USC cornerback Chris Steele was named to the Jim Thorpe Award watch list on Thursday, as one of college football's 40 best defensive backs heading into the 2021 season. Steele is looking to become the third Trojan to win the Thorpe Award, given to the best defensive back in college football.
USC's Mark Carrier won in 1986 and Adoree' Jackson won in 2006. A handful of programs boast two winners, with LSU and Oklahoma the only schools with three. Steele was one of just four Pac-12 players named to the list, along with Oregon's Mykael Wright, Arizona State's Chase Lucas and Washington's Trent McDuffie.
Steele hasn't been shy about his goals for the 2021 season. This past spring, he said he wants to be known as one of college football's best cover corners, acknowledged as a unanimous All-American, grab at least five interceptions and leave USC as a top NFL draft pick. All of that would be him squarely in the running for the Thorpe Award.
It might appear out of reach based solely on his stats coming into the season. In two years, Steele has just one interception, to go along with 61 tackles and nine pass deflections. But Steele was one of the Trojans who showed significant improvement this spring as he played with more confidence in his footwork and lower half, rather than relying on his hands and upper body strength.
The cornerback spot is an interesting one for the Trojans. Clearly, Steele heads into the fall as a leader at the position and the starter at boundary corner. Opposite him, Isaac Taylor-Stuart is likely to get first run with the starters, but USC got some great production from Josh Jackson Jr. this spring. The Trojans have some intriguing newcomers in true freshmen Ceyair Wright and Prophet Brown, and it remains to be seen if 2019 signees Jayden Williams, Dorian Hewett and Adonis Otey can make an impact at the position.
USC saw some positive steps forward at the position in 2019 and now with a full year and offseason under position coach Donte Williams, the hope is this spot becomes a strength for the Trojans.