The NFL combine gets underway this week and it will be an opportunity for several USC players to showcase themselves in front of league personnel.
The spotlight will shine brightest on Leonard Williams, of course, as the “Big Cat” is projected at or near the top of most media draft boards as a versatile defensive lineman who can play multiple spots and stay on the field all three downs. ESPN's Mel Kiper, Jr. has Williams going to the Tennessee Titans with the No. 2 pick of the first round in his most recent mock draft while Todd McShay has him in the top spot of his draft board.
Since Williams is an underclassman who declared early for the draft this will be the first chance for the NFL folks to get an up-close look at him, to poke and prod into all the details that come with being such a high selection. And what they will find, at least based on what he showed in three years at USC, is the real deal. Williams will be honest and pleasant during interviews, then he will turn on the switch to be focused and intense on the field, and when all is said and done he should leave Indianapolis secure in his spot at the top of the draft wish list.
While the combine expectations for Williams are pretty well set, the same cannot be said of Josh Shaw, who continues to carry the questions arising from his suspension from the team last fall, but who also possesses many of the physical traits valued by NFL teams in a defensive back.
Shaw was a top 5 cornerback on many preseason lists but fell out of the public eye when he wasn't on the field and now is his chance to really make a strong statement about his future. He did enough in the East-West Shrine Game and Senior Bowl to get back into the conversation as a press-man corner with good size, one who also has experience at free safety. A fast 40-time at the combine would always be nice for Shaw but more important will simply be another solid round of performances (on the field in drills and off the field in team interviews) to help solidify his standing in the minds of those who will be making the picks.
Another pair of USC underclassmen, Nelson Agholor and Buck Allen, will be looking to stand out in crowded position groups for both players. Both players are considered draftable prospects and it's simply a matter of where they will fit. The combine setting will be a chance for Allen to show off his good hands as a pass-catcher while Agholor will need to run a quick 40-time to insure his selection as a slot receiver and punt returner.
The combine isn't the type of event that ideally suits the football skills of Hayes Pullard, he is more inclined to show well in an actual game like the Senior Bowl, where he had a strong performance. But the combine does give Pullard another chance to prove that he is big enough, athletic enough and interviews well enough to warrant a chance at an NFL roster.
Two other USC seniors will be looking to earn a draft spot as well in J.R. Tavai and Randall Telfer. Tavai is listed as an outside linebacker and he also showed the ability to rush the passer off the edge while at USC.
One USC name notably missing from the list is George Farmer, who declared for the draft early but was not invited to this event. That puts extra pressure on Farmer at the USC Pro Day, where his performance in front of scouts (particularly his 40-time) will be his one shot to build upon his limited production as a Trojan.