Former Trojans find their place in the pros

Former Trojan quarterback Sam Darnold threw two touchdown passes in his NFL regular season debut and collected 198 yards to lead the New York Jets to a 48-17 victory over the Detroit Lions. (Emily Smith | Daily Trojan)

This past weekend kicked off the NFL season and USC’s numerous rookie alums got their first taste of the NFL’s intensity in the regular season. This new class of Trojans looks to make an impact in the pros like many USC classes before them.

Sam Darnold

The New York Jets’ quarterback battle is over, with Darnold as the resounding winner. His performance throughout the preseason and training camp has impressed the staff — so much so that the team traded away Teddy Bridgewater. In his first game, the gunslinger did not disappoint, living up to his preseason hype. After an unfortunate start to the game where he threw a pick-six, he turned things around by throwing for almost 200 yards and two touchdowns, leading the team to a 48-17 win over the Detroit Lions. The Jets had a balanced game plan and running backs Bilal Powell and Isaiah Crowell garnered 162 yards and two touchdowns combined. The defense also stepped up and forced five turnovers, making life easier for Darnold.

Already being hailed as the Jets’ savior, Darnold hopes to elevate the team back to 2009-10 levels where a strong defense and ground game bolstered Mark Sanchez, another former Trojan, to the AFC championship game. Expectations are high for the young quarterback as he becomes the face of a Jets franchise characterized by disappointment in recent years.

Rasheem Green

After an impressive preseason with three sacks at the Seattle Seahawks, Green was stuck behind defensive tackle Quinton Jefferson in the depth chart. While he did not play much in Week 1, he is expected to see an uptick in snaps as the season goes on and Seattle looks to rebuild its defense.

Once feared throughout the league, Seattle’s defense, formerly known as the Legion of Boom, has seen its ranks depleted of the superstars who elevated the team to a Super Bowl championship. Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Brandon Browner, Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril have all since departed, and stud Earl Thomas is likely to follow due to contractual issues. Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, who led USC to multiple national championships, built his vicious defenses by developing young talent, like Green, in the later rounds of the draft. Overshadowed by the performance of inspirational rookie Shaquem Griffin, Green aims to make more of an impact in next week’s game against the Bears.

Uchenna Nwosu

In spite of injuries to the Los Angeles Chargers’ front seven, including Joey Bosa, one of the league’s best young defensive players, Uchenna Nwosu received only two defensive snaps against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 1. Like Green, an impressive preseason did not seem to translate into production in the regular season opener. The Chiefs sliced up the Chargers’ defense, scoring 38 points. The coaching staff could have given more playing time to one of the team’s most consistent athletes and pass rushers in Nwosu.

Ronald Jones II

Jones’ season has been off to a shaky start in Tampa Bay. Struggling in training camp and in the preseason, Jones’ regular season debut was postponed after he was a healthy scratch for the season opener. The young back hopes to turn things around as he still remains one of the most explosive players to come out of the draft. The Tampa backfield is anything but crowded, but Jones will still have to prove himself if he hopes to surpass Peyton Barber and Jacquizz Rodgers in the depth chart.

Deontay Burnett   

The Jets signed free agent receiver Deontay Burnett, who fought valiantly for a spot on the roster. Only 20 years old, Burnett, who was Sam Darnold’s favorite target last year, has battled to overcome his diminutive build and make the team’s practice squad. Burnett has a lean physique, even for a slot receiver, but integration into an NFL training regimen could build the very young receiver into a more prototypical NFL wide receiver.

Steven Mitchell

Mitchell, another underrated free agent with a diminutive frame at 5-foot-10, made the Rams’ practice squad. The Rams lack receiving depth behind pro bowler Brandin Cooks and breakout candidates Cooper Kupp and fellow Trojan Robert Woods, so Mitchell could join the 53-man roster in the case of an injury.