Over the past two days, the Trojans have added two big offensive lineman to their 2017 recruiting class in the form of Brett Neilon and Andrew Vorhees. Now with eight commitments, including these two on the offensive line, the 2017 class is beginning to take shape as we continue the summer and into preseason practices. Here is a breakdown of what each player will bring to the Trojans’ roster when they arrive on campus a year from now.
Neilon is the more lauded prospect of the two as a four star prospect. 247 sports ranks him as the number one center, and their composite rankings (an average of all recruiting sites) puts him as the second best center in the class. This rank is good enough to put Neilon as the 123rd best player in the country in 247’s rankings. Neilon is the prototypical center prospect, measuring in at a sturdy 6’2, 280 lbs. Although this may seem slightly undersized for an offensive lineman, centers are not necessarily required to be the 6’5-315 lb. behemoth’s that occupy the other positions on the line. For example, Jeff Saturday only played at 6’2, 295 lbs. and former Trojan Marcus Martin only plays at about 6’3 and 310 pounds. This is not to mention that Neilon is certainly not lacking for muscle being that he already benches 425 pounds and squats a ridiculous 585 pounds all before even entering a college lifting and nutrition program.
Currently playing left tackle for Santa Margarita high school, Neilon exhibits a nasty streak and mobility that reminds me of former Trojan Max Tuerk. Neilon is a little bit undersized, but he uses this as a benefit instead of as a hindrance. Thanks to his tremendous strength combined with his agility, Neilon does an excellent job of finishing his blocks. Despite his current position being left tackle, due to his size and quick first punch at the line of scrimmage, Neilon is tailor made to be a center. His arms appear to be a little bit on the short side from his highlights, but his quickness off the line is fantastic in quickly neutralizing defensive lineman. With his ridiculous strength, once he is able to get a hold of the lineman, Neilon uses a powerful base to drive back the lineman into the ground.
Playing at a top high school in Southern California, Neilon faces good competition. This should help make the transition to big time college football a little bit easier, but he will still likely undergo a redshirt season to learn the nuances of playing center. Playing center requires far more mental responsibilities than it does to play left tackle, an area that Neilon will have to grow accustomed to once he arrives at SC. Additionally, Neilon will likely be asked to put on another 10-15 pounds in order to ensure he is not physically dominated by some of the massive lineman in today’s game. Despite his already well developed strength, 280 pounds is a little bit on the light side for centers that have to block interior lineman that could be upwards of 40 to 50 pounds heavier. With all the work Neilon already puts in on his strengthening, adding more weight and working to develop the mental side of playing center should not be a problem over the long term. Look for Neilon to become a starting center relatively early in his career depending on the natural roster turnover of early NFL departures, transfers, and injuries.
In comparison to Neilon, Vorhees is a much more under the radar prospect who is only ranked as a three star in the 247 Composite, but as a low 4 star in 247’s rankings. At 6’6, 290 lbs. Vorhees already has the size of a left tackle. He is definitely on the light side—as are most high school left tackles coming from smaller schools—but he has the frame to handle the addition of 20-30 pounds. Playing for a rural high school in Fresno, California with a lower level of competition, Vorhees easily manhandles opposing defenders. At the high school level, he excels at drive blocking smaller defensive ends in the running game, generating fantastic push off the line of scrimmage. However, he plays very upright and often gets driven back in pass protection, a vital area that will need to be improved upon in order to be successful against bigger, faster, and stronger opposition. Although, Vorhees does do a good job of being light on his feet and protecting the blindside of his quarterback. He also shows decent agility in combatting speed rushers that try to beat him around the edge.
Vorhees is the typical developmental tackle prospect that is currently very raw, but has tremendous upside. He has the prototypical size of a big time left tackle, but he needs to put in a lot of work to increase strength and improve the technical aspects of blocking. Playing for a small high school in Fresno that does not compete against the top teams in Northern California will not do him any favors when he arrives at USC. His tendency to play too upright is very typical for big offensive lineman, especially those that do not need to have great technique in order to easily beat their opponent at the line of scrimmage. Vorhees does show solid agility, however, which will be vital in pass protection against quick rushers off the edge. Vorhees will likely require a few years of development before becoming a regular contributor, but if he receives the right coaching he can be a force. Similar to Roy Hemsley and Nathan Smith, the potential is definitely there to be a good offensive tackle, it will just require a tremendous amount of work to polish the rough edges of his game.
The Trojans are in dire need of a strong class on the offensive line, and Clay Helton’s staff got off to a good start with the addition of Neilon and Vorhees. With the “Uce” crew and Chris Brown now juniors, as well as Zach Banner, Chad Wheeler, Khaliel Rodgers, and Nico Falah all seniors, USC desperately needs to add depth on the line for the next few seasons. Both Neilon and Vorhees may not be immediate impact players (Neilon would be the more likely of the two if he is able to get some experience at center this year for Santa Margarita) but they can add immediate depth in the short term. Plus, both prospects have the upside to start together on the o-line down the road. Hopefully both players come in and put in the work necessary to realize their intriguing potential.