USC football’s failure to develop should be a major concern after 2020 NFL draft

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

USC football has recruited elite talent, but hasn’t turned it into NFL draft picks consistently.

USC football still holds the record for the most all-time draft picks, no thanks to the Trojans’ recent record in the NFL Draft.

For the first time in nearly 20 years, USC had just two selections in the 2020 draft. In the past two years, the Trojans have produced just five.

Austin Jackson and Michael Pittman warrant praise for their first and second-round selections respectively. But USC can only hang their hat on those two successes for so long.

The issue lies with those Trojans who have gone undrafted when all signs pointed to NFL futures.

CHECK OUT: USC’s 2020 draft class was unacceptable

Maybe USC couldn’t do anything for Porter Gustin, who went undrafted in 2019 thanks to a slew of concerns including major injury woes. But others stand out for their lack of development or inability to star for Troy.

John Houston was a four-star linebacker who was never more than serviceable at USC. He didn’t get drafted, signing as an undrafted free agent with the Steelers.

Drew Richmond was a former four-star grad transfer with three years of starting experience at Tennessee. His year with the Trojans did nothing for his draft stock. He remains unsigned as of Monday.

Christian Rector was only a three-star prospect, but he garnered midseason All-American recognition in 2017. Even dealing with injury over the last two years, his performances on the field never lived up to those heights. He too has not been picked up as an undrafted free agent. This time last year there was talk of him being an early-round selection.

The 2020 draft class for USC was small, with only five players with starting experience eligible to be chosen. A one-time low hit-rate could be brushed aside. But this is part of a pattern.

Since 2011, when the Trojans had nine players drafted, USC has not had more than five selections in a single draft.

That same year, 2011, Notre Dame had just one selection. Since then, the Irish have topped six in five of the last eight drafts.

Is it any wonder they’ve caught up to USC in official draft tallies?

It might be an easier pill to swallow if the Trojans numbers were low simply because their talent pool was low, but that’s far from the case.

USC has hauled in Top 10 recruiting class after Top 10 recruiting class. The 55th-ranked class of 2020 was so jarring precisely because of what the Trojans had been accustomed to landing.

Frankly, the Trojans have done a poor job turning talent into draft picks consistently.

Clay Helton’s first recruiting class from 2016 is a prime example of this.

Michael Pittman is the only member of the class of 2016 who has been drafted. That 10th-ranked class featured 14 five- and four-star players.

Further players could be added to that list, including Tyler Vaughns, Vavae Malepeai, and Connor Murphy but that’s about it. Transfers like Oluwole Betiku, E.J. Price, Jamel Cook, Jack Jones, Trevon Sidney, Josh Imatorebhebhe, Cary Angeline, and C.J. Pollard wouldn’t count towards USC’s draft totals even if they were selected.

Put it this way: At best, USC’s draft hit rate for 2016 five- and four-stars would be 28 percent. More likely, it’ll be 14 percent.

It doesn’t get much better the further back you go.

The class of 2015 had 18 five- and four-stars. On the plus side, seven of those were drafted. That 38 percent hit rate is a high point for USC.

Out of the nine from the class of 2014, only Adoree’ Jackson and JuJu Smith-Schuster were drafted.

For the class of 2013, Su’a Cravens and Leon McQuay III were the only ones drafted out 12.

To put this in perspective, you have to compare USC’s figures to another team.

We won’t even bother putting the Trojans up against Ohio State’s ridiculous draft record in recent years. A more fair comparison is Notre Dame.

The Irish’s class of 2016 had 10 players with a five- or four-star rating.

Chase Claypool, Khalid Kareem, Troy Pride Jr., and Julian Okwara were drafted in 2020. Five-star OT Tommy Kraemer and four-star OT Liam Eichenberg are expected to be selected in 2021, potentially in the early rounds.

Things could look even better for the Irish if Daelin Hayes catches the eye of NFL scouts in the end.

That’s not to mention three-star cornerback Julian Love who was drafted in 2019 and three-star quarterback Ian Book who could be selected in 2021.

Notre Dame isn’t doing anything particularly special here. They’re not Alabama and Clemson winning titles for fun. They’re not Ohio State churning out first-round talent like it’s going out of style.

Brian Kelly has managed 10 wins in each of the last five seasons, keeping his program steadily in the national conversation. And he’s producing a handful or more of draft-caliber players each year.

There is no reason similar results should be out of USC’s reach.

And yet, they have been.

The solution? Coach better. Play Better. Be better.

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