Halfway through their rookie seasons in the NFL, USC’s newest additions to the league are experiencing differing levels of success. Some former Trojans are making a splash in the league, while others are struggling to find the field.
Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster has been experiencing incredible success to date, fitting in seamlessly with the Pittsburgh Steelers in one of the most explosive offenses in the league. Smith-Schuster was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week in his team’s 20-15 win over Detroit for his 193 yards that came on seven catches, including a 97-yard touchdown, which marked the longest passing play in Steelers history. The wide receiver has also been making waves off the field after he posted an Instagram story about his bike being stolen, forcing him to walk to practice. The internet picked up the story and soon #TeamFindJujusBike was trending on Twitter. Building off of his newfound fame, Smith-Schuster celebrated his touchdown on Sunday by running over to his sideline, grabbing a bike lock and locking the bike next to the trainer’s table.
The bike incident was not the only moment to highlight Smith-Schuster fame, however, as his creative touchdown celebrations including playing hide-and-seek with teammates have earned him notice around the league. He has 424 yards and four touchdowns through eight games, and has recorded at least 30 yards in six of those eight games so far. Smith-Schuster is now the first NFL player to reach three touchdowns before his 21st birthday.
Cornerback Adoree’ Jackson is also finding early success at the next level. He has started all seven games for the Titans as well as commanding punt and kick return duties. He notched three returns of over 40 yards on the season, and flashed his speed and quickness with punt returns of 63 and 80 yards for touchdowns — though both were called back for penalties. Jackson has been solid but not spectacular in coverage, and has one forced fumble on the season, coming on a well-timed hit on former Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi.
One player unable to find instant success is former USC safety, Rose Bowl hero and sixth-round pick Leon McQuay III. McQuay was placed on the Kansas City Chiefs practice squad shortly before the regular season began, and despite an injury to one of the Chiefs’ starting safeties, McQuay has yet to be promoted to the active roster. McQuay does see a familiar face on the practice squad, however, as former USC offensive guard Damien Mama was also signed to Kansas City’s practice squad after he went undrafted in May. Receiver Isaac Whitney is also on a practice squad, as he was signed by the Oakland Raiders at the beginning of the season.
Offensive lineman Zach Banner is faring slightly better, landing a spot on the Cleveland Browns after being drafted in the fourth round then waived by the Colts. The offensive tackle is on the active roster but has not played significant minutes. Similarly to Banner, offensive tackle Chad Wheeler has made a roster but is struggling to find the field. He has appeared in four games for the Giants, but remains the backup to starter Ereck Flowers. Another Trojan struggling to find the field is running back Justin Davis of the Los Angeles Rams. His first and only carry of the season came in Week 1, as Todd Gurley’s resurgence has made him dispensable.
Wide receiver Darreus Rogers was on the move recently, as he was signed on Oct. 6 to the Chicago Bears as a failsafe for their receiving corps. He has not yet been promoted to the active roster, though there is speculation that he will be as Chicago’s receivers have not been performing well.
Taylor McNamara was waived by the Browns before the regular season began.