DT: Darrell Russell
While USC has dominated the other side of the line, elite NFL defensive lineman have been harder to come by.
Darrell Russell, a Morris Trophy winner at USC, could have made himself the easiest pick of the bunch if his career had gone on longer and with fewer issues.
Russell was drafted in 1997 by the Oakland Raiders and early indications were incredibly bright.
The defensive lineman broke into the starting lineup midway through his rookie season and took off from there. In 1998 he posted 10 sacks and 64 tackles. The showing impressed enough to warrant a Pro Bowl place and an All-Pro selection.
Things didn’t seem to slow down any in 1999 when he landed his second Pro Bowl selection after a 9.5-sack season.
Russell was dominant on the football field, but he was troubled off it. A series of failed drug tests resulted in suspensions which derailed his playing career. By 2002, he had been suspended for an entire season. More violations of the league’s substance policy would come before he was suspended indefinitely.
In 2005, any hopes of a comeback for Russell ended when he was killed in a car crash.
Russell is an example of a supremely talented athlete who sabotaged his shot at greatness. But that outstanding play, however short-lived, was enough to make him one of USC’s best-ever defensive linemen in the pros.