NFL Draft Team Spotlight: USC

NFL Draft analyst Chris Steuber tells you all about the talent from USC that could be entering the NFL in 2008. Check out his analysis and projections as he shares his insight on more than a dozen Trojans that NFL scouts have been evaluating.

2008 Draft Spotlight
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USC has a rich tradition of excellence and has produced many distinguished athletes that have gone on to the National Football League and enjoyed much success. Even with all the prospects that have left USC, the Trojans have never really been hurt on the field. They have always found a way to retool and reload for the ensuing season.

A program like USC's usually has at least one player that gets selected in the first round each year. Surprisingly, last season was the first year since 2002 that USC didn't produce a first-round pick. Since 2000, the Trojans have had eight first-round picks: Reggie Bush (2nd overall in 2006 by the Saints), Matt Leinart (10th overall in 2006 by the Cardinals), Mike Williams (10th overall in 2005 by the Lions), Mike Patterson (31st overall in 2005 by the Eagles), Kenechi Udeze (20th overall in 2004 by the Vikings), Carson Palmer (1st overall in 2003 by the Bengals), Troy Polamalu (16th overall in 2003 by the Steelers), and R. Jay Soward (29th overall in 2000 by the Jaguars). The success rate of USC first-round picks has been suspect and only two have made the Pro Bowl, Palmer and Polamalu.

The 2008 draft class has the look of being the best this decade. This class features outstanding seniors Sedrick Ellis, Keith Rivers, Sam Baker, Terrell Thomas, John David Booty, Fred Davis, and Lawrence Jackson — and the possibility of USC's top underclassmen making the leap to the next level, including players such as Rey Maualuga, Kevin Ellison, and Fila Moala.

The Rose Bowl-bound Trojans will lose plenty of leadership on both sides of the ball to the NFL this spring and will have a different look in 2008. With that said, here's a look at the potential 2008 USC draft class:

DT, Sedrick Ellis (Sr.)
Draft Projection: 1st Round
Height: 6-2 | Weight: 305

Ellis is an explosive interior defender who can rush the pass and defend the run. He doesn't possess great size, but he plays with a high motor and great technique. He's quick off the snap, has quick hands, and is able to fight off double teams and sneak through a seam. He's built low to the ground, gets underneath the opposition and keeps his feet moving up the field to gain penetration. He has excellent closing speed and is able to track down ball carriers. Ellis is one of the premier defenders available in the 2008 draft. He had a great senior campaign and amassed 56 tackles (28 solo, 28 assisted), 12.5 for a loss, and 8.5 sacks. Ellis' game will remind many of All Pro DT Warren Sapp.

OLB Keith Rivers (Sr.)
Draft Projection: 1st Round
Height: 6-3 | Weight: 235

Rivers is an active linebacker that flies around the ball always looking to make a positive play. He's quick to the point of attack, shows great instincts and takes good angles in pursuit. He has sideline-to-sideline range and positions himself to make plays. He covers a large area and is disciplined in coverage. He's an aggressive player that has great strength and is able to shed blocks against a bigger opposition. Rivers decided to stay at USC for his senior season, despite being a lock to be a first round pick last year. He played very well for the Trojans this season and collected 73 tackles, 4.5 for a loss, but he didn't post any impact numbers (sacks and interceptions) you want to see out of a playmaking linebacker. Even though he didn't have any sacks or interceptions, Rivers is still a top-25 selection.

OT Sam Baker (Sr.)
Draft Projection: 1st Round
Height: 6-5 | Weight: 305

Baker is an athletic lineman who is one of the nation's top offensive tackles. He's quick off the snap, positions himself well, bends his knees effectively, and uses his hands to his advantage. He delivers a good initial punch that knocks defenders off their rush. He stays square to the defender and shows good lateral movement. He has the ability to kick out or pull across the line. He's excellent in pass protection, but is still developing his game as a run blocker. Baker has battled injuries during his career at USC. He's a top-three tackle available in the draft, but there will be a lot of concern surrounding his injury history. If Baker stays healthy, he provides a team with a steady lineman that can start for the next 10–12 years.

MLB Rey Maualuga (Jr.)
Draft Projection: 1st-2nd Round
Height: 6-3 | Weight: 250

Maualuga is a tall, physical linebacker who possesses great athleticism and explosion. He has a quick burst and has great lateral, sideline-to-sideline, and angular speed. He's a sure tackler who positions himself well against the run. He's an instinctive player who's aware of his surroundings and penetrates through a gap to make plays in the backfield. He's a devastating hitter that looks to make the knockout blow. He shows great discipline in the middle and recognizes opposing schemes very well. Maualuga is an underclassman who previously stated that he would return to USC for his senior season. His decision will be based on the information he receives from the draft advisory board. If he gets a first-round grade back from the board, it will be hard for Maualuga to pass up NFL millions for an uncertain senior year.

Terrell Thomas scoops up an apparent fumble against UCLA earlier this month, but it was called back.
AP Photo/Reed Saxon

CB Terrell Thomas (Sr.)
Draft Projection: 1st - 2nd Round
Height: 6-1 | Weight: 200

Thomas is a gifted athlete with a lot of tools that make him a solid cover corner. He's fluid in transition and positions himself well to make a play on the ball. He has good instincts and awareness. He runs well laterally and vertically and uses his frame to his advantage to defend pass attempts. He has soft hands and adjusts well to errant throws. He's not a physical corner but shows a willingness to defend the run. Thomas has been injury prone throughout his career. He suffered a major knee injury that cost him the 2005 season and had surgery to repair a dislocated left shoulder. Thomas had a good season this year, recording 41 tackles, three for a loss, a sack and four interceptions. He will get first-round consideration, but will likely be an early second-round pick.

DE Lawrence Jackson (Sr.)
Draft Projection: 1st - 2nd Round
Height: 6-5 | Weight: 270

Jackson is an athletic all-around defender who defends the run and has the ability to be a dominant pass rusher. He gets a quick jump off the line, plays with forward lean, and uses his strength to wedge through the opposition. He has quick feet and good hand placement. He alters the path of the ball carrier and is able to fight off blockers in defense. He's able to hold his ground against a bigger opposition and rarely gets knocked off his feet. Jackson had a sensational sophomore season where he had 10 sacks followed by a disappointing junior year where he managed just four, and a senior campaign where he redeemed himself with 9.5. Jackson makes a lot of plays in the backfield, but for him to become an elite DE he has to show more consistency.

TE Fred Davis (Sr.)
Draft Projection: 2nd Round
Height: 6-4 | Weight: 250

Davis is a skilled, playmaking tight end who gives an offense a tremendous weapon over the middle. He gets a fluid release off the line of scrimmage, is quick into his routes, and shows soft hands making receptions in traffic. He has good speed and makes big plays downfield. He shields defenders away to get a clean look at the ball in flight and uses his body effectively to adjust to errant throws. He squares up nicely at the line of scrimmage and shows good hand technique blocking defenders. Davis is a tremendous duel threat at the tight end position. He's a capable blocker who can extend the field and be an intrical part of an offense. His 55 receptions for 794 yards and seven touchdowns this season will look good on an NFL roster looking to add a tight end in the second round.

DT Fila Moala (Jr.)
Draft Projection: 3rd Round
Height: 6-5 | Weight: 295

Moala is an intriguing interior defensive lineman with great potential. He has a high motor and displays good quickness off the line. He gets leverage against the opposition, drives blockers back and sheds blocks to make plays in the backfield. He has strong hands and delivers a good initial punch that allows him to wedge between the opposition. He shows a good burst in pursuit. He has an athletic body that's still filling out. Moala is an underclassman who will benefit from staying in school for his senior season. He showed flashes of great potential this season and recorded 31 tackles, 5.5 for a loss, and 2.5 sacks. If he stays in school, Moala will be discussed as one of the elite interior linemen for the 2009 draft.

QB John David Booty (Sr.)
Draft Projection: 3rd-4th Round
Height: 6-3 | Weight: 215

Booty is an intelligent quarterback who possesses great poise in the pocket. He goes through his progressions consistently and spreads the ball around to his receivers. He has a strong, accurate arm and can make all the tough throws. He shows confidence throwing the ball vertically and on intermediate routes, placing the ball in receiver's hands with precision. He doesn't have great speed and will take sacks due to his inability to escape the pocket. Booty possesses a lot of the intangibles you want out of a quarterback, but I question how he translates to the NFL. He may become a quality quarterback at the next level, but I believe he benefited from having star players around him.

Kevin Ellison looks down at Oregon State's Sean Canfield after sacking him in November.
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

SS Kevin Ellison (Jr.)
Draft Projection: 3rd-4th Round
Height: 6-1 | Weight: 225

Ellison is a promising safety who shows great ability in the secondary and is developing an all-around game. He's an instinctive defender who plays well against the run and takes good angles in coverage. He attacks the line of scrimmage in run situations and positions himself well to make a play. He has good speed flashing on the scene and shows promise as a playmaker. Ellison is still developing as a safety. He has a lot of skills and is a playmaker, registering 54 tackles, 6.5 for a loss, two sacks and two interceptions. But he would be better suited to stay in school for his senior season.

OLB Brian Cushing (Jr.)
Draft Projection: 3rd-4th Round
Height: 6-4 | Weight: 240

Cushing is an instinctive linebacker with great size and physical ability. He has a nose for the ball and makes plays at the line of scrimmage. He breaks down well and plays with leverage. He flows well to the action and uses his speed in pursuit of the ball carrier. He backpedals nicely, gets good depth in his drops, and is good in coverage. Cushing, another USC underclassman, is a top-tier linebacker when he's healthy. He's battled an ankle injury this season that's limited his effectiveness and has really hurt his ability to be a playmaker. It's almost certain that he will return to USC to recapture his performance from his sophomore season, where he had 57 tackles, 13.5 for a loss, and 4.5 sacks.

OL Drew Radovich (Sr.)
Draft Projection: 4th Round
Height: 6-5 | Weight: 305

Radovich is a versatile offensive lineman who can play inside or outside. He seals the opposition at the line of scrimmage with his positioning. He's strong in the trenches and is a hard worker. He has good footwork, lateral movement, and jolts defenders at the point of attack. He has the ability to get to the second level and shows good agility. Radovich is an underrated lineman and has been a mainstay on the USC offensive line for the last two seasons. He's a quality prospect who will be a steal early on Day Two.

WR Patrick Turner (Jr.)
Draft Projection: 5th Round
Height: 6-5 | Weight: 220

Turner is a big, physical receiver who's still developing and has a lot of upside. He has soft hands and runs good routes, but has to become more consistent all around. He gets off the line very well and is quick in and out of cuts. He uses his size to his advantage and is able to snare tough receptions in traffic. He adjusts well to errant throws. He plays with a lot of confidence and gets better the more he's involved. Turner is still a work in progress and has a lot of tools to work with. Only a junior, Turner will compete with Vidal Hazelton next year to see who receives the majority of passes. Turner improves with every game he plays and is likely to have a breakout season next year at USC.

RB Chauncey Washington (Sr.)
Draft Projection: 5th-6th Round
Height: 6-1 | Weight: 220

Washington is a hard-working running back who has been a consistent presence in the backfield the last two seasons. He doesn't have elite speed, but he has good feet and leg drive. He's a north-south runner who can bounce outside and get positive yards. He has good vision and cutback ability. He's a solid blocker on passing downs, shielding defenders away from the quarterback. He has to improve his hands to become a weapon out of the backfield. Washington is an experienced back who has value in the later rounds for a team looking for depth at the running back position.

Undrafted USC Prospects:

C, Patrick Spanos (Sr.)
Height: 6-5 | Weight: 305

TE, Dale Thompson (Sr.)
Height: 6-4 | Weight: 255

A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Chris Steuber has provided his analysis of the NFL and NFL Draft prospects on the web and on the radio since 1999.

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