Draft focus: Tyron Smith
Weight: 307 lbs
Projection: First Round
When it comes to the NFL Draft, USC is better known for its more recent haul of linebackers and quarterbacks. And historically, it is highlighted for big name runners flowing through the pipeline. But some of the most successful products are those that work quietly, with names and faces unknown to most, and performances ignored by network cameras and Sportscenter reels. It’s the offensive lineman, built on the Coliseum floor and distributed among franchises since the earliest days of the NFL.
Tyron Smith now awaits his turn, after spending the last three years in a system designed to bring out the best of his abilities. As one of the top rated tackles in the 2011 class, opportunity is served, along with the probability that another Trojan name will be called early in April’s draft. USC was shutout of the first-round in 2010.
Smith’s projections range from top-10 selection to the tail end of round one. He leaves the board with the ninth overall pick in my most recent mock draft.
It is physical prowess that earns a top grade, with scouts emphasizing a combination of size and agility to fend off the most aggressive pass rushers. But you also can’t ignore the collegiate brand and history of success behind it.
“Tailback U” currently has 3 running backs among the NCAA high 11 Trojans enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. 4 members of that elite club are offensive linemen, though many would be hard-pressed to name them all without a search. The position has withstood the sands of time, with throwbacks immortalized and newer models continuing to roll through the assembly line.
Since the 2000 NFL draft, 9 offensive linemen from Southern California have been selected. Sam Baker was the only player chosen in the first round, going to Atlanta with the 21st pick overall in 2009. Seven others were second-round selections, with Fred Matua being the only player chosen late.
- Sam Baker, Falcons, 1st round*
- Charles Brown, Saints, 2nd round
- Winston Justice, Eagles, 2nd round*
- Ryan Kalil, Panthers, 2nd round*
- Deuce Lutui, Cardinals, 2nd round*
- Chilo Rachal, Niners, 2nd round*
- Jacob Rogers, Cowboys, 2nd round
- Travis Claridge, Falcons, 2nd round
- Fred Matua, Lions, 7th round
*denotes NFL starter
While nine may not be a number that jumps from the screen, the draft positions are. In comparison, that school across town, which shares the same recruiting ground and Pac 10 membership, hasn’t had a single offensive lineman drafted since 1999.
The most impressive number for Trojan offensive linemen may actually be five, which signifies the amount of those drafted that now appear in the starting lineup for their respective teams. With second-year player Charles Brown prepared to challenge in New Orleans, that number could quickly grow to six.
Strip away the measurements, and lineage still remains. For those that make a living by weeding out potential busts, there is no denying the position, the bloodline, and high rate of success. Southern California offensive linemen were valuable commodities in year’s past. And in Tyron Smith, you will find it remains the same today.