Trojan alumni ready to make impact on NFL stage

Former USC wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, No. 8, catches a pass in the middle of the field.
Former USC wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown was selected in the fourth round of the NFL draft. (Emily Smith | Daily Trojan file photo)

There are currently over 30 former USC football players in the National Football League. With the NFL season kicking into gear this week, it’s time to take a deeper look at eight impactful ex-Trojan players and what their upcoming seasons will look like. 

Amon-Ra St. Brown, Detroit Lions

Wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown will look to make an immediate impact in his rookie season for the Detroit Lions. St. Brown impressed some around the league with his preseason debut Aug. 13. Despite only catching two passes for 12 yards, St. Brown continued to display the crisp route running and footwork that brought him from Los Angeles to the Motor City. 

With the wide receiver corps of the Lions looking below average on paper, it would not be a surprise to see St. Brown get some decent playing time in his rookie season. 

Alijah Vera-Tucker, New York Jets

The Jets selected offensive guard and former Trojan Alijah Vera-Tucker No. 14 in the draft, and they are eager to get him on the field. New York also chose Zach Wilson as its future quarterback with the No. 2 overall pick. It’s clear the Jets will do whatever it takes to protect Wilson and avoid making the same mistakes they did with Sam Darnold. 

Vera-Tucker was sidelined during the preseason due to a pectoral injury, but he is planning to play in the first game of the season and is ready to “dominate,” as he stated in an interview with USA Today Sports. Vera-Tucker believes the Jets picked him for a reason and he is ready to fire on all cylinders.

Sam Darnold, Carolina Panthers 

Speaking of Sam Darnold, the former USC quarterback will be at the helm of a new team this season. After spending the first three years of his career with the Jets, he was traded to the Carolina Panthers this offseason. Although the situation in Carolina is not much better than it was in New York, Darnold played better in the preseason than he has in the past. He closed out the preseason with a steady performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers, completing 19 of 25 passes for 162 yards and two touchdowns.

The Panthers face the Jets in week one as Darnold will look for revenge against the team that chose to replace him with a rookie quarterback. A new environment can change a lot of things, so the league could see a new Sam Darnold this year. 

JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh Steelers

Everyone’s favorite TikToker is entering his fifth season in the league, and the wide receiver is facing a lot of questions from the media, mainly surrounding where his focus lies. People seem to doubt he can be a No. 1 wide receiver and a social media influencer at the same time. While it is true that Smith-Schuster’s numbers have dipped since his monster 2018 season, it is hard to ignore the fact that he is now sharing the field with three other talented wide receivers in Diontae Johnson, James Washington and Chase Claypool. Smith-Schuster will look to prove the haters wrong and become veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s favorite target. 

Ronald Jones II, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Coming off a Super Bowl victory, running back Ronald Jones II and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are looking to make magic again. Although the Buccaneers backfield is relatively crowded — also featuring Leonard Fournette and Giovani Bernard — the former Trojan’s explosiveness during the final preseason game was hard to ignore. He finished off his game against the Houston Texans with a 13-yard touchdown run where he bounced to the outside after the blocking in front of him collapsed.

Jones II will continue to be a key part of the Buccaneers’ offense this season, even if he may not be the official No. 1 running back on the depth chart. 

Robert Woods,  Los Angeles Rams 

The energy is high in Los Angeles. With new quarterback Matthew Stafford, the Rams made a huge upgrade to their passing game. This will undoubtedly benefit former USC wide receiver Robert Woods, who continuously put up stellar numbers with Jared Goff at quarterback over the past few years. Woods has had 180 catches over the past two seasons with the Rams. In his eighth season, Woods will be catching passes from one of the top quarterback talents in the league. 

Serving as the true No. 1 wide receiver, Woods should be one of Stafford’s favorite targets this season. The Rams’ offense is revamped and there is some excitement regarding what head coach Sean McVay can do with Stafford at signal-caller. 

Michael Pittman Jr., Indianapolis Colts

Things look bleak for the Indianapolis Colts’ passing game. As they enter the Carson Wentz era, no one is really sure what version of Wentz the Colts will get. Will they get the stud that was a possible MVP candidate in Philadelphia, or will they get an injury prone, turnover machine? This uncertainty does not bode well for ex-Trojan wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. who is coming off a decent rookie season, racking up over 500 yards on just 40 receptions in 13 games. 

The only question surrounding Pittman Jr. is whether or not Wentz can produce chances for him. If Wentz returns to his former self, Pittman should have no problem churning out great numbers. 

Adoree’ Jackson, New York Giants 

After only playing three games last season for the Tennessee Titans, cornerback Adoree’ Jackson is hoping to make an impressive comeback and immediate impact for his new team, the New York Giants. The Giants definitely needed help on the defensive side of the ball, so Jackson’s addition will be welcomed.

Jackson will be on the opposite side of the field as Pro Bowler James Bradberry, meaning he may see some more favorable matchups against No. 2 wide receivers. Jackson should be able to make a meaningful impact on the Giants’ defense this year, if he can stay healthy.