USC Football: Predicting the NFL Draft Fate for the Trojans' Stars
With the Trojans' 2012 "dream" season quickly turning into a nightmare, it is time to look at the postseason fate for those players whose futures will likely continue on Sundays.
Among those players are USC's "golden boy," quarterback Matt Barkley, and safety T.J. McDonald, two players who came back for their senior seasons, perhaps at their own detriment.
After falling well short of the lofty ambitions that this season held for the program and its fans, how far—if at all—will these departing Trojans fall in the upcoming NFL draft?
This slideshow will look at USC's seniors (including the redshirts) and offer an opinion on where they will wind up on draft day.
Eligible juniors will not be included, however, because their intentions have not been stated and while some are certain to test the professional waters, it remains to be seen exactly who they are.
For Trojan fans, an incredible debt is owed to these players who stuck with the program through some of its darkest days.
Now let's find out one person's opinion of how their professional fate will shake out.
Curtis McNeal (Tailback)
In the midst of a disappointing senior season, tailback Curtis McNeal failed to follow up a 1,000-yard junior rushing year for a myriad of reasons.
Primarily beset with injuries in 2012, McNeal also lost valuable playing time to Penn State running back transfer Silas Redd which probably affected his play beyond the physical disabilities as well.
When right, McNeal is somewhat reminiscent of NFL back Darren Sproles, albeit without the pass-catching abilities out of the backfield.
Still, NFL scouts have selective memories. This season, McNeal has not left those experts with much to be excited about making his ascension to the professional ranks very tenuous.
Prediction: NFL free agent
Wes Horton (Defensive End)
Another player who has had injury issues throughout his Trojan career, defensive end Wes Horton has the physical tools to be effective in the pro ranks.
As stated, however, durability has been an ongoing problem for Horton to reach his full potential and that will weigh heavily on the minds of those whose job it is to ascertain his future effectiveness in the NFL.
Look for Horton to impress at the combines and if he can wow the powers that be, he may find his name being called later in the process.
Prediction: Late-round draft choice or free agent
T.J. McDonald (Safety)
One of three suspected high-draft Trojan seniors, safety T.J. McDonald returned to the Trojans in 2012 as a possible postseason All-American candidate.
After an uneven season so far, the likelihood of that occurring is remote, but there is no doubt that McDonald has the physical tools to excel at the next level.
However, the son of former Trojan great Tim McDonald, Sr. has had—and continues to have—discipline issues that have seen young T.J. continue to commit egregious personal fouls at the most inopportune of times.
McDonald will impress scouts at the combine, and he is intelligent enough to improve on his mental mistakes on the field of play.
Whether or not he can make up enough ground to garner a high-round draft status remains to be seen though.
Prediction: Second or third-round draft choice
Khaled Holmes (Center)
As important a member of the Trojans not named Barkley or Lee, Khaled Holmes has been a rock for the Trojans on the offensive line.
Originally a guard, Holmes slid over to the center slot in his junior year and immediately became one of the best at his position in the nation.
Incredibly intelligent and with NFL size, Holmes will make some professional team very happy in 2013.
Next year, finding someone to replace Holmes will be the second most critical aspect to Trojan success next year.
Prediction: Late first round or early second round draft choice
Matt Barkley (Quarterback)
One of the greatest Trojans of all time, quarterback Matt Barkley is also one of the most beloved.
And regardless of how the Trojans wind up in 2012, his legacy has been cemented in USC lore to be sure.
All of which won't matter one bit at the next level.
When this season ends the professional scrutiny begins, and at the end of the day Barkley will have suffered for his decision to come back for that "unfinished business" this season.
Though he is having a very good season by any measure, the Trojans' lack of success, coupled with the incredible receiving talent he has around him (which many credit for that success) has scouts questioning his ability to excel at the pro level.
Is it fair? No, but it is what it is and that likely means Barkley falls a bit in the draft.
Prediction: Just outside the top 10 to possibly mid teens
The aforementioned players are those most likely to be drafted, but of course, they are not the only graduating Trojans in 2012.
Of those seniors not profiled, players such as safeties Drew McAllister and Jawanza Starling, offensive linemen Jeremy Galten and Abe Markowitz, linebacker Tony Burnett and cornerback Brian Baucham all will probably attempt to make the league as free agents.
Another guy to keep an eye on is defensive end Devon Kennard, who took a redshirt this year due to injury but may decide to go pro rather than come back to the Trojans for another year.
While this probably won't be a banner NFL year for Trojans whose eligibility has run out, fans of the program should hold this class in the highest of esteem.
Though their success on the field was marked by ups and downs, this class stood tall when the program was at its lowest ebb.
Given an opportunity to leave USC by the NCAA, these players fought on and for this, those who follow the men of Troy should reserve a special place in their hearts for these players forever.
Thank you, graduating seniors...thank you very much.