When It Comes To Drafting USC Players in the First Round...Buyer Beware
When it comes to college football the USC Trojans are perennial favorites. It is debatable whether the attention they garner year after year is warranted, but a common theme has been how this attention has made its way into the draft rooms of many NFL teams.
When scouts and GMs pay more attention to headlines than game film bad things happen, and wasted picks and cap hits ensue.
In the following slides I will look back at first round picks from USC over the past 10 years. I will omit the past two seasons since it may not be fair to evaluate these players just yet.
Claiborne was a LB drafted ninth overall by the Detroit lions in 1999. He then proceeded to play for five teams in seven years, he never played in a Pro Bowl, accrued any significant achievements, and in his final season (2007) he was cut before the first game.
R. Jay Soward
R. Jay Soward was a WR drafted 29th overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2000. Before ever making it to the regular season he became a problem.
During training camp head coach Tom Coughlin would have to send a limousine to pick him up everyday just to ensure he would show. Soward played just 13 games in the NFL catching 14 passes for one touchdown.
Soward was cut by the Jaguars and sat out of football for four years before signing with the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL.
Soward lasted just two seasons in Toronto before being cut. In Toronto Soward is remembered more for his antics involving popcorn and celebrations than his playing. He is T.O. without the talent.
Troy Polamalu, a safety drafted 16th overall in 2003 by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Polamalu has been the real deal for the Steelers. Selected to two All Pro first teams, two All Pro second teams, and picking up two Super Bowl rings along the way he has been a solid pick.
I put Polamalu in here for the sake of objectivity and not wanting to omit players that were successful.
Carson Palmer QB drafted No. 1 overall by the Cincinnati Bengals in 2003. Now I am not prepared to label Palmer a bust by any means, however Palmer has been unreliable.
It is difficult to evaluate Palmer, he has a ton of talent and can rack up the yards and TDs, however he is also very adept at racking up the interceptions.
The Bengals problems on and off the field are no secret, and I’m sure this hasn’t helped Palmer, but he has also been blessed with very competent receivers year in and year out. Palmer’s biggest problems stem from his durability issues.
He is constantly hurt and this seems to be a problem many USC offensive players face in the pro. USC always has great blocking and many offensive players’ weaknesses, whether they are durability problems or lack of talent, don’t get exposed until they reach the pro level.
I know a lot of people don’t like to hear that an injured player may be a bad draft pick, but you have to judge a pick based on how he produces, no matter the circumstances around him. Palmer isn’t a bad pick, but is he a number one overall pick?
I would have some trepidation taking such an important, and well paid, player number one over all knowing that he will no longer have the type of blocking that will keep him from ever having to wash his uniform.
Kenechi Udeze is a defensive end drafted 20th overall by the Minnesota Vikings in 2004. Many of you know that Udeze was diagnosed with leukemia in 2008, this is unfortunate, terrible, and obviously not his fault or something that could have been caught by the team.
All of that notwithstanding, Udeze underperformed long before that. In the four seasons prior to his illness he accrued jut six sacks and 116 tackles.
Mike Patterson is a defensive tackle drafted 31st overall in 2005 by the Philadelphia Eagles. In his rookie year Patterson looked like he was going to be the next big thing. Patterson hasn’t been a complete bust but his numbers are average picking up just 9.5 sacks in four years.
Mike Williams was a WR drafted 10th overall in 2005. In the four years he played in the NFL he played for three teams picking up just 44 receptions and two touchdown passes.
At one point, Williams ballooned up to 271 lbs and never seemed to really be able to transition to the NFL and has spent the past year and a half trying to convince teams to give him another shot.
Reggie Bush was billed as the biggest thing in NFL history. He was Gayle Sayers and Marshall Faulk all rolled into one. When the Texans passed on taking him first overall in 2006 it was as though they shot Lincoln. It was speculated that everyone involved would be fired by the end of the season.
Now there is no doubt that Bush has talent, but he hasn’t come close to living up to the hype. Forget about the other talented backs that came out of that draft, just look at his USC teammate LenDale White.
In the past two years White (who was picked 45 spots later) has not missed a game while picking up 22 TDs, Bush missed 10 games and picked up 15 all purpose TDs in that time. Bush is another player whose durability had been questioned by some, and this proved to be true.
A lot of the hype around Bush was built off of big games against weak teams while White was the workhorse grinding down the superior defenses. I don’t think Bush is a bust, but I’m not convinced he was worth a second overall pick let alone the best player to come out of college in forty years.
Matt Leinart is a QB drafted 10t overall in 2006 by the Arizona Cardinals. He started 11 games in ’06 before being benched in favor of Kurt Warner.
In the following season Leinart got a chance to start five more games. In that time he has thrown 14 TDs and 17 INTs earning a 71.1 passer rating.
On Draft Day
I’m not saying you can’t get talent from USC players in the draft, but there are things to consider:
USC’s offense is a lot of smoke and mirrors. You don’t know how durable, committed, or talented skill position players are going to be once they face a professional defense.
You can’t rely on newspapers and tape against Fresno State to evaluate USC skill position players
If you have any questions about a USC player stay away from them in the first round, especially in the top ten.
If you are going to draft a USC player in the first round go defense, you are much more likely to get a player who is at least serviceable or better.
If you like a skill position player from USC wait until the second round or later, you will get much more value for your pick.