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Besieged USC still boasts plenty of senior prospects

by | NFLDraftScout.com Senior Analyst
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Southern Cal's run as the unquestioned top dog in the Pac-10 is over.

Oregon won the Pac-10 last year, breaking the Trojans' impressive seven-year reign as conference champions. With a two-year bowl ban and loss of 30 scholarships due to the Reggie Bush scandal -- a ruling USC is currently appealing -- the Trojans could see a dramatic fall from grace. However, USC is far from dead. In fact, Lane Kiffin inherits a talented team that includes half of NFLDraftScout.com's top 10 senior prospects from the Pac-10.

Ronald Johnson is likely to be the next USC wide receiver to make a splash in the NFL. (Getty Images)  
Ronald Johnson is likely to be the next USC wide receiver to make a splash in the NFL. (Getty Images)  
The elite talent in the conference almost always suited up for Pete Carroll in the past. But this Trojans squad appears to boast only mid-round talent, not the red-carpet walking first-round types.

At this point, USC's top-rated senior prospects are fullback Stanley Havili and center Kristofer O'Dowd -- not exactly the high-profile stars we're accustomed to hailing from the land of Troy.

Other than USC's five-pack of seniors, the talent is well distributed among the conference, but Oregon has no player currently rated among NFLDraftScout.com's top 125 seniors.

The Ducks' most intriguing talent appears to be linebacker Casey Matthews, currently rated as NFLDraftScout.com's No. 8 senior inside linebacker and the 127th overall senior player in the country.

The elite talent in the conference is unquestionably north of the USC and Oregon campuses.

Washington quarterback Jake Locker enters the year as NFLDraftScout.com's top-rated overall senior prospect. There hasn't been a quarterback from the Pac-10 earn this type of national recognition since Matt Leinart.

Oregon State defensive tackle Stephen Paea turned down a potential top 50 selection in the 2010 draft to play his final season with the Beavers. A strong senior year could see Paea become the first Oregon State defensive lineman ever drafted in the NFL Draft's opening round.

10. WR James Rodgers, Oregon State, 5-07, 185, 4.43 Little brother Jacquizz gets most of the attention, but this versatile dynamo is an intriguing NFL prospect in his own right. He possesses strength and toughness to project nicely as a slot receiver and Rodgers enters the season second in the nation among active players for all-purpose yards with 5,077. A first-team All-Pac-10 selection in 2010 after breaking the OSU record with 91 receptions (for 1,034 yards and nine touchdowns), Rodgers' versatility was best shown last year in the Civil War against Oregon. He broke the school record with 303 all-purpose yards against the Ducks.

9. K Kai Forbath, UCLA, 5-11, 192, 4.78 It might seem odd to see a kicker rated among the Pac-10's best senior NFL prospects, but Forbath is far from just another kicker. A consensus All-American and the Lou Groza winner as the nation's top kicker last year, Forbath has converted a staggering 41 of his last 44 field goals and 37 straight inside of 50 yards.

8. RB Allen Bradford, Southern Cal, 5-11, 235, 4.56 Having originally signed as a safety, Bradford has had to bide his time before getting a shot at the starting role for the Trojans. Last year he emerged as a bruising complement to speedster Joe McKnight, rushing for a career-high 668 yards and eight scores and earning honorable mention all-conference notice. Bradford is once again in a heated battle for playing time. He's a draftable commodity whether he wins the starting job or not. A strong senior season could put him in position to be among the top five senior running backs drafted.

7. CB Shareece Wright, Southern Cal, 5-11, 185, 4.51 Wright has the prerequisite size, speed and agility to rate as one of the more intriguing cover corner prospects in the country. The problem is, scouts have little game film to evaluate him on as he's missed the majority of the past two seasons due to a neck injury (2008) and academic suspension (2009). Wright looked like a future standout in 2007, posting 29 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and deflecting four passes in limited duty. Granted eligibility for Southern Cal's bowl victory over Boston College last season, the USC corner showed that he still had the Wright stuff, intercepting a fourth quarter pass to help seal the Trojans win.

6. WR Ronald Johnson, Southern Cal, 5-11, 190, 4.46 USC may be known as "Tailback U," but under Pete Carroll, wide receiver became one of the team's most popular positions in the eyes of NFL scouts. Johnson missed the first five games last season with a broken collarbone but quickly proved to be a Matt Barkley favorite, catching 34 passes for 378 yards and three touchdowns and emerging as a standout kick returner (20.3-yard average). Johnson was again injured this spring (elbow and wrist). If he can prove his durability to scouts, Johnson has a chance to jump up a relatively weak crop of senior receivers.

5. C Kristofer O'Dowd, Southern Cal, 6-4, 300, 5.16 Like most USC players, O'Dowd signed with the Trojans as a highly touted prep prospect. Since hitting campus, his ideal combination of size, strength and mobility helped him earn a virtually unheard of starting role as a true freshman on the Trojan offensive line (2007) and first-team All-Pac-10 honors (2008). He's also struggled mightily with injuries -- undergoing surgeries on his right knee and left shoulder the past two years -- and will have to prove he's capable of staying on the field.

4. FB Stanley Havili, Southern Cal, 6-1, 230, 4.64 An outstanding runner and receiver, Havili is the top-rated senior fullback in the country by NFLDraftScout.com. He's averaged 6.2 yards per rushing attempt over his career and is already the Trojans' all-time leading receiver among fullbacks with 84 grabs (for 894 yards and 10 scores). Scouts want to see Havili improve in his consistency and physicality as a lead blocker. Also, he'll certainly field questions from pro teams about the fight with teammate T.J. Bryant that led to Havili being suspended from the team.

.3. DE Cameron Jordan, California, 6-4, 285, 4.85 Jordan played opposite surprise top 10 pick Tyson Alualu (Jaguars) last year, recording career-highs in tackles (48) and sacks (six) to go along with 9.5 tackles for loss. For his efforts Jordan earned honorable mention All-Pac-10 honors for the second consecutive year. Operating as a defensive end in Cal's 3-4 scheme, Jordan hasn't had the opportunity to show off speed as a pass rusher. He has, however, demonstrated the strength and length to hold up as a base end in the 4-3 or remain outside in a pro version of the three-man front. Jordan isn't likely to match his former teammate Alualu's top 10 status, but does rate as one of the more underrated defensive linemen in the country.

2. DT Stephen Paea, Oregon State, 6-2, 310, 4.98 Paea (pronounced pie-uh) doesn't necessarily have the eye-popping statistics to back up this lofty grade. Since transferring to Oregon State from Snow Junior College, Paea has recorded 84 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks. Quite possibly the nation's strongest player (44 bench-press reps of 225 pounds), Paea's value lies in his ability to eat up two blockers. The best indication of Paea's ability might be that he was recognized by Pac-10 offensive linemen as the conference's best defender with the 2009 Morris Trophy.

1. QB Jake Locker, Washington, 6-3, 230, 4.53 Locker's size/speed/arm strength combination has garnered comparisons to John Elway. He likely would have been an early first-round selection in last April's draft despite the fact that he's never led the Huskies to a bowl game or earned anything more than honorable mention all-conference honors. Locker's exceptional talent was obvious in high school and, as such, he was recruited by every major program in the country. With little talent around him in Seattle, it wasn't until last season that he finally began making strides as a pro-style passer. Locker led the Pac-10 with 3,188 yards of total offense, but if he is to remain the top quarterback prospect for the 2011 draft, he'll need to make more sizable gains in Year Two under Steve Sarkisian.

Rob Rang is a Senior Analyst for NFLDraftScout distributed by The SportsXchange.

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