The LA Rams might have the most amazing home stadium in the world — of any sport — right now. It’s certainly in the argument and part of the appeal is sunny Los Angeles and all the great things you can do outdoors in Southern California. The best weather in the world.
Now, could the Rams pluck any local football players from that same backyard in the draft next year? Let’s review who the top 2022 NFL draft prospects are from USC and UCLA and continue our journey of exploring next year’s class.
SI.com’s draft blog explores the top-five USC prospects and the Trojans might be better represented in 2022 than they were in 2021, when guard Alijah Vera-Tucker was the only alum to go in the top three rounds.
Keep in mind that at this stage of the process, 2022 draft grades will vary wildly from place-to-place and from week-to-week. Monitoring this will help guide you towards those prospects, and evaluators, who stay consistent and prepare you to be exceptionally prepared when the next draft comes.
QB Kedon Slovis, USC
6-2, 200 lbs
2020: 67%, 17 TD, 7 INT, 7.3 Y/A in six games
The last three USC quarterbacks to go in the first round are Matt Leinart, Mark Sanchez, and Sam Darnold. In fact, the only Trojans quarterback in the history of football to have any success in the NFL is Carson Palmer. No offense to Rodney Peete, but let’s not be loose with the definition of “success.”
Todd McShay recently had Slovis going second overall, but so far I’d find that to be an outlier of an opinion. I’ve frequently seen Spencer Rattler, Sam Howell, Malik Willis, and Desmond Ridder above Slovis, but at this point there is no consensus anyway. There’s no “Trevor Lawrence” in the 2022 draft, even though Howell and Rattler have been getting persistent attention since high school.
I wouldn’t rule out the Rams from drafting a quarterback next year.
DE Drake Jackson, USC
Being discussed as possibly the top edge rusher in the 2022 NFL Draft. Already 17 tackles for a loss in first 17 college games.
WR Drake London, USC
6’5, 210 lbs
2020: 33 catches, 502 yards, 3 TD in six games
Players with rare traits and skillsets are often sought after on draft day. London boasts a special combination of size and movement skills that will place him in the first-round conversation. The big-bodied receiver is an excellent route-runner and has reliable hands. What’s more, his agility, power and contact balance may make him one of the class’s most dangerous threats with the ball in his hands. After stepping away from the USC basketball team in December, 2020 to focus on football, the Trojans wide receiver may see a jump in his production and level of play next season. London’s size and play-style differentiate him from most wide-receiver prospects. He will compete for the title of the top receiver in the 2022 NFL Draft class.
USC’s last first round receiver was Nelson Agholor in 2015. Two years later, JuJu Smith-Schuster went 62nd, and last year Michael Pittman went 34th. Of course, Robert Woods was a second round pick of the Bills in 2013 and has exceeded all expectations.
But the history of Trojans first round receivers isn’t pretty: Agholor, Mike Williams, R. Jay Soward are the last three. Before them, Keyshawn Johnson, Johnnie Morton, and Curtis Conway were all serviceable, but ultimately disappointing compared to draft status.
When Conway was drafted in 1993, he was the first USC receiver in 19 years to go in the first round. The first since Lynn Swann in 1974. They’re still looking for their next Lynn Swann.
S Isaiah Pola-Mao, USC
6-4, 205 lbs
2020: 40 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1 INT in six games
Yes, they’re related. Pola-Mao’s mom is cousins with Troy Polamalu and while that is an unfair comparison for any safety, He could have declared this year and might have been a day two pick, but another year at USC could potentially secure his place in the first round.
SI believes that Pola-Mao could go on day two, at least:
The former four-star recruit has impressive man-coverage ability and has even worked at the nickel in the offseason. He also has potential in zone. While he must clean up his angles and efficiency at the tackle point, he is a physical player who takes any opportunity to prove his hitting power. The USC star has the movement skills to impact the game from multiple alignments. He could be one of the first safeties drafted in 2022.
CB Isaac Taylor-Stuart, USC
6-2, 195 lbs
2019: 36 tackles, 1 INT, 4 PD in 10 games as a true freshman
There are some who believe that Taylor-Stuart will be the fastest player in the draft, if not one of the fastest to ever test at the combine. So regardless of how he plays — though certainly that matters too — it’s no surprise he’s been mocked in the middle of the first round at least once.
We also know that Les Snead, more speed.
But Taylor-Stuart may need to have a big year if he even wants to declare, as he barely played in 2020. From SI:
Taylor-Stuart has not yet proven himself to be a consistent contributor for USC. Still, the former elite recruit has the athletic traits to break out in 2021. Taylor-Stuart boasts stellar length, long speed and movement skills. What’s more, he should see the field more due to Olaijah Griffin’s departure for the 2021 NFL Draft. While it is too early to definitively project a career role player as an early-round pick, Taylor-Stuart is a name to remember as he steps into a starting role next season.
CB Chris Steele, USC
6-1, 190 lbs
Steele was a five-star prospect, and the third-ranked cornerback in the nation in 2019 — only behind Derek Stingley, a potential top-three pick, and Andrew Booth — coming out of Bellflower, California. He committed to Florida, however, but transferred to USC after an uncomfortable rooming situation with the Gators.
Now Steele says he wants to work hard so that he can enter the 2022 NFL Draft, and while he’s mentioned as a possible first round pick, he’s kind of on the fringes of the conversation right now. He’ll need to have a big season in 2021, but he could declare and be available in the Rams range on day two or three.
Steele said during spring practices that his goal is to be a 2022 draft pick. With the Trojans aiming to generate more takeaways in the second year of Orlando’s defense, Steele should have plenty of opportunities to load up his highlight reel.
Steele’s length will make him a prized prospect for organizations seeking a cornerback who can play with some physicality against bigger targets.
TE Greg Dulcich, UCLA
6’4, 242 lbs
2020: 26 catches, 517 yards, 5 TD in seven games
People love to call any tight end “Gronk, Jr” now, for any reason they can think of. Dulcich has heard it before and if he’s as productive in a full season as he was in a shortened 2020 campaign, then he’ll hear it even more.
2020 unofficially marked the Year of the Tight End in college football, with the emergence of unicorn Kyle Pitts and a crop of unprecedented talents at the position. Among the late-emerging stars was UCLA’s Dulcich, who established himself as one of the top pass-catching targets in the Pac-12.
Dulcich is so good as a target, he could theoretically be a possession receiver. However, he gives up nothing blocking for the run.
S Quentin Lake, UCLA
6-1, 195 lbs
Lake will be going into his fifth year in 2021, but he’s only played in more than five games once. That was in 2018, when Lake had 67 tackles, two interceptions, and five batted passes in 12 games. Last year, he played in five games, recording 33 tackles, one interception, and four batted passes.
From Mercury News, where Lake ranked 17th for Pac-12 draft prospects:
Returning for the 2021 season as a so-called super senior, Lake has already played four years. Physical player with high-level instincts for the ball and great genes: His father, Carnell, was a multi-time Pro Bowl safety for the Steelers. Would be higher on our list but safeties don’t carry the same draft value as cornerbacks.
OT Sean Rhyan, UCLA
6-5. 318 lbs
2020: Started all 7 games at left tackle, UCLA was 2nd in conference in rushing
Could 2022 be the year that Snead drafts a tackle? And not in the seventh round? Maybe not. But Rhyan’s someone who could end up in the second or third round range and he appears to have some upside as an NFL prospect.
Recently mocked 25th to the Broncos:
The Broncos don’t have many holes on their roster. Their only glaring weakness is at right tackle. Rhyan plays left tackle, but has the skill set to move to the right side. He is a fantastic run defender with unbelievable play strength. Rhyan creates gaping holes for ball-carriers to run through. His overall balance and hand usage make him a good enough pass protector. There are a lot of pancake blocks on his tape.
Which of these USC/UCLA prospects would you prefer for the Rams?
This poll is closed