Once again in the fold of producing top-tier talent into the NFL Draft, the USC Trojans were represented on Saturday by arguably their best player over the past three seasons in junior wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster.
Ever since announcing his decision to choose USC over Oregon and Notre Dame during his senior year at Long Beach Polytechnic High School, Smith-Schuster has seemingly been destined to reach the NFL with his increasingly promising potential.
Measurements: 6'1″ | 215 lbs | 32 7/8 arms | 10 1/2 hands
Bench: 15 reps
Vertical jump: 32.5″
40 Yard Dash: 4.54
The measurements were as expected for Smith-Schuster, however the biggest question heading into the draft was his speed. His sub-4.6 speed might have surprised most, but his speed on film is very clear.
Registering 74 receptions for 914 yards and 10 touchdowns in his final season at USC, Smith-Schuster displayed what has consistently been his style over the past three seasons—brutally physical.
From the snap, Smith-Schuster uses his strong hands to create initial separation on routes, and continues his physical play by using his body to shield the ball from the defender.
With normally reliable hands, Smith-Schuster consistently fought for the ball—whether it was running fearlessly up the middle of the field with drags and slants, or boxing out defenders over the top for deep passes. Often times however, Smith-Schuster couldn’t get in front of speedier defenders for the short routes, or got beat downfield with the inability to create separation.
With speed being the biggest knock on Smith-Schuster, his physical gifts in his strength and explosiveness perfectly complimented his aggression and competitiveness. Once he has the ball in the hands, he showed an innate ability for yards after the catch, as his speed on the field becomes real and his fondness for stiff arms keep defensive backs on the grass.
His most obvious fit seems like a possession receiver for West Coast offenses, yet his pro-style experience has proven he can lineup outside the numbers and bully his way downfield in high-volume passing offenses.
Most of Smith-Schuster’s comparisons float between Detroit Lions’ wide receiver Anquan Boldin and former All-Pro Terrell Owens. Amongst the two, the competitiveness, physicality and YAC is the common theme.
The best comparison for Smith-Schuster of the current players in the NFL is that of All-Pro wide receiver Dez Bryant. Much like Bryant, Smith-Schuster is a strong, physical player who isn’t afraid of running routes across the middle of the field and thrive to make spectacular jump ball catches. They are both fluid athletes who have great body control to catch the ball at awkward angles in high points. Both are highly competitive leaders who leave everything on the field.
With the abundance of talent at the wide receiver position in this year’s draft, Smith-Schuster is most likely to be taken in the 2-3 rounds for a team looking for strong number two wide receiver along an established pro—or a potential top wide out for a young quarter back in need of a reliable target. At any rate, Smith-Schuster should hit the ground running and make an immediate impact in the NFL.