There is a lot of talk this morning about how the Pac-12 had a good first day of the NFL draft on Thursday with nine players selected, and there’s little doubt those nine players consider it a good day for them as well.
Another person who can chalk things up in the positive column is USC coach Steve Sarkisian, who saw five players that he coached get chosen in the first round, and who also added a couple of notches to his recruiting pitch as his school built on its lead of all-time NFL first-round selections.
When Sarkisian was the coach at Washington, he actually beat out the Trojans in recruiting battles for Shaq Thompson, Danny Shelton and Marcus Peters. Thompson was the big prize at the time, an elite safety prospect who was known to be a pretty versatile athlete. While Sarkisian and staff did not coach those three players in 2014, it’s reasonable to look at the three opening day selections and say that the development early in their UW careers was a factor in them being picked so early.
Thompson wasn’t even picked as a safety, he will primarily be a linebacker for Carolina with the ability to play safety in certain situations. This position switch was initiated under Sarkisian’s watch and it appears to have paid off (and you can be sure current USC safety–turned-outside linebacker Su'a Cravens is watching). For Shelton, the No. 43 DT coming out of high school, and Peters, the No. 116-ranked athlete, the rise to first-round pick was even more proof that these players got better in the Sarkisian program.
After moving to USC, Sarkisian only had one year coaching Leonard Williams and Nelson Agholor so he wasn’t around for their early years but he did put them in position last year to solidify first-round status. You probably won’t hear Sarkisian take too much credit on Williams, who was a first-round pick waiting to happen, but there has to be some credit given to the production that Agholor saw in 2014 which helped him rise to that level, and to get that first-day status that eluded former USC star receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee.
One thing that is certain to happen today is that USC recruiting targets will be reminded that Williams and Agholor add to the Trojans' list of most first-round draft choices in NFL history (79 all-time and 68 since the modern draft was instituted in 1967). That’s a lot of credibility for a coach to throw out there on the recruiting trail for kids who have dreams of making it to the league, and Sarkisian definitely added to his own personal sales pitch on Thursday by showing that he can develop players to that level.