2021 Fall Camp Preview: The wide receivers

Erik McKinneyabout 2 months
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Drake London
(Derek Marckel/USC Football)

USC’s 2021 fall camp kicks off with the first full practice on Friday afternoon and we’ll be previewing camp this week with a position-by-position look at the biggest storyline, notable new and returning names and what to expect during the 14 fall camp and 25 total practices before USC starts its season against San Jose State in the Coliseum on Sept. 4.

Previous entries:

The quarterbacks

The running backs


The wide receivers

This section looks a bit different now than it would have earlier this summer, taking into account the situation regarding Bru McCoy, including his arrest and removal from all team activities. Without McCoy for fall camp and potentially much longer, the USC receiving corps will have even more questions to answer over the coming weeks.

As far as production while wearing a USC uniform, there is Drake London and then there is everybody else. Outside of London, USC wide receivers in 2021 have just nine total receptions while wearing the cardinal and gold.

Of course, starting with London in the lineup is a better place than many other programs find themselves.

The 6-foot-5, 210-pound junior enters his third year with 72 receptions for 1,069 yards and eight touchdowns in 19 games. He won't just be the most dangerous receiver for the Trojans this season, he could hold that title for the conference and potentially be in the discussion nationally as well. He was unstoppable for much of the spring and the expectation is that he'll carry that over to the fall, challenging the USC defense while lining up at inside and outside receiver. At this point, there are zero worries concerning London and his potential production this season. Even if the numbers don't meet expectations, he's going to draw the attention of opposing defenses and the Trojans should be able to exploit that. But if teams do go ahead and let their defenders sit in one-on-one matchups against London, he'll win plenty of those. After working as an inside receiver in his first two seasons, it's clear the USC coaches would like to use him outside a bit more. But London will line up wherever the coaches can get the best matchup, and he's talented enough to make it work at any position.

That's looking a little bit ahead though. For the immediate future and discussing fall camp, USC needs to find receivers to go with London. While there is extremely little returning production in the form of veteran Trojans, there are some very talented young players and plenty of incoming production.

Of the players coming back to USC, Gary Bryant Jr. might have the best shot to carve out a role for himself. He recorded seven receptions last season and was worked into the offense more and more as the season went along. He could have a fairly straight shot at grabbing one of the outside receiver spots with the competition from McCoy no longer there. The only other two receivers coming back with any receptions are Kyle Ford and John Jackson III. Ford is making his way back from an ACL tear he suffered last summer. He'll be more than a year healed from the injury, and what kind of football shape he's in will be one of the first takeaways of fall camp. If fully healthy, he's a 6-foot-2, 225-pound load for cornerbacks on the outside and could turn into a significant weapon for this passing attack. The potential has always been there for Ford. Jackson III caught one pass last season and should bring a veteran presence to the receiver room. He should be a reliable option for quarterback Kedon Slovis.

But where the real intrigue comes in at the position is with the newcomers. There will be six new scholarship players at the position for USC in 2021, including two who participated in spring ball and another who is drawing big-time praise this summer.

Redshirt sophomore Tahj Washington had 43 receptions for 743 yards and six touchdowns for Memphis last season. He arrived at USC this summer and quickly got to work. Slovis pointed him out as one of the more impressive arrivals and said he doesn't feel Washington has a weakness as a receiver. The 5-foot-11, 175-pound receiver has plenty of speed and quickness, and while he appears on the slighter side, Slovis said he plays much bigger than his frame. London has proven he can hit the big play and create extra yards after the catch thanks to his strength, but the Trojans could use a big-play speed threat and a guy who can catch a short pass and take it the distance in a hurry. Washington could join Bryant in giving USC two very good options there. Judging by summer chatter, it wouldn't be surprising to see Washington jump right in and make an impact early in fall camp.

And staying on the theme of early impacts, true freshman Michael Jackson III is going to factor into things during fall camp. He put together one of the standout performances of the spring for a player at any position and he can't be considered an inexperienced player anymore when it comes to the practice field. It's clear the USC coaches wanted to go get some dynamic inside receivers via the transfer portal, but they got one in this 2021 recruiting class as well. Whether or not Jackson can develop a role during the season remains to be seen, but it'll be fun to see him out on the field again during camp. He's a guy who quickly made himself a must-watch player.

There are two other transfers who could factor into things this season. Former Colorado receiver K.D. Nixon made the move to USC in time for spring ball, where he showed some flashes, including a long touchdown during a Coliseum scrimmage. There wasn't enough to think he'll definitely lock up a spot this fall, but he's a guy who was very productive at Colorado, with 104 receptions for 1,250 yards and seven touchdowns. He'll be right in the middle of the competition at inside receiver and will have a shot to play his way into the lineup. The 5-foot-8, 190-pounder is another speed threat and could also be a factor for USC as a special teams returner.

The Trojans will welcome Jake Smith into the fold this fall. The 6-foot, 200-pound junior is a late arrival from Texas this summer and will need to get quickly acclimated to USC and the program. It'll be worth watching to see how healthy Smith is and whether he's a realistic option to contribute during camp. He suffered a broken foot very early during spring ball while at Texas and has had about four months to recover. Smith had other injury issues at Texas, when a hamstring injury cost him three games during the 2020 season. Still, Smith recorded 48 receptions for 568 yards and nine touchdowns in two years. He's another guy who brings quite a bit of speed to the receiver position and can get behind a defense down the field as well as catch a short pass and turn it into a long gain.

Two other true freshmen will be looking to make the same kind of impact this fall that Michael Jackson III did during this spring. Kyron Ware-Hudson is a 6-foot-2, 215-pound receiver with terrific hands and great possession-receiver qualities. He only played in three games last season, but had 59 receptions for 853 yards and 13 touchdowns as a junior in 2019. Joseph Manjack IV checks in at 6-foot-3, 205 pounds and is one of the more intriguing prospects in this incoming class. Last season he played wide receiver and quarterback on offense, catching 37 passes for 885 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also rushed for 869 yards and 13 touchdowns and threw for another 349 yards and three scores. He ran 11.57 in the 100m and 22.87 in the 200m, so there is some speed to go with the athleticism.

If a walk-on is going to make noise this fall, it'll likely be Zach Wilson, who has seen action in two games at USC and has plenty of practice field experience as a redshirt junior. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound receiver was tremendously productive in high school and would likely be able to contribute if called upon at this level.

Four other walk-on receivers are on the roster, including redshirt sophomore Chase Locke, redshirt freshmen Ty Shamblin and Danny Ryan, and true freshman Josiah Zamora.