Shotgun Spratling | USCfootball.com

Zach & Chad head to the NFL

They've been something of a package at USC the past five years and now they're off to the NFL. Where and when do Zach Banner and Chad Wheeler go this week?

There doesn't seem to be much doubt that they'll get some sort of call this weekend in Philadelphia.

Zach Banner and Chad Wheeler have been a big, solid, imposing pair for an improving USC program the last five seasons through 83 total starts (45 for Chad, 38 for Zach) finishing this past season as the All-Pac-12 first-team duo there for the 6-foot-9, 353-pound Banner and the 6-7, 310-pound Wheeler.

We should probably point out that All-Pac-12 honors can come with a footnote. This past season, for example, Washington State's unanimous All-American, 6-8, 354-pound Cody O'Connell, only the second such player in WSU history and unquestionably the league's top offensive line talent, was named only an honorable mention on the All-Pac-12 team selected by the coaches and behind two UCLA players from the worst line in the league.

So it's not going to be simply honors on paper that matter this week for the USC duo. It's productivity and potential. The size and experience certainly is there. But what about the quickness, strength and athleticism?

That is the question? And after the NFL Combine and USC Pro Day, the questions still exist.

According to CBSsports.com, Wheeler will go first in Round 4 at No. 116 to the Denver Broncos. "On Day 3, the Broncos first grab Wheeler, who is likely ticketed for swing tackle responsibilities but may factor in for more playing time if [second-round pick Dion] Dawkins ends up landing at guard," CBS says.

Banner, they say, goes in Round 5 at No. 143 to the 49'ers where he will "compete for a starting spot inside," CBS says.

But Fox Sports' mock draft has it flipped. Banner goes in the fifth round at No. 153 to the Cincinnati Bengals while Wheeler could almost make history if he goes in Round 7 at No. 252, one ahead of the final 253rd pick, but to the same Broncos that CBS had him going to in the fourth round.

Why might that be significant? Because should Chad drop one more spot, to No 253, he becomes USC's first-ever Mr Irrelevant in the 41 years of the award -- and a weeklong festival of celebration in Newport Beach -- that's the brainchild of USC Trojan and NFL alum Paul Salata.  

So to say there's any consensus is clearly not the case. Check out the NFL.com's Chad Reuter's seven-round draft projection.

Banner just moved into Round 6 at No. 190 going to the Chargers and staying at home in LA. That's the same round as former junior teammate, Damien Mama, who is leaving early and projected as the 199th pick going to the Vikings. But both are a round behind UCLA tackle Conor McDermott in Round 5.

And no Wheeler at all. Wheeler, who will be the first USC player signed in his comeback career by famed super-agent Leigh Steinberg, will not hear his name called Saturday in the final rounds in Philly, the NFL.com analyst says. He'll be a Priority Free Agent along with Trojans Justin Davis, Leon McQuay and Stevie Tu'ikolovatu, Reuter says.

But the projections aren't unanimous, about either man -- even at NFL.com. Here's their analysis for Banner's strengths after his 5.58 time in the 40 and 22 reps in the bench press: "Massive man with good upper-body strength. Has length and girth to overwhelm smaller opponents. Able to withstand a bull rush thanks to enormous frame. Powerful road-grader who blasts holes open as down-blocker and generates movement with his base blocks. Leverage not always necessary to produce push at point of attack. Won't find him on the ground much. Decent athlete for his size. Functional combo blocker. Initial kick-slide is fairly smooth. Can make life miserable for pass rushers when he latches strong hands into their frame. Could play right tackle but would need help against edge speed. Balance and redirect are adequate."

But then there are the weaknesses they outline: "Weight concerns are a huge issue. Has seen weight balloon to 385 pounds. Pass pro is a major concern. Could be too big and bulky to handle NFL edge talent. Lacks athleticism and quickness to recover when beaten. Slower than desired out of stance. Has to open early and lunge to protect the edge in pass pro. Rarely flat-footed at punch, relying on girth over technique. Takes wide route to his target with punch. Doesn't mirror well enough to keep defender from escaping from side door once engaged. Lack of bend and high center of gravity could make move to guard a challenge. Has had issues with penalties during time as starter at USC."

The final call and "bottom line," NFL.com says, is this: DRAFT PROJECTION: Rounds 3-4: "Rare size, but some teams will question whether he can bend enough to be a functional NFL guard. As a tackle, he lacks quickness to consistently protect the passer, and teams might focus too heavily on that shortcoming. Teams who focus on Banner's strength -- drive blocking -- should be rewarded with a starting right guard who is average in pass protection, but who can help turn run creases into running lanes."

Zach doesn't disagree with some of that. "Weight is the only issue people ID with me," he said at USC's Pro Day. "And I don't think anybody likes talking about their weight. But my agent tells me I had a great Combine. I may have run a 5.58 40 but my 10-yard split was about the same as everybody else . . . I think my size is an asset."

Shotgun Spratling | USCfootball.com

Wheeler gets a mixed NFL.com analysis of the good and not-so-good after just 15 reps on the bench with a wrist injury not fully healed and a 5.48 time in the 40 at the Combine: "Solid athlete. Competitive with high football character. Comes off the snap with controlled, tight footwork in short areas. Works to stay connected to his blocks. Balanced on angle blocks with ability to keep his man centered while chopping feet. At best as a move blocker. Can make cross-face blocks and cut blocks. Shines with his "work-up" blocks. Always spies his second block while securing his first and climbs up to his target with easy, controlled pace. Can redirect body to adjust on second-level blocks. Able to pull and lead the charge. Can snatch and ride pass rushers when he lands the first punch."

But there's this other side according to the NFL.com: "Missed time in each of last three seasons, and also missed spring practices in 2013 with knee injury and part of senior season in high school with shoulder surgery. Core strength is below average. Comes out of stance with high pad level and leverage game suffers. Initial contact at point of attack lacks pop. Rarely rolls hips under his pads for desired drive-blocking power. Ducks head and loses sight of his man. Stack-and-shed defenders can discard him. Carries hands low and punch timing is off in pass pro. Needs to play with inside hands. Tries to manufacture anchor through his lean. While anticipating contact with rusher his feet deaden, robbing him of functional recovery skills."

The final NFL.com word on Chad: DRAFT PROJECTION: Round 7-PFA: "A move blocker with the ability to operate confidently in space while lacking the power to whip the man across from him. Lack of core strength and consistent footwork in pass protection could force him to make a move inside to guard for a zone team. Could become an eventual starter, but might be best-suited as a swing tackle on the NFL level."

When wished good luck on going off to the NFL at Pro Day, Wheeler, a man of few words in his USC career, said simply: "Thank you."

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


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