Who’s trending up, Who’s trending down in a jam-packed USC receiver room?
Michael Jackson III is back and Duce Robinson is on the rise, but a couple of the Trojans’ returning pass-catchers have been quiet through the first two games
WR Michael Jackson III (9), celebrates with teammates after scoring a TD during the second quarter of their game against NEV on Saturday at the Coliseum. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)
Luca Evans (OC Register) — You gotta do it, Michael Jackson III’s teammates kept urging, and so a kid not known for flash served a little razzle-dazzle on Saturday.
After Jackson III caught a second-quarter lob from Caleb Williams for his first touchdown grab of the season, he took eight steps to the back of the end zone, dropped the football, and morphed into prime Michael Jackson himself. The moves weren’t practiced, Jackson said Wednesday, but they sure looked choreographed: a quick hip-swivel, leg kick, and his namesake’s signature crotch-grab plus hat-tip.
“They didn’t think I would do it, either,” Jackson said of his teammates, “cause I’m usually a humble guy, laid-back, just do my job. But I think you’re going to get a different side of me this year.”
The only way, however, to showcase such a specifically different side is to reach the end zone consistently. And that’s looking like an increasingly difficult task in one of the most crowded receiver rooms in the nation. After wrestling with injury for much of fall camp and missing Week 0, junior Jackson’s good health only adds to the clutter, as a group of newcomers push for increased opportunity behind an already stout cast of veteran pass-catchers.
“That is a struggle, at times,” outside wide receivers coach Dennis Simmons told reporters on Wednesday, answering a question about balancing touches among the group. “I’m not even going to try to sugarcoat that.”
It seems a prime situation for players such as running back-turned-receiver Raleek Brown and, say, freshman Makai Lemon to opt for a redshirt. But on Tuesday, Coach Lincoln Riley advocated that he could still see Brown “being a big part of the team,” and indicated after the Nevada game that USC might not redshirt a wide range of freshman receivers.
“If guys can help this team now,” Riley said, “then we’re gonna lean towards playing them.”
But goodness, there are only so many snaps available on this carousel of Caleb Williams’ cohorts. So after two weeks, let’s break down which USC receivers have been trending in which directions.
Zachariah Branch, freshman: You know the story by now – electrifying special teams playmaker. Don’t kick it to the kid. But Branch has carved out his fair share of a role in the receiver’s room, too, with touchdown grabs in each of his first two college games.
“His consistency,” Riley said Tuesday, “will tell the tale of how many snaps he gets.”
Tahj Washington, redshirt senior: It’s weird to say a player who was USC’s second-leading receiver last year is “trending up,” but Washington just continues to assert himself as the top dog in the Trojans’ attack, with the highest Pro Football Focus player grade of any wide receiver in FBS through two games.
Duce Robinson, freshman: There has been no better reason for USC fans to stick around in garbage time through the Trojans’ first two games – other than chants of “Miller Time” for backup quarterback Miller Moss – than to watch Robinson, who took off for a 71-yard touchdown grab Saturday during which he hit 21.3 miles per hour, according to Reel Analytics.
Kyron Hudson, redshirt sophomore: He earned a ton of buzz during fall camp and a start in Week 0, but he has been largely quiet through two games. Expect a breakout in the weeks to come.
Mario Williams and Dorian Singer, juniors: Both proven contributors (Singer a transfer from Arizona), both making solid impacts, both with six catches thus far.
Brenden Rice, senior: It seems odd to say for a player with two touchdown catches already, but Rice has often felt like an afterthought or a final progression for Williams through two games – even including his score on Saturday, when Rice was wide-open for an eternity in the back of the end zone before Williams did his trademark dodge-and-duck two-step to find him.
Raleek Brown, sophomore: He might redshirt. He might not.
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