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NFL Combine 2019 Preview: USC OLB Porter Gustin looking to turn heads

Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy
Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy
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USC outside linebacker Porter Gustin had his career, and much of his NFL draft stock, derailed by injury. The NFL Combine is a chance to remind scouts of his ability.

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There will always be an element of “what if” surrounding the career of USC outside linebacker Porter Gustin, but he is not the first talented Trojan who was limited by injury. Like others before him, the task is now to carve out a productive NFL career to secure his legacy.

The 2019 NFL Combine is one of the first steps in that process. This weekend in Indianapolis, Gustin will be one of many NFL hopefuls looking to make an impression.

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Can the 6-foot-5, 260-pound mountain of solid muscle deliver a stock-boosting performance?

USC resume

Gustin’s USC career was defined by three things: ferocity, toughness and injury.

In 37 games and 22 career starts, he tallied 33 tackles for loss, 21 sacks and five pass breakups at the line of scrimmage.

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Showing promise as a sophomore starter in 2016, he led the Trojans in tackles for loss while picking up an All-Pac-12 honorable mention.

His 2017 season started brightly, with three sacks in three games, but a broken toe limited him to one appearance in the final 11 games of the year.

Again, his senior campaign looked on track to be a stellar one in 2018. Despite undergoing knee surgery during Fall Camp, he emerged as USC’s primary pass rushing playmaker, notching 10 tackles for loss in the opening six games of the season, even though he missed two halves due to suspension. Unfortunately, he broke his ankle against Colorado and did not play again.

Even with just six games under his belt, he led USC in tackles for loss and sacks, ranking third in the Pac-12 with seven in the former category.

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Scouting report and draft stock

There is a lot to like about Gustin, certainly from a mentality standpoint. He is passionate about success, dedicated to his craft and gives his all on the field. NFL scouts recognize that, along with his production when he was able to get on the field.

His ability to impact a game has been clear since he stepped on campus at USC as a freshman.

ESPN praised him for being “highly active and productive” as a 3-4 outside linebacker prospect “with some scheme versatility.”

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The trouble for Gustin is durability. He missed 16 games over his final two seasons of college ball due to a variety of injuries, including but not limited to a broken toe, a torn bicep, a torn meniscus and a broken ankle.

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Injury red flags have undoubtedly hurt his draft stock greatly, but so have questions about his athleticism. Though he commits himself to the weight room, his flexibility has always been an issue while his natural athleticism isn’t top-drawer.

Combine expectations

The NFL Combine feels like it was made for someone like Gustin.

“It’s something I’ve always planned on, you know, just dominating,” he told Brady McCollough in a recent feature published in the LA Times.

Recovering from the ankle injury has limited his ability to prep for Indianapolis, but he seems to be ready to workout in front of NFL scouts.

Assuming he can fully participate, Gustin will need to take full advantage of the moment. He won’t be able to assuage worry over his injury record. He won’t be able to put more film on tape between now and the draft, but he could certainly turn some heads with his measurables.

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