UCLA might beat USC for the first player selected in this year's NFL draft

The Cleveland Browns will kick off the 2017 NFL draft with the first pick. (April 25, 2017) (Sign up for our free video newsletter here

So who will hear his name called first in the NFL draft, a player from USC or UCLA?

In the Pete Carroll era, that was a no-brainer. USC dominated in that department.


In three of the last four drafts, though, a UCLA player was taken before his USC counterpart. And it could happen again this year, as Bruins pass rusher Takkarist McKinley is the player from a Southern California school most likely to be selected in Thursday's opening round, which will take place on the "Rocky" steps in Philadelphia.

But McKinley, who's coming off shoulder surgery and has had multiple concussions, isn't a shoo-in to be the first local prospect selected. USC cornerback Adoree' Jackson, among the faster players in this draft class, could sneak into the first round near the end, even though he's undersized at 5 feet 11 and 185 pounds, and there's a glut of talented players at his position.

Speed like Jackson has is seductive.

"That's hard to coach that," coach-turned-ESPN analyst Jon Gruden said. "You have to have speed. It strikes fear in the defense. Everybody goes to the combine with their stopwatch for a reason."

One NFL team scout said Jackson is on the bubble in this draft between the late first round and early second round, calling him one of the best athletes in the class and someone who will make an immediate impact as a return specialist.

"His true position value isn't as high as his athletic talent because you're careful about drafting small corners," the scout said.

As for McKinley, the scout said: "He could go in the first. I don't think the shoulder surgery scares many teams. It was a pretty basic procedure. It's just finding the right fit for him. He's explosive off the edge as a rusher, and he has a rare first step. He gets upfield quick, more so than dropping into coverage as an outside 'backer for a 3-4 team."

USC and UCLA have players who would seem to fit squarely in the second- to third-round range. For the Trojans, it's receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who has good but not overwhelming speed but is powerful with good hands, and can work those short to intermediate routes while mixing in some big catches downfield.

There are a lot of good defensive prospects, and many teams are expected to go that direction at the top of the draft, thereby potentially pushing offensive talents such as Smith-Schuster down the board.

For UCLA, there's cornerback Fabian Moreau, who suffered a torn chest muscle while bench pressing for scouts at Bruins pro day. He underwent surgery last month and said by text Monday that he should be at full strength by training camp.

"Any time you get hurt and can't compete is a disappointment," he wrote. "But I will bounce back stronger than ever. I already moved past it and I'm ready to play football."

Moreau will watch the draft at home in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., with his family. Multiple evaluators have said the injury might have set Moreau back a bit, and that he potentially could have been an end-of-the-first-round selection but was more likely to be a second-round pick, where he's still expected to go.

The next players to be selected from the Southern California schools could be two defensive tackles, UCLA's Eddie Vanderdoes and USC's Stevie Tu'ikolovatu, who — like the positions they play — loom large in the middle of this draft. Players such as those find homes on NFL teams.


The majority of NFL hopefuls from the schools are likely to get the call on Day 3 of the draft, during the fourth through seventh rounds, or during the mad scramble to sign free agents once the festivities have concluded.

While there's a chance they could be selected earlier, USC tackles Zach Banner and Chad Wheeler, and guard Damien Mama, are likely third-day picks, as is UCLA tackle Conor McDermott.

USC running back Justin Davis, receiver Darreus Rogers, and defensive back Leon McQuay are likely to wind up on NFL rosters this summer, either as late-round picks or free agents. Same for playmaking UCLA linebacker Jayon Brown.

Going early in the draft is impressive. It affords you bragging rights. But it isn't everything.

Ask USC linebacker Malcom Smith, a seventh-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks in 2011.

Oh, and most valuable player of Super Bowl XLVIII.

Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesfarmer