Trojans in the NFL: Week 1

Three former Trojans scored a touchdown to start the new season.

A photo of Sam Darnold in a Carolina Panthers uniform winding up to throw a football.

The 2021 NFL season kicked off this past weekend and it did not disappoint. With over 30 former USC Trojans in the league, let’s take a look at some key players, how they fared during the first week of action and what can be expected of them in the weeks that follow.

Ronald Jones II, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Coming off of a career-year which included 1,143 scrimmage yards, eight total touchdowns and a Super Bowl ring, Ronald Jones II’s start to the season was one to forget. In the season opener against the Dallas Cowboys, Jones served as Tampa Bay’s No. 2 running back behind Leonard Fournette. Playing only six snaps, Jones rushed for a mere 14 yards on four carries before being benched after losing a fumble. With the Buccaneers’ pass-heavy offense, in addition to their running back by committee approach, Jones is likely to see some regression this season. Next week’s matchup against the Atlanta Falcons, who surrendered 173 rushing yards to the Philadelphia Eagles in week one, might provide some reassurance, however.

Sam Darnold, Carolina Panthers

In his first game as a Panther, Sam Darnold finished with 279 yards, two total touchdowns and a 69% completion rate. In a revenge game against the New York Jets, Darnold connected with Robby Anderson, another former Jet, for a deep 57-yard touchdown. Darnold heavily favored D.J. Moore and Christian McCaffrey, targeting them eight and nine times respectively. He lost a fumble early in the second quarter after a botched handoff attempt but nevertheless led the team to a 19-14 victory. He will have a tougher situation next week against a New Orleans Saints defense that forced the reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers to throw two interceptions in a 38-3 loss on Sunday.

Nelson Agholor, New England Patriots

Nelson Agholor was one of the key offseason additions for New England after putting up career-high numbers with the Las Vegas Raiders last season. In an impressive debut on Sunday afternoon, Agholor led all Patriots receivers with 72 yards in a 17-16 loss to the Miami Dolphins. It was Agholor who was on the receiving end of rookie quarterback Mac Jones’ first touchdown pass. Agholor looks to serve as the team’s No. 1 wide receiver alongside second-year man Jakobi Meyers.

Amon-Ra St. Brown, Detroit Lions

In his first NFL game on Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers, rookie wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown totaled just two catches for 23 yards. Though these numbers are nothing to fawn over, St. Brown was the second leading wide receiver for Detroit behind Kalif Raymond. Quarterback Jared Goff’s reliance on tight end T.J. Hockenson, along with running backs D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams, all of whom had eight receptions on Sunday, may prove to be an issue for St. Brown’s production this season.

JuJu Smith-Schuster, Pittsburgh Steelers

Catching half of his eight targets against the Buffalo Bills, JuJu Smith-Schuster led the Steelers’ receiving corps with 52 yards. Ben Roethlisberger’s lone passing touchdown went to wide receiver Diontae Johnson, who led the team with 10 targets. The lead receiver for Pittsburgh each week is likely to shift between Smith-Schuster, Johnson and Chase Claypool.

Michael Pittman Jr., Indianapolis Colts

Michael Pittman Jr. caught three passes for 29 yards in Sunday’s loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Despite fellow wide receiver Zach Pascal being on the receiving end of both of Carson Wentz’s touchdown passes, Pittman is likely to see his share as the season progresses and Wentz becomes more comfortable in his new offense.

Robert Woods, Los Angeles Rams

In the Rams’ first game in front of fans at their brand new SoFi Stadium, Robert Woods had three catches for 27 yards with an additional seven rushing yards. He managed to score a touchdown late in the fourth quarter with a nice toe tap in the back of the endzone. While it was teammate Cooper Kupp who led the team with 108 receiving yards, Woods should see plenty of upside this season with new quarterback Matthew Stafford at the helm.