When it comes to college football programs on the West Coast, there are few, if any that have eclipsed the level of success that has been attained by The University of Southern California. From the days of O.J. Simpson in the 1960s, to the Pete Carroll-coached teams of the 2000s, the program has seen historic highs, and are most definitely considered in the ranks of college football's elite teams. Naturally, they've sent many players to the NFL over the years, and that has continued into the present day.
There are many former Trojans who are getting it done in the pro ranks. USC has had a penchant for producing great defensive players over the years, and that is observed in the NFL right now. On the other hand, the quarterbacks they have sent to the next level haven't fared quite as well. This is a trend that is ongoing, and is one of the first thing that a fan will notice when looking at USC draft picks. In any event, let's take a look at what former Trojans are lighting up the league, and which ones are hanging by a thread.
Ranked below are the 8 best, and 7 worst former USC Trojans currently in the NFL.
15 Nick Perry (Best)
An absolutely stellar 2011 season at USC helped propel Perry into the first round of the draft in 2012, where he was taken by the Packers. While it may have taken a few years for him to get on track in terms of consistent production, he had his breakout campaign last season, where he finally lived up to his pass rushing potential, as more or less a full-time starter at linebacker.
Perry will look to grow in Green Bay, and could end up becoming one of the best defensive players in the league. He was given a huge contract extension this offseason, because of his play the previous season. If all goes according to plan, he'll end up being worth it, and the Packers will have an elite linebacker on their hands for years to come.
14 Matt Barkley (Worst)
It's true that Barkley wasn't one of the highest ranked quarterbacks in his class after coming out of USC, and that's what salvages his reputation, because he's been terrible in his three NFL seasons. He was taken in the 4th round by the Eagles in 2013, and never received starting time, instead landing third on the depth chart. His 2016 season in Chicago didn't fare much better, and he actually received 7 starts, throwing more interceptions than he did touchdowns.
Barkley was good against the weak defenses of the PAC-12 in college, but he's clearly not cut-out for the NFL game at all. His future is as a backup if there is one at all, and he probably won't even be able to last in that role. He's just a really bad NFL quarterback, not atypical for USC products.
13 Everson Griffen (Best)
Griffen has proven himself to be one of the best draft steals in recent years. His career at USC was solid, but it only landed him a 4th round selection by the Vikings in 2010. He did have to face a learning curve early on, but he's truly developed into one of the best pass rushers in the league. He's spent the past 3 seasons as a starter for Minnesota, and made the Pro Bowl during the past 2.
He's the perfect example of a player making the most of his opportunity. Griffen wasn't considered a top pass rusher in his draft class, but has excelled anyway, at the expense of everyone who passed on him. He still has a few years of productivity left in him, and they may end up being his best yet in a talented Minnesota defense that has to put their best foot forward now.
12 Robert Woods (Worst)
Woods signed a big multi-year deal this offseason with the Rams, and it really showed the upside-down nature of the wide receiver market for this offseason. A former 2nd round pick, Woods hasn't really lived up to the hype, and his three previous seasons with the Bills have only produced marginal results. It's unclear why the Rams would be willing to give him such a big contract, other than to fill the void that Kenny Britt left.
He put up good numbers at USC, but he just isn't the go-to receiver that many thought he would be in the NFL. Definitely didn't live up to his draft selection, and only further the bad reputation that USC receivers have as NFL players (and we'll get to more on that later).
11 Brian Cushing (Best)
Some may say that Cushing has underachieved in the NFL after being taken at 15th overall in 2009, but that's merely pointing out the fact that he isn't a stat monster. A middle linebacker has many more duties other than racking up numbers, and Cushing has proven that he's one of the anchors on the Texans defense for his entire career.
Sure, it helps to have the likes of J.J. Watt and Jonathan Joseph playing alongside him, but Cushing is the signal-caller, and has been able to elevate the Houston defense into one of the best in the league. Looking beyond the stat sheet, it's easy to see why he's one of the best defenders in the league if you take his entire game into scope. A great pick for the Texans, and one of the best defensive players in the history of USC.
10 Mark Sanchez (Worst)
Early on in his career, it looked like Sanchez may fit in the NFL as a game-managing quarterback who could rely on other aspects of the roster. That theory was debunked the more playing time he got, and everyone soon realized that he had the tendency to make ill-advised throws that results in interceptions at ill-opportune times. He fizzled out with the Jets, and then received some starting time in Philadelphia, where the same trend continued.
Now, Sanchez is properly assuming the role as a backup. It's not an exaggeration to say that he's a massive disappointment after New York took him at 5th overall in the 2009 draft. From the infamous "butt fumble" incident, to the bevy of interceptions he's thrown, it's definitely been a career to forget, considering the potential many thought he had.
9 Jurrell Casey (Best)
As Casey is the anchor of the Titans defense and one of the best defensive tackles in the league, the return on drafting him in the 3rd round has been monstrous. He's simple a force in the middle of the defensive line, hardly ever misses games, and can provide both pass rushing and run-stopping abilities. He's the compete package for a defensive lineman.
It's no surprise given his production as a former Trojan. Casey is one of the more underrated players in the league, despite having many great seasons under his belt. All in all, he's going to be an elite player in Tennessee for a few more years, and will go down as one of the better defensive players of his era. He's probably overachieved during his career, and the Titans are all the better for it.
8 Frostee Rucker (Worst)
While he had a pair of nice seasons at USC, Rucker has translated into only a marginal NFL player over his decade long career in the league. He's played all over the defensive line with both the Bengals and Cardinals, and yet hasn't proven to be the difference maker that his talent would have suggested.
He's had opportunities to be a consistent starter, and he's never been able to hold down the job. Rucker is a player that needs to be surrounded by other good players to produce anything at all. He can't be a difference maker on his own, which makes him a ho-hum player. While he was only taken in the 3rd round, his college production suggests that he should have been much better in the pros. As a whole, his career has been very underwhelming.
7 T.J. McDonald (Best)
Rewarded with a multi-year contract from the Dolphins in free agency this year for his 4 standout seasons with the Rams, McDonald is one of the league's best young safeties. He's a do-it-all player that simply makes plays. He'll excel in Miami, just like he did with the Rams, and should get more credit league-wide as time moves on.
He proved his worth initially as a 3-year starter at USC, and was a standout for all of those seasons. He'll continue to prove that he's one of the best young players in the league, at least after his impending suspension is up for violating the league's substance abuse policy. After that blip on the radar, it should be smooth sailing for McDonald.
6 Matt Cassel (Worst)
Considering he was a 7th round draft selection in 2005, there's no question that Cassel has carved out a decent career for himself as a backup quarterback. But that's where the success ends, because he's also one of the worst quarterbacks in the league when he actually gets into a game. Sure, he's had flashes of good play on amazing teams (the Patriots for example, when Tom Brady got hurt), but he isn't a great player.
He's been able to take advantage of a quarterback market that is desperate, and where bad quarterbacks have the ability to sit behind the starter on the depth chart. Overall, Cassel isn't anything special at all, and proved why he was drafted so late. Talent-wise, he's one of the worst players at the position to come out of USC.
5 Clay Matthews (Best)
Still an outstanding player this far into his career, Matthews is one of the best Packers players of his era. He helped define their defense when it was at its best in the Aaron Rodgers era, and still is able to contribute on a weekly basis during the season. It cost Green Bay a first round pick to get him, but it was well worth it.
He's shown that he can play a variety of positions and still excel, which is the mark of a great player. As far as his college career, his 2008 season will go down as one of the best by a defensive player in Trojan history, and that's saying quite a lot. Matthews is an all-around great player, no questions asked.
4 Carson Palmer (Worst)
Granted, a portion of this has to do with the expectations that are levied upon Palmer, seemingly every season. He's always seen as the catalyst that will get a middling team over the hump, and it never ends up happening. Part of this is because he was a former first overall pick by the Bengals heading into the 2003 season. Just like Sam Bradford, however, he never did fully live up to the hype.
The Cardinals most recently tried to cut corners and sign Palmer instead of drafting a young franchise quarterback. What resulted was disappointing losses in the playoffs for most of his run there, followed by a massive falloff last season. If you take into account the fact that he was supposed to be a generational talent at quarterback, Palmer is definitely a major disappointment,
3 Tyron Smith (Best)
The Cowboys are widely considered to have the best offensive line in the league at the moment, and the presence of Smith at the all-important left tackle position is a big reason why. He's simply a force on the line, and is elite at both pass-blocking and run-blocking. In combination with the other talent on the unit, it's a fearsome bunch, one that allowed Ezekiel Elliott to have an elite rookie season at running back.
Smith will go down as one of the best of his era as a lineman, and one of the best players to come out of USC. The 9th overall selection that he was taken with was more than worth it for such a premium player. Expect Smith to dominate the league with his blocking for at least 5 more years. He's in the prime of his career, and it won't get any easier for defensive linemen opposing him.
2 Nelson Agholor (Worst)
The Eagles took Agholor in the 1st round of the 2015 draft, in hopes of finding the next great receiver on the outside of the field. Two seasons later, and he's been nothing short of a massive bust. Agholor consistently ranks near the bottom of the league's pass-catchers, and just can't seem to beat NFL coverages with any consistency. He's just another in a long line of USC disappointments at the position, and his time in the league may be up soon.
He'll likely get one more chance to prove himself in Philly for the 2017 season. However, with the acquisitions of Torrey Smith and Alshon Jeffery in the receiver ranks for next season, the Eagles seem to have already made up their mind on Agholor. If he can't find a way to turn it around against all odds in the upcoming season, he'll go down as a definitive 1st round bust.
1 Leonard Williams (Best)
Not much went right for the Jets last season, and now they're beginning the process of rebuilding. One player (maybe the only player) they know they can count on for the long-term is Williams, who is one of the elite defensive tackles in the league. He was the 6th overall pick in 2015, after 3 amazing seasons at USC, and his dominance translated almost immediately into the NFL.
Williams figures to be a cornerstone player for the Jets over the long haul, and is one of the best players at his position in the entire league. He hasn't even hit his prime yet, and the amount of talent he displays nearly every game shows itself with ease. If he can hit his ceiling, which is a real possibility at this point, he may go down as one of the best defensive players of all-time. His ability is real, and opposing offensive linemen should begin to worry about it now.