In today's college football dynamic, versatility on the field comes in all shapes and sizes and USC's squad is poised to perform well this season with marquee game changers on each side of the football.
USC enters the season with a Pac-12 leading 18 starters returning, led by noted All-American standout Leonard Williams and All-Pac-12 performer Nelson Agholor drawing national headlines. We don't mean to overshadow the rest of USC's possible breakout players, but these two Trojans could be very, very special.
For Agholor, the Florida native follows a recent run of dominant USC WR's that have thrived in the Coliseum for large statistical seasons. Williams meanwhile, has even heard his name tossed around as a potential No. 1 draft pick in 2015.
While the NFL Draft has missed the delightful sights and sounds of Cardinal and Gold in the First Round over the past two seasons, each of these prospects have the potential to inherit top-round grades. But if we've learned anything from the recent years, consistency week in and week out could really propel these players at the next level.
After leading the Trojans in receiving yards, touchdowns and receiving yard average this past season, Agholor returns as the team's main offensive threat at starting quarterback Cody Kessler's disposal. We saw the best of what the junior had to offer in the final game against Fresno State, snatching five receptions for 94 yards and two receiving scores.
Already mentioned as an Athlon Sports First-Team All-Pac-12 Performer and Preseason All-American Candidate, Agholor's even extending his talents into a rare class of glorified talent as USC's most versatile wide receiving target. Agholor ranks 13th overall on NFL.com's list of the most versatile players in all of college football.
Agholor broke the school record for single-season punt-return average (19.1 yards) on 18 returns. He also returned kickoffs, though he's a much bigger threat on punt returns and he can catch the ball out of the x, y or even slot. We know Steve Sarkisian will ramp up the pace on offense, and Agholor could be the largest beneficiary of that added tempo.
Leonard Williams has shown flashes of absolute dominance, eventual All-American status, immaturity and foolishness all over the course of his star-studded USC career at this very moment. Finishing last season second with 74 tackles, including a team-high 13.5 for losses (with 6 sacks) and one fumble recovery, Williams put up some great numbers.
He told Bruce Feldman during the Spring Game that he played most of last season at just 60-percent health, recovering from a nagging shoulder injury, but rested this offseason and will be ready for another strong year at defensive end. Williams, who made 2013 ESPN.com All-American first team, Lindy's All-American second team, AP All-American third team, CBSSports.com All-American third team has plenty of accolades, but how dominant could he actually be at full strength?
Williams, who was named the 8th most versatile athlete, was broken down in fine detail by NFL.com Draft Expert Bucky Brooks in his recent column, dissecting the major strengths, weaknesses and room for slight improvement in his overall game. Brooks believed that his pass-rush ability could lead him into a double-digit sack performer at the next level, but his poor pad level and inconsistent motor could prevent him from developing into an immediate top-five pick.
"Although he possesses the prototypical physical dimensions and is very productive in several areas, NFL scouts will want to see more consistency and urgency in his play before anointing him as an elite prospect in the 2015 or 2016 class. Additionally, Williams needs to refine his footwork and fundamentals (pad level and hand usage) to become the dominant player that scouts envision when they look at his extraordinary physical tools on tape."
Brooks did note however, that Williams' disruptive skills repeatedly showed up since "he has a knack for coming up with a timely sack or forced fumble with the game on the line." That may be of the utmost importance against Stanford, ASU, UCLA, Notre Dame and a possible Pac-12 Championship game looming. The talent is definitely there but the increased reps and strong competition could carry Williams, and the rest of that defensive line to be honest, towards new heights over the entire campaign.
BUT FOR ARGUMENT SAKE, USC'S MOST VERSATILE PLAYER NOT EVEN ON THAT LIST
This talented duo may be in for strong campaigns before declaring for the draft, but arguably the most versatile and important player to the Trojans immediate success could come from RB Buck Allen or even ST/FB Soma Vainuku.
Allen emerged onto the scene once Ed Oregon took over, and has equally earned the trust as a healthy, dependable back leading the stable of ball carriers. He's known for making dangerous plays on the run, in the screen game. But his biggest strength could come in the passing game, like when he broke open a swing pass for a 57-yard score against Cal.
Vainuku continues to make contributions all over the field, definitely avenging himself for all the dropped passes especially that 4th-down play against Notre Dame in the infamous goal line breakdown back in 2012. His persistent efforts clearing space for the running game, even garnering a few short yardage carries this Spring, will be well served this season. Coach Sarkisian has even been very vocal about changing the entire perception around the fullback position in this new offense.
Vainuku's special teams efforts, blocking three punts and 13 tackles, earned him First Team All-Pac-12 Honors last season and its well known that Buck Allen plays with every ounce of inspiration on his shoulders each and every snap.