This week NFL.com released its list of the top 50 players in college football. Overall, USC had five players featured, second to only Alabama who had seven.
The first Trojan listed was none other than Sam Darnold at no. 3, nestled between defending Heisman winner Lamar Jackson and perennial All-American Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma. Darnold put the college football world on notice after the Rose Bowl last season in which he threw for 453 yards and 5 touchdowns tying the game on a 27 yard pass to Deontay Burnett with 1:20 remaining. After going under the radar for most of last season, Darnold enters the 2017 campaign as a Heisman hopeful and potential first round draft pick.
Junior linebacker Cameron Smith came in at no. 14 followed closely by corner Iman Marshall at 16. Both anchor a defense that returns 7 starters. Draft analyst Chad Reuter had especially high praise for Marshall, writing that “NFL scouts will tell you he's a better pure corner prospect than 2017 first-round pick Adoree' Jackson because of his strength and agility on the sideline.” He was the first ranked cornerback and the second highest ranked defensive back on the list. The junior has six career interceptions.
The next Trojan ranked was another defender, junior outside linebacker Porter Gustin. Coming in at no. 28, the hulking pass rusher had 5.5 sacks and 13 total tackles for loss last season. In addition, he finished second on the team with 68 tackles earning PAC-12 honorable mention as a sophomore. NFL.com noted his uncanny resemblance to another great Trojan linebacker.
Finally, junior Ronald Jones was rated at the sixth best running back in college football coming in at 43 overall. He earned second team All PAC- 12 last year after rumbling for 1,082 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2016. After just two seasons he is already 17th all time in school history with 2,069 rushing yards. Reuter called him “a dynamic ball carrier who's speedy and elusive,” yet also “not afraid of contact.”
With five Trojans ranked in the NFL’s top 50 list of college football players and plenty of other talented athletes returning, it is clear that next year’s team will be one of the most hyped in recent history.