2016 Wants and Needs: Offense

With 23 scholarships available for the 2016 class, USC aligns its recruiting needs on offense well with what this year’s cycle has to offer in terms of talent. Offensively, USC will need to recruit quality and quantity at wide receiver, which lends itself toward the deepest position locally in the 2016 class.

In this recruiting feature, we will evaluate future roster spots on offense with an early glance at the 2016 talent pool. Several story lines will break down each position, surmising needs with context.

Does USC need a quarterback?

In 2016 Cody Kessler will have graduated, leaving the logjam at quarterback to sort itself out. Max Browne will be a junior, Jalen Greene a redshirt sophomore, Sam Darnold and Ricky Town both redshirt freshmen.

With four returning quarterbacks on the roster, USC could balk on signing another signal-caller in 2016. However, with scholarship offers to Shreveport (La.) junior Shea Patterson and Rancho Santa Margarita (Calif.) junior K.J. Costello, the Trojans appear poised to take a quarterback nonetheless. Patterson, who committed to Ole Miss just last week, seemed to signal a move toward more mobility at the quarterback position.

Costello, who is a more traditional pocket passer, is more in line with Max Browne as a quarterback. It again raises the question as to what direction the offense is going. Few, if any, run-first spread offenses are successful without a mobile quarterback. Although Trojan head coach Steve Sarkisian does not categorize USC’s offense as spread based, the quarterback takes his snaps out of the shotgun 90-percent of the time. That in itself impacts how an offense runs the football.

Regardless, USC only takes a quarterback if they suffer a transfer or have Jalen Greene move to another position, which is a distinct possibility. But without one of those two happening, there is no need for USC to take a quarterback in 2016. That is especially true when the Trojans are working to get back to an 85 man scholarship roster. In reality, USC can survive with only three quarterbacks on the roster. However, USC may still want a quarterback that helps take the offense in a new direction. Serra junior Khalil Tate is listed here as a quarterback, but he is being recruited mainly as an athlete, who could play multiple positions in college. If Greene switches positions or leaves USC altogether, Tate playing quarterback as a Trojan would seem that much more doubtful.

  • Need: 0 QB | Want: 1 QB
    Prospects: Devon Modster, Matt Fink, Armani Rogers, Kahi Neves

    Stacking the deck

    USC signed three tailbacks in 2015, with all three prospects bringing something different to the offense with their skill set. Dominic Davis is a home-run threat with 10.4 100-meter track speed at 5-foot-9, 180-pounds. Aca’cedric Ware is a 20-plus carry a game running back with the ability to grind out yards after contact. Ronald Jones is a little of both, with the open-field vision of a premiere playmaker.

    But with Justin Davis going into his senior year, and Tre Madden scheduled to graduate in 2016, the Trojans will be down to four scholarship running backs on the roster. That means USC has to follow a good class with another good class, which is a challenge. There’s good news and bad news when it comes to recruiting a running back for 2016. The good news is that USC doesn’t need to sign three more players at the position. The bad news is, the talent pool at running back is shallow this cycle.

    In fact, USC has not offered a scholarship to any tailbacks nationally or locally in the 2016 class, which is rare even this early in the process. With Davis and Jones both being sub-10.7 sprinters, the Trojans have speed in the offensive backfield. Losing Madden as well as fullback Soma Vainuku means they won’t have much power and size. Although USC may be running out of the shotgun, Steve Sarkisian still wants to maintain a running game that can be physical at the point of attack. Even Oregon, which has been largely a more edge, speed based running option team in the past, benefited from a bigger tailback last season in Royce Freeman. The Ducks were then dominated by an Ohio State team with a 230-pound running back and a 250-pound quarterback.

    A 215-pound running back that can be 225-pounds is the want for USC, but the need is really a quality runner who can contribute in a two or three back rotation depending on how the carries are dispersed among the 2015 class. The top local players on USC’s radar are Chandler (Ariz.) running back Chase Lucas, Temecula (Calif.) running back Demetric Felton and Bellflower (Calif.) running back Sean McGrew. None of those prospects weighs more than 185-pounds. Encino (Calif.) Crespi running back Jalen Starks is a intriguing prospect, but at 6-foot, 240-pounds, he may be more of a fullback at the next level than tailback. It has to be determined whether the fullback position will exist in USC’s offense moving forward.

  • Need: 1 RB | Want: 2 RB
    Prospects: Tony Jones, Zion Echols, Devwah Whaley, Robert Washington

    The shell game at wide out

    USC hasn’t carried an exorbitant amount of wide receivers since sanctions began. However, with an up tempo pace being a major part of Steve Sarkisian’s scheme, departing wide receiver Nelson Agholor was getting 70-plus snaps a game. USC only has four underclassmen wide outs on the roster. In 2016, Isaac Whitney, De’Quan Hampton and Darreus Rogers will all be seniors.

    The Trojans will need numbers in 2016, and fortunately, this is the class to recruit those numbers. Seven wide receivers in California are ranked among the top 25 players at the position nationally. Among those players are several Trojan leans. So not only is it a deep class for talent at the position, it’s a class that is very recruitable for USC’s purposes. However, there are a handful of those players with the potential of playing defensive back instead of receiver. This is where the number of actual wide receivers recruited in 2016 may be hard to gauge. But the vagueness of the two-way athlete tag can also maximize the amount of players taken at a single position too. USC may recruit three wide outs and two athletes with both groups of players ending up contributing at receiver. The other element which will help USC stack the position is the testimony of Adoree Jackson’s two-way exploits as a true freshman.

    Signing two junior college prospects the last recruiting cycle, USC can not only sell a recent lineage of sending receivers to the NFL, but also immediate playing time. The list of players already offered scholarships is long, which signals that USC will be taking full advantage of the class’ depth. The Trojans could go in any direction recruiting flankers (z), slots (y) or split ends (x). It is important to note, however, that with Whitney, Rogers and Hampton graduating in 2016, USC will only have one wide out on the roster more than 6-foot. So in terms of physical wants and needs at the position, the Trojans will hope to get bigger.

  • Need: 4 WR | Want: 5 WR
    Prospects: Javon McKinley, Tyler Vaughns, Michael Pittman, Theo Howard
    N'Keal Harry, Grant Porter, Dylan Crawford, Steffon McKnight, Jack Jones

    Still need offensive tackles

    USC will lose center Max Turek in 2016, while starting offensive tackles Chad Wheeler and Zach Banner are presently expected to return as seniors. USC has done a good job recruiting the interior offensive line that past few years, but 2015 was the first year the Trojans picked up prototypical offensive tackle prospects. Both freshmen Clayton Johnston and Roy Hemsley are sure-fire offensive tackles. Chuma Edoga could also play offensive tackle for USC, but at 6-foot-3, is capable of playing all five offensive line positions the same way Toa Lobendahn did last season.

    Thus, this is another year where USC needs to find offensive linemen with the height and length to play tackle. USC is heavy on underclassmen along the offensive line, with 11 of the team’s current 15 players at the position freshmen or sophomores. So this is a position USC can be somewhat picky at. Normally, a team wants to carry between 15 and 18 offensive linemen on the roster. The Trojans have offered scholarship to 2016 offensive tackles E.J. Price of Lawrenceville (Ga.), Greg Little of Allen (Texas) and just recently Jonah Williams of Folsom (Calif.).

    Little is already committed to Texas A&M, while Williams grew up in Atlanta and his mother went to Auburn. So USC is playing from behind with at least two out of the three offensive tackle prospects USC has offered a scholarship to in the cycle. At guard, USC recently offered Santa Ana (Calif.) junior Frank Martin a scholarship. Martin, who grew up a USC football fan, is a better bet to become a Trojan between now and the beginning of the season. This is offensive line coach Bob Connelly’s first spring at USC. Much has been made about what Connelly couldn’t accomplish in one year for a failing regime at UCLA under Karl Dorrell. Connelly will be given more responsibility to protect his position as a recruiter at USC, but we can only assume the type of player he recruits won’t stray far from the established model.

  • Need: 2 OL | Want: 3 OL
    Prospects: Luke Wattenberg, Nathan Smith, Alex Akingbulu, Jacob Capra, Michael Eletise

    Three positions in one

    The tight end position at USC could end up mirroring the linebacker position, maybe… sort of. While USC is looking more toward jumbo athletes to play outside linebacker, the tight end position in Steve Sarkisian’s offense could become a bit of a Swiss Army Knife as well. Although USC has two fullbacks on the roster in seniors Soma Vainuku and Jaleel Pinner, those body types may begin to disappear from the offense going forward.

    Nowadays, true two-back sets are rare in college football. Most teams that run the ball from the shotgun use H-backs or tight ends from a wing or offset formation to lead block. Gone are the 6-foot, 235-pound prep tailbacks turned 250-pound no-neck brawlers. Schools want dynamic receivers that are big targets in the short and intermediate passing game. For USC, this is a position in flux and one of need. With two scholarship tight ends on the roster in 2016, and one more depending academically, the Trojans need numbers regardless of formation and personnel preferences.

    USC currently has a commitment from Bellevue (Wash.) four-star tight end Isaac Garcia. At 6-foot-3, 210-pounds, Garcia himself exemplifies the jumbo athlete tag well. Not a traditional tight end in terms of size, Garcia can be used in line, flexed or out of the offensive backfield. But only taking one tight end in the 2015 class, USC must recruit at least two players at that position in 2016. With an extra ride down the stretch, USC may want to supplement that number by adding an H-back prospect too. That’s where a prospect like Carmichael (Calif.) running back Beau Bisharat comes in.

  • Need: 2 TE | Want: 2 TE, 1 FB/HB
    Prospects: Devin Asiasi, Nick Eubanks, Naseir Upshur, Jacob Mathis

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