NFL Draft Preview: USC

Rhett Ellison (Kevin Carden Photo)

A breakdown of the Trojans hoping to hear their name called in the 2012 NFL Draft beginning Thursday.

Thursday is a big day for about a dozen Trojans. But it's likely that only a couple of those players will hear their name called on the first day of the NFL draft. Truthfully, it's likely that less than a handful get drafted.

This crop of graduating seniors or draft eligible juniors doesn't necessarily pack the same punch as other USC draft classes before it, but the talent and potential is still there. These same players were pivotal pieces in the Trojans' 10-2 run last year and a number of them are simply going against loaded players ahead of them at their position. Let's examine the players hoping to get a call from one of 32 head coaches this weekend.

Matt Kalil: Left Tackle; 6'6, 306 pounds (combine weight)

He's got the size, the NFL bloodline, the coaching, the composure and the intelligence. Kalil is projected as the third-overall pick to the Minnesota Vikings and it seems a consensus choice when you put all those factors together. If Kalil can have a fraction of the career his older brother Ryan -- the franchise tag of the Carolina Panthers -- has had, any team ought to salivate at the opportunity to have the lineman protecting their quarterback. More than any other reason Kalil is so valuable is his potential to grow at the next level. To watch him on film, you can see how he stopped speed rushers time and again, yet he still has a lot of work to do. It's a humility that Kalil possesses despite the throng of media and surrounding people telling him how great he is. The first thing he'll tell you is how much better he wants to get. For a junior in college to express that amount of maturity, the pick is as solid as one can get.

Nick Perry: Defensive End (4-3)/Outside Linebacker (3-4); 6'5, 271 pounds (combine weight)

I've loved Perry since before I started covering USC. And then when I got to know him, and saw how opposite his personality was from the way he played, he became the most intriguing player I covered. The great thing about Perry is he leaves it all on the field; no matter what's going on with him, he will play until his legs don't move. Possessing a unique combination of size and speed, Kiffin often says there's probably 10 to 15 players like him around. He's projected to go somewhere around 27 or 29 in the first-round, or even as high as the teens (some even say a reunion with old coach Pete Carroll with Seattle's No. 12 pick). A knock on Perry is he recorded just four sacks his sophomore year, but had an ankle injury for some of the season. His junior year -- in full health -- he pounced quarterbacks 9 1/2 times and had a great showing at the NFL combine in March. He met with a few NFL teams in his time training, including the Steelers, Browns, Jaguars and Patriots, according to Scout.

Rhett Ellison: Hybrid Tight End/Fullback; 6'5, 251 pounds (combine weight)

Projected as a fifth-rounder (dad Riki, a linebacker, was also picked in the 5th round of the 1983 draft), Ellison has more than the NFL bloodline to help him inch his way up the draft. He has three intangibles that any team would want: leadership, versatility and an uncharacteristic work ethic. Many players say they come to practice early and stay late -- Ellison was the only one who was consistently "that guy" for the entire 2011 season. Some players might do it for a week, sure, but Ellison did it every day of every week. He learned the fullback position because of the lack of depth there, after playing only at tight end before that. He is a great pass-catcher, he can line up in a variety of spots and he is tough and physical. I could see a team reaching on him for his intangibles, although the fourth round might be as high as he goes.

DaJohn Harris: Defensive Tackle; 6'3, 306 pounds (combine weight)

Harris is a solid player and moves well for his size. A knock on him is his conditioning, but if the lineman gets with a good organization some extra weight should come off. Harris is a tough, physical player but never had a breakout season with the Trojans. Still, the possibility to show that consistency at the next level is there. Unfortunately for Harris, some late medical concerns (including a small hole in his heart, which prevented him from participating in the combine but has since been cleared to work out as normal) might have pushed back his stock. I've read a couple 5th round and a few 7th round projections. But Harris might follow a similar path to fellow Trojan tackle Jurrell Casey, who was selected a round later than expected (77th overall in 2011) and has done well so far at the next level.

Marc Tyler: Running Back; 5'11, 219 pounds (combine weight)

Tyler has a lot of positives going for him -- he's a big power back with a high football IQ and an NFL bloodline (dad Wendell played with the L.A. Rams) -- coupled with a lot of negatives. His off the field issues aren't something to be taken lightly. Two TMZ videos that didn't paint him in the best light and two alcohol-related issues have made teams wonder whether he's serious or mature enough to play professional football. He could be taken in one of the later rounds or picked up as a rookie free agent. I wouldn't put an expiration date on Tyler, though. He's resilient and while he may have the heart and mind of a little boy at times, he has shown that he can be a playmaker in the right system.

Christian Tupou: Defensive Tackle; 6'2, 289 pounds (combine weight)

Tupou is a workhorse. Anyone that has ever been in contact with him knows it, and despite being sidelined with a torn ACL and having limited mobility after that surgery, Tupou mainted such a positive outlook he was named one of four co-captains on the latest Trojan team; his leadership would be a great addition to any franchise. His footwork could improve but he has the technique and football knowledge down pat. Expect him to be taken late or picked up as a rookie free agent.

Armond Armstead: Defensive Tackle: 6'4, 295 pounds

This pick is anyone's guess. Armstead attended USC's ProDay but wasn't cleared to play because of an unidentified medical issue and redshirted last season because of the same reason. Armstead has the talent. He's a great defensive tackle; he could be a better pass-rusher but he is solid at stopping the run. He has good strength and the versatility to play at either end or tackle. He could be taken as early as the fifth or sixth round, and teams like the Bengals, Browns, Raiders and Dolphins have expressed interest in him (the Bengals and Browns talked to him the most at ProDay). Still, the rookie free agent path seems most probable for Armstead.

Brandon Carswell: Wide Receiver; 6'1, 201 pounds

No other word describes Carswell better than consistent. He works hard, he gets into his playbook, he asks questions, he is a solid blocker, he understands his role and he plays as hard as he can. The problem is that he just isn't as skilled as a Kendall Wright or a Justin Blackmon. While he hasn't had the same opportunities as those players because he was not the No. 1 receiver at USC, Carswell was looked up to by the younger receivers and never showed that he was bothered taking a backseat to Robert Woods or Marqise Lee. It obviously didn't sit well with him, but the fact that he didn't let that be known shows his maturity and his ability to put a team first. He can succeed at the next level, but I don't see him being picked up until one of the later rounds or as a rookie free agent.

Chris Galippo: Linebacker; 6-2, 241 pounds

Sometimes, the top-rated recruits in the country don't pan out as planned. Such is the case for Galippo. A Scout 5-star recruit and top-ranked middle linebacker in the class of 2007, chronic back problems prevented Galippo from reaching his full potential in college. And toward the end of his senior season, his starting spot was usurped by true freshman Lamar Dawson. While reporters are still not totally sure of why this happened, it came as a blow to the senior who always vocally motivated (or intimidated) his teammates. Because of his knowledge of coverages, he could easily get picked up as a rookie free agent.

Shane Horton: Safety; 6'1, 210 pounds

Horton recently made a position change in the offseason, going back to safety from linebacker. Initially a safety at UNLV and early in his Trojan career, Horton said he feels as though he's a natural safety and wants to prove that to NFL teams. He knows his draft stock will be low at either position, but said he feels like he can be a contributor to an NFL team either on defense or special teams. One thing about Horton is he is one of the most optimistic players I've ever met. Despite losing out on the starting job to a redshirt freshman last season, despite playing a position he didn't enjoy as much and despite not having the career he would have liked to at USC, he talks to reporters and coaches with a smile and always voices a will to get better. Maybe a coach will see that infectious energy and want to add Horton to his team.

Marshall Jones: Safety; 5'11, 196 pounds

After speaking with Jones this offseason, it's obvious he's been working hard in the weight room. Training for two months with Tyler and Ellison, Jones gained about 10-15 pounds of muscle. While it's likely he'll be picked up as a rookie free agent, he might be a sleeper on a team that takes a chance on him and could turn out to be effective at the next level. He suffered a neck injury in 2010 but has since fully recovered. I don't know what teams he has had communication with, but playing at USC must account for something.

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