Fall position group preview: Wide receivers

The beat goes on for the position that has led the way for USC in the 21st Century. Can it continue on through 2015?

It's been the one constant through everything that's happened to USC football in the 21st Century -- wide receiver.

From Mike Williams to Dwayne Jarrett, from Steve Smith to Robert Woods, from Marqise Lee to Nelson Agholor, one after the other, they would step up and step in year after year. Without fail.

And so it continues. Who will it be now? Juju Smith? Steve Mitchell? Isaac Whitney?

That's how it goes with wide receiver here. Who's next? Makes it easier not to worry so much about who's gone, and gone early as the above athletes were.

And as George Farmer has, as well, figuring he might have as much a chance for a breakthrough year in the NFL as at USC in 2015.

It's a given. Someone, maybe several someones, will be special. That's just the way it is, USC fans know, despite all the glowing reports from Philadelphia that make you realize how much you'll miss Agholor.

Which is where JuJu comes in, taking not only the lead man role from Agholor, who caught 103 passes for 1,313 yards and 12 TDs and left USC with 3,572 all-purpose yards and a record four punt return TDs, but his leadership mantel as well. Even though the 6-foot-2, 215-pound sophomore won't turn 19 until November.

Not a bad freshman start for the Long Beach Poly grad with his 54 receptions for 724 yds, a 13.4 average, with five TDs in 2014, in addition to 11 kickoff returns for 132 yards, a 12.0 average. JuJu tipped off what was to come with his 123 yards receiving, most ever for a freshman in an opener, against Fresno State. And his three TD catches at Washington State tied a USC freshman record.

Can he succeed Agholor? "Without a doubt," Steve Sarkisian says. Absolutely he can.

But the freshman first-team All-American and Biletnikoff Award candidate will have plenty of company when it comes to leading the way at wideout. And one of those comes from another sophomore who won't even call the position his primary home -- Adoree Jackson, the triple threat everyone wants to talk about -- including Sark.

When he gets the ball in his hands, he just believes no one can tackle him," Sark said at Pac-12 Media Days. And on lots of occasions, he's right. His TDs-per-touch ratio is off the charts. On just 10 catches, Adoree scored three TD's in the 138 yards gained, a 13.8 average, with 23 kickoff returns for 684 yds, a 29.7 average, and two TDs.

The first Trojan to start a game on both offense and defense (something he did against Notre Dame) since the 1960s, the freshman first-team All-American is in the second Trojan in the Heisman talk now with quarterback Cody Kessler. But the talk coming from both Sark and Kessler about AJ is as much about his football IQ and his ability to handle multiple assignments.

Look for his 34 offensive snaps in 2014 to be equalled in the first two or three games this season although he'll start at corner where he made 49 tackles last season.

But there are other candidates for the lead spot. Sophomore Steven Mitchell (seven catches for 82 yards, two TDs) is healthy and as explosive a route-runner as anyone here after a strong spring. And 6-foot-3, 205-pound JC All-American from Riverside CC, Isaac Whitney, has just kept getting better and more at home in the offense over the spring and summer. His name was on the tip of the tongue for Sark and Kessler throughout Pac-12 Media Days.

But it doesn't end there. The strong-handed Darreus Rogers has 43 career catches after three starts and 21 catches for 245 yards in 2014 with four TDs, a punt return and a kickoff return.

Another JC All-American from Long Beach CC is DeQuan Hampton, at 6-4 and 220, he can be something of a replacement for the hybrid TE Bryce Dixon, no longer in school.

Missing 2015 will be Ajene Harris after hip cartilage surgery on both hips after a freshman season limited by hamstring issues. But thanks to a half-dozen valuable walkons -- special teams senior George Katrib, with juniors David Mellstrom, Robby Kolanz and Christian Tober and sophomores Aaron Minor and Yoofi Quansah -- the numbers add up here.

That's especially true when you add in a trio of possible two-way freshmen -- track man/running back Dominic Davis with cornerback Isaiah Langley (33 catches, 12 TDs as a senior) and DB Ykili Ross (50 catches,15 TDs as a senior).

SARK SAYS: “History tells us that USC always has great wide receivers and this year will be no different. JuJu has an opportunity to up his game to the next level this year. And I don’t think there’s a more exciting performer in the game than Adoree’, as he can do something spectacular whenever he touches the ball. Their maturation and the maturation of all of the receivers will be critical for us to be balanced on offense. The receivers also must develop a rapport with Cody and they must all play at a high level this season.”

WIDE RECEIVERS

Dominic Davis, In. Fr., TB-WR

* Ajene Harris, So. (Out for season)

De’Quan Hampton, In. Jr.

Adoree’ Jackson, So., CB-WR-RET

George Katrib, Sr.

Robby Kolanz, Jr.

Isaiah Langley, In. Fr., CB-WR

David Mellstrom, Sr.

Aaron Minor, So.

Steven Mitchell, So.

Yoofi Quansah, So.

Darreus Rogers, Jr.

Ykili Ross, In. Fr., S-CB-WR

JuJu Smith, So.

Christian Tober, Jr.

Fourth in a series of fall position previews for the 2015 Trojans. Next: The tight ends.

You can follow me on Twitter at @dweber3440 or email me at weber@uscfootball.com.

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