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T-Time: Who is the best Trojan in the NFL right now?

September 16, 2020

first_imgIt’s not the easiest time to be a USC football fan — the team physically can’t win games outside of the Coliseum and I wouldn’t trust offensive coordinator Tee Martin to call my plays in NCAA 14.But I’m not here to rant about the program’s many, many flaws (if you’re still seething from the Utah loss, check out Monday’s edition of “Grinding Gears”). Instead, I’d like to focus on the positives of USC football — like its former players who are no longer hamstrung by an inept coaching staff. Several Trojans are balling out in the big leagues right now, which begs the question: Who is the best former USC player in the NFL right now?I’ll first lay down some criteria. Only current contributions to a team count; prior accomplishments don’t. Packers linebacker Clay Matthews possesses a Hall of Fame-caliber resume, but at age 32, he’s not the fearsome pass rusher he once was. He’s no longer a contender for best NFL Trojan.And in order to weigh different positions evenly, I’ll be judging players based on their raw importance to their teams. For example, Titans defensive lineman Jurrell Casey doesn’t always stuff a stat sheet, but he’s a cornerstone of Tennessee’s defense more so than fellow “Trotan” Adoree Jackson, who has intercepted two passes in 2018. Any inactive or injured players are out of the race.With that said, it’s time to decide who the best Trojan in the NFL is, in order to distract ourselves from an inevitable trip to the Sun Bowl. The contending players will be categorized into three tiers:The Baby TrojansThis section belongs to rookie Trojans who’ve shown flashes of potential, but simply need more time to solidify themselves as NFL stars. This year’s No. 3 overall pick, quarterback Sam Darnold, is the most prominent of the group. Having started all seven games for the Jets, Darnold is still turnover-prone like he was in college (10 interceptions). However, he’s led the Mean Green to three wins — an impressive feat considering the team’s 5-11 finish in each of the past two years.Rounding out the group are pass rusher Uchenna Nwosu (one sack, three QB hits) and running back Ronald Jones, who punched in his first career touchdown Sunday. This trio needs time to see their talents fully realized in the NFL.The Role PlayersUnlike the Baby Trojans, this group features established veterans with major starting roles on their teams.  Wide receiver Nelson Agholor and cornerback Adoree Jackson are pushing into the “Superstar” category, but need a few more years of sustained excellence to qualify. A former first-round pick, Agholor got off to a molasses-slow start, averaging 23.1 receiving yards per game in his first two seasons. But in 2017, he became a key weapon on the Super Bowl champion Eagles, racking up 768 yards and eight touchdowns. It’s just his second year as a pro, but Jackson is already ranked as the No. 16 cornerback in the NFL this season, according to Pro Football Focus. He’s well on his way to become an elite corner at this pace.Defensive tackle Antuan Woods and running back Javorius “Buck” Allen were each part of USC’s class of 2015, and both have carved out solid roles for themselves in the NFL. Woods has started all seven games for the Cowboys at nose-tackle, notching 20 tackles and two for loss, while Allen scored three touchdowns in the Ravens’ first three games. Still waiting on a true breakout year, Allen rushed for over 500 yards in 2015 and 2017.The SuperstarsNow, we reach the cream of the crop — the Trojans who are established stars in the NFL. Receiver Robert Woods is the wild card of the Superstar group, as he’s yet to notch a 1,000-yard season. But he broke out in 2017 with 65.1 yards per game, and continued his explosive play into this season. He currently leads the Rams with 602 receiving yards — good for No. 9 in the league.Joining him are perennial defensive stalwarts Leonard Williams and Jurrell Casey. Williams experienced a down year in 2017, notching just two sacks. He’s reemerged as a fearsome rusher in 2018, however, with three sacks in seven games. Casey is one of the longer tenured Trojans in the NFL, having joined the Titans in 2011. Since then, he’s piled up 42.5 sacks and 74 tackles for loss, en route to three career Pro Bowl appearances.Last but not least, Tyron Smith has been the NFL’s premier left tackle this decade. He’s a five-time Pro-Bowler, two-time All-Pro selection and likely future Hall of Famer. The Cowboys offense has sputtered in 2018, but hardly at any fault of Smith’s.The Ultimate TrojanHere we are. It’s finally time to name the best Trojan currently in the NFL. Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster is just a second-year pro, but he’s already managed to build a valuable brand for himself on and off the field. Last season, he was becoming a favorite target of Ben Roethlisberger, leading all rookie receivers with 917 yards and seven touchdowns. Now, he is the favorite target of Roethlisberger. He has more receptions and receiving yards than teammate Antonio Brown, who has more receiving yards than anyone in football since 2010.Smith-Schuster is currently No. 6 in the NFL in receiving yards per game, and his total yards would rank higher if not for the Steelers’ bye week. If he’s not dazzling on the field, he’s probably starring off of it, whether in pizza commercials or YouTube escapades. Yet, he manages to back up his vivacious personality every week. Not only is Smith-Schuster more visible than any former Trojan in the NFL, he’s also the most productive of the group.On top of it all, Smith-Schuster is only 21 years old. His crown of best Trojan in the NFL may be staying put for awhile.Trevor Denton is a junior majoring in broadcast and digital journalism. His column, “T-Time,” runs every other Wednesday.last_img

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