There’s something about the dynamic of a full receiving core that strikes a different chord on the college football stage. The lone alpha receiver, up against the world, is the most marketable archetype. But a group consisting of equally self-sufficient pass-catchers who can create for themselves and take the pressure off of their teammates is a true danger to a defensive unit. The USC Trojans boast a stable of wide receivers with this composite ability in 2020, and their success in reclaiming the PAC-12 will be largely predicated on the ones out wide.
The Trojans’ receiver group doesn’t receive as much attention as the blue-chip pipelines of Alabama, Ohio State, and Clemson. Still, in 2020, the wide receivers of USC have a chance to attain a similar degree of success. The group is boosted by a depth chart that includes high-pedigree players waiting in the wings like Bru McCoy, John Jackson III, and Gary Bryant Jr., but the USC receiving core will ultimately be anchored by three returning starters — Amon-Ra St. Brown, Tyler Vaughns, and Drake London.
USC wide receivers in 2020
Drake London, Sophomore
In 2019, the Trojans enjoyed a receiving core that included the aforementioned St. Brown and Vaughns, as well as 2020 second-round pick Michael Pittman Jr. There were not a lot of catches to go around once these guys got their share, and yet, true freshman Drake London was able to put up nine starts, in which he logged 39 catches, 567 yards, and five touchdowns.
London is listed at 6-foot-5, 205 pounds, and also plays basketball for the Trojans, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he’s quite the jump-ball specialist. London has good vertical athleticism to couple with his height, and he uses this combination to outreach smaller defensive backs routinely.
Check the clip below where London, while being boxed out by the player in coverage, uses his length to pry the ball away, despite being out of position.
#USC true freshman WR Drake London (6’5” 205) had some impressive catches vs. ASU. This one he high points over the defender and basically steals the ball in air, making an outstanding contested catch. Athletic prospect with solid ball skills. Also plays basketball for USC #devy pic.twitter.com/OMJ6vwM4M5
— Jason DiRienzo (@allpurposescout) November 12, 2019
London doesn’t have top-end speed or overwhelming short-range agility, which will be a limiting factor in his ability to separate. But he offers good fluidity for his size, and his true calling card will always be his ability to win in contested situations. London has the size and toughness to be a very valuable player both downfield and in the red zone, and although he’s not draft eligible in 2020, his role should only increase moving forward.
Amon-Ra St. Brown, Junior
Amon-Ra St. Brown has a seat reserved on the all-name team, and his spot on the all-game team is all but locked up as well. The only thing that’s not locked up is St. Brown himself in coverage, as he went for 77 catches, 1,042 yards, and six scores in 2019. St. Brown’s skill set is conducive to the one that leads to consistent success at the NFL level, and it’s one that prioritizes the need to separate.
St. Brown has a bit of a slight frame at 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, but it’s not a hindrance; rather, St. Brown’s build and short-range athleticism allow him to hone into the nuances of his route running. As evidenced in the clip below, St. Brown is a very sudden athlete who can halt and generate momentum with the snap of a finger. He routinely uses this suddenness to create space between himself and defenders.
USC WR Amon-Ra St Brown. Masters the art of the break. His ability to conceal his intentions through body language is partly due to his exaggerated and unique stance. He reveals so little of his body as he runs that it’s tough to see him sink his hips before a break. This plus… pic.twitter.com/vlkRiEddFj
— James Russell (@jamesru1) June 17, 2020
St. Brown also knows how to manipulate defenders’ blind spots when intermediate separation proves hard to come by. Watch in the clip below, as St. Brown draws the defender’s eyes inside, hovers into the defender’s blind spot, and at that moment, wraps around to the right, tipping the defender’s balance with a subtle brush of his arm. St. Brown can create space in different ways, and this is what makes him such a dangerous receiving threat.
— Receiver School (@ReceiverSchool) November 20, 2019
However, it’s not just making space that matters. A player also has to do something with the space allocated to him. This is another area where St. Brown thrives. He’s extremely slippery after the catch and has a penchant for slicing through tackles and using his change-of-direction skills to evade pursuers. St. Brown’s prowess both before and after the catch will undoubtedly cement his status as one of not just USC’s best wide receivers in 2020, but one of the best in the PAC-12.
Tyler Vaughns, Redshirt Senior
St. Brown may be the USC receiver with the most publicity to this point, but redshirt senior Tyler Vaughns has a strong case to be the team’s true No. 1 receiver. He’s amassed 189 receptions, 2,395 yards, and 17 touchdowns over three seasons, and with sensational quarterback Kedon Slovis returning to the fold, 2020 could be Vaughns’ best year yet.
Both St. Brown and Vaughns have backgrounds as returners, which is evident in both of their athletic profiles. Just as St. Brown has the speed to win deep and the elusiveness to come out of congested situations and separate, so too does Vaughns.
Vaughns is a bit bigger than St. Brown, but he still plays fast, and he offers wicked twitch in his route running. He can stop and start at a moment’s notice and has the all-around athleticism to traverse the field quickly and efficiently. Vaughns, despite being accompanied by St. Brown and Pittman, was often matched against the defense’s best cornerback, speaking to the respect his skill set commands.
St. Brown is a more dynamic threat after the catch, but where Vaughns has St. Brown beat is at the catch point. Vaughns has a steely focus in contested situations, and when the ball is in the air, he showcases effortless body control to contort in such a way that allows him to haul in the pass, and snare it from the invading defensive back. The clip below is a perfect example of Vaughns’ ability to shift his balance and convert at the catch point.
Everything about this USC touchdown was beautiful. Kedon Slovis to Tyler Vaughns. Colorado’s lead is down to 24-21. pic.twitter.com/XveaUUvu10
— Yahoo Sports College Football (@YahooSportsCFB) October 26, 2019
Vaughns will be 24 years old by June of 2021, so teams may be wary of spending an early pick on him due to his relatively limited long-term outlook. But Vaughns has the necessary traits to not only succeed early at the NFL level but succeed for a long time as well. For now, however, Vaughns’ duty rests at the collegiate level. He’ll be looking to help USC establish themselves at the top of the conference in 2020, and he’ll need help from his fellow wide receivers to get it done.