Trojan NFL prospects

With the NFL draft a little over a month away, there are a number of Trojan seniors who are in the midst of the evaluation process. While some of them have already secured a spot on an NFL roster somewhere, others are still fighting for that opportunity. Here's a look at some of the Trojans you can expect to see in the draft or to see sign as free agents.

QB Carson Palmer

 

In discussing Trojans in the 2003 NFL draft, you have to begin with Carson Palmer.  The all time USC and Pac-10 career offensive leader finally came into his own this past season and lived up to everyone's lofty expectations after a storied prep career.  In throwing for 3,942 yards and 33 touchdowns, Palmer helped spark a Trojan resurgence and picked up the Heisman Trophy as well as the attention of NFL scouts.  Having seemingly secured his spot as the top quarterback coming out this year, no one would have blamed him had he passed on the Senior Bowl and the combines.  Not one to shy away from competition however, Palmer went to Mobile and put on a show during the week's practices and in this week's combine he has solidified his ranking as the top quarterback.  The Santa Margarita alum seems to have it all as a quarterback, a strong arm, great touch, presence in the pocket, and at 6'6, 230 pounds, the ideal size.  Often compared favorably to Drew Bledsoe and Troy Aikman, Palmer is actually more athletic than those two and possesses far superior speed which could come in handy because he might be on the run quite a bit in his first few seasons.  As each day passes, it looks more and more like he'll end up as the first pick in this year's draft, making him the fifth Trojan with that honor.  The only question now seems to be whether he'll start his career as a Cincinnati Bengal or another team that may trade up.

 

RB Justin Fargas

 

No one has improved their stock more this post-season than tailback Justin Fargas.  Training on campus with USC strength coach Chris Carlisle, Fargas worked himself into phenomenal shape, and this was apparent in Indianapolis where he emerged as the star of the combine.  At 6'1, and 207 pounds with only 6.6% body fat, he ripped out 27 reps of 225 pounds on the bench and ran two sub 4.4 forty yard sprints.  Depending on who you ask, the first of those was timed anywhere from 4.28 to 4.33.  The 4.28 time would break a fourteen year record held by Deion Sanders.  What made this even more impressive was the fact that he did it on a notoriously slow surface that scared away many of the other prospects in attendance.  Fargas' showing has catapulted him into a likely mid to early second round draft pick with some talk abounding that he might even land as one of the later picks in the first round.  Even before the combine Fargas helped his cause when he put his skills on display at the Senior Bowl practices.  There, scouts saw his uncanny ability to hit the hole at full speed and his often overlooked strength and ability to break a tackle.  Of course, the question mark on Fargas will always be whether or not he is durable enough to last a NFL season.  Two broken legs, one of which was a potential career ender, and the hamstring injury from this past season are constantly pointed out by those looking for a chink in his armor.  This is a knock that he won't be able to get rid of until he actually gets on the field and plays, but with the determination and work ethic that we've seen, I wouldn't bet against him.

 

WR Kareem Kelly

 

USC's career leader in receptions, Kelly showed a lot of maturity his senior season and seemed to improve his intensity quite a bit.  Overshadowed at times by Mike Williams and Keary Colbert, not once did he voice any concern over having to share the spotlight, proving his ability to be a team player.  This is fairly significant considering a possible attitude problem was the biggest concern for pro teams.  If this past year was any indication, those concerns can be put to rest.  With 46 grabs for 605 yards in 2002, Kelly is primarily known for his speed and quickness, and he's also improved his route running over the last few seasons quite a bit.  He has definite big play ability and is a legitimate deep threat.  He also has the added bonus of possessing punt and kick return skills which pro teams are always looking for.  A participant at the combine in Indianapolis, Kelly measured in at 5'11 and 186 pounds and ran two of the fastest 40's (4.48 and 4.43) on that slow surface.  Ranked anywhere from the 8th to 14th best receiver in the draft, he's projected to be taken in the third round at some point.       

 

S Troy Polamalu

 

Still not back to 100% from his ankle injury, Polamalu made the trip to the combine but didn't participate in any of the drills.  It shouldn't hurt his stock too much because scouts know what they're getting in a prospect like him, and that's the definition of a football player.  It really doesn't matter how fast or big he is, watch him play for one series and it's obvious that he's special.  Fast, hard hitting, and incredibly intense, Polamalu just fly's to the ball and plays sideline-to-sideline.  He's also a team leader and has zero character issues.  Projects as a strong safety, but he's such a special athlete that one NFL team has expressed interest in him as a cornerback.  He's also a great special teams player and will see time there in the NFL as well.  He measured in at the combine at 5'10 and 205 pounds with plans to play at 215 pounds as a professional.  Polamalu figures to be a late first round pick with the Raiders being mentioned most often as the team that will snatch him up.  Which ever team does end up with this special player will be getting a steal and a guy who will make an impact immediately.

 

RB Malaefou MacKenzie

 

Playing this past season primarily at fullback, MacKenzie is unique in that he can do it all.  He's an effective rusher and a great blocker, but where he's really special is in his ability as a receiver out of the backfield.  As a senior, he caught 39 passes for 365 yards and 6 touchdowns.  It's because of his all-around solid play that he should be able to latch on to a NFL team and last a lot longer in the league than some might think.  He seems a perfect fit in the west coast offense that's so popular right now and he has the added versatility of being able to play either fullback or tailback.  A participant in the Senior Bowl and the East-West Shrine game, he particularly impressed at the East-West Shrine game when he lined up at tailback and put in a solid showing.  The one concern some teams have is MacKenzie's past history of injuries, but he's also a workout warrior and has shown the ability to come back from every set back.  A possible late round pick, he might have to go the free agency route, but he should have no trouble landing somewhere.  After all, NFL teams were inquiring about him for last year's draft when it was questionable as to whether or not he would get a sixth year of eligibility.  He has a chance to improve his stock if the scouts liked what they saw at the combine in Indianapolis and the upcoming Pro Day at USC.

 

RB Sultan McCullough

 

The first thing you think of when Sultan McCullough's name is brought up is his blazing speed.  The fastest player in Trojan history, there is absolutely no doubt as to whether or not he has the wheels to play at the next level and he could probably get a shot in the NFL based on this alone.  USC's leading rusher in 2002 with 814 yards, McCullough is great in the open field and is extremely explosive.  He played in the East-West Shrine game and made the play of the day when he caught a screen pass and made the opposing defenders look like they were running in quicksand as he darted off for a 71 yard touchdown.  NFL scouts were sure to take notice of that play as well as some strong practices he put in there and in the Rotary Gridiron Classic.  He also made some noise at the combine in Indianapolis when he matched Justin Fargas' 27 reps on the 225 pound bench press.  McCullough still needs to work on hitting the holes harder and finding the running lanes, but he'll get an opportunity to improve on those points.  He can also return kicks and could likely see time in that phase of the game on the next level as teams will look to take advantage of his speed.  He's projected to be taken in the middle rounds at some point.

 

OL Zach Wilson

 

USC's offensive lineman of the year for 2002, the 6'4, 300 pound Wilson was a four year starter.  Playing at right guard, he was one of the Trojan's most consistent linemen on offense this past season, garnering 2nd team All-Pac 10 honors.  He took part in the Paradise Bowl, a post-season all star game in Utah and put in a solid showing.  Known for his strong play in the box and for possessing a mean streak on the field, Wilson will have a chance to boost his stock at USC's Pro Day as most of his question marks concern speed and quickness.  Looks like a fairly deep year for guards in this year's draft, so Wilson looks to go in the later rounds or join a team as a free agent.

 

FB Chad Pierson

 

Another guy that looks like a good fit for NFL style offenses, Pierson is a great blocker and solid receiver.  With some nagging injuries and the emergence of MacKenzie at fullback, he was primarily used as a blocking back which he did so very effectively, often times springing Fargas and McCullough for big gains with bruising blocks.  Not a stranger to the weight room, Pierson should come into the upcoming combine at USC in great shape and might surprise some with his athleticism.  He's also another prospect that can contribute on special teams.  Without a carry this year however, scouts are likely looking to see if he has the tools to be an every down fullback, and he likely will have to go the free agency route.

 

DL Bernard Riley

 

Riley started the last seven games of this past season at nose tackle after missing most of the previous season with torn ligaments in his knee.  The best of his game looks to be ahead of him as he never really had a chance to fully get back to 100% from his injury.  Despite this, he played solidly and picked up 25 tackles and a sack as part of one of the best defensive line groups in the country.  After having some time to rest up, Riley should impress at the USC Pro Day combine because he's a great athlete and has always been one of the top lifters on the team.  At 6'2 and 315 pounds, pro scouts love his strength and ability to stuff the run.  He's an extremely tough guy to move at the line of scrimmage and has surprising speed once he breaks through.  Some team figures to grab him up anywhere from the 4th to the 6th round.  He would go earlier but some teams are still waiting to see how his knee is progressing.    

 

S Deshaun Hill

 

No one has improved their game each season like Deshaun Hill.  In 2002 he was one of the Trojans' most dependable defensive backs as he picked up 2nd team All-Pac 10 honors.  Whereas earlier in his career he sometimes blew coverages and appeared out of position, he always seemed to be in the right place this year and he racked up 54 tackles and 2 picks.  A participant in the Paradise Bowl, Hill has solid speed and size (5'11, 200 lbs) and has shown that he's only going to get better.  He'll be looking to put on an impressive performance at the USC Pro Day and will most likely get a shot somewhere as a free agent.

 

CB Darrell Rideaux

 

Starting at cornerback for all 13 games in 2002, Darrell Rideaux was extremely solid with 46 tackles, 7 deflections, and 2 interceptions. He has great quickness and speed and really benefited from the tutoring of Pete Carroll.  Under the new staff, he turned into the standout from Long beach Poly that we all expected.  A tireless worker and top class person, Rideaux is great in one-on-one coverage and is also a deceptively strong tackler.  At 5'9, some might knock his height but he more than makes up for it with his closing speed and athleticism.  The Trojan special teams player of the year, he might be able to make an NFL squad based on this alone.  He's extremely strong on punt and kickoff coverage and he also has the ability to return kicks. 

 

LB Mike Pollard

 

A steady force in the middle for USC, Mike Pollard had 49 tackles this past season and picked up honorable mention All-Pac 10 honors.  Known for his heady play and nose for the ball, he's another Trojan who participated in the Paradise Bowl hoping to increase his stock.  At 6'0 and 220 pounds, he might have to move to weakside linebacker at the next level, so pro scouts will most likely be looking to see if he has the speed to make that move. 

 

FB Sunny Byrd

 

Everybody's fan favorite, Sunny Byrd has been among the post-season's most dedicated workers in the weight room and he's another player who will be looking to make a big impression at USC's Pro Day.  Shooting for a shot as a likely free agent, he has nice skills as a blocker and receiver that might fit in well in those west coast offenses.  A participant in the Paradise Bowl, Byrd saw extensive time on special teams this year and this could be where he might get some real looks from some NFL teams.     

 


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