Smith-Schuster, loaded offense lead USC into tough schedule
Spread offenses at the high school and college level have moved many top athletes towards the wide receiver position, and that’s one reason why recent NFL draft classes have been historically loaded at wide receiver. However, even with the sheer amount of college football talent at wide receiver the true “WR1,” the true “X,” is still a special type of talent at the position. This type of player must possess the either the speed or route quickness to beat man coverage routinely and also the strength to beat press coverage at the line of scrimmage.
JuJu Smith-Schuster — the Pac-12’s leading receiver — is this exact type of player as he can routinely get behind his man on vertical routes and also has the strength to toss defenders aside with one arm. Last season Smith-Schuster had 89 catches for 1,454 yards and 10 touchdowns. Smith-Schuster also forced 12 missed tackles as a receiver both with his athleticism and his sheer desire to not be tackled. Smith-Schuster’s +14.5 receiving grade ranks No. 4 among returning Power-5 wide receivers and we expect him to have a highly productive 2016 season.
For a large part of the spring and the beginning of training camp, the question has been who will throw the ball to Smith-Schuster. A quarterback competition raged on between Max Browne and Sam Darnold to replace Cody Kessler, the starting signal caller for USC. Browne was only recently named the starter, but he’s a veteran of the program. Browne is a big (6-5 and 220 pounds) strong passer who has waited for this opportunity. In limited snaps last season Browne completed 8 of 12 passes for 113 yards, which isn’t enough to give an accurate assessment of how he might perform this season. He looked solid during the spring and offers a bit livelier arm than his predecessor so the average depth of target could shift downfield a bit for the Trojans’ offense in 2016.
Wide receiver Darreus Rodgers is one of the more talented wide receivers in the Pac-12 and a player that should easily surpass his 2015 totals of forcing nine missed tackles to go along with his 28 catches, 289 yards and three touchdowns. Rodgers should routinely make plays as teams focus their attention on Smith-Schuster.
The other portion of the USC talent overload at the offensive skill positions is their deadly 1-2 backfield combination of Justin Davis and Ronald Jones II. Ronald Jones II made our list of the top five returning RBs in the Pac-12 and his teammate Justin Davis just missed the cut.
In 2015 Justin Davis had 168 carries for 884 yards with 14 carries of 15+ yards. Justin Davis forced 30 missed tackles as a runner and 10 as a receiver in 2015 and his elusive rating of 64.5 ranks No. 30 among returning Power-5 running backs.
Ronald Jones II is arguably the most talented of the duo and rushed for 983 yards on 153 carries in 2015, with 16 of those carries going for 15+ yards. Jones forced 34 missed tackles as a runner and two as a receiver on seven catches and his elusive rating of 84.3 ranks No. 17 among returning Power-5 running backs.
USC is loaded on offense with JuJu Smith-Schuster and his supporting cast. The Trojans have a very difficult schedule and they will be relying heavily on their offensive skill players especially as they battle defending national champion Alabama in the first week of the season.