Despite an underwhelming 2020 season that saw the University of Southern California struggle to consistently remain ranked among the nation’s top 25 teams, the Los Angeles-based school is poised to contend in the Pac-12 in 2021 after retaining multiple key players. The Trojans boast an excellent roster that features several prospects expected to be selected at or near the top of their position group in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Drake Jackson, 4-3 Defensive End/3-4 Outside Linebacker
Multiple high-profile USC players have been pointed to as having had a “down year” in 2020. After a stellar freshman season that warranted future first-round hype, the dominant narrative is that Jackson regressed to the norm as a sophomore. The Trojan star’s tape last year, however, tells a different story. Despite dropping 20 pounds (from 275 as a freshman to 255 as a sophomore), adapting to a new position and working under a new defensive coordinator, Jackson exhibited elite traits and impressive pass-rush technique. The former four-star recruit will only improve as he continues learning to play at his new weight and in his new role. He may end up a top-five or 10 prospect in the class and a high first-round selection come April.
Drake London, Wide Receiver
Players with rare traits and skillsets are often sought after on draft day. London boasts a special combination of size and movement skills that will place him in the first-round conversation. The big-bodied receiver is an excellent route-runner and has reliable hands. What’s more, his agility, power and contact balance may make him one of the class’s most dangerous threats with the ball in his hands. After stepping away from the USC basketball team in December, 2020 to focus on football, the Trojans wide receiver may see a jump in his production and level of play next season. London’s size and play style differentiate him from most wide-receiver prospects. He will compete for the title of the top receiver in the 2022 NFL Draft class.
Kedon Slovis, Quarterback
Few players would thrive after replacing the injured starter in the season opener as a true freshman in one of the nation’s largest markets. However, Slovis excelled under those difficult circumstances and has not since surrendered his spot on the depth chart. The USC signal-caller is an NFL-ready passer who wins with intelligence, timing, touch and ball placement. Furthermore, Slovis regularly scrambles to throw and offers the potential to create outside of the pocket. His arm strength, while not elite, is sufficient and should not preclude him from succeeding in any NFL scheme. While a down year in 2020 has largely removed the USC quarterback from the first-overall pick conversation, a strong junior season may result in him hearing his name called in the first round. In fact, Slovis can be a top-10 pick next year.
Isaiah Pola-Mao, Safety
To be considered a potential early-round safety, prospects often must have either the ability to play multiple roles or the range to play single high. Pola-Mao is a long, athletic defensive back who boasts the requisite versatility to hear his name called in the draft’s first two days. The former four-star recruit has impressive man-coverage ability and has even worked at the nickel in the offseason. He also has potential in zone. While he must clean up his angles and efficiency at the tackle point, he is a physical player who takes any opportunity to prove his hitting power. The USC star has the movement skills to impact the game from multiple alignments. He could be one of the first safeties drafted in 2022.
Isaac Taylor-Stuart, Cornerback
The USC football team is home to various proven starters with NFL potential. The preponderance of established talent in the Trojans’ defensive backfield has forced possible stars out of the spotlight. Taylor-Stuart has not yet proven himself to be a consistent contributor for USC. Still, the former elite recruit has the athletic traits to break out in 2021. Taylor-Stuart boasts stellar length, long speed and movement skills. What’s more, he should see the field more due to Olaijah Griffin’s departure for the 2021 NFL Draft. While it is too early to definitively project a career role player as an early-round pick, Taylor-Stuart is a name to remember as he steps into a starting role next season.