USC Trojans in the NFL: 2009 draft recap
There are two surefire ways to increase your odds of playing in the NFL. Become a long snapper, or play college ball for USC.
Long snappers are the guys every fan forgets and every team needs. Trojans are the guys every fan knows and every team wants. Another group of USC's hyper-hyped ascended to the NFL this weekend, with three of the program's 11 draft picks going in the first round. The school boasts 457 players drafted by the league, including 53 (14 in the first round) since Pete Carroll took over eight years ago.
USC finished with more picks than any other school for the third time in the last four years. Here's a snapshot of each:
QB Mark Sanchez - 1st round, 5th pick - New York Jets
Sanchez said he wanted to be in New York, and the Jets traded up 12 picks to get their likely QB of the future. They recently lost Brett Favre to another retirement (this one actually seems career-ending). It's like a clean slate for all involved; Favre left no legacy in the Meadowlands, and Sanchez is getting a hero's welcome after his typically exuberant reaction to his selection. The New York fans will create plenty of pressure, of course. Sanchez will greet it with a similar on-field personality to his predecessor -- enthusiastic, creative and driven. Both are highly effective leaders who make football fun to watch. Could this be enough to lure John Madden out of retirement?
LB Brian Cushing - 1st round, 15th pick - Houston Texans
Cushing has been an All-American at just about every level of the game and can line up on either side of Pro Bowl middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans. Houston has a great offense but may expect a lot from their first-round pick to help a mediocre defense. He should be a mature rookie -- a lot of perople thought he would go pro last year, and the extra season at USC didn't hurt. His strong shoulders should be able to handle the burden. On a random note -- and I've been meaning to say this for a couple years -- doesn't Cushing look like Don Billingsley in the movie version of "Friday Night Lights"?
LB Clay Matthews - 1st round, 26th pick - Green Bay Packers
Apparently long-haired linebackers flock together. Matthews is leaving Cushing but will soon line up next to A.J. Hawk. It's appropriate that Green Bay traded up to get him. It seems like Matthews has been trading up his whole career -- from a college walk-on to an NFL first-round pick. A natural Leo (outside linebacker/defensive end hybrid), he'll be a nice fit on the outside of the Packers' 3-4 system.
LB Rey Maualuga - 2nd round, 6th pick (38th overall) - Cincinnati Bengals
Maualuga fell out of the first round, which surprised a lot of analysts. It kept USC from being the first school to have three players from the same position group taken in the first round of the draft. He was underwhelming in the run-up to the draft, suffering an injury and reportedly doing poorly on the Wonderlic test (not a deal breaker but important for middle linebackers who tend to call the plays on defense). Still, he won the 2008 Bednarik Award as college football's best defender and was the most terrifying presence USC had on the field in recent memory. Maualuga will rejoin former Trojan linebacker Keith Rivers in Cincinnati.
DT Fili Moala - 2nd round, 24th pick (56th overall) - Indianapolis Colts
It's hard to say which drop was more surprising -- Maualuga's this weekend or Moala's this year. A year before the draft, an ESPN analyst predicted Moala would be the first overall selection. Actually, that seemed like a stretch at the time. His numbers have never turned heads, but he could always move bodies. Pedestrian stats were skewed by just one number -- two. As in the number of offensive linemen it takes to guard him. Moala has a nonstop motor connected to a giant body. He could be a steal for the Colts, who traded up five spots to get him.
WR Patrick Turner - 3rd round, 23rd pick (87th overall) - Miami Dolphins
It's easy to say he never lived up to his hype in college, but Turner put up solid numbers as a senior. As a junior, few people realized how much he was affected by a preseason injury. His willingness to play through pain was an inspiration to teammates. His size is exceptional. He stands 6-foot-5 with a 33-1/4-inch arm span and a 9-5/8-inch hand span (grab a ruler and measure your own). Unlike Mike Williams, USC's last super-sized receiver, there's no reason to think the 223-pound Turner will have conditioning problems.
LB Kaluka Maiava - 4th round, 4th pick (104th overall) - Cleveland Browns
Maiava hasn't received a lot of attention, and not just because computers ran out of vowels for USC defenders. While guys like Maualuga, Maiava, Matthews, and Cushing hoarded headlines, Maiava was a workhorse who ended his Trojan career on a high note -- being named defensive MVP of the Rose Bowl. The Browns can expect versatility and consistency from their new rookie.
DE Kyle Moore - 4th round, 17th pick (117th overall) - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Moore isn't the kind of guy who draws much attention on the field, but he's big (6-foot-5), committed (named USC's most inspirational player after overcoming knee problems in 2008) and creates results in the backfield (a team-high five sacks last season). His long arms batted down five passes and made two interceptions as a junior and knocked down a couple more balls at the line of scrimmage as a senior.
PK David Buehler - 5th round, 36th pick (172nd overall) - Dallas Cowboys
A pair of punters were picked ahead of Buehler in the same round, but the only other place kicker taken in the draft was Mr. Irrelevant, Ryan Succop. Even though he has some competition in Dallas for the starting job, Buehler also has the ability to earn his keep in other ways. The stellar athlete impressed everybody with his workouts at the combine, lifting more weight than many top offensive linemen. He was recently awarded the College Football Performance Award as the kicker with the greatest statistical impact on his team in 2008.
CB Cary Harris - 6th round, 10th pick (183rd overall) - Buffalo Bills
Cornerbacks were very popular in this year's draft, which may have helped Harris. He wasn't impressive on pro day and doesn't have great speed but started for three years at USC and could also play safety. He was the third defensive back selected by the Bills in this year's draft.
S Kevin Ellison - 6th round, 16th pick (189th overall) - San Diego Chargers
All-Pac-10 for the past two seasons, Ellison was a good college performer who will need to overcome concerns about his speed and injuries at the next level.
If you were looking for a pair of old Trojan names -- Josh Pinkard and Jeff Byers -- both will be back at USC as sixth-year seniors. Gerald Washington is listed on ESPN's draft tracker but wasn't expected to get picked up. He indicated at the end of last season that he will try to make it to the league but seems like a long-shot to get signed as a free agent.
-- Adam Rose
Photo: NFL quarterback Mark Sanchez will wear his USC number, 6, for the New York Jets. The look on Mom's face? Priceless. Credit: James Lang / US Presswire