USC football 2019 preview: Wide receivers have quality, but not quantity

Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy
Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy /

USC football’s wide receiver unit may be the strongest in the conference, but nothing is certain with depth and consistency a worry.

BEST OF USC. Top 15 WRs Ever

Of all the units on USC football’s 2019 squad, wide receiver may carry the least anxiety into the season.

The Trojans return a strong ground of pass catchers and will look to replace dead weight with another heralded class of newcomers.

CHECK OUT: USC picked to finish second in South

But will there be enough playmakers to keep the Air Raid offense ticking?

Who’s back:

Michael Pittman (Sr.)Velus Jones Jr. (RS-Jr.)Tyler Vaughns (RS-Jr.)Amon-Ra St. Brown (So.)Devon Williams (So.)

Who’s gone:

Josh ImatorbhebheTrevon SidneyRandal GrimesKeyshawn “Pie” Young

Who’s new:

Kyle Ford (Fr.)John Jackson III (Fr.)Drake London (Fr.)Munir McClain (Fr.)Bru McCoy (Fr.)

They have the quality…

If you have been following the preseason talk around USC’s receiving corps, you’ve no doubt seen plenty of attention paid to Michael Pittman and Amon-Ra St. Brown.

In national coverage, those are the two names most likely to be mentioned among the Trojans top players. And that talk has been entirely earned.

Pittman led USC in receiving yards last year and seemed the player most likely to make the big play in the big moment. At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, he is the most physically dominant player available to the Trojans on offense and he brings quickness to the table which shouldn’t be allowed for a player his size.

St. Brown was JT Daniels’ favorite target in 2018, and not just because the two were high school teammates. The now-sophomore has been dedicated to perfecting his craft since a young age and it shows in his physical development and also his sharp technical abilities. His 60 catches as a freshman, the most since Marqise Lee in 2011, reflected that.

The fact that redshirt junior Tyler Vaughns appears to have fallen by the wayside may be the best demonstration of just how strong USC’s WR unit is in 2019. Vaughns was a close third in receiving tallies last season and possesses his own blend abilities, including elite body control.

TRENDING: Ranking USC’s opponents in 2019

That trio is set up to tear apart defenses in the new Air Raid offense.

And that’s not even mentioning the return of Velus Jones Jr., the speedy slot receiver and downfield threat, or the continued development of lengthy outside target Devon Williams.

…but not the quantity…

The problem for USC’s receiving corps in 2019 is numbers. They simply don’t have them.

More from Reign of Troy

Returning five scholarship receivers from last season while adding a total of five freshman pass catchers. Do the math and that’s only 10 scholarship receivers. New offensive coordinator Graham Harrell had 12 receivers available to catch even a single pass last year at North Texas, not including players who didn’t see the field.

In Spring Camp, Harrell bemoaned the lack of numbers, especially as injuries limited the Trojans to just a handful of available bodies. He was used to 15+ at his disposal in practice with the Mean Green.

The limited numbers could continue to impact the way USC’s offense is able to practice, but it’s more concerning to consider some worst-case scenarios, like something happening to Pittman, St. Brown or Vaughns. Pittman in particular doesn’t have a great track record on the injury front.

It wouldn’t take much for USC’s receiving corps to go from “best in the country” to “barely hanging on.”

…unless the freshmen flash

The Trojans safety net remains their exceptional ability to recruit the wide receiver position.

The fact is, USC’s freshman class features several potential early contributors.

Bru McCoy is the highest-rated of the group, but it seems very likely he will be ineligible to play after transferring to Texas and then back to USC.

That will leave Kyle Ford, Drake London, Munir McClain and John Jackson III, who already debuted in Spring Camp, to pick up the slack.

Ford in particular has a high ceiling, but he is coming off a long-term knee injury from high school and may take some time to get back into top football shape.

Any one of those four may be called into action in 2019. The Trojans simply have to hope they will be ready to handle the pressure.