Drake Jackson continues to shine for 49ers

First NFL sack? Check. Doing it on Sunday Night Football? Check. Doing it against Russell Wilson? Check. Drake Jackson is checking lots of great boxes. #49ers

Drake Jackson is making the right imprint on the NFL in his rookie season.

The San Francisco 49ers’ rookie defensive end recorded his first NFL sack on Sunday Night Football against the Denver Broncos. The former USC Trojan star’s first sack came against future Hall of Fame quarterback Russell Wilson.

On a night when the offenses were bad, the defenses were great. Jackson has quickly made himself an important piece of what the 49ers are doing. San Francisco’s defense is doing its job. The offense under Jimmy Garoppolo? Not so much. Jackson knows he can only control what he can control. The rookie is showing that he was undervalued on draft night, getting picked outside the top 60. He has embraced his opportunity in San Francisco. The early results prove it.

The 49ers made Jackson a second-round pick out of USC in this year’s draft. He entered Sunday night’s game with two tackles in his first two game appearances.

During his three years at USC Drake Jackson recorded 103 tackles, 12.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.

You can watch Jackson’s sack of Wilson below.

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Drake London shines for Falcons in his return to Los Angeles

Drake London didn’t get a win, but he continues to impress in the NFL. He made a memorable imprint in his return to L.A.

Southern California native and former USC Trojan Drake London scored his first NFL regular-season touchdown in Los Angeles against the Rams in Sofi Stadium.

It’ll be the first of many for the Atlanta Falcons rookie and potential NFL Rookie of The Year candidate.

The USC product and No. 8 overall pick caught eight passes for 86 yards and one touchdown in the Atlanta Falcons’ 31-27 loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday.

The Moorpark, Calif., native had 62 receptions for 1,089 yards and 12 touchdowns in high school at Moorpark HS.

At USC he had 160 receptions for 2,153 yards and 15 touchdowns while being named Pac-12 Offensive Player of The Year in 2021.

One notable part of London’s performance is that while he is making plays for the Falcons in tandem with quarterback Marcus Mariota, teammate Kyle Pitts — taken with a higher overall selection in the 2021 draft, one year earlier — has been very quiet for the Falcons. London continues to separate himself from his peers, something he did a lot at USC.

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Trojans in NFL: Week 1 Edition

Uchenna Nwosu had a big game for Pete Carroll and the Seattle Seahawks. Get a look at the various NFL Trojans who stood out in Week 1.

There are plenty of former USC Trojans players in the NFL every year, and the 2022 season is no different.

Ourlads.com lists 32 players in the NFL that went to USC, and some of these include practice squad and reserves.

The big names showed out on Sunday: Michael Pittman, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and rookie sensation Drake London. Then came Monday night, when Uchenna Nwosu delivered a big game for Pete Carroll and the Seattle Seahawks in their upset win over the Denver Broncos on Monday Night Football and the premiere of the Joe Buck-Troy Aikman combination on ESPN.

Other NFL Trojans didn’t see any playing time in Week 1, including Ronald Jones in his first game with the Kansas City Chiefs. Keaontay Ingram also didn’t play in his first game with the Arizona Cardinals, who faced Jones’ Chiefs and were blown out of the water.

Let’s look at the most notable performances from the former Trojans in Week 1 of the NFL campaign.

Juju Smith-Schuster helps Patrick Mahomes score 44 as Chiefs crush Cardinals

JuJu Smith-Schuster’s regular-season debut with the #ChiefsKingdom was a boatload of fun. This offense keeps humming. It’s a great place for JuJu to be.

JuJu Smith-Schuster caught six passes for 79 yards his his Kansas City Chiefs debut, a 44-21 win over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.

The former Pittsburgh Steeler led all Kansas City wide receivers in receptions, yards and targets on Sunday. Marquez Valdes-Scantling caught 4 passes for 44 yards on four targets. Mecole Hardman had 3 catches for 16 yards on six targets.

Mahomes went 30 for 39 with 360 yards, with five TDs and no interceptions. Kelece is now the primary target for Kansas City, but with the loss of Tyreek Hill, I expect Mahomes and this offense to not lose a beat. They will spread the ball around even more than before and become tougher to stop.

There is no replacing Hill’s deep ball skills and breakaway speed, but Kelce, Smith-Schuster and the gang will be fun to watch all season.

The Chiefs host the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday night in a huge rivalry game that will surely send fireworks through social media with Justin Herbert taking on Patrick Mahomes.

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Drake London leads Falcons’ passing attack in NFL Week 1

Drake London looked fast, and he overpowered Saints defenders. It was a strong NFL regular-season debut for the elite #Falcons WR.

The USC Trojans watched Drake London go in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft to the Atlanta Falcons. The excitement and hype surrounding London were brewing for months, and a preseason injury put his Week 1 status in doubt.

However, London suited up as the Falcons faced the New Orleans Saints to begin the 2022 NFL season. The former Trojan played well.

London led the Falcons in receiving yards with 74 and was tied for the team lead in targets with seven. He finished the day with five catches and was moving around well after a somewhat concerning knee injury he had dealt with the past few weeks.

London and former Oregon Duck QB Marcus Mariota connected well with each other in a tough 27-26 loss to the Saints.

That was the longest play of the night for London — a 31-yard catch-and-run. His knee looked just fine, and he emerged as Mariota’s favorite target, although Atlanta tight end Kyle Pitts also had seven targets in the game.

The next matchup for London won’t be as easy: the Los Angeles Rams in Week 2. On the other hand, London returns to L.A., and we imagine plenty of Trojan fans will be heading to SoFi Stadium to see him in the NFL.

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Cody Kessler recalls the names and faces of a life spent in football

.@DonJamesSports asked Cody Kessler about the toughest player he ever faced in the NFL. Find the answer inside.

Cody Kessler was a two-time finalist for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award in 2014 and 2015. He moved the USC offense efficiently in 2014 with 3,826 yards, completing 69.7 percent of his passes; he posted 3,536 yards and a 66.8 percent completion rate in 2015. He notched 39 touchdowns, five interceptions in 2014, with 29 TD and 7 INT in 2015.

Kessler owns the USC school record for career completion percentage at 67.5. The former Trojan star was picked by the Cleveland Browns in the third round (93rd overall) of the 2016 NFL draft.

I’m privileged and honored to sit down with the USC Trojan legend to talk about USC football and more. It’s part three of our Q&A series featuring the man himself, Cody Kessler.

Trojans Wire: What was the most difficult part of your career at USC?

Cody Kessler: Being the third-string QB in my second year behind Max Wittek and Matt Barkley.

Trojans Wire: What’s the first thing you purchased as a third-round pick in 2016?

Cody Kessler: Brand new truck.

Trojans Wire: Who was the best quarterback you ever saw in person in the NFL?

Cody Kessler: The “G.O.A.T.,” Tom Brady with the New England Patriots

Trojans Wire: Who is the toughest NFL player you’ve ever played against in your tenure?

Cody Kessler: James Harrison of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Trojans Wire: What do you miss the most about being in the NFL locker room?

Cody Kessler: Just being around the guys. Being around your teammates and the cool conversations we had.

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Cody Kessler reveals the most underrated Trojan he played with at USC

.@DonJamesSports sat down with Cody Kessler for a ‘lightning round’ of short, fun questions. It’s part two of Don’s Q and A with the former #USC QB.

Playing under Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian at USC, Cody Kessler was a recored-setting Trojan quarterback. He is an underrated star in the eyes of many Trojan fans.

In 2014, Kessler set many USC season records for completions (315), completion percentage (69.7), passing efficiency (167.1), and interception rate (1.11). He tied USC season marks for TD passes (39) and 300-yard passing games (7). His 39 TDs were tied for second on the all-time Pac-12 list at the time he established that mark.

One year earlier, Kessler set a Las Vegas Bowl record with four touchdowns. He completed 73.3% of his passes (22-of-30) for a career-best 345 yards against Devante Adams, Derek Carr, and Fresno State. Kessler was named the 2013 Las Vegas Bowl MVP.

I’m privileged and honored to sit down with the USC Trojan legend to talk about USC football and more. It’s part two of our Q&A series featuring the man himself, Cody Kessler.

Trojans Wire: Who was your favorite USC Trojan growing up?

Cody Kessler: Reggie Bush

Trojans Wire: Favorite moment at USC?

Cody Kessler: Beating a ranked Stanford team on College GameDay at the Coliseum.

Trojans Wire: Who is the most underrated Trojan in your five years at SC?

Cody Kessler: I’d have to go with Darreus Rogers.

Trojans Wire: Cody, what’s one thing you learned from a past Trojan quarterback that stuck with you?

Cody Kessler: I learned a lot from Matt Barkley on how to handle the pressure of being the starting QB at USC.

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Tyron Smith suffers another brutal injury for Cowboys, putting career in jeopardy

Tyron Smith is out until December at the earliest. One has to wonder if Smith will tire of a constant cycle of rehab and injury, which has marked the past few years.

It has been a rough go of late for Dallas Cowboys offensive tackle Tyron Smith. The eight-time Pro Bowler and former USC Trojan star has been a staple in Dallas for years.

However, he played just 11 games in 2021 as he dealt with another injury. When he was healthy, he still showed why he is a quality starting offensive lineman in the NFL.

With the 2022 regular season two weeks away, the Cowboys just got some brutal news regarding Smith. According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, Smith tore his hamstring and is now out until December at the very least. There is a chance he could miss the entire 2022-2023 season.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Network added that Smith suffered an avulsion fracture.

That makes another long recovery ahead for Smith, who saw his 2020 campaign end early with a neck injury. He came back strong, but this is a giant step back for the 31-year-old.

Jerry Jones gave an optimistic outlook on the return of Smith (h/t Kevin Patra of NFL.com).

“We’ll have him and we’ll have him at the right time,” Jones said. “We’ll have him in that San Francisco game – the equivalent of that we had last year – and maybe we won’t fall short.”

If Smith returns in December, it might be too late, depending on where the Cowboys sit. Nonetheless, at first thought, it could have been an ACL injury, so at least there’s a small chance he comes back this year.

That said, one has to wonder if — or when — Smith will tire of the process of continued injury rehabilitation which has defined his career over the past two years. At some point, the reward of playing football, measured against constant pain and rehab, doesn’t carry the same pull, especially since Smith already has life-changing money and a secure place in pro football history.

We will see what happens.

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Amon-Ra St. Brown will be a top WR in fantasy football once again

.@DonJamesSports looks at the Detroit Lions’ offense and projects what Amon-Ra St. Brown is likely to achieve in his second NFL season. #OnePride

One of the most “slept on” players in 2022 for fantasy football is wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown of the Detroit Lions.

St. Brown had a surprisingly dominant year with the Lions last season. He was the focal point of the Lions’ offense under new head coach Dan Campbell. The Lions’ starting quarterback, Jared Goff, targeted St. Brown early and often when they were on the field together. St. Brown served as a safety blanket for a sometimes-anemic offense.

St Brown finished fifth in rookie receiving yards behind Ja’Marr Chase, Kyle Pitts, Jaylen Waddle, and De’Vonta Smith. He also finished tied for fourth in rookie receiving touchdowns. Last season, St. Brown finished as the 21st ranked wide receiver in PPR scoring.

His 227.3 points brought him just short of a top-20 finish. He averaged 14.2 points per game, which was the 17th best for all wide receivers.

The Lions have added several new pieces to their offense, including former Jacksonville Jaguar D.J Chark and rookie wide receiver Jameson Williams from Alabama. This will not take away what St. Brown can do in his second season. The former USC Trojan is going to be an even better threat in a much-improved offense this season.

I would bet on St. Brown being the Lions’ main target and reception leader this year. Even with a reduction in his overall share of catches, a better offense will keep plenty of looks coming his way.

My Amon-Ra St. Brown 2022 projections: 104 receptions, 1,093 yards, 6 TDs.

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Why Michael Pittman will thrive with Matt Ryan for the Colts

Michael Pittman goes from Carson Wentz in 2021 to Matt Ryan in 2022. Few NFL receivers gained a bigger upgrade at QB. This could be a special year for the Colts.

Last season, Michael Pittman Jr. established himself as the No. 1 receiver for the Indiaaplois Colts. In only his second season, Pittman’s emergence was much needed; he was the only receiver on the team to rack up over 500 yards.

The Colts have one of the top five offensive lines in the NFL. That line includes Quentin Nelson, who is arguably the best offensive lineman in the league. Jonathan Taylor is arguably the best running back in football. The Colts added future Hall of Fame quarterback Matt Ryan, who had a down season in 2021 with the Falcons but still managed to put up a consistent passer rating of 90.4 with 3,968 yards, 20 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions in 17 games. I expect huge numbers from Matty Ice in 2022 with Pittman as his top target.

Pittman played in all 17 games and caught 88 passes for 1,082 yards and six touchdowns with Carson Wentz last season in Indianapolis. With Ryan now having protection and a run game, I could see Ryan boosting Pittman’s numbers.

Pittman is projected to have 91 catches for 1,127 yards and 6 tocuhdowns in 2022, but with not many red zone threats on the Colts’ roster, I could see big upside in terms of touchdown totals for Pittman.

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