The NFL combine starts this week.
USC has a number of players looking to make some strong impressions in order to improve their draft stock. Depending on their performance at the combine players can either shoot up the draft board or fall back in the pack.
Of course, it is never an exact science but if players get invited to participate in the combine it says a lot about a players potential.
I am going to focus on three players that the NFL has some serious interest in.
Smith was seen early on as a special player.
Just a few months into Tyron Smith‘s USC career, Pete Carroll said the young offensive tackle could do things he hadn’t seen someone at his position do before...
"I think Tyron Smith is the most underrated offensive linemen in this draft," McShay said. "It won’t shock me if he goes in the top 10. … He’s continuing to develop physically. He has good natural balance. He’s trying to add bulk now, he’s over 300 pounds, which is where you’d like to see him at the combine. He’s really impressive with what he can do."
Many of us said the same thing as well...that Smith was still developing physically. Kind of like an Everson Griffin without the head case. We all wondered if he could actually put on the weight that is needed to really be a stud at his position at the next level.
Others think that Smith will be the steal of that draft at his position...
Expect the ultra-athletic Smith to weigh in at 300-plus pounds after playing at 285 for the Trojans. If his surgically repaired meniscus is healed, he should put up 40-yard dash and shuttle times similar to those recorded by (Trent) Williams
The National Football Post offers a complete breakdown of Tyron Smith.
Is a gifted athlete in space in the run game. Quickly releases to the second level, breaks down on his target and consistently is able to get his hands into contact and seal. Doesn't always hit what he sees when trying to cut defenders down at the line, but is quickly out of his stance when trying to step and seal and works his legs around defenders well through contact. Plays with good leverage as an in-line guy, extends his arms well into contact, bumps his legs and can create an initial surge because of his pad level and technique. Needs to continue to get stronger in order to do the same at the next level, but he should be able to pretty quickly in his career.
You can also read SBN's Mocking the Draft write up on Smith here.
The consensus is that Smith will go in the first round, not bad for being just a two-year starter.
Casey needs to be in the best shape of his life to really make an impression and to make his coming out early pay off.
In all honesty, outside of Auburn DT Nick Fairley, Casey might be the most naturally gifted defensive tackle prospect in the draft. He’s explosive off the football, displays good short-area quickness inside and uses his long arms well to slip blocks on contact. However, at 6-1, 305 pounds, Casey does possess a bit of a sloppy build, especially through the mid-section and there are questions about the guy’s overall work habits
There is no question that Casey is a real talent. We saw him make some tremendous plays during his time at USC but there were also times where he looked less than stellar.
I think Casey takes too much of a hit because his build. He can be a grinder out there...finding a way to get into the backfield to either stop the run or get to the QB.
Here is Mocking the Draft's observation of Casey written before last season.
Initially, what stands out about Casey’s game is not how he plays but where he ends up: the defensive tackle is an almost constant presence in the opponent's backfield. His quick, active hands allow him to slip & shed blocks at the point of attack, providing him an unobstructed path into the backfield. When he deploys his excellent swim move, it almost looks as if Casey’s running a 40 yard dash right into the quarterback. With his quick first step, he’s able to get upfield in a jiffy. As a result, he's great on slants and gives slow-footed fatties fits.
Even when Casey doesn’t make the play, he often manages to disrupt it. His pressure in the 4th Quarter of the Emerald Bowl forced Boston College QB Dave Shinskie into a costly interception, and his multiple pressures made Stanford’s Andrew Luck and Arizona’s Nick Foles scramble and force throws. In addition, Casey does a good job of getting his hands up to deflect passes and shut down passing lanes.
Pretty much what many others are saying. The kid is a real talent. He probabbly should have stayed one more year under Coach O but that ship has sailed.
Here is The National Football Post's breakdown of Jurrell Casey.
Isn't the most impressive run defender when asked to hold the point of attack. Needs to be able to shoot gaps, play off blocks and win with his first step. Doesn't do a great job extending his arms into contact and despite his respectable pad level, allows defenders to get their hands under him and drive him off the ball consistently. Does a much better job when asked to one-gap inside, can drop his shoulder, maintain level and fight his way through contact and also does a good job using his length to play the piano down the line and work toward the football. Possesses only an average closing burst in pursuit, but breaks down well and uses his length to wrap well on his man.
All the technique stuff is teachable. If he can keep his weight proportional I think he will have a solid NFL career. It is not the kids fault that God made him the way he is built.
He has shown to be effective at getting into the backfield because he can really motor, now he just need to improve some of the technique needed to really be a threat.
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Johnson has to be one of the hardest working players on last years team.
He had some catching up to do after missing most of the 2009 season because of a collarbone injury. Johnson didn't bail on the program when given the chance after the NCAA handed down their sanctions. He stuck it out ans saw it through.
Johnson isn't the biggest name on the WR board but like USC's Damian Williams the previous year RoJo will show his value through hard work. He may not make a splash but he can have a productive career because he stays focused and is a solid team player.
He is an unselfish, SOLID citizen...
He never asks God for more attention, longer touchdowns or richer statistics because he knows he already has been blessed a wealth of athletic talent: the 4.4-speed, the spring-loaded legs, the elusive moves of a 6-foot, 185-pound rubber-band body, and the fly-paper-sticky hands.
Johnson, the biggest athlete to come out of his little Muskegon (Mich.) town, is a grateful young man, faithful to his Trojans, loyal to his family and friends, and generous, many say, to a fault.
His kindest act might be that he's playing for USC at all this season. Johnson could have abandoned the NCAA-sanctioned Trojans and transferred without penalty to a program that would put "RoJo" in the brightest Kleig lights and offer him what USC can't: a senior season contending for a 2011 BCS national title and an end to a college career in a bowl game.
Character means something...
RoJo isn't as flashy as A.J. Green or Juilo Jones but he can be a threat.
Here is the National Football Post's overview of Ronald Johnson...
An explosive receiver who gets up to speed quickly out of his stance and knows how to eat up a cornerback's cushion. Does a nice job setting up his vertical routes, changing speeds and accelerating down the field. Quickly is able to locate the football and looks comfortable extending his arms to go high point the catch. Exhibits good body control when asked to adjust to the throw and showcases the coordination/concentration to come down with some tough grabs.
Has struggled to stay on the field over the past couple seasons due to injury, which as a result has stunted his growth as a route runner. Has a tendency to gear down out of any sharp, outward breaking route and fails to generate a good burst for himself out of his breaks. Also, he consistently chops his feet to gather himself when asked to break inside. Is at his best when asked to run more vertical routes down the field (flag, post, nine) where he does display some suddenness to his game, but even then there is still a definite roll out of his breaks.
If Johnson can stay healthy he could have a pretty good career in the NFL...he has all the tools!
Watch NFL Scouting Combine Feb 24 - Mar 1.