What will USC football’s recruit-to-draft development look like going forward?

USC football head coach Clay Helton. (Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
USC football head coach Clay Helton. (Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

USC football’s ability to develop top-tier recruits into NFL draft picks was put in focus by 247Sports. And not in a good way.

USC football’s NFL draft production in recent years has been put under a microscope since the close of the 2020 NFL Draft.

On the one hand, the Trojans remain one of the top NFL draft factories of all time.

On the other hand, the Trojans have fallen behind other major programs despite more than keeping up in recruiting.

CHECK OUT: JT Daniels transfer looking more unlikely

The folks at 247Sports put that in harsh perspective on Thursday with their deep-dive into recruiting class from 2011 to 2015 and how they fared in the NFL Draft.

Out of 31 teams who qualified with at least 10 Top247 players, USC ranked 13th.

Here’s what Chris Hummer had to say about USC’s place in the rankings:

"“USC is an intriguing team to spotlight. The Trojans have been criticized for a lack of development, and there’s something to that. USC has seen only 39.1 percent of its qualifying Top247 players develop into draft picks. Only Michigan and Texas had a worse rate among those programs with 25 eligible Top247 players. The reason the Trojans rank this high is they recruit a lot of can’t-miss dudes – Adoree Jackson and JuJu Smith-Schuster were headed to the league no matter who coached them. USC still managed to produce 12 Day 1 and Day 2 picks within that stretch.”"

If you’re a glass-half-full kind of person, you could look at 247Sports’ numbers and come away with a really comforting conclusion: At least USC isn’t Texas.

The Longhorns brought in 33 Top247 players and hit on just 15.2 percent of them. That’s astoundingly bad for a blue blood program not so far removed from a national title appearance. They ranked 30th.

If you’re glass-half-empty, you might focus more on the top end of the rankings, asking the question: Why isn’t USC up there with No. 1 Alabama (59.3%), No. 2 Ohio State (63.8%) and No. 3 Clemson (58.3%)? Better yet, why are the Trojans outranked by No. 9 Stanford (41.7%) and No. 10 Notre Dame (42.9%)?

Those are the numbers that were, but what does the future hold for the Trojans’ recruit-to-draftee success?

Earlier this week, we at Reign of Troy looked at the Trojans talent development in the class of 2016. However, our dim calculation looked across all of USC’s five and four-star players.

SEE MORE: USC’s failure to develop is a major concern

Playing by 247Sports rules, USC had seven qualifying players in the Top247 (removing Jack Jones, E.J. Price and Jamel Cook who transferred before three years).

USC’s Top247 for 2016 (7)

  • Oluwole Betiku – Transferred
  • Tyler Vaughns – Likely to be drafted
  • Michael Pittman – Drafted
  • Trevon Sidney – Transferred
  • Josh Imatorbhebhe – Transferred
  • Frank Martin – Unlikely to be drafted
  • Vavae Malepeai – Potential to be drafted

Oluwole Betiku, Trevon Sidney and Josh Imatorbhebhe can’t count towards USC’s drafted players because they each transferred to Illinois. Tyler Vaughns, Frank Martin and Vavae Malepeai remain at USC. Michael Pittman alone has been drafted.

Vaughns is likely to join Pittman as a draftee. Malepeai has a chance of earning a draft selection, but it’s uncertain. Martin has not figured in USC’s offensive line rotation, so he would be an unexpected draft pick.

Thus, a best-case would have USC’s 2016 percentage at 42 percent. If Vaughns alone is drafted, USC would be at 28 percent. A worst-case scenario could have the percentage drop to 14.

On the flip-side, the class of 2017 could turn out rather well for the Trojans.

USC’s Top247 for 2017 (11)

  • Stephen Carr – Potential to be drafted
  • Austin Jackson – Drafted
  • Jay Tufele – Likely to be drafted
  • Marlon Tuipulotu – Potential to be drafted
  • Greg Johnson – Potential to be drafted
  • Jack Sears – Transferred
  • Isaiah Pola-Mao – Potential to be drafted
  • Alijah Vera-Tucker – Likely to be drafted
  • Hunter Echols – Potential to be drafted
  • Josh Falo – Potential to be drafted
  • Brett Neilon – Potential to be drafted

You have to remove Joseph Lewis, Bubba Bolden and Levi Jones from the equation entirely, giving USC 11 qualifying players.

Austin Jackson has already been drafted while Jack Sears is transferring. Jay Tufele and Alijah Vera-Tucker are certain to be drafted.

It’s more uncertain for Stephen Carr, Marlon Tuipulotu, Isaiah Pola-Mao, Hunter Echols, Josh Falo and Brett Neilon. Say half are drafted. USC would be at a respectable 54 percent for the class.

What about the class of 2018?

USC’s Top247 for 2018 (12)

  • Amon-Ra St. Brown – Likely to be drafted
  • Palaie Gaoteote – Potential to be drafted
  • JT Daniels – Likely to transfer
  • Olaijah Griffin – Potential to be drafted
  • Isaac Taylor-Stuart – Potential to be drafted
  • Solomon Tuliaupupu – Uncertain to be drafted
  • Talanoa Hufanga – Likely to be drafted
  • Justin Dedich – Potential to be drafted
  • Chase Williams – Potential to be drafted
  • Raymond Scott – Uncertain to be drafted
  • Abdul-Malik McClain – Potential to be drafted
  • Trevor Trout – Uncertain to be drafted

As you can see, the picture for USC’s class of 2018 sits on a knife’s edge.

While Amon-Ra St. Brown and Talanoa Hufanga are well on their way to be drafted, the rest could provide the foundation for serious achievement in the next couple of years. Or serious disappointment.

Palaie Gaoteote, Olaijah Griffin, Isaac Taylor-Stuart, Chase Williams and Abdul-Malik McClain have enough playing experience to suggest they can progress towards draftability. The former three certainly have enough natural talent and athleticism to draw scouts’ eyes regardless of how their careers pan out.

Meanwhile, Solomon Tuliaupupu just has to get healthy to find a place on USC’s defense. Justin Dedich may have to bid his time for a starting role on the offensive line, but once he does he could quickly factor into draft projections.

For Raymond Scott and Trevor Trout, they’ll have to prove themselves down the line if opportunities pop up. It’s just hard to say at this point.

Going forward, it will be even more important for USC to get the most out of what they have because the number of Top247 players has dropped significantly in recent classes.

USC’s Top247 for 2019 (7)

  • Bru McCoy – Potential to be drafted
  • Kyle Ford – Potential to be drafted
  • Drake Jackson – Likely to be drafted
  • Max Williams – Potential to be drafted
  • Maninoa Tufona – Uncertain to be drafted
  • Jude Wolfe – Uncertain to be drafted
  • Drake London – Likely to be drafted

Already the class of 2019 has shown some serious potential. Drake Jackson looks like a sure-fire first-rounder while London has been productive early. The rest should have opportunities come sooner than later.

As for 2020…

USC’s Top247 for 2020 (1)

  • Gary Bryant – Uncertain to be drafted


Needless to say, USC could have great draft success in the near future, or fall into a familiar pattern of minimizing talent. It’s all up the coaches and the players.

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