For USC, An NFL Draft That Could’ve Been


Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

When Matt Kalil and Nick Perry shook hands with Roger Goodell last April, you might have envisioned what it would look like this year. With Matt Barkley and T.J. McDonald staying in school and Robert Woods having one more season in college, the 2013 NFL Draft looked like it could have been one of the most productive in years.

The well-respected Bloguin site College Football Zealots had Barkley and Woods both going in the top three picks, with McDonald going 22nd. had three Trojans in the first round, too. Heck, Bleacher Report had four in the first round.

When tonight’s first round is complete, there’s very good chance that USC won’t have a first rounder for just the third time since the 2002 Draft, when the Trojans had just two draftees: Kris Richard in the third and Chris Cash in the sixth.

So, what happened? Ask a message board and “Lane Kiffen” happened, which seemingly means that he made Woods obsolete, forced Barkley into bad spots and allowed Monte Kiffin’s defense to play McDonald in a new role.

Yet, ironically, for all of the talk that Kiffin’s play calling was a detriment to Barkley and Woods’ draft stock, last year’s sentiment of USC having multiple first round picks in 2013 was very much of a product of Kiffn’s play calling. With every record that Kiffin put on the resume of his players, their draft stock soared up mock drafts.

Matt Barkley threw 12 touchdowns against lowly Colorado and UCLA because Kiffin wanted records, and scouts drooled. Robert Woods caught 17 balls against Minnesota because Kiffin wanted him to break Johnie Morton’s record, and the Mel Kiper Jr.’s of the world had their jaws gleefully crook in a different direction.

The Trojans, with Lane Kiffin leading the charge aboard the Barkley, Woods and McDonald train, built expectations in 2011 that they couldn’t live up to in 2012. Expectations that despite the advancements in NFL scouting and analysis, were –in hindsight– profoundly reactionary.

When Marqise Lee took the flanker role away from Robert Woods in 2012, Kiffin essentially allotted Lee with Woods’s receptions. Woods became the possession receiver in the USC offense, a role, that believe it or not, he’s probably better suited for. Naturally, Woods had a steep decline in receptions, down to 76 from 111.

But that decline in production was cause for concern as it enabled scouts to not just look at the statistics and Woods’s wow factor. Consider that high first round receivers tend to be built like Mike Williams or Carlos Rogers, making them high risk/high reward draftees, as scouts are easily seduced by


body statistics. While it appears that Woods could have a far better NFL career than Williams or even Dwayne Jarrett, his playing style based on running the perfect route as opposed to out-muscling a cornerback, isn’t typically conducive to what scouts consider to be a first round pick.

Yet, with the Kiffin-induced stat fest that Woods put up in 2011, his ungodly numbers had everyone thinking that Woods was a lock to be top pick.

And look at Barkley. Once his senior season went south compared to his junior year, all of a sudden, his arm strength was a concern.

“He has shown limitations in his arm strength and not proven himself on downfield throws often enough this season,” said Matthew Fairburn of SB Nation, just four days after Barkley’s final game against UCLA.

Though, arm issues were never a concern when Barkley was lobbing the ball over Tevin McDonald’s head and into the arms of Robert Woods in November of 2011.

And speaking of McDonald, when it comes to T.J, consider him to be the most impacted by the perceptions of the Trojans. A year ago, he was overvalued and thrown into first round mock drafts based on his physical  potential, while being compared to Taylor Mays.

Now, six losses later, poor play and an out-of-date defensive scheme pushed McDonald’s draft projections from Day 1 of the draft, all of the way down to Day 3, despite accumulating 43 more tackles in 2012 than 2011.

Woods and Barkley are likely to be taken on Friday night instead of tonight, making one night’s wait seem like the fitting final moment of silence for what was a tumultuous 2012 season, leading to this point.

And at the end of the day, USC’s draft class brings forth plenty of lessons learned, for everyone. From misguided impulses to point blame, to overvaluing statistics and stereotypes,  the reality is that a lot can change in one year, and expectations are often unfulfilled.

Last year, the Trojans were on top of the world and were the media’s darling heading into the 2012 season. Now, 365 days later, there’s 180 degrees of change that tell the story of USC football and its draftees. Fortunately for Marqise Lee, there’s another 365 days to win back those degrees.