Fall preview: Receivers

Leading up to fall camp, Scout's SCPlaybook will take a look at each position group for the Trojans... Next up, receivers.

Will this be the third straight year USC produces one of the best receivers in college football?

In 2012, it was Robert Woods shattering records. Last season, it was reigning Biletnikoff Award winner Marqise Lee who defenses had to zero in on.

Now, is it Nelson Agholor’s turn?

Actually, despite not being the star name in the Trojans 2013 receiving corps, Agholor was the only receiver able to maintain his health – and it paid off in his numbers. Agholor played in all 14 games – and led the team in reception yards.

The question USC will have at receiver in 2014 is who will step up alongside Agholor.

“This is a great opportunity for Nelson not only to up his game, but to grow into a leadership role,” said USC coach Steve Sarkisian. “Our other receivers, many of them still young, are very talented, so this will be an important time for them to develop.”

Key Losses: Marqise Lee (NFL)
Losses: De’Von Flournoy (Graduation)
Key Returners: Nelson Agholor (Jr.), Darreus Rogers (Soph.)
Returners: George Farmer (RS Jr.), Victor Blackwell (RS Jr.)
Key Newcomers: Steven Mitchell (RS Fr.), Adoree Jackson (Fr.), Juju Smith (Fr.) Ajene Harris (Fr.), Rahshead Johnson (Fr.)

2013 Review: The Trojans found themselves in a pinch multiple times in 2013 with a shortage of healthy receivers. In fact, receivers coach Tee Martin had to call on walk-ons to start at different points of the season.

Much of that situation was due to the fact that the Trojans lost scholarship receivers George Farmer and Steven Mitchell to ACL injuries long before the season even started.

Lee’s health didn’t seem to be right all season long, and the 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner was even sidelined during the second half of the Trojans loss at Notre Dame and also sat out against Arizona, Utah and Colorado. In 11 games played, Lee caught 57 passes for 791 yards including four touchdowns.

Freshman Darreus Rogers also spent time sidelined – against Utah State, Arizona, and Arizona State – with an ankle injury. In 11 games, Rogers caught the football 22 times for 257 yards.

The heavy lifting in 2013 was done by sophomore Nelson Agholor. He was the only receiver able to stay healthy through all 14 of the Trojans contests. He led the receiving corps with six touchdowns on 56 catches for 918 yards.

2014 Outlook:
2014 will be the season of Agholor. The junior has patiently played in the shadows of former Trojans Robert Woods and Marqise Lee the last two seasons while quietly pulling more than his share of the weight.

In Lee’s absence over the spring and summer, Agholor has shown an ability to not only step up, but to lead his younger Trojan teammates.

While Agholor will provide a solid foundation to the corps, question marks loom over the production of the Trojans other returning receivers – especially their newcomers.

Finally back on his feet, will George Farmer turn into the player coaches once thought he would be? Farmer was limited during spring practices as he returned from his ACL injury. While the redshirt junior flashed at times, he certainly did not answer the question of whether or not he will have a breakout 2014.

Darreus Rogers will now be in his sophomore campaign as a Trojan. The big receiver has shown an uncanny ability to make big plays in the back of the endzone – winning nearly every jump ball he goes up for – and always landing with one foot in. But when Sarkisian’s offense is just trying to move the ball step by step down the field, it remains to be seen if Rogers can complete the ‘easy’ tasks.

The inconsistency of Victor Blackwell continued through the spring and carried into the summer. Blackwell once again shows flashes of a great receiver before dropping his next pass. Expect the redshirt junior to play a role in the offense, but it doesn’t appear right now that it will be a big one.

And finally, the freshmen. Steven Mitchell will finally take the field as a redshirt freshman since recovering from an ACL injury during last summer’s voluntary workouts. Though the talented receiver did not participate in any sanctioned event prior to the injury, he certainly showed talent that would easily lead one to believe he would’ve played a large role in the Trojans offense. If all goes right with his knee this fall, expect Mitchell to use his speed and ability to dodge tackles when Sarkisian wants to throw (and often does) his perimeter passes.

If there is one other freshman who is a sure-fire in the Trojans offense this season, it will be Adoree Jackson. In his limited time participating in the Trojans summer player-run practices, Jackson has shown a burst of speed unmatched by anyone on the roster. He’s that fast.

And the rest? Juju Smith hasn’t been nearly as impressive as his five-star counterpart on offense, so it will be interesting to watch if he is on O or defense when USC opens fall camp. Ajene Harris has been nothing short of a very consistant player through the summer workouts. And if we are going to throw out one name to potentially redshirt? Let’s predict it will be Rahshead Johnson, just because he’s the most likely candidate after watching summer practices.

It’s potentially a very young group in 2014 for USC, if Farmer and Blackwell don’t rise to the occasion, but it should be an explosive one, to say the least.

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