USC Football’s Recruiting Success Hasn’t Delivered on NFL First Rounders

Apr 28, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; A general view of the stage and podium before the 2016 NFL Draft at the Auditorium Theatre. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 28, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; A general view of the stage and podium before the 2016 NFL Draft at the Auditorium Theatre. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports /

Despite consistently strong recruiting classes, USC football’s recent output of first round NFL Draft talent hasn’t kept pace.

When the book on the 2016 NFL Draft was closed Saturday, USC had four draftees: Su’a Cravens, Max Tuerk, Cody Kessler and Kevon Seymour. However, it only took until Thursday night to know that none of the Trojans selections would come in the first round.

Max Meyer of Around the NFL noted USC’s dearth of first round selections over the past few years, specifically pulled from “Kiffin era” recruits.

Let’s expand on that stat.

Kiffin’s four recruiting classes totaled 74 scholarship players. Among those there were ten five-star athletes, 43 four-stars and 17 three-stars.

Five-star wide receiver Robert Woods and four-star cornerback Nickell Robey were the first Kiffin-era recruits to depart. Woods was drafted by the Buffalo Bills after a record-setting USC career. Robey went undrafted, but joined Woods with the Bills as an undrafted free agent. Both have established solid NFL careers thus far.

It was Woods slip into the second round that set this period of #USCtoNFL production off on the wrong foot.

In the prior decade, the heart of the Pete Carroll era, USC produced 17 first rounders. Beyond that, the Trojans had multiple first round selections in six of those ten years while being denied a first rounder just twice.

USC has missed out on placing a first rounder three of the last four years.

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That’s not to slight Kiffin or boast over Carroll. Particular circumstances contribute to all those numbers. Carroll recruits produced their own disappointment and Kiffin helped develop 19 NFL draft picks during his tenure, including three first rounders.

Robert Woods’ injury record hurt his stock while Robey had to prove that his short stature wouldn’t prevent him from establishing himself in the pros.

The trouble is, USC loves to point to their strong NFL tradition as a recruiting tool. While that tradition can never be taken from the Trojans — with 496 draft picks and 12 Pro Football Hall of Famers — other legendary schools are not slowing their challenge to USC’s status atop the mountain.

Last year, Leonard Williams and Nelson Agholor boosted USC’s total of first round draft picks to 79 after two years with no additions. And it’s a good thing they did because Ohio State heard the names of five players on the stage in Chicago on Thursday, bringing their total to 76.

The numbers game doesn’t matter in the end. USC will recruit on its merits whether or not the Buckeyes take that crown. What does matter is results.

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USC hasn’t been able to win a Pac-12 Championship since 2008. Meanwhile those five players helped Ohio State win a national championship last year.

Four of those Buckeyes were four-star recruits. USC has had a lot of those. One was a three star.

Four were from the class of 2013. Many from USC’s 2013 class remain with the Trojans, but that class which featured four five-stars and eight four-stars is not likely to challenge Ohio State’s total output.

We already know that Su’a Cravens couldn’t break into the first round. Max Browne now stands as the Trojans’ great hope to deliver on that promise, unless Leon McQuay III, Chris Hawkins, Steven Mitchell, Justin Davis, Michael Hutchings, Khaliel Rodgers, Quinton Powell or Nico Falah unexpectedly launch their draft status upward this coming season.

There are starters in that number, but none who developed at a level to form the spine of a championship side.

Something to note, however, the Buckeyes had more four-star talent join the roster in 2013 than USC had players in their entire draft class.

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That’s the cloud hanging over this period for the Trojans. What was a result of circumstance and what was lack of development? How much can reasonably be blamed on sanctions? How much was simply a failure of coaching?

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That last class of the sanctions era was 2014, and that class has the potential to deliver a nice haul of Day 1 and Day 2 draft picks with the likes of Adoree’ Jackson, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Damien Mama, Viane Talamaivao, Toa Lobedahn and others set to enter the prime of their college careers.

Whether or not the number of first rounders from that group is two, as expected, or a group equal to Ohio State’s 2013 class will come down to the quality of USC’s coaching. The same goes for whether or not that group can form a Pac-12 Championship spine.

The sanctions excuse can only hold for so long.