- Garry Paskwietz, Publisher, WeAreSC.com
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LOS ANGELES -- The 2012 NFL draft will be top-heavy for the USC Trojans, with a pair of early-round selections and then a whole lot of uncertainty beyond that.
Left tackle Matt Kalil will be the first USC player selected as the top-rated player at his position. He's considered one of the most complete tackle prospects to come into the league in several years and has been projected for months as a likely pick for the Minnesota Vikings with the No. 3 choice in the first round.
Recent speculation has Minnesota possibly going with a skill-position player, with WR Justin Blackmon and DB Morris Claiborne being mentioned as other options. Even if the Vikings pass on Kalil, it's hard to imagine that he will stay on the board for long. At 6-foot-6, 305 pounds with an older brother who is already a Pro Bowler (Carolina Panthers center Ryan Kalil), Kalil possesses a combination of size, savvy and athleticism that should fit perfectly at the next level.
Nick Perry will be the next USC player selected and it is projected to happen sometime in the late first or early second round. ESPN draft analysts Mel Kiper and Todd McShay both have him going in the first round of their most recent mock drafts -- Kiper has him to Green Bay at No. 28 while McShay has him to New England at No. 27.
The interesting thing about Perry -- who was measured at 6-foot-2, 271 pounds -- is that he's receiving looks at both defensive end and outside linebacker. He was an end during his high school and college career, but there seems to be a buzz that his athleticism could allow him to succeed as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.
Both Kalil and Perry were draft-eligible juniors who elected to leave USC early, and it certainly looks as if both of them made wise decisions at this point.
The next two USC players to be selected likely will be a pair of seniors who blossomed late in their careers to become major contributors on each side of the ball.
Rhett Ellison made the transition from tight end to fullback last fall, a move that not only helped the Trojans but helped Ellison be ranked as the No. 1 fullback in the draft by ESPN.
Ellison is just under 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds with dependable skills and a strong work ethic. When the NFL scouts call Lane Kiffin to ask about Ellison, he certainly will tell them about the fact that USC renamed its team leadership award after Ellison. If there are still any doubts about his pedigree, scouts can look to his father Riki, a former USC linebacker who won two Super Bowls in a nine-year NFL career.
Defensive tackle DaJohn Harris was considered an underachiever during the early part of his USC career but turned himself around to become a valuable starter at both interior line spots over his final two seasons.
Harris (6-3, 306) was originally a defensive tackle but took over at nose tackle in 2010 when starter Christian Tupou went down with a knee injury. Harris then moved back over to defensive tackle in 2011 and performed well enough to earn an invitation to the Senior Bowl. He was not allowed to work out at the NFL Combine, however, due to a heart-related issue that has since been diagnosed. He has been cleared to play.
Ellison and Harris are both projected as mid-round selections.
After that, it's anybody's guess as to where -- or if -- the remaining Trojans will be selected. It's entirely possible that no other USC players will go in the draft and instead will sign as free agents.
That list includes linebacker Chris Galippo and tailback Marc Tyler, who were ranked as the No. 2 and 3 players in the ESPN 150 rankings for the class of 2006. USC safety Marshall Jones also cracked the top 20 of those rankings, coming in at No. 18. WR Brandon Carswell, Tupou and LB Shane Horton will also be waiting to get a call from a team.
Then there is the case of defensive tackle Armond Armstead, who was not cleared to play for USC in 2011 but held a private workout for NFL scouts earlier this month. If a team feels his health is not an issue, it's entirely possible the 6-foot-4, 290-pound Armstead could get selected during the draft.
Matt Kalil and Nick Perry should hear their names called relatively early in the NFL draft this week. It's anyone's guess where the rest of the Trojans will be selected after that.