USC junior linebacker Hayes Pullard will return to USC for his final season of NCAA eligibility. The team captain started all 14 games for the Trojans in 2013, recording 94 total tackles and one interception. Pullard was consistently ranked as one of the top 10 NFL prospects at linebacker, partly due to his performance in big games.
The Los Angeles native picked up 12 tackles in the team’s stunning upset of Stanford on Nov. 16, and 14 more two weeks later against UCLA. Perhaps Pullard’s most memorable performance came in 2011, when the then-true freshman recorded 14 tackles and two sacks in the Trojans’ thrilling 38-35 win over Oregon. Pullard has amassed 282 tackles, six sacks and two interceptions over the past three seasons.
New defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox will certainly be happy to see Pullard return. The junior helped anchor a defense that held opponents to 21.2 points per game in 2013, good for a top-20 national ranking. That unit, however, may be in flux after the events of this offseason. Along the defensive line, tackle George Uko has chosen to forego his senior season while defensive end Morgan Breslin will be lost to graduation. That duo combined for 9.5 sacks this season. Pullard will headline a strong linebacking corps that also returns senior Lamar Dawson, redshirt junior Anthony Sarao and redshirt sophomore Scott Starr. No longer in the mix is graduated senior Devon Kennard, who led the team with nine sacks this season. In the secondary, cornerback Torin Harris will also be lost to graduation. Key returners include sophomore safeties Su’a Cravens and Leon McQuay III along with junior cornerback Kevon Seymour. Safety Josh Shaw has yet to announce whether he will return for his final year of eligibility.
Pullard will also be the lone captain to return to Steve Sarkisian’s 2014 squad. Along with Kennard, center Marcus Martin and wide receiver Marqise Lee have also entered the draft. A fifth Trojan, redshirt junior tight end Xavier Grimble, also chose to leave for the NFL.
The most promising NFL prospect is Lee, a former All-American and Biletnikoff Award winner whose 2013 performance was hampered by injuries. Lee caught 57 passes for 791 yards and four touchdowns this season, following his record-breaking 118-catch, 1721-yard and 14 -touchdown 2012 season. Close to full health, Lee caught 7 passes for 118 yards and two touchdowns in his final performance against Fresno State in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl. The potential first-round draft pick finished his career owning or tying 22 USC records along with the Pac-12 career record for receptions. Martin, Uko, Grimble and Bailey are expected to be third or fourth-round selections.
USC has produced 480 NFL draft picks and 77 overall picks, both national records.