- Erik McKinney, ESPN Staff Writer
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Thanks to an all-time record 472 players taken in the NFL draft, the USC Trojans can go toe to toe with just about any program at any position when it comes to success in sending players to the next level. And while USC traditionally has been known as "Tailback U," the big guys have a compelling case for "OT U." That case should grow stronger this week.
From Ray George in 1939 to Tyron Smith in 2011, the USC Trojans have seen 33 offensive tackles selected in the NFL draft. While some programs would love to showcase three players, total, elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the Trojans can do it at one position, with Ron Mix, Ron Yary and Anthony Munoz. Those three combined to play 41 years in the NFL or AFL, and all three were chosen as first-round selections in the NFL draft -- Mix 10th overall, Yary first and Munoz third.
With the 17 offensive tackles that have been taken in the first round alone, the Trojans would rank seventh in the Pac-12 in terms of total first-round selections -- ahead of Oregon, Washington State, Arizona, Utah and Oregon State.
NFL and AFL history is littered with USC contributors at offensive tackle, including Charlie Ane, Monte Clark, Gary Kirner and Marv Montgomery. Each of the past four decades have featured a handful of USC stars. The 1970s brought John Vella, Steve Riley and Marvin Powell. The 1980s produced Munoz, Keith Van Horne, Ken Ruettgers, James Fitzpatrick and Dave Cadigan. The 1990s stalwart was Tony Boselli, but Pat Harlow also became a well-used first round selection.
During the past decade, USC's production of draft picks has remained, but longevity, due to injury or inefficiency, has declined. Jacob Rogers, a 2004 selection, played in just two games for Dallas before injuries forced him to retire. Winston Justice, a 2006 pick, started just one game for Philadelphia in 2011 before moving on to Indianapolis this offseason. Sam Baker and Charles Brown, 2008 and 2010 choices, respectively, fought through injuries to start 11 games collectively in 2011. The USC offensive tackle legacy likely will receive a boost from 2011 first-round selection Tyron Smith, who started all 16 games for Dallas. But the biggest shot in the arm at the position could be on its way to New York, as Matt Kalil prepares himself for the first round of Thursday's NFL draft.
While there is still plenty of debate about what the Minnesota Vikings will do with the No. 3 overall selection and whether or not Kalil could be the first non-quarterback to have his name called this year, there has been little doubt about Kalil's ability as the top available lineman. Kalil allowed just one sack as a two-year starter at USC, and was the clear leader of the Trojans offensive line as a redshirt junior in 2011.
Kalil sits at No. 6 in the most recent edition of Mel Kiper's Big Board and is No. 3 overall, with a 97 grade, on Scouts Inc.'s Top 32. And while it might be too early to project the kind of success shared by USC's Hall of Fame entrants at the position, it isn't much of a stretch to assume Kalil will be the latest addition to an extremely strong group.
With Matt Kalil poised to become an early pick in Thursday's NFL draft, he will join a strong USC legacy of offensive tackles in the draft.