Fighting on Sundays – Eleven Former Trojans Taken in NFL Draft

A wise man once said – if football player wants to make football his profession, football player must sign with USC. Okay, so a philosopher didn’t provide this adage. It was former NFL Head Coach Herm Edwards and he said, “If you want to play pro football and you’re a high school athlete, you know going to USC is going to give you the best opportunity…”

It seems that although unemployed, Edwards still has some coaching wisdom. This weekend 11 former University of Southern California players were selected in the 2009 NFL Draft.  USC led all schools, the closest follower being Ohio State with seven players. It was the second consecutive year, and third time in the past four years that USC has topped all schools with players brought into the big leagues.

The players selected were:

1st Round, 5th:  Mark Sanchez, QB – NY Jets

1st Round, 15th:  Brian Cushing, OLB – Houston Texans

1st Round, 26th:  Clay Matthews, OLB – Green Bay Packers

2nd Round, 6th:  Rey Maualuga, ILB – Cincinnati Bengals

2nd Round, 24th:  Fili Moala, DT – Indianapolis Colts

3rd Round, 23rd:  Patrick Turner, WR – Miami Dolphins

4th Round, 4th:  Kaluka Maiava, OLB – Cleveland Browns

4th Round, 17th:  Kyle Moore, DE – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

5th Round, 36th:  David Buehler, K – Dallas Cowboys

6th Round, 10th:  Cary Harris, CB – Buffalo Bills

6th Round, 16th:  Kevin Ellison, SS – San Diego Chargers

Mark Sanchez going at the fifth pick overall was no real surprise, save the fact that Seattle passed him up moments earlier with the number four spot. Seattle runs the West Coast Offense – similar to the offense Pete Carroll runs in LA. And as Matt Hasselbeck’s hair count goes down, so do his numbers.

Sanchez had a phenomenal season, throwing for 34 touchdowns and only ten interceptions. Although he only started one full season at USC (and 16 games overall), Sanchez has been preparing for the next level for several years. He has received aide and personal consultation from former professionals such as Steve Beuerlein since joining the Trojans. He has also learned by watching, but is expected to outperform his predecessors (John David Booty was drafted in the fifth round of last year’s draft and has found some residency in Minnesota, for now.)

 Despite having to trade sun for snow and waves for blizzards, Sanchez should be a good fit in New York. The Jets are coming off a disappointing season – one where a dreadful finish allowed their rivals in Miami to make the playoffs. The team received mass attention surrounding former quarterback Brett Favre’s retirement talks and has just released the archaic great. It looks like Favre find a new home with former NFC North rival, Minnesota. Bottom line, the Meadowlands are lucky to have wrangled this rising star.

 Former USC linebacker Brian Cushing went a little lower than I anticipated at the 15th spot. Cushing was a rare prospect that could fit into nearly any defensive scheme. Cushing will make an immediate impact in Houston’s budding defense. The Texans offense is already clicking and with a little help from the other side of the ball, Houston could be playoff bound next season. Cushing can help the team with outside coverage and containment. He should be able to line up on either side of Pro Bowl DeMeco Ryans. The Texans’ young and promising defensive front (Houston has spent the past few drafts building a strong and athletic defensive line) will continue to get better, providing Cushing with the chance to show his ability to run and find the ball.

Clay Matthews was fortunate enough to have Green Bay trade up to draft him at the 26th spot. Like his former counterpart Cushing, Matthews will find a home next to a talented inside backer in A.J. Hawk. The duo will be heavily depended on as Green Bay switches its defense to a 3-4 scheme this season.

I’m not sure what was more of a surprise; Matthew’s being selected so high, or former USC linebacker Rey Maualuga sliding all the way to 38th. This surprise prevented USC from being the first school to have three players drafted from the same position in the draft’s first round. It is possible that a late injury and poor showing on the Wonderlic test lowered Rey’s stock. Still, he remains a terror and rejoins former USC linebacker Keith Rivers in Cincinnati. The hard-hitting duo will cause running backs to cower and tight ends to fear the cross-in. 

Former defensive tackle Fili Moala, who before last season was expected to be a top-ten pick in this year’s draft, went to Indianapolis at 56th overall. His numbers this past season were not that impressive, but Moala still gives linemen trouble, and can split nearly any double-team. He’s strong and tenacious and might prove a steal for the Colts.

It is possible that the rest of the USC draftees can make successful transitions. Patrick Turner joins a Miami team littered with both mediocre and underrated wide receivers. He will have a chance to play. Kaluka Maiava joins a Cleveland team that can only afford to get better, on both sides of the ball (especially since departure of their largest offensive target). It will be interesting to see how Kyle Moore fits in to a Bucs defense that no longer has Jon Gruden at the reigns. David Buehler has a task in Dallas, splitting time and in effect very few crossbars.  Buehler will be competing with established Nick Folk. He will likely be handling kick-offs if anything at all. Cary Harris joins a two-faced Buffalo team that has shown both potential and a lack of consistency, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. And Kevin Ellison is walking into a Chargers camp that is quite deep in the secondary.

Whatever these players manage to do, they have USC (which can now be considered an NFL farm club) to thank for it. Next year’s draft could be much of the same for Trojan alumni. Players such as rising star Everson Griffen (DE) or the prolific Damian Williams (WR) could very well keep NFL scouts and general managers scrambling. 


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