With the NFL Draft slated to begin on Thursday there will undoubtedly be some Trojans on teams’ bog boards - the likes of Ronald Jones, Rasheem Green, and Sam Darnold (to name a few). While we await to see where they land, let’s take some time to recognize some of the big names to come out of the program in recent memory. Everyone likes a good countdown, so here we go:
10. Keith Rivers (2008) - Round 1, Pick 9
Here’s a player who was highly touted coming out of high school and was even named First-team All-PAC-10 and an All-American in 2007. His success in college didn’t exactly translate to a star-studded NFL career, though: drafted by the Bengals, he spent his first 4 seasons there before signing with New York Giants in 2012. From there he bounced around to Buffalo and Dallas before finally being released by the Cowboys in 2015. He has not been on an NFL roster since.
9. Matt Kalil (2012) - Round 1, Pick 4
Brother of Ryan Kalil, Matt was an All-American in 2011 and was selected 4th overall by Minnesota Vikings. He made the Pro Bowl in 2012 and signed a 5 year, $55 million deal with the Carolina Panthers in 2017. The signing made Matt and Ryan the third set of brothers to play on the same offensive line in the NFL and the first set of brothers to do it in 24 years.[In his first season with the Panthers, he started all 16 games at left tackle. He has been a solid starter in the NFL and will look to continue to make his mark at the position for years to come.
8. Leonard Williams (2015) - Round 1, Pick 6
It took a while for Williams’ mental acumen to catch up with his physical prowess on the football field but coaches and scouts see him now coming into his own. Last season alone Williams was tied for 7th in the NFL with 25 hits on the quarterback; on his career he has 65. He was a Pro Bowl player in 2016 and has made strides playing for Todd Bowles in New York as of late. At USC he was a leader on the defensive side of the ball - he had 20 career sacks and made a name for himself as he was a consistent source of frustration for opposing quarterbacks. He is still young and shows a lot of promise, so Trojan fans should be eager to see him continue to develop as the years unfold.
7. Malcolm Smith (2011) - Round 7, Pick 242
Smith was drafted with the 242nd overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks, a move that reunited him with his former USC head coach Pete Carroll. The early stages of his career saw him serving more of a backup role in Seattle before winning MVP honors for his performance in Super Bowl XVIII. He then signed two year deal with Oakland and, in 2015, he put up career-year numbers as he tallied 122 total tackles and 4 sacks. He signed a massive contract with the San Francisco 49ers in 2017 before being sidelined for the entire season with a torn pectoral suffered during training camp.
6. Juju Smith-Schuster (2017) - Round 2, Pick 62
Juju Smith-Schuster earned immediate playing time as a true freshman in 2014. In his first career game, he had four receptions for 123 yards against Fresno State. During his three year career at USC, he was able to tally 213 receptions, 3,092 yards, and 25 touchdowns. Smith-Schuster was drafted by the Steelers in the second round of last April’s draft and put up impressive numbers as he and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger found chemistry on the football field. Look for him to continue the momentum heading into his sophomore campaign.
5. Nelson Agholor (2015) - Round 1, Pick 20
There is a decent amount of Super Bowl experience on this list, and here we have the most recent example of such. Nelson Agholor played a huge role in the success of the Philadelphia Eagles this past season - he was one of quarterback Carson Wentz’s favorite targets as he, through 13 game, tallied 62 receptions and 768 receiving yards to go along with his 8 touchdowns. In Super Bowl LII he put up 84 receiving yards and helped his team take down the dynasty that is the New England Patriots. Pretty decent value for a late first round selection.
4. Robert Woods (2013) - Round 2, Pick 41
One of my favorite Trojans in recent memory comes at #4. Woods was as reliable as they come while he played for USC - in three seasons he amassed 252 receptions, 2930 receiving yards, and 32 touchdowns. His first four seasons in Buffalo were pedestrian at best - much to the chagrin of fans in the Los Angeles area, though, he signed a 5 year, $39 million contract with the Rams and put up a solid 56 receptions, 781 receiving yards, and 5 touchdowns through only 12 games before being sidelined by a shoulder injury. Expectations are high for him and his team heading into 2018.
3. Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews, Rey Maualuga (2009) - Round 1, Pick 15 & 26, Round 2, Pick 38
This trio has all made their respective marks in starting rotations on the defensive side of the ball in the NFL since they were drafted in the 2009. Clay Matthews is the most decorated of the bunch (SuperBowl XLV Champion, 6x Pro Bowler, First Team All-Pro, 2x Second Team All-Pro, 2010 Defensive Player of the Year, 80 career sacks) but it just felt right grouping these three players together in our rankings. Brian Cushing was 2009’s Defensive Rookie of the Year and is a 2x Second Team All-Pro and is the Houston Texans’ all-time leading tackler but was released on February 20 of this year after struggling with repeated suspensions for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Rey Maualuga, while he has not made any Pro Bowls, boasts over 600 tackles in his career and remained a solid starter during his time as a Cincinnati Bengal.
2. Jurrell Casey (2011) - Round 3, Pick 77
Casey has carved out a pretty decent career for him thus far and seems to be entering what should be his prime. At 28, he is the anchor on the defensive line for an up-and-coming Titans team (which also is home to Trojans fan-favorite Adoree Jackson). In his career he has accumulated 387 total tackles and 39 sacks. On July 28, 2017, the Tennessee Titans signed Casey to a four-year, $60.4 million contract extension, that includes $24 million guaranteed and a signing bonus of $8 million, so he seems to be doing pretty well for himself.
1. Tyron Smith (2011) - Round 1, Pick 9
Coming in at #1 in our rankings is none other than Tyron Smith. Smith, who was selected by the Dallas Cowboys with the 9th overall pick, is a 5x Pro Bowl, 2x First Team All-Pro, 2x Second Team All-Pro player who has made his mark as the leader on an impressive offensive line. He was marred by injuries but his resume speaks for itself and the hope is that he will be able to bounce back and continue to solidify his standing as one of the better prospects to come out of USC in recent memory.
Do you have any other Trojans who you have enjoyed seeing play in the NFL over the last decade? Let us know in the comments below!