Defensive Line: Needed 3 || Signed 4 || Grade: A+
USC loses nose tackle Stevie Tui'Kolovatu, who was arguably the biggest pickup the Trojans landed in 2016. His impact at USC was felt immediately last season, and his departure could have been felt in the same way if the Trojans did not sign a good class of interior defensive linemen in 2017. Instead, USC signed was of the deepest classes of defensive tackles in the nation. First came the Trojans stealth move to bring in early entrant Marlon Tuipulotu on an official visit just days before he graduated from Central High School in Independence (Ore.). Tuipulotu, who was committed to Washington at the time, would commit and enroll at USC in one fell swoop.
Tuipulotu would be a player expected to make an impact immediately at USC as a June graduate. With him on campus this spring, expect Tuipulotu to be in the rotation for day one of fall camp, let alone the first game. South Jordan (Utah) Bingham five-star defensive tackle Jay Tufele should also be playing in that rotation. Whereas Tuipulotu could play defensive end or nose tackle in the Trojans' 5-2 scheme, Tufele is more than likely playing defensive end. His explosiveness off the snap and ability to link combinations of pass rush moves quickly make him a force to be reckoned with.
USC will build the future of their defensive front around Tufele and Tuipulotu, but the Trojans signed three other defensive linemen capable of contributing greatly at some point in their careers. Portland (Ore.) Westview three-star defensive tackle Brandon Pili spent most of his football career in Alaska, but at 6-foot-4, 305-pounds, he can reverse dunk a basketball. Weston (Fla.) Cypress Bay three-star defensive end Jacob Lichtenstein is expected to bulk up 15-to-20-pounds before being a factor on the defensive line, but when he does, he may have as much natural strength as any player USC signed in 2017.
USC did lose Pasadena (Calif.) three-star athlete Terrance Lang to Colorado after signing day. Lang was asked to gray shirt by USC after struggling academically his fall semester at Maranatha High School. Lang had more potential as a defensive end than maybe any player the Trojans signed, but he was also the biggest project they had committed. His departure from the class gives USC another scholarship for the 2018 class.
|Jay Tufele||6-3, 297||No. 3||Defensive Tackle|
|Marlon Tuipulotu||6-2, 295||No. 5||Defensive Tackle|
|Brandon Pili||6-4, 305||No. 55||Nose Tackle|
|Jacob Lichtenstein||6-5, 260||No. 124||Defensive End|
Linebacker: Needed 4 || Signed 4 || Grade: A-
USC loses more at the linebacker position than meets the eye in 2017. At face value, the Trojans lose starting inside linebacker Michael Hutchings and backup linebacker Quinton Powell. But USC also lost three other linebackers earlier in the year. Don Hill and Osa Masina were both expelled from school, while Jabari Ruffin was also kicked off the team. The good news is that USC over-recruited the position in previous years and had 15 players at the position going into the year.
For a group that fields four players every snap, USC aims to have 12 players on the roster to form a true three-deep at each individual position. The Trojans now have that as they look forward to a very deep 2018 class at linebacker. Layton (Utah) four-star athlete Tayler Katoa may have been the most crucial signing of the 2017 group. In addition to being a mid-year graduate that is now already on campus, Katoa comes in at a solid 230-pounds. Physically, he may be more ready to contribute as a freshman than any of the linebackers USC signed. That contribution will come at MIKE or WILL linebacker, which is a position which lacks depth.
Austin (Texas) four-star linebacker Levi Jones was the final piece of the puzzle for the 2017 class. Jones has played both outside and inside linebacker for Westlake High School. At 215-pounds, Jones may need a year to fill out before he can make an impact for USC, but consider his bloodlines. His father, Robert, played 10-years in the NFL as a linebacker. His brother Cayleb plays wide receiver for the Minnesota Vikings. His other brother Isaiah broke the NCAA record for receptions at East Carolina last season. Chances are, USC fans will hear from Levi before long.
At the Predator position, USC adds Los Angeles (Calif.) Cathedral four-star defensive end Hunter Echols. While he will almost certainly redshirt behind Porter Gustin and Oluwole Betiku, Echols is one of the most instinctive, natural pass rushers in the 2017 class. On the other side of the field, Pago Pago (AS) four-star linebacker Juliano Falaniko will play the SAM spot. This is a position where senior linebacker Uchenna Nwosu has played himself into the NFL Draft next year. Nwosu came to USC at about 215-pounds and now weighs closer to 240-pounds.
USC has some projects at linebacker, but this is also a position where USC has developed talent beyond expectations with the likes of Hutchings and Nwosu. The lack of a plug-and-play inside linebacker is the only weak point of the 2017 linebacker class. Jones and Katoa both have the potential to be impact players, but that probably doesn't happen immediately.
|Levi Jones||6-3, 215||No. 11||Linebacker|
|Tayler Katoa||6-2, 225||No. 16||Linebacker|
|Juliano Falaniko||6-3, 210||No. 28||Linebacker|
|Hunter Echols||6-4, 240||No. 20||Defensive End|
Defensive Back: Needed 5 || Signed 4 || Grade: B
USC will feel the loss of Adoree Jackson on offense and special teams as much, if not more so than on defense. With that said, USC had six returning cornerbacks on the roster, including Jonathan Lockett, who has played corner and safety. The plan going into 2017 was to sign three cornerbacks, but with a premium on defensive tackles, the Trojans coaching staff made the right move over-recruiting that position instead. That is to say; if you can ever over-recruit the interior defensive line.
USC takes a flyer on Oakland (Calif.) Bishop O'Dowd three-star cornerback Je'Quari Godfrey. While Godfrey is coming off a knee injury, which may or may not preclude him from working with the team over the summer, his speed and height are prototypical of what defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast wants in his defensive backs. Godfrey is fast and tall, but with no regional or national all-star or camp competition to pair him against, he is a bit of an unknown. At the other cornerback spot, USC signs Los Angeles (Calif.) Hawkins four-star athlete Greg Johnson.
Johnson is just a great all-around football player. With a dozen players with D-I scholarship offers at Hawkins High School, head coach Malik James called Johnson his best overall player without question. Johnson played running back, cornerback and safety for Hawkins. At the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, he actually elected to play safety and looked good doing it. His instincts, aggresiveness and physicality are highlighted at that position. Some argue running back, the position he was most dominant in high school at, is really his best position. So while he comes to USC as a cornerback, he could play himself into a different position.
At safety, USC got exactly what it wanted. Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman four-star safety Bubba Bolden and Pheonix (Ariz.) Mountain Pointe four-star safety Isaiah Pola-Mao. Both players are tall, rangy safeties that can supply run support near the line of scrimmage or cover sideline-to-sideline with surprising efficiency. USC ran a lot of 2-4-5 sets last season with three safeties on the field simultaneously. With that personnel on the field, one of those safeties has to play the nickel slot. Although he may grow to be the biggest of the two safeties USC signed, Pola-Mao may fit that position best. Bolden most likely replaces Leon McQuay as a single high safety.
There is no player in the 2017 class with more big game experience at the high school level than Bolden. And there may be no player in the country who has more big plays in those games than Bolden either. However, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Bolden and Pola-Mao both play as true freshman considering the emphasis USC places on special teams.
|Bubba Bolden||6-3, 210||No. 3||Safety|
|Isaiah Pola-Mao||6-4, 195||No. 14||Safety|
|Greg Johnson||5-10, 180||No. 6||Athlete|
|Je'Quari Godfrey||6-2, 175||No. 62||Cornerback|