At this time three years ago, Southern Cal had played in the National Championship, barely losing to Texas and Vince Young. The Trojans boasted of two Heisman trophy winners, Reggie Bush and Matt Leinhart, leading a phalanx of Trojans into the NFL draft.
11 players were drafted by NFL teams. Five of them declared early for the draft. After three NFL seasons, let’s examine how all have fared.
Four of the top five Trojan draftees have become integral parts of their teams:
Reggie Bush RB
Drafted in the first round, second pick (1-2). Games (G) – 38, Games Started (GS) – 27. Depth Chart - first string running back (Saints). Exciting, a good player, but has limitations running from tackle to tackle.
Matt Leinhart QB
(1-10). G - 21, GS – 16. Depth Chart - second string QB (Cardinals). Will he be holding a clipboard until Kurt Warner retires?
Deuce Lutui G
(2-41). G - 46, GS – 40. Depth Chart – first string RG (Cardinals). A serviceable starter, better than average but not outstanding.
LenDale White RB
(2-45). G – 45, GS – 18. Depth Chart – first string RB (Titans). Really a second stringer in a two back rotation.
Judging by games played and games started, Lutui has been the most valuable contribution to his team. Bush and White declared early for the draft that year.
The other seven have not fared as well.
Winston Justice, T.
(2-39), drafted higher than Lutui and White, has been second string for three years on an Eagles team that always seems to be searching for tackles. G – 12. GS - 1. Disappointingly second string material. Gave up 11 sacks in a game against the New York Giants.
Frostee Rucker, DE
(3-91) has started more games than Justice – G – 16, GS – 4, all last year. Listed as second string DE, Bengals. The Bengals will again draft defensive linemen. Not a bad option in the defensive line rotation. Holds his own.
Dominique Byrd, TE.
(3-93) is out of the NFL and played two seasons with six receptions.
Darnell Bing, LB
(4-101) is now playing with his third NFL team—the Lions. He was drafted by Oakland, then played for St. Louis. He did not play in 2007. He is listed as Detroit’s third string SLB. If you can't play for the Raiders or the Rams, can you play third string on the Lions?
David Kirtman, FB
(5-163) Taken by Seattle and is also now playing with his third team, New Orleans. He also played for San Francisco. He is not listed on the Saints depth chart.
LaJuan Ramsey, DT
(6-204) by Philadelphia. He played two years with the Eagles and last year with the Indianapolis Colts. He has had 12 tackles in three seasons, six last year. G – 19, GS – 0. He is not listed on the depth chart.
Fred Matua, G
(7-214) by Detroit. Is out of the NFL after two seasons. G – 0, GS – 0.
Those Trojans who have succeeded in the NFL were drafted in the first two rounds and went to teams south of the Mason-Dixon line (extended to the coast). Is it the lack of experience in cold weather? Should some have stayed another year?
With the average NFL draftees salary at $400,000 per year, clearly the lion’s share goes to the top draft prospects, not Bing, Kirtman, Ramsey or Matua.
Justice, Bing, and Matua declared early for the draft. The second day rounds get much less than the average. NFL players average 2.9 years in the league.
Tally after three seasons of play for the 2006 Trojans—four players integral to their teams, two second stringers, one third stringer, two scout team players, and two players out of football.
Even on a championship caliber team, you need experience to succeed in the NFL and a degree to fall back on. Many players feel pressure to help their families and leave early.
Still, Pete Carroll may be right—stay another year and get more experience and a degree. Or maybe the lesson is that it is very difficult to succeed in the NFL and last longer than three years.
Successful general managers and player development specialists make their money on making the right choices on the second day of the draft.