USC Football: NFL Draft Projections for Every Former Trojan
The 2014 NFL Draft is finally (finally!) upon us, and on Thursday, the fate of a few USC Trojans will be decided by the NFL gods.
After an offseason that seemed to drag on even longer than usual thanks to the draft being held in May instead of April, the coming weekend is set to be an exciting one not only for the former collegiate stars set to begin their new futures, but also for the dedicated fans of all 32 teams that will (hopefully) get the missing piece that propels their team to postseason glory.
Listed in order of their projected selection, here are the latest likely outcomes for this year's crop of Trojans in the draft.
WR Marqise Lee
Matt Miller's Projection: Second Round, No. 45 overall to the Detroit Lions
Analysis: Marqise Lee was originally projected to go No. 16 overall to the Baltimore Ravens, but it appears some concerns have caused him to slip a bit. Those are likely related to the lingering injuries he dealt with during the 2013 season, injuries that caused him to greatly decrease in productivity. Lee hauled in 191 catches for 2,864 yards and 25 touchdowns between his first two seasons at USC, and his numbers shrank to 57 receptions for 791 yards and just four touchdowns last season.
That said, Lee is still the Trojan in the best position to achieve success quickly at the next level. The 6'0", 192-pound wide receiver has a handful of USC and Pac-12 records that speak to just how dynamic he was on the field. Despite his injury struggles, that's hard to overlook.
He has three years' worth of film that sizzles with head-turning catchings and moments where he put the burners on opposing defenders. He's incredibly athletic and has a knack for gaining yards after the catch, as well as a demonstrated ability to elevate himself to snag balls out of the air.
Learning behind the likes of Calvin "Megatron" Johnson and Golden Tate will serve Lee well as he transitions to the next level.
OL Marcus Martin
Matt Miller's Projection: Second Round, No. 55 overall to the Cincinnati Bengals
Analysis: Marcus Martin's draft stock has improved considerably since the NFL combine. Miller originally had Martin projected as a fifth-round pick, but USC's former center is now being considered a second-round prospect.
Martin's decision to leave early was initially met with much skepticism, but he has steadily changed the minds of his doubters over the course of the offseason. Back in February, Mel Kiper had him listed as the top center prospect (subscription required), and in the latest mocks (subscription required), Martin is still the first center to get selected.
His versatility is likely something NFL scouts are keen on, as Martin spent two years at left guard before switching to, and succeeding at the center position. At the next level, Martin needs to prove he is more than just a physical presence and that he has the aggressive streak needed to be a productive center in the pros.
DT George Uko
Matt Miller's Projection: Fourth Round, No. 114 overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars
Analysis: George Uko is another Trojan whose draft stock seems to have risen after the NFL draft, as he has moved up a rung, from the fifth round to the fourth round.
He didn't have a deep body of work to attest to his skills, so he benefited from strong NFL combine and pro day performances. The 6'4", 275-pound tackle has been out to prove that he's gotten more agile and that he has the pass-rushing moves that will help him succeed at the next level.
While he's still not considered an elite defensive tackle prospect, he's shown enough to boost his draft stock.
FS Dion Bailey
Matt Miller's Projection: Fifth Round, No. 158 overall to the Dallas Cowboys
Analysis: Dion Bailey's draft stock has dipped a bit, per Matt Miller's projections, as in February, he was projected to be a fourth-round pick to the Cleveland Browns. That might be because he has "tweener" measurables; he doesn't have the size to be an NFL linebacker, yet he doesn't have the body of work to go higher as a safety, either.
That said, having played both linebacker and safety at USC does work for him in terms of making him an attractive enough prospect. The 5'11", 200-pound defensive back has shown he is versatile; he has good hands and has came through for the Trojans by making big plays at either position.
He also acquired a handful of accolades in college, which speaks to what he can be expected to do at the next level.
TE Xavier Grimble
Matt Miller's Projection: Seventh Round, No. 242 overall to the San Francisco 49ers
Analysis: Xavier Grimble was originally projected to be an undrafted free agent, so his stock has risen just slightly since the NFL combine.
Like Marcus Martin, Grimble's decision to leave early raised many eyebrows, as he didn't have an extensive portfolio to attest to his skills. Former head coach Lane Kiffin's offense wasn't particularly tight end friendly, and Grimble's numbers reflect that.
Grimble never cracked Mel Kiper's top 10 tight ends list (subscription required), but he should still be a very good late-round get because he does have the size and the hands to be a reliable target in the NFL.
LB Devon Kennard
Matt Miller's Projection: Undrafted Free Agent
Analysis: Back in February, Devon Kennard was projected to go in the sixth round, but it appears he has slipped a bit. That's probably because of a combination of things, namely his position changes and the pectoral injury that sidelined him for all of 2012.
Having played middle linebacker, defensive end and outside linebacker at USC, Kennard touts a lot of versatility, though, he doesn't have a lot of tape at any one position.
The Lott IMPACT Trophy finalist missed all of 2012 due to a torn pectoral injury, but his performance in 2013 should have erased any skepticism about if he was entirely healed. Kennard led the Trojans in sacks (nine) and racked up 60 tackles in 2013.
He has the skill set, body type and toughness to be very productive as a hybrid linebacker/defensive end in the professional ranks. He also has the advantage of an NFL pedigree: His father Derek Kennard played for the Dallas Cowboys in the '90s.
Aside from all those upsides, Kennard's initial explosion is limited, and he needs to develop more pass-rush moves. He still needs to prove that despite having played multiple positions in college, he is a sure bet for an outside linebacker role at the next level.
RB Silas Redd
Matt Miller's Projection: Undrafted Free Agent
Analysis: Silas Redd was supposed to be the answer to USC's running back woes in 2012, but that's not how it played out. The tailback transferred to USC in the wake of Penn State's own sanctions, but nagging injuries kept him from living up to the potential that brought him to USC in the first place. As a result, Redd is expected to go undrafted on Thursday, and that has been the case since February.
Injuries hampered his ability to be the top dog in USC's running back corps in 2013 and the latter parts of 2012, but when he was healthy enough to play, we saw a bruising back who could pound the rock that always fought for extra yards. He wasn't afraid of a little contact, and he dared opposing defenders to drag him down.
Redd's biggest hurdle to clear was proving that his surgically repaired knee can hold up at the next level, and it appears that scouts haven't been convinced. If he is picked up after the draft festivities this weekend, Redd will have an uphill battle in proving that he still has what it takes to succeed at the next level.
All projections provided by Bleacher Report's Matt Miller.