The University of Southern California has a decorated history as one of the best programs in college football. Also, the football program has served as a hot bed for NFL talent for decades. The 2020 NFL Draft saw two Trojans have their names called; the Miami Dolphins selected left tackle Austin Jackson with the 18th overall pick, and the Indianapolis Colts selected wide receiver Michael Pittman with the 34th overall pick. After digging into the top 2021 USC draft prospects, I am certain that the Trojans will be far better represented in next April’s draft.
The current USC roster is loaded with NFL talent. Their best prospect, Kedon Slovis, isn’t eligible for the 2021 draft, but he is a potential top selection in 2022. We can wait to talk about Slovis, as the Trojans’ top 2021 prospects offer much to be excited about. In fact, USC has three legitimate 2021 first-round prospects and a group of receivers that will be catching passes on Sundays.
The top 2021 USC draft prospects are worth monitoring
Alijah Vera-Tucker, Offensive Line, Redshirt Junior (6’4″, 315 pounds)
Alijah Vera-Tucker enters the 2020 college football season with 13 starts at left guard under his belt, but it is likely that he could be lining up at left tackle for the Trojans this season. He is coming off of a season where he was named the USC Offensive Lineman of the Year, an award which he won over his teammate Austin Jackson, who was a first-round pick in 2020. Also, Vera-Tucker was named first-team All-Pac 12 in 2019.
For his size, Vera-Tucker is an exceptional athlete, possessing quick feet and tremendous balance. He gets to the second level with ease, which comes as no surprise given his sensational range. He has good hand technique and does a great job at extending his arms to engage and lock onto his blocking assignments. Pro Football Network’s Matthew Valdovinos is a fan of Vera-Tucker, stating he is an “an excellent athlete with elite balance, quick feet, and active hands.”
The clip below will highlight Vera-Tucker’s ability to win against top talent, as he easily handles his teammate and potential 2021 first-round pick Jay Tufele.
— Scott Schrader (@Scott_Schrader) August 12, 2018
For my money, Alijah Vera-Tucker projects inside at the next level and is the best interior offensive line draft prospect in the 2021 draft, ranking slightly ahead of Oklahoma’s Creed Humphrey. Another strong showing in 2020 will secure Vera-Tucker’s status as a first-round selection.
Jay Tufele, Defensive Tackle, Redshirt Junior (6’3″, 315 pounds)
In what looks to be a strong defensive tackle class in 2021, Jay Tufele is a name to watch. Last season, his play earned him first-team All-Pac 12 honors, as he secured 41 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks. Tufele enters the 2020 season ranked 22nd on Mel Kiper’s initial ESPN big board.
Tufele is extremely versatile, possessing the ability to play multiple positions along the defensive front. He is a good athlete given his size, paired with outstanding play strength. He is disruptive, utilizing his quickness off the snap to create immediate penetration and provide a consistent interior pass-rush.
Generating pressure is one of Tufele’s strong suites. “Tufele has a knack for getting pressure up the middle on opposing quarterbacks and not giving them a clean pocket on the inside to work with”, as pointed out by Pro Football Network’s Bill Riccette.
The clip below will showcase Tufele’s ability to explode off the snap and create havoc behind the line of scrimmage.
USC Jay Tufele is only a RS-sophomore… I don’t know when he will declare but this guy has dangerous strength/athleticism
One of my favorite players in college football… pic.twitter.com/BBB8S0wXe9
— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) September 10, 2019
While Tufele has room for improvement when it comes to developing a more robust tool belt of pass-rush maneuvers, he is a first-round talent. Teams like the Baltimore Ravens and Dallas Cowboys, who should be selecting towards the end of Round 1 in 2021, would be perfect landing spots for this versatile mercenary.
Talanoa Hufanga, Strong Safety, Junior (6’1″, 215 pounds)
Talanoa Hufanga, also known as the “Trojan Missile”, is a player whose draft stock could explode this season. He is coming off of a 2019 campaign that saw him rack up 90 tackles, 7.5 tackles for a loss, three passes defended, 3.5 sacks, and two forced fumbles.
Hufanga possesses elite instincts, roaming around the field like his hair is on fire, making plays sideline-to-sideline. He excels at playing in the box, as he is a sound tackler, who has a nose for the football. Despite acquiring zero interceptions in his collegiate career, he has still showcased play-making ability.
Hufanga’s non-stop motor is so impressive, which is highlighted in the clip below. From many, he has drawn high praise, being compared to former USC great Troy Polamalu.
Talanoa Hufanga is distinctly NOT Charmin soft
Your 2020 PAC-12 DPOY out here looking like Troy Polamalu✌️✌️✌️ pic.twitter.com/ErUfEOwHT7
— Barstool SC (THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU) (@BarstoolSC) December 28, 2019
Injuries have haunted Hufanga during his tenure at USC, which is a red flag, but if he can prove to be healthy in 2020, his draft prospectus will skyrocket. There is no doubt in my mind that a healthy Talanoa Hufanga is a first-round talent, so it will be interesting to see if he can avoid the injury bug that has bitten him often.
Amon-Ra St. Brown, Wide Receiver, Junior (6’1″, 195 pounds)
Like the 2020 draft class, the 2021 group of wide receivers is historically good. One player who is not getting enough hype is the explosive Amon-Ra St. Brown. Amon-Ra, the brother of Green Bay Packers’ wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown, is electric and a prospect who will ascend up draft boards during the 2020 season.
His 2019 stats aren’t jaw-dropping by any means, as he secured 77 receptions for 1,042 yards and 6 touchdowns. With that said, he is poised for big-time production in 2020. He is very fluid, highlighted by his superior route running and cutting ability. His game includes impressive change-of-direction movement, the ability to create yards after the catch in chunks, and the capacity to stretch the field.
An underrated quality of St. Brown’s game is his ability to win at the catch point, as is highlighted in the clip below.
2021 WR Amon-Ra St. Brown has some skills at the catchpoint pic.twitter.com/m4hcF51JPy
— Brad Kelly (@BradKelly17) March 26, 2020
In a star-studded 2021 wide receiver class, it may be hard for Amon-Ra St. Brown to crack the first round, but he will go early on Day 2 and be a very productive NFL player for a long time.