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NFL Alumni Countdown: No. 9 Southern California Trojans

The countdown of the college programs sending the best talent to the NFL continues with the Southern California Trojans.

With the surprising decision by Lincoln Riley to leave Oklahoma to become the head coach at USC, there could be an increase in the number of pro prospects coming out of the program.

Drake London #15 of the USC Trojans reacts after a USC touchdown during the first half of a game against the UCLA Bruins
Drake London - Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images/AFP

Many of the players from USC being touted as the top draft prospects are part of the talented group of incoming transfers.

Receiver Jordan Addison (+126.00) is showing up in the odds to be the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft according to the sportsbook.

Only three Trojans were selected in this year’s draft and that figures to change in the coming years.

Here’s a breakdown of the storylines involving Michigan products currently in the NFL.

Best Position – Wide Receiver

There was a time when USC was known as the destination for NFL teams looking for running backs. In a 10-year span from 1966-75, there were 17 running backs drafted out of USC.

These days, it is all about the wide receivers.

Nelson Agholor has the seventh-most catches among players selected in 2015. Only two wide receivers have more catches out of the 2017 draftees than JuJu Smith-Schuster. If Smith-Schuster hadn’t missed 12 games a season ago, he would likely be higher on that list. Michael Pittman ranks fifth in catches among the 2020 draft class. There were 16 receivers picked before Amon-Ra St. Brown in last year’s draft and only Miami’s Jaylen Wadden had more receptions than the 90 hauled in by St. Brown.

— Detroit Lions (@Lions) July 27, 2022

The recent run on USC receivers began in 2013 when Robert Woods was a second-round pick of the Los Angeles Rams. Though he missed the final seven regular-season games in 2021, Woods is third among his position group in catches and receiving yards among the players selected in 2013.

The list continues to grow as Drake London was the first receiver chosen in the 2022 draft when he was taken by the Atlanta Falcons.

The NFL betting line lists London (+650) with the second-best odds in the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year race.

Is Sam the Man in Carolina?

Sam Darnold was viewed as the quarterback for at least a decade when the New York Jets traded up to No. 3 to select him in the 2018 draft.

Darnold’s run with the Jets lasted three years. He started 38 games with New York, posting a 13-25 record. The Jets’ front office cut their losses by shipping him to Carolina. He went 4-7 in 11 starts. He completed less than 60% of his passes in three of his four NFL seasons including 2021. His nine touchdown passes and 13 interceptions give him 54 TD throws and 52 interceptions in his four NFL seasons.

The quarterbacks out of USC taken before Darnold haven’t exactly set the NFL on fire with Cody Kessler and Matt Barkley having a combined record of 4-15 as NFL starting quarterbacks.

Second Best Isn’t All Bad

When looking at the recent USC players drafted, it could be argued that the second-round picks have been more productive than those selected in the first round.

Pittman, the 34th overall pick by Indianapolis in 2020, had a breakout campaign in 2021 with 88 catches and 1082 yards.

Running back Ronald Jones II and linebacker Uchenna Nwosu, both taken in the second round in 2018, have had their moments in the NFL. Both are starting over with Jones leaving Tampa Bay for Kansas City and Nwosu going from the Los Angeles Chargers to the Seattle Seahawks.

The aforementioned Smith-Schuster is with Kansas City as well after a successful run with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Woods is another productive receiver out of USC who was a second-round steal.

The most recent second-round selection is defensive end Drake Jackson who has been getting talked up by his coaches with the San Francisco 49ers.

Linemen Ready To Take the Next Step

Much was expected when the Miami Dolphins took offensive tackle, Austin Jackson, with the 18th overall pick in 2020 and when the New York Jets used the 14th pick to choose guard Alijah Vera-Tucker.

Vera-Tucker started 16 games as a rookie and seems to be on the right track with the Jets.

Jackson has started 28 contests in his first two seasons and with the offseason acquisitions by the Dolphins, he will be part of what should be an improved Miami offense.

Looking into the future

Here’s a look at the current players drafted out of USC with the brightest futures.

  1. Michael Pittman, Indianapolis Colts WR: Pittman is starting to show what he can do thanks to his impressive 2021 season. Now Matt Ryan will be looking for Pittman early and often as the Colts look to return to the postseason.

The NFL predictions have Pittman with a projected total of 1,025.5 receiving yards. The odds are at -125 for him to go over and -105 to finish under.

  1. Drake London, Atlanta Falcons WR: There are questions surrounding the quarterback position in Atlanta after Ryan was sent to the Colts. With a lack of playmakers at the outside receiver spots, look for London to become a favorite target for whoever the quarterback might be in 2022.
  2. Amon-Ra St. Brown, Detroit Lions WR: Yet another receiver making the list. There wasn’t much to cheer about with the Lions in 2021. However, the fourth-round pick became a bright spot with 90 receptions.
  3. Alijah Vera-Tucker, New York Jets OL: The Jets have seemingly been making all the right moves recently. The selection of Vera-Tucker would be on that list with the decision to trade up and select the former Trojan giving New York a building block on the offensive line.
  4. Leonard Williams, New York Giants DL: Receiver Robert Woods might have made this list if he landed in a more pass-happy offense than the one in Tennessee.

Williams gets the nod even if teams have struggled to figure out if the former No. 6 overall pick is better suited to play inside or outside on the defensive line. The arrival of Kayvon Thibodeaux should be a help for Williams.

Up Next

USC put together the top-rated class of incoming transfers. Williams and Addison should be sought-after prospects whenever they are eligible to be selected.

Offensive lineman Andrew Vorhees and running back Travis Dye and defensive lineman Tuli Tuipulotu are other players worth keeping an eye on.

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