With the 2017 NFL Draft just a few hours away, USC is once again at the forefront of an NFL pipeline rich with young prospects. With so many players eligible to be drafted or signed, we explore the ideal fits for each prospect and how their talents and time at USC translate into their newly mocked home.
Adoree’ Jackson (CB) New Orleans Saints—Round 1, 32nd Overall
This landing spot would allow for Adoree’ Jackson to be successfully utilized. Jackson isn’t a first-round pick strictly based on his play at cornerback. He still has much to learn, as even though his play and production increased year-to-year, he’s relatively new to the position. Jackson’s legitimately rare return ability and playmaking on offense make him a truly special all-around player built in the same vein as All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson. Much like Jackson at USC, Peterson has made an impact in the league as being both a premier cornerback and kick returner who has occasionally been featured on offense. However, just because a team has a player with so much ability doesn’t mean it always gets utilized. Saints head coach Sean Payton is a wizard of offensive play-calling, and he always maximizes the speed he has on offense. In his rookie year, Jackson could emulate the impact that All-Pro return specialist Tyreek Hill had for the Kansas City Chiefs last season as a rookie when he finished with a total of 12 touchdowns as both an offensive weapon and primary returner.
Juju Smith-Schuster (WR) Dallas Cowboys—Round 2, 60th Overall
The single most divisive player at the position, Smith-Schuster is the best and also one of the worst wide receivers in this year’s draft. That’s according to the talk draft heads. Most likely to be drafted in the second round due to a logjam of talent at the top, Smith-Schuster has often been mocked to the San Francisco 49ers or the Los Angeles Rams early in the second. Landing at either team would immediately make him the team’s top receiving weapon and place him under immense pressure with a sketchy quarterback situation. In Dallas however, the youngest player in the entire draft (seriously he doesn’t turn 21 until November) would be a cog in one of the best offenses in the league. In our combine wrap-ups, we compared Smith-Schuster to Dez Bryant, primarily due to their physical style of play and comparable size. As a Cowboy, he’d be able to learn from one of the very best around, while not being pressured to be the top guy right away as he’d be behind tight end Jason Witten and slot receiver Cole Beasley. Smith-Schuster will be able to mature alongside Dak Prescott, while making plays for them this season.
Chad Wheeler (OT) New York Giants—Round 4, 140th Overall
There’s a lot of intrigue surrounding Wheeler as a prospect. He was ideal size at 6’7”, 307 lbs., and has excellent footwork and is light enough to cut off edge defenders. However, for all his size and athleticism, there are a lot of medical and off-field incidents that prevent him from getting much else attention. Wheeler has suffered a laundry lists of injuries at his time as a Trojan and has also had an altercation with police in 2015. If Wheeler moves past those issues, his athleticism at the position would bring a welcomed addition to the team and would have a legitimate chance to dethrone first round bust Ereck Flowers.
Damien Mama (OG) Washington Redskins—Round 5, 154th Overall
Much like Zach Banner, Mama is a once highly-touted high school prospect who struggled throughout him time at USC. With a stout build and flashes of dynamite in his hands, Mama isn’t necessarily scheme-specific like Banner would be. Mama made waves locally as he worked hard to lose weight since his freshman year and eventually lost 75 pounds. If Mama commits to both his craft and weight, he would make road grinding guard for a Washington Redskin team who loves to run the football.
Stevie Tu’ikolovatu (DT) San Francisco 49ers—Round 6, 198th Overall
Tu’ikolovatu is the most underrated prospect coming out of USC this season. A thickly-built defensive lineman with grown man strength, Tu’ikolovatu was absolute dominant in the trenches and swallowed up running backs while he plugged up lanes. Tu’ikolovatu is inept at pass-rushing, but would be subject to a rotational piece in San Francisco used on early downs in their new 4-3 front. He won’t get much glory, Tu’ikolovatu has a future as a reliable run stuffer in a league who now shifting its focus to young, athletic running backs.
Zach Banner (OT/G) Baltimore Ravens—Round 6, 186th Overall
Once upon a time, Banner was one of the hottest prospects around. A five-star recruit coming out of high school, the mammoth Banner was seen as the future of the position - standing at a staggering 6’8” and tipping the scales 353 pounds at the Combine (even though he’s down to 347 pounds following Pro Day). As his career progressed, the former Trojan sputtered out, and his lack of quickness and footwork often led to quick edge rushers to blow past by him. Thus, we see a behemoth of an offensive linemen who is deemed slow who has tumbled down the draft boards. Going late to Baltimore would give Banner a chance to show he belongs in the NFL. Banner would have to move to guard, as his large frame in such a tight quarter would allow him to unitize his strengths. The Ravens are a heavy running team that only succeed in the passing game if they execute they play-action pass and Banner could be part of a resurgent offensive line following consecutive off seasons of losing core line talent.
Darreus Rogers (WR) Detroit Lions— Round 7, 250th Overall
PLEASE READ THE PREFACE: ROGERS IS NOT ANQUAN BOLDIN
Good, now that we got that out of the way—the Lions did really well with Boldin last season and that should interest the team in Rogers. Rogers isn’t on the radar for the Hall of Fame like Boldin, but he has a similar strong body and isn’t the fastest guy. He’s got strong hands and good body control to open up his catching radius, but he is absolutely a poorly tested athlete. With a heavy aerial attack in Detroit, Rogers would bring a dimension of size the team doesn’t have outside of oft-injured TE Erick Ebron, and can immediately contribute to special teams.
Justin Davis (RB) Indianapolis Colts—Undrafted, Priority Free Agent
There is a lot about this fit that makes sense. Davis wouldn’t really see the field—at first, but he’d be behind future Hall of Famer Frank Gore and a talented back up in Robert Turbin. If not completely subjected to the practice squad, the Colts would be able to have another active back if Davis contributes on special teams. Never the fastest or strongest, Davis always ran the football hard with grit. He turns the corner quickly and always shows urgency around the end zone. He’ll have to earn his way to meaning full reps in the NFL, but the league always has room for hardworking, blue collar guys.
Leon McQuay III (DB) Los Angeles Rams—Undrafted, Priority Free Agent
McQuay can potentially contribute to an NFL team if brought on the correct way. After repeatedly losing his job, the once five-star prospect solidified his standing in his senior season at USC and putting together some solid tape. If there is one thing the tape does show is his dreaded missed tackles and hesitation to do so. Built more so like a cornerback rather than safety, the 6’1” 192 lbs. McQuay would do well to learn from defensive guru Wade Phillips and might just have a chance to crack the roster.
De’Quan Hampton (WR) Cincinnati Bengals—Undrafted, Priority Free Agent
Hampton’s burial on the depth chart as a JUCO transfer will lead to him not being drafted. However, Hampton has serious potential to be a UFA signing that turns out to be a hidden gem. Hampton didn’t receive a Combine invite, but he showed impressive athletisim at USC’s Pro Day. Staying true to jumball hype coming out of Long Beach City College, Hampton posted a 41.5” vertical, 11’ broad jump, while putting up 225 lbs. 21 times and ran 4.66 40-yard dash. Requiring talent outside of AJ Green, the 6’3” 223 lbs. Hampton can compete for snaps with Tyler Boyd as the fourth receiving option, and would another dimension to the offense as a redzone specialist.