- Garry Paskwietz, Publisher, WeAreSC.com
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The USC Trojans had four players selected in the 2013 NFL draft, increasing their record total of drafted players to 480.
It was a mixed bag for the Trojans in this draft, as they did not have a player selected in the first round -- USC also holds the record for most first-round NFL draft choices -- and there was also the public free-fall for quarterback Matt Barkley.
There had been hope that Barkley and receiver Robert Woods would go in the opening round, but the first day passed with both players undrafted.
Woods didn’t have to wait long to hear his name called, though, as the all-time leading USC receptions leader was selected by the Buffalo Bills in the second round with the No. 41 overall pick.
The Bills had selected a quarterback -- E.J. Manuel from Florida State -- in the first round, and they were also in the market for a No. 2 receiver to pair with Stevie Johnson. The fact that Woods was the next selection for the club after Manuel says a lot about how they feel about him as a potential long-term piece of the puzzle.
The new coach of the Bills, Doug Marrone, also faced Woods twice as the head coach of Syracuse and in those two games he saw Woods catch 18 passes for 175 yards and three touchdowns, along with a 76-yard run in 2012.
After Woods was picked, it was assumed by most USC fans that Barkley would be next off the board but, somewhat surprisingly, the next Trojan picked was safety T.J. McDonald, who went to the St. Louis Rams in the third round with the No. 71 selection.
There hadn’t been a lot of pre-draft buzz about McDonald, a one-time All-American who saw his stock fall as a senior. You have to wonder how much two items affected that drop-off: the personal foul penalties as a junior that led to questions about his style of play and the overall defensive schemes implemented in 2012 by Monte Kiffin, which led to his resignation.
McDonald is a physical player with aggressive traits for the game and a professional pedigree. His combine and pro day performances, while solid, didn’t seem to indicate a rise in his draft status among a deep group of safeties, but that is what makes the NFL draft so unpredictable.
St. Louis coach Jeff Fisher took a long look and saw a player worthy of a third-round selection and this is from a team that will be looking for defensive backs to come in and contribute immediately. Fisher -- a former USC defensive back himself -- is getting plenty of kudos for the way he is rebuilding the Rams, and it will be interesting to see how McDonald fits into those plans.
By that point, the Barkley story had come front and center for the draft analysts who were surprised he had fallen this far.
Barkley almost came off the board soon after McDonald, as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers gave a lot of consideration to drafting him with the No. 73 pick before settling on quarterback Mike Glennon from N.C. State.
When Barkley was still on the board as the second day ended, it meant another long night of speculation before the final day of the draft and the beginning of the fourth round. Surely, the draft experts claimed, there was no way Barkley was going to last long, and they were eventually proven right. It just turned out he would go to a team that nobody expected.
There’s no doubt the hire of Chip Kelly with the Philadelphia Eagles has brought a lot of excitement to that team, with the thoughts of his explosive offense coming to town. But when anyone discusses that offense, it centers around a mobile quarterback.
So when Kelly traded up to the first pick in the fourth round -- No. 98 overall -- it was quite the surprise when it turned out to be for Barkley. Even the most die-hard USC fan is going to have a hard time describing Barkley as a running quarterback. Michael Vick, he is not. When Barkley’s name was called, there were all kinds of questions about the pick and how Barkley would fit in the offense.
It’s important to remember that Kelly has had a real good look at Barkley over the years, as he faced him four times. In those games, Barkley completed 108 of 175 passes for 1,258 yards with 12 touchdowns and six picks. Kelly saw the good, he saw the bad and he knows what Barkley can and cannot do.
It stands to reason that Kelly liked Barkley’s ability to make quick and accurate decisions. This is obviously an important part of the read-option offense, as well as the ability to complete passes when they are available. But make no mistake, the first goal of Kelly’s offense is to run the football -- that is his priority and he needs a quarterback who can make the correct decisions at a fast pace.
Obviously, the running component for a quarterback has been there in the past as part of Kelly’s system, but he is going into this with Barkley knowing that limitation in his game. He would not have taken Barkley if he was going to ask him to run as a regular part of the game plan. Instead, Kelly likely has a plan that will incorporate what Barkley can do rather than what he can’t.
For his part, Barkley is known to have a lot of respect for Kelly from their battles over the years and he celebrated his new team at a Sunday night party with family and friends that featured -- what else? -- Philly cheesesteaks.
There was a bit of symmetry when, shortly after Barkley was selected, his former high school teammate -- center Khaled Holmes -- was also picked in the fourth round, by the Indianapolis Colts at No. 121.
One key for Holmes for his future with the Colts will be his versatility. In the NFL, teams will carry 7-8 offensive linemen in a game, so the ability to play two spots is a real bonus for teams in terms of balancing roster spots. Holmes played both guard and center in his USC career, so he offers the option of contributing at either position. He is also a heady player who will be able to quickly learn the playbook and be prepared to play right away.
There were several USC players who went undrafted but signed free agent contracts: CB Nickell Robey (Buffalo Bills), S Jawanza Starling (Houston Texans), RB Curtis McNeal (Pittsburgh Steelers), DE Wes Horton (Carolina Panthers), P Kyle Negrete (Chicago Bears).