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April 28, 2008

Trojans in the draft: What does it mean?

A national-best ten Trojans were selected in the 2008 NFL Draft, including four in the first round and seven on the first day. But will the tremendous wealth of talent departing Troy severely dampen the prospects for the 2008 season?

Below: What this great draft really means for USC, from the rewards of staying for a senior year to the potential boost in recruiting.

Stay in School

After the 2007 Rose Bowl victory four star Trojan players had the opportunity to jump ship and enter the NFL Draft as juniors. All four decided to return for their senior seasons. All four picked up accolades for their play including another Rose Bowl victory. And all four were selected in the first round of the 2008 draft.

Defensive tackle Sedrick Ellisbecame a 2-time All-American after the 2007 season and was named the Pac-10 defensive player of the year. He picked up momentum during the Senior Bowl and was talked about as the top defensive tackle in the country.

Ultimately Ellis was the 2nd DT taken behind Glenn Dorsey, but Ellis was picked up just two slots behind the LSU star. Dorsey went No. 5 to Kansas City and New Orleans traded up to snag Ellis at No. 7.

Linebacker Keith Rivers was an All-American his senior year. Scouts loved his play at the Senior Bowl and his testing during the USC Pro Day was off the charts. He parlayed that success into becoming the 9th pick in the draft by the Cincinnati Bengals (and was the first linebacker taken).

Sam Baker's decision to stay had the highest potential for a monetary shortfall. Baker spent much of his senior season injured and then began a slide down the draft board after the Rose Bowl. However, offensive tackle was a position of need in this draft and even though Baker was the 6th tackle taken, he still went 21st overall to a rebuilding Atlanta team.

Defensive end Lawrence Jackson followed up a 10-sack sophomore season with a disappointing 4 sack effort his junior year. He had the talent to leave early, but stayed to regain his All-Pac-10 First Team status. Jackson lead the team with 17 tackles for loss, including 10.5 sacks, in 2007 and was selected by the Seattle Seahawks with the 28th pick.

The lone junior to leave was Chilo Rachal. His decision was a surprise but his reasons were much more personal than professional. Scouts from the 49ers saw the potential Rachal showed at USC and the team picked him up with their 2nd round pick. Ironically Rachal replaced Fred Matua, another guard that unexpectedly left early. Matua's decision to leave appeared costly, being drafted in the 7th round and then winding up on practice squads in the NFL.

Recruiting Boom

May is a huge evaluation month for college coaches, with camps and combines galore coming up throughout the spring and the summer.

Pete Carroll in particular is a relentless evaluator of talent, something he feels gives him an edge in the race for recruits.

While evaluating talent is important, it is doubtful that anything helped Carroll's recruiting efforts more than the virtual Trojan love-fest on all the major TV networks covering the draft.

Great high school players watch the draft like everyone else and dream of playing in the league for a fat paycheck one day. Seeing so many Trojans selected by NFL teams only confirms to high school prospects that sending a letter of intent to Carroll gives them a great chance to make it themselves one day.

The five-star prospects know that they will have a great showcase at USC, playing on national television and in the Coliseum for the charismatic Carroll. And for the less heralded players, seeing backups like Matt Cassell and Thomas Williams getting drafted (7th and 5th rounds respectively) has to be encouraging as well.

The competition for starting spots is extremely high on this team, but prospects are starting to realize that even if they end up the 2nd or 3rd best at their position, they still have an excellent chance to make it at the next level.

Cupboard Bare?

With so much NFL-coveted talent deserting Troy, will USC struggle to compete in 2008?

Don't count on it.

One of the keys to Carroll's success has been his recruiting tactics. Year after year he has been able to sign the top players in California and then pick and choose top out of state players that he felt could help the team succeed.

At the college level you could see the results by his second year. But for the NFL it has taken a bit longer for his entire pipeline to fill up with draft-worthy talent.

Don't be surprised if the Trojans make a Miami-like run in the draft, with multiple first round selections for several years to come. This season there was more first round talent on the team than there has ever been at USC, so the next in line guys will move in and fill the open spots to keep things rolling.

Now that doesn't mean there will be no drop-off whatsoever. With half of the defensive line being drafted in the first round, there certainly is some work to do to replace them.

But for the most part there are the Kaluka Maiava's and Everson Griffen's and Butch Lewis's who have already proved themselves on the field and will now be asked to shine on a full-time basis.

Draft Recap

Player Position Round Pick(overall) Team

Sedrick Ellis DT 1 7(7) New Orleans
Keith Rivers OLB 1 9(9) Cincinnati
Sam Baker OT 1 21(21) Atlanta
Lawrence Jackson DE 1 28(28) Seattle
Chilo Rachal OG 2 8(39) San Francisco
Fred Davis TE 2 17(48) Washington
Terrell Thomas CB 2 32(63) NY Giants
John David Booty QB 5 2(137) Minnesota
Thomas Williams OLB 5 20(155) Jacksonville
Chauncey Washington RB 7 6(213) Jacksonville


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You can reach Ryan Abraham at ryan@uscfootball.com


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