Replacing Nelson Agholor could be a joint effort for USC receivers

Replacing Nelson Agholor could be a joint effort for USC receivers
USC wide receiver JuJu Smith stumbles into the end zone to score a touchdown against Utah on Oct. 25, 2014. Smith is poised to be one of the Trojans' top receivers next season. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Robert Woods left USC for the NFL after his junior season and passed the mantle to Marqise Lee.

Lee won the Biletnikoff Award as college football's top receiver as a sophomore, made himself available for the NFL draft after his junior season and passed the mantle to Nelson Agholor.


Now, with Agholor preparing for the NFL draft, USC is in the midst of spring practice and the search for a No. 1 receiver for the 2015 season.

JuJu Smith appears most likely to fill the role. But Darreus Rogers said he also was capable, and Adoree' Jackson has potential.

So who's next?

"I don't mention it," receivers coach Tee Martin said.

Martin does not want to add pressure to "something that already has natural pressure."

But when USC kicks off the season in September against Arkansas State, quarterback Cody Kessler will be looking for a sure-handed replacement for Agholor, who caught 104 passes last season, 12 for touchdowns. The Trojans also lost George Farmer, who declared for the draft after catching 25 passes last season.

At last week's Pro Day workout for NFL scouts, Agholor said he advised Trojans receivers to spend the spring focusing on details.

"You lose sight of that when you're making plays off athleticism," Agholor said.

Smith, a 6-foot-2, 210-pound sophomore, appears poised to succeed Agholor. Last season, he was second on the team with 54 receptions, five for touchdowns.

Smith said replacing Agholor's production could be a collective endeavor, but the role is not too big for him.

"I don't shy away from it," he said.

Like Agholor once did, Smith often texted Kessler during the off-season, asking when they could meet for throwing sessions.

Kessler, who passed for 39 touchdowns last season, senses Smith's eagerness to replace Agholor.

"He doesn't mind the comparison," Kessler said. "He doesn't mind that people say, 'Oh, you have to step up.' "


Rogers, a 6-1, 215-pound junior, caught 22 passes as a freshman in 2013 and 21 last season. As the most experienced member of the receiving corps, Rogers said he has adopted a leadership role.

"I've got a lot of confidence now," he said, "and I'm working on being consistent."

Jackson, a starting cornerback and kick returner, got only limited opportunities as a receiver last season. He made the most of them, scoring touchdowns on three of his 10 receptions, including one on a spectacular catch-and-run play in the Trojans' Holiday Bowl victory over Nebraska.

Last fall, Jackson spent most of a practice on defense, with brief forays to offense. Through the first part of spring practice, he has played either cornerback or receiver for an entire workout.

His role as a receiver is expected to grow in 2015, so he is striving to be more than one-dimensional at the position.

"I want to be out there so I can switch it up," he said. "I might be in there to block. I might be able to run a route. Anything the coach wants me to do, I can be able to do it."

In the latter part of the 2014 season, Steven Mitchell appeared to recapture the form that made him such a dynamic prospect coming out of Mission Hills Alemany High in 2013. Mitchell came back from knee and abdominal surgeries to catch seven passes, two for touchdowns.

Sophomore Ajene Harris and junior college transfer Isaac Whitney also are pushing for roles.

Cornerback Kevon Seymour said the receivers have made a leap since the fall.

"You can tell they're working together on the field and off field," he said.

Junior college transfer De'Quan Hampton and freshmen Dominic Davis, Isaiah Langley and Ykili Ross are scheduled to arrive this summer, giving the Trojans depth.

"It's one of the more balanced groups we've had in awhile," Martin said. "I'm excited about where we are and where we can go."

Twitter: @latimesklein