NFL Draft: JT Daniels injury exemplifies USC Trojans’ downfall

USC Trojans quarterback J.T. Daniels was lost for the season with a torn ACL and meniscus. His injury’s minimal impact on the NFL Draft shows how far USC has fallen.

University of Southern California. The USC Trojans. The school fields one of the most storied football programs in all of college football. The school has won their conference 39 times since their inception. They’ve claimed 11 national championships and have had six players awarded the Heisman Trophy — seven if you count the award vacated by former USC RB Reggie Bush.

The school’s impact on the NFL Draft has been just as profound. USC has been home to some of the most-famed players in NFL history. Names like OJ Simpson, Marcus Allen, and Junior Seau. The Trojans have produced multiple first-round quarterbacks, including the likes of Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart. Throughout the decades, the NFL Draft has been littered with impact Trojans.

Last weekend the Trojans kicked off their 2019 season and have already suffered a massive blow to their season hopes. Sophomore QB JT Daniels was lost for the season with a torn ACL and torn meniscus. For better or worse, an injury like this in previous seasons would have set the NFL Draft world ablaze with talk of the ramifications for their draft-eligible players. However; that’s not the case here. And that shows just how far the team has fallen in the Clay Helton-era.

USC Trojans wide receiver Tyler Vaughns

The player who’s likely to feel the biggest NFL Draft impact from the Daniels injury is a junior wide receiver, Tyler Vaughns. Vaughns is arguably the Trojans’ biggest offensive weapon and likely to be the highest selection the team has in the 2020 NFL Draft. According to Pro Football Network’s senior NFL Draft analyst Tony Pauline, Vaughns projects as a fourth-round selection.

Vaughns is the next in a long line of prestigious Trojans wide receivers to enter the NFL Draft. A lineage that includes the likes of Hall of Fame wide receiver Lynn Swann, one of the league’s rising young stars JuJu Smith-Schuster, and countless others. Vaughns isn’t likely to reach the heights of those names, but he’ll be a successful receiver in his own right. The question is, how much will Daniels’s absence impact Vaughns’ draft status. The answer is, in my mind, not much.

Vaughns play style is one that makes him a quarterback’s best friend. Vaughns is shifty at the line of scrimmage, has nice burst and acceleration, and always seems to find the soft spot in coverage. He has a way of always making himself open and providing an outlet for his quarterback. That’s not going to change with freshman Kedon Slovis taking the reins. If anything, the Trojans offense is going to rely even more heavily upon Vaughns in Daniels’s absence.

Projecting Forward

Daniels is only a sophomore and would not be eligible for this year’s NFL Draft. He’ll have a year to recover from his injury and — hopefully — come back strong. Recovering from an ACL injury isn’t quite the daunting task it was in, say, the 80s or 90s. But the injury is still likely to have an impact on Daniels, and his NFL Draft stock, moving forward.

It’s obviously still very early in the evaluation process, but as things stand right now, I don’t see Daniels as anything more than a Day 3 project-type quarterback. Now, with the knee injury, if Daniels is going to be drafted at all, he’s going to have to answer three questions. How has the knee injury impacted him physically? How has it impacted him mentally? And has the injury changed his mechanics in any way?

Daniels will likely have two seasons to answer his own NFL Draft questions. However, the fact that this injury doesn’t have a bigger impact on the current NFL Draft class is a damning statement on the current state of USC Trojans football. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

 

Chris Spooner is the Content Director for NFL Draft coverage at PFN. You can follow him @CSpoonerPFN on Twitter.

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