There might not be a stronger position on the USC roster than wide receiver, where the trio of returning players is likely the best in the conference and could challenge for a spot among the best in the nation.
But like many other positions on this roster, it is top heavy without much depth or experience behind the frontline players.
Amon-Ra St. Brown led the team with 60 receptions last year, for 750 yards and three touchdowns. Michael Pittman led the team with 758 receiving yards with a remarkable 18.5-yards per catch, and tied for the team lead with six touchdowns. Tyler Vaughns also had six touchdown receptions among his 58 catches for 674 yards.
Based on the spring, it wouldn’t be surprising to see all three of those players surpass last year’s numbers in every category. Pittman was a star during the spring, upping his game and turning into a real leader for this group and the offense. He might have been the overall player of spring ball. But not far behind was Vaughns, as it was a regular site to see him sky over the middle to come down with catch after catch. And just when you forgot about St. Brown, he would go out and dominate a practice, working in tight spaces to shake defensive backs and get wide open, or show his speed to beat somebody deep.
That group will likely be joined by Devon Williams in an expanded role this fall. Williams saw the field sparingly last season, and recorded four catches for 87 yards and a touchdown. He was dominant at times this spring and his big body is reminiscent of former USC great Mike Williams. We’ll see if this Williams can turn into the consistent and physically dominating presence that the former Williams was during his sophomore season. We saw it in flashes this spring, and there might not be a limit to what Williams can do if he can corral the physical and mental sides of the game.
A host of freshmen will join the program this fall, but one newcomer got a huge head start on the rest of the group, as John Jackson III enrolled for spring and showed his ability right away. He’s a do-it-all kind of player who doesn’t have the physical stature of Pittman or Williams, or the shiftiness of St. Brown, but he showed an innate understanding of how to operate in this offense and caught just about everything thrown his way. It won’t be surprising to see Jackson thrown into the mix early this fall as this offense will rely on quite a bit of receiver rotation to keep everybody moving at high speed.
Incoming freshmen Kyle Ford, Drake London, and Munir McClain are physically gifted wide receivers, checking in at 6-foot-2, 6-foot-4, and 6-foot-4, respectively. Ford might have been regarded as the best receiver in the country last year had his senior season not been cut short by an ACL injury. It remains to be seen if Ford is given the full green light for fall camp, but the timeline should be close. If he is able to go and get up to speed during camp, he’s virtually a guarantee to see the field and contribute this season.
Not far behind him are the other two receivers, as London is a two-sport star (basketball) and is incredibly dynamic with the ball in his hand. In a poll conducted by ESPN.com asking college football coaches and ops personnel who the best prospect in the 2019 class, London received two votes.
McClain is already recovered from an ACL tear he suffered during his junior season. A natural pass catcher and really solid route runner, he will have a chance to see the field as a true freshman as well.
We’d also be remiss not to mention a couple walk-ons who saw plenty of reps this spring due to limited numbers. Zach Wilson and Jack Webster are two players who could wind up providing some needed depth in the slot, and both are capable of contributing this season.
At tight end, we saw flashes from all three players this spring, though Josh Falo and incoming freshman Jude Wolfe both missed time. Erik Krommenhoek showed improved pass catching over the course of spring ball, while Falo caught a ton of passes while he was out there, and Wolfe looked like the future of the position while he was healthy. This should be a position that can chip in to help the offense in the running and passing games this fall.
Ethan Rae will join the tight end room this fall and we’ll see where he is in his recovery from a torn ACL suffered early last November. He’s now torn the ACL in both knees, but is another real talent, especially as a blocker.
Looking down the road at future classes, the Trojans have a commitment from wide receiver Josh Jackson (Harbor City, Calif./Narbonne) in the 2020 class. Jackson caught 50 passes for 915 yards and eight touchdowns as a junior and is a really solid all-around receiver.
USC will go hard after local receivers in Gary Bryant (Corona, Calif./Centennial), and is in the top four for Jalen McMillan (Fresno, Calif./San Joaquin Memorial). LV Bunkley-Shelton (Gardena, Calif./Serra), Logan Loya (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco), and Alabama commit Traeshon Holden (Harbor City, Calif./Narbonne) are three more local receivers with USC offers. It will also be interesting to note how many national prospects pay USC a visit this summer or fall, as the Trojans have extended multiple offers in Texas, as well as to prospects in the Southeast.
At tight end, USC legacy Jack Yary (Murrieta, Calif./Murrieta Valley) holds a USC offer, and the Trojans are also in the mix for D.J. Rogers (Sammamish, Wash./Eastside Catholic).