Top 2020 NFL Draft Prospects from USC

Leslie Torres-Valadez
USC Football Photo Credit: Neon Tommy - Under Creative Commons License

The 2020 NFL Draft is near as USC’s regular season has come to an end. USC finished with a 7-2 Pac-12 record and an 8-4 record overall record. The Trojans have one more game in the postseason as they will play in the Holiday Bowl on the 27th of December. 

Despite the drama-filled season, USC managed to enhance and sharpen their talented seniors and juniors. They have established desirable NFL draft candidates. With a rocky season, many weren’t sure whether USC would continue their legacy of producing high caliber NFL players. Yet, they have and here are the 5 USC prospects to watch for the 2020 NFL draft. 

Top 2020 NFL Draft Prospects

Austin Jackson, USC Offensive Lineman

6-foot-6, 310 pound OL, Austin Jackson, will lead USC in the 2020 NFL draft. Jackson has the potential to become a franchise player and could be useful to teams like the Miami Dolphins or the Cleveland Browns. 

The first glimpse of Jackson came in high school where his raw technique set him apart from the rest. At USC he continued to perfect his craft and added a powerful grip to his set of skills. His footwork has improved and has become even quicker for a guy his size giving him the upper hand on placement protection. In his 2019 junior season with the Trojans, Jackson put on display his amazing ability to unbalance any defensive linemen who come in his way by literally just throwing them to the ground. 

A fantastic build plus speed, strength, and ability to grow make him a coveted 2020 draft candidate. Possibly even a first-round pick.

The only minor factor that might worry scouts is Jackson’s tendency to jump the gun on some plays and doing so with his head rather than with arms and body. Leading blocks with his head have resulted in allowing edge rushers to reach the quarterback.. However, this is a fixable habit that should not hurt his overall appeal. 

Michael Pittman Jr., USC Wide Receiver

USC’s talent on offense continues with Michael Pittman Jr. The competitive WR first made football headlines as a senior at Oaks Christian School. There he was named first-team All-American by Max Preps and recorded 81 passes for 1,990 yards and 24 touchdowns. He continued to dominate with the Trojans and has kept up with the expectations that come with being the son of former NFL running back and Super Bowl champ, Michael Pittman

During his time at ‘SC, MPJ has demonstrated adequate athleticism in both the passing and running games. On run plays, he matches up with the opposing teams and has proven to be an asset even on plays that don’t involve him touching the ball. As for the passing game, Pittman Jr. demonstrates great skill in running routes and excellent coordination tracking the ball. Not only that but he’s also proven to be a reliable target, especially in contested situations. 

Being a good catcher and capable of running routes is a good start. Scouts will also consider a wide receiver who can create separation and open up their spots. For Pittman, Jr. these skills is where he needs to improve. During the regular season this year, MPJ struggled with man coverage and creating separation, especially when he reaches the top of the route. His speed will also need to improve to beat the opposing team on those plays, but these are techniques that can be taught by NFL offensive coordinator professionals.

With the right offensive staff, Pittman Jr. will be a perfect fit for teams looking to add a spark of energy and mystery to their specials teams.

Tyler Vaughns, USC Wide Receiver

It’s a stacked 2020 NFL draft class, but there is room for Tyler Vaughns. As a redshirt junior, he will have to declare if he wants to throw his name into the NFL Draft pool, which he has yet to do quite yet. Vaughns has shown enough to make himself a late-round pick for a team looking to add offensive weapons. 

The junior was forced to step up for the Trojans this season as injuries troubled ‘SC and for the most part, he did. His natural ability to track the ball down deep and his Odell-esque form of catching footballs make him an entertaining player to watch. Vaughns is also aware of what is going on around him. He’s conscious of the defense around him, the ball, and the sidelines; which make him a possible target on every play. Let’s not forget, Vaughns also has an impressive vertical that gives him the ability to catch the ball with little to no contest. 

However, he is still a young man and built as so. Vaughns will need to muscle up to compete with physical defenders in the NFL. If defenders can’t jump as high as Vaughns they will do anything physically possible to stop him from reaching those heights. So, muscling up and learning to deal with physical defenders is a must. Vaughns has a natural talent that can lead him far in the NFL. 

Christian Rector, USC Edge (Defensive End)

In 2017, USC’s Porter Gustin was injured and along came sophomore, Christian Rector to save the season. Along the way, he took the opportunity to make a name for himself. In his debut season, Rector totaled 7.5 sacks with 11 tackles for a loss, 35 tackles and 2 forced fumbles. He also received mid-season All-American second-team recognition. His second season was even better, improving his stat line. He declined to enter the draft and chose to continue developing at USC.

Rector’s case for the NFL draft continued this season. As an imminent 6-foot-4, 275-pound edge, his athleticism and competitiveness make him almost unstoppable on the line. Due to his build, it’s difficult for running backs to get through him and within the NFL it will be different, but not enough to make him undraftable. Rector has exhibited his ability to leverage those running in his way and staying with them. He is one of the few who has shown his flexibility in different positions and has succeeded. 

The only factor that is stopping Rector from being a 1-3 round pick is a more consistent level of play. He’s either letting running backs go straight through him or he’s being too intense and receiving targeting calls against him. Rector needs to find a middle and lucky for him USC will play in the Holiday Bowl on December 27th. The last chance for Rector to prove his consistency in a Trojan uniform. 

Stephen Carr, USC Running Back

The other USC junior who could place in this year’s NFL draft is running back, Stephen Carr. He joined the Trojans as a 5-star recruit with offers throughout the nation. Carr did not have a positive start as most of his early college football career he was injured. He dealt with foot and ankle injuries and even had surgery for a herniated disk. Finally, he came into this 2019 season healthy and ready to prove why all the top schools in the nation wanted him and why the NFL should too. 

For the RB position, speed is the key factor and that is what Carr is all about. He has quick feet that aren’t muddled by different routes. Whether it’s a straight line, a shimmy here, or a burst there, Carr maintains his speed which makes him a desirable running back. He did not lead USC in carries but dealth with more injuries in the middle of the season.

Carr would often just run with the ball and if someone got in his way, that player would take his focus. This would limit how far he could run. Now it seems like he’s deliberately trying to get out of the defender’s ways and looking for the open space. Being that he has only actually played one full season healthy, his inexperience might be a concerning factor for NFL scouts. Let’s not forget his injuries as well. However, his quick feet are worth taking a shot at. 

2020 NFL Draft

USC ranks as one of the best college football schools in the nation that produce NFL players. From players like Reggie Bush and Troy Polamalu to most recently, JuJu Smith-Schuster. No other football program has had the same number of players drafted as ‘SC or NFL Hall of Famers as the Trojans. This 2020 NFL draft could be another stand out year. 

USC Football
Photo Credit: Neon TommyUnder Creative Commons License