuracy and also has pretty decent athleticism. When a play breaks down he is still usually able to make a play. Also, he has the confidence to take some risks and fit the ball into tight holes when needed.
The major knock that some people have on Darnold is that he has kind of a long delivery which can make things difficult in the NFL. However, if he can have another season like he did last season he will likely be one of the first quarterbacks off the board during the 2018 draft.
Linebacker Cameron Smith, 6’2” 245, Junior:
Heading into his junior year Smith has already turned in two solid seasons of production playing inside linebacker. As a freshman in 2015, he recorded 78 tackles, three pass break-ups, and three interceptions. Then in 2016, he had 83 tackles, seven tackles for loss and four pass break-ups.
Next season Smith will be the leader of the defense. Smith has a balanced skill set. If he continues to play at the level he has so far he will be one of best inside linebacker prospects in the draft.
Outside Linebacker/ Defensive End Porter Gustin, 6’5” 260, Junior:
Gustin may end up putting on weight to play defensive end at the next level. But at USC he plays outside linebacker and is a good fit at that spot in a 3-4 defense.
In each of his first two seasons, Gustin logged five and a half sacks and a combined 19.5 tackles for loss. He’s a solid edge rusher and does a good job against the run as well.
If Gustin has a season where he records a higher number of sacks than he has in the past he could easily end up being a top prospect in the draft.
Cornerback Iman Marshall, 6’1” 200, Junior:
Next season Marshall will take over the role of number one cornerback after the loss of Adoree’ Jackson. He has already started at corner for most of his freshmen and sophomore seasons. In those two seasons, he totaled 118 tackles, six interceptions, and 17 pass break-ups.
Marshall has the size that NFL teams look for and is physical. Sometimes he gets a little too physical and gets flagged. He will have to clean that up this season.
If Marshall can step up and show he can handle opposing teams number one receiver there is a good chance he will move on to the NFL after this season.
Running Back Ronald Jones, 6’1” 195, Junior:
Jones was USC’s leading rusher last season and will look to keep it going again next year. In 2016 he totaled 177 carries for 1,082 yards and 12 touchdowns. As a freshman in 2015, he had 153 carries for 987 yards and eight touchdowns.
He has a well-rounded skill set. It isn’t easy for defenders to bring him down one-on-one. Also, he has a knack for breaking off big runs.
Although the hype heading into the year is mostly directed toward Darnold and the passing attack defenses will also have to be prepared for Jones. Jones will look to take advantage of the fact that defenses won’t be able to load the box.
Wide Receiver Deontay Burnett, 6’0” 170, Junior:
Burnett was USC’s third leading receiver last season with 56 receptions for 622 yards and seven touchdowns. He has a great opportunity to see an increase in production however because the two receivers that were ahead of him last year are no longer there.
He is a bit light for the NFL but he has great hands and is a reliable target for quarterback Sam Darnold. There is a chance he could be in for a big year this season. If he can take advantage of it he could end up being an intriguing option for teams during the draft.