It comes as no surprise that USC once again was featured in the 2018 NFL Draft as yet another year goes by with the Trojans flooding the NFL pipeline. However with a high amount of Trojans opting to forgo this year’s draft, it makes the talent pool even deeper for what was already a promising 2018 squad. A few of us on staff our putting our Mel Kiper wigs on and predicting which players eligible for the 2019 NFL Draft you should be watching throughout the upcoming season.
Josh: Cameron Smith, Senior—Inside Linebacker
“Cameron Smith’s return to USC keeps Trojans’ culture intact.”
The senior linebacker made the switch from outside to the inside during his junior year and the transition couldn’t have gone smoother. Many expected Smith to make the jump to the NFL after last season but, according to Smith, he believes he still has work to do. In an article with the Los Angeles Times he stated as much when he said, “I just wasn’t really finished here…I think I have some areas where I want to keep getting better at…I kind of just want to take my knowledge of the game to the next level and be really confident.”
Cam Smith is an All-Pac-12 talent, a leader on and off the field, and - essentially - finds himself to be the defacto ‘quarterback of the defense,’ and rightfully so. Smith, for the Trojans, provides a steady presence on the defensive side of the ball as he has been the team leader in tackles over the last two seasons. His draft stock last season placed him
somewhere in the mid/latter portions of the first round so it will be interesting to see if he can improve on that during his final year suiting up for Clay Helton and company.
Trojan fans can fully expect more of the same from Cameron Smith in 2018 - a lot of the focus, for him, will be to continue to add to what is turning into an impressive college career for the leader of the USC defense.
Richard: Christian Rector, Redshirt Junior—Defensive End
The most underappreciated facet of the incoming 2018 season is the continued ascent of budding pass-rusher Christian Rector. Rector erupted onto the scene last year as the redshirt sophomore finished behind only Rasheem Green and Uchenna Nwosu on the team with 7.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss.
Dealing with a broken hand for most of the season, the clubbed Rector used his massive 6’4”, 275 lbs. frame to bully lineman into the backfield and became a key fixture in USC’s surprising sack-leading defense. With Nwosu and Green gone, Rector will have to assume the role of Trojan ‘War Daddy’ and brings the type of physicality and mean streak reminiscent of former Trojan Leonard Williams and can equate the former first round pick’s production. Rector used his long reach to strafe past defenders and would just downright bully lineman with his size strength to disrupt the backfield.
In order for him to take the next step as pass-rusher, Rector will have to incorporate more pass rushing moves and sharpen his footwork. When it’s all set and done, Rector should be in serious contention for the Chuck Bednarik Award.
Richard: Iman Marshall, Senior—Cornerback
The difference a year makes.
At this point last year, there was genuine excitement and intrigue about an ascending Iman Marshall taking over for Adoree’ Jackson as USC’s top cornerback. Alongside fellow Poly High standout Jack Jones, the Trojans were poised to have a playmaking secondary.
Instead, USC’s secondary became a glaring weakness and Marshall getting burned for big plays became to common an occurrence. However, Marshall did suffer a knee injury early in the season that looked to end his year early. He toughed it out and did what he could with the remainder of his season. Marshall still showed his trademark toughness and physicality in 2017, but he’ll have to be able to step up his once promising coverage and playmaking abilities that clearly increased in his sophomore year.
Marshall is as competitive as they come and with an influx of talent in the secondary, look or Marshall to be the best version of himself.
Matthew Lowry: Porter Gustin- Senior Linebacker/Edge
Porter Gustin not only can play off the edge and can be a potenal first round oick, but he looks like an NFL Linebacker!
Last season Gustin had his season cut short due to a broken toe. In four games played Gustin tallied 9 tackles and 3 sacks. This season he’ll be relplacing Uchenna Nwosu off the Edge as a rusher and if he can stay healthy then look for him to put up some good numbers rushing the quarterback. Gustin also makes basically lives in the gym. If you ever seen his instagram, then you’ll see how Gustin in such shape!
Porter Gustin is already garding some attention, however he’ll have to keep healthy and keep up his production if he wants to garner some first round attention.