Brian Rothmuller

USC 2016 Recruiting Class Grades

USC will lose four starting interior defensive linemen, one starter at linebacker and one starter at cornerback in 2016. How did the Trojans replace those departing players on signing day? We break down each position by grade.

Defensive Line: Needed 3 || Signed 4 || Grade: B+

How many defensive linemen USC signed is a matter of opinion and projection. USC loses its entire starting three-man front in 2016 in addition to part-time starter Claude Pelon. Acknowledging the two-year recruiting cycle, the Trojans haul of signing five interior defensive linemen in Rasheem Green, Jacob Daniel, Noah Jefferson, Christian Rector and Kevin Scott was step No. 1 in revamping the depth chart for the 3-4. While Clancy Pendergast is certain to run a different style of defense this upcoming season at USC, he will still use three down linemen. 

The Trojans needed to sign three players capable of playing inside the tackles on defense in 2016. Long Beach City College defensive tackle Josh Fatu partially fills that need as a potential nose guard. Fatu has a listed weight of 275 pounds, but his head coach, Brett Peabody, says the former Long Beach Poly middle linebacker played at closer to 310 pounds this past season. Fatu is a nice get at the 11th hour with USC missing on Rashan Gary, Boss Tagalao, Leki Fotu and Maxs Tupai. Landing one of those four players would have given the Trojans an A grade at this position.

Connor Murphy will likely fill an interior role as a three-technique at USC. At 6-foot-7, 250 pounds, his length and pass rush skills give him tremendous upside as a defensive end or defensive tackle. Last season, USC used a two-gap scheme where its defensive ends lined up over the guard in a 4i technique. Anticipating a one-gap defensive philosophy moving forward, Murphy would move inside a shade. 

The biggest question of this defensive class is whether Oluwole Betiku comes in as a rush end/predator, or puts his hand on the ground as a defensive lineman. Right now, Betiku is 245 pounds, which is too light to play inside the tackles. 

In 2013, Pendergast used Morgan Breslin in the predator role while Devon Kennard played SAM linebacker. It was a run stop heavy scheme with traditional 4-3 defensive end playing hybrid outside linebacker roles. If that's the case in 2016, USC falls one short on interior defensive linemen, but picks up another franchise edge rusher in Betiku. Liam Jimmons, roughly 250-pounds, is expected to eventually put on weight and play inside.  

Linebacker: Needed 2 || Signed 1 || Grade: C+

Again, if Betiku counts toward the defensive line class, USC only signs one linebacker in 2016 when they lose Lamar Dawson, Anthony Sarao and Su’a Cravens. USC did not sign a replacement for Cravens in the 2016 recruiting cycle, but because the Trojans managed to sign four very good linebackers in 2015, it’s a loss somewhat mitigated by prior depth...somewhat, because you always want to use the loss of a great player as a recruiting tool to sign a great player at that same position. USC did not do that in 2016.

USC missed on its two main targets at the SAM position this past cycle. Former Trojan commit Mique Juarez signed with UCLA and safety Lamar Jackson signed with Nebraska. In USC’s previous scheme under Justin Wilcox, the SAM position was filled by a safety, linebacker hybrid. Under Pendergast, USC is expected to use a more traditional outside linebacker at the position. The Trojans lone signee, Jordan Iosefa, projects as an inside linebacker in college, although he has played as an outside linebacker in high school. Iosefa will take some time to develop, so USC has no immediate impact players at this position in the 2016 class. 

Defensive Backs: Needed 4 || Signed 4 || Grade: A

While the numbers USC recruited at linebacker and defensive line are blurred, things are a little bit clearer in the defensive backfield. USC loses starter Kevon Seymour at cornerback, but signed three players last year that played significantly in Iman Marshall, Isaiah Langley and Marvell Tell III. Still, USC originally set out to sign five defensive backs in 2016, and then later focused on two corners and two safeties. 

The Trojans signed two four-stars at safety in C.J. Pollard and Jamel Cook, while Jack Jones and Keyshawn Young are projected to play cornerback. It’s a group, that combined with the 2015 cycle, gives USC some much needed depth and additional playmakers in the secondary. The Trojans could have really used three cornerbacks in this class, Jones is a potential impact player as a freshman and Young is a steal as a three-star as long as he keeps his head on straight. 

It’s also worth noting that Cook could end up playing some cornerback, too. With three returning safeties with starter's experience in Tell, John Plattenburg and Chris Hawkins, Cook’s ability to play man-to-man at 6-foot-4, 195-pounds, could be very intriguing as a corner. That type of versatility is always an added bonus to a class. Plus, Jones and Young could both be assets in the kick return game for USC. 


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