The NFL Draft is on Thursday and there are plenty of highly-touted prospects. The main two, quarterbacks Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston, have been taking most of the headlines and rightfully so. They both could have the potential to change franchises. Some view them as players that could come in and change the fortune of a team. But there is also the downside of what they could be. These two, for as hyped as they are, could end up being busts in the league and forgotten just like some other quarterbacks of the past like Dave Klinger and Akili Smith. After these two, the most talked about player comes from the one of the storied programs in the NFL. Defensive lineman Leonard Williams is a specimen of a football player. Standing at 6’5” and 302 pounds, Williams is viewed as an elite interior defensive lineman that could take over games at the next level. His power and athleticism at the position are something that people compare to current NFL player Ndamukong Suh. The comparison to Suh may be over the top to some, but to others they view him as a more under control Suh with the potential to be greater. Williams has made the plays to be given the hype that he has, but along with the hype there has to be some trepidation. Williams is a physical specimen, but there is a reason there are only a few positions available in the NFL compared to college football. And quite frankly, he may be the next in a long line of a special group of players, or at least a group of players that were thought to be extremely special.
The University of Southern California has been one of the storied programs in football. From the days when Marcus Allen ran wild to the reign that Pete Carroll had over college football, USC has always been talked about as one of the elite college programs in college football. But unfortunately, over time they have become known for another thing in the NFL. The 1st round picks that have come out of USC have been some of the most talked about players out there. For example, everyone remember quarterback Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush? Both were hyped as the next great quarterback and running back in the NFL. In the 2006 NFL Draft, both Leinart and Bush were touted as two of the best players in the draft. The New Orleans Saints drafted Bush with the 2nd overall pick. They envisioned him as a back that could change the game with his elite speed out of the backfield and ability to line up in the slot as a receiver. Unfortunately, the most they got out of Bush in New Orleans was a change-of-pace back in their rotation. Bush was definitely dangerous when he had the ball in his hands, but he was never able to become consistent running between the tackles like he was catching the ball out of the backfield and returning kicks and punts. That led to him ultimately being jettisoned to the Miami Dolphins via trade in the summer of 2011. Bush has since played for the Lions and is now playing for the San Francisco 49ers in what is assumed to be a backup role. Bush has been productive in the NFL, but he has not lived up to the hype that came with him into the league.
As far as Leinart, he was the quarterback that some envisioned to be the future star leading a team to a title. He did not have the greatest arm strength, but some looked at his success at USC and his ability to make big plays in the big games as things that could translate to the NFL. Leinart slipped in the 2006 NFL Draft to 10th where the Cardinals took him. They thought that he may be the answer to their quarterback woes. But unfortunately for him, there was a guy named Kurt Warner. The veteran quarterback came in and he took over the position. Leinart never even played well enough in his career to get the starting spot over Warner and quite frankly, he never deserved it over Warner. Leinart would eventually be let go in Arizona and would go on to play for the Houston Texans and the Oakland Raiders. And in those stops he again could not gain traction in his NFL career. The hype that surrounded him was never reached at any point in his career. The winning trait that many thought he had was proven to be more about the teammates around him than the actual talent he had. He was a good college quarterback, but many of the great college quarterbacks don’t make it in the NFL and Leinart joined that collection of players.
These two players are just two examples of players from USC not living up to the hype that their 1st round selections garnered. Players like safety Troy Polamalu (picked 16th overall in 2003 NFL Draft) , outside linebacker Clay Matthews (selected 26th overall in 2009 Draft) and offensive tackle Tyron Smith (selected 9th overall in the 2011 Draft) have been great ever since they were drafted into the NFL out of USC. But for every great NFL player the last few years out of USC, there are some question marks like quarterback Mark Sanchez (selected 5th overall in 2009 Draft), defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis (selected 7th overall in the 2008 Draft), linebacker Keith Rivers (selected 9th overall in the 2008 Draft), offensive tackle Sam Baker (selected 21st overall in the 2008 Draft), wide receiver Mike Williams (selected 10th overall in the 2005 Draft) and defensive tackle Mike Patterson (selected 31st overall in the 2005 Draft). USC may be known for having good teams in the last decade, but they are also known these days for producing 1st rounders that have not produced at the NFL level. Leonard Williams was a great college player, but which way will he lean? Will he become a great NFL defensive player or will he become another one of the players from USC who had the hype train carry them to the NFL?