The first 2016 ESPN 300 rankings were released Thursday, and here are five things that stand out when it comes to USC Trojans recruits.
1. The USC commits showed well: Four of the six verbal commits for the Trojans in the Class of 2016 were ranked in the ESPN 300, led by linebacker Mique Juarez, who is ranked as the No. 4 outside linebacker and No. 43 player overall. That lofty ranking is a testament the athleticism of Juarez, who doubles as a quarterback for his North Torrance team. Frank Martin checks in at No. 127 overall (No. 14 offensive tackle), linebacker Daelin Hayes is No. 213 overall (No. 11 athlete) and tailback/corner Melquise Stovall is at No. 219 overall (No. 12 athlete). The two USC verbals who did not rank among the top 300 did have solid number grades in the ESPN system. Isaac Garcia had a number grade of 80 and Nathan Smith was at 79. The other USC verbals were graded as follows: Juarez 85, Martin 83, Hayes 81, Stovall 81. In the class rankings, USC is No. 11.
2. Harry heads wide receiver group: For all of the talk of the heralded wide receiver group in southern California this year – and they were well represented in these rankings – it was notable that Arizona prospect N'Keal Harry was ranked ahead of any of those California players. Harry, who has a USC offer and mentioned the Trojans as one of his favorites early in the process, is No. 82 overall and No. 11 receiver. The in-state receivers on the USC wish list include Tyler Vaughns (No. 113 overall, No. 17 WR), Dylan Crawford (No. 167 overall, No. 21 WR), Steffon McKnight (No. 190 overall, No. 27 WR), Trevon Sidney (No. 225 overall, No. 14 ATH) and Javon McKinley (No. 282 overall, No. 48 WR).
3. Is Matt Fink this year’s Sam Darnold?: Last year, Darnold entered the spring camp circuit as an under-recruited quarterback who proved he belonged among the nation’s best. He eventually committed to USC. This year, Fink exploded onto the scene at The Opening regional camp in early March and now he is looking to choose between offers from the Trojans and Notre Dame, among others. Fink is ranked as the No. 44 player overall and the No. 2 dual-threat quarterback.
4. Look for Jones to rise: Coming into the camp season, it was assumed that Jackie Jones would take his rightful spot among the talented receiver group based upon his success as a slot receiver at Long Beach Poly, but he has flipped over and played more at cornerback this spring and has looked as good as anybody in the passing leagues. Jones is ranked at No. 107 overall and is the No. 10 cornerback, but if he focuses more on cornerback as his future position, you can look for that ranking to rise as signing day gets closer.
5. The usual Serra suspects: There might not be a better pipeline right now for the USC program than Gardena Serra, and again the Cavaliers have multiple Trojans targets ranked among the best in the country. The highest-ranked Serra player is Oluwole Betiku, a physical man-child who is the No. 64 player overall and No. 8 defensive end. Brandon Burton is No. 149 overall (No. 6 safety) and C.J. Pollard is No. 251 overall (No. 16 safety).