LOS ANGELES — Just before Adoree’ Jackson came to speak to media following his workout at the USC pro day, JuJu Smith-Schuster offered a prediction.
Spotting a camera crew from TheRams.com, Smith-Schuster told the media gathered on the practice field at USC that the Rams were going to draft Jackson in the first round and himself in the second round. Before that scenario can come true, the Rams will first have to find a way to get a first-round pick.
Jackson and Smith-Schuster also have to be worth the selections.
Jackson is a dynamo with the size of a slot cornerback
In three years with the Trojans, Jackson certainly racked up the résumé of a first-round pick. The cornerback started his career as the Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year in 2014 and finished it two years later as the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year. He earned consensus All-American honors and edged LSU’s Tre’Davious White and Michigan’s Jourdan Lewis for the 2016 Jim Thorpe Award.
Yet, few mock drafts project Jackson to hear his name called on the first night of the 2017 NFL draft. In a strong class for defensive backs, Jackson has been lost in the shuffle at just 5’10, 186 pounds.
What could be the difference that adds to his value is his dynamic ability as a punt returner.
“It just puts the icing on the cake,” Jackson said Wednesday. “You can have me out there on three downs. On fourth down, just move me back there. I feel like you’re getting a bargain with me. Getting two birds with one stone.”
Smith-Schuster lacks a second gear
Smith-Schuster also has doubts to overcome, despite 2,959 receiving yards and 24 touchdowns in three seasons with the Trojans. There are questions whether he has the burst and top-end speed to separate from NFL cornerbacks. Even his 4.54-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine was strong relative to the low expectations.
“I think he’s way faster than people give him credit for,” Jackson said. “People were saying 4.7 — in my mind, I was like ‘I don’t think he’s 4.7’ — so when he ran a 4.5 I thought ‘That’s pretty fast.’ When people don’t expect you to run that fast it helps you out a lot.”
Still, it looks unlikely that Smith-Schuster besting expectations pushed him into the first-round conversation with the top receivers of the draft class. He maintains he deserves to be, though.
“I’m the top receiver in this draft,” Smith-Schuster told Curtis Conway of NFL Network. “I’ve played in so many roles, I’m a physical, tough man. I’m willing to work and I’m coachable.”
Size or speed concerns never stopped them before
For both, collegiate production and overflowing confidence are their strongest arguments against the fact that neither fits the ideal mold for the NFL. Cornerbacks should be bigger and stronger than Jackson. Wide receivers should be faster than Smith-Schuster.
Yet, neither had much of a problem beating up on the rest of the Pac-12. And both are positive they’ll do the same in the NFL.
“I’m able to dissect defenses, study really hard and I played in different roles,” Smith-Schuster said. “I played through a lot of injuries. Obviously I broke a couple bones and didn’t quit, being able to put my body on the line.”
"I feel like I can do a lot of things," Jackson said. “I’m a playmaker. Punt the ball to me, kick return, interception, pick up a fumble, create a fumble, put me on offense and I’ll take a bubble [screen] somewhere. I just make plays.”
Plenty of productive college players have struggled to find success in the NFL when lacking ideal physical skills. But Jackson and Smith-Schuster are sure they’ll keep making plays in the NFL.