It was announced on Monday morning that USC senior EDGE Porter Gustin would miss the remainder of the season with an ankle injury. For Gustin, this means the end of his collegiate career as a Trojan since he's played in too many games to qualify for a medical redshirt.
The next step for Gustin will be getting healthy and prepared for the NFL Draft, which means having his body ready and conditioned for the NFL scouting combine. There is still the potential that Gustin gets invited to and plays in the Senior Bowl in January, which would be an opportunity for him to prove his health and game in front of NFL scouts.
As a prospect, this injury could be a major hit to Gustin. While he had a promising freshman and sophomore campaigns that saw him accumulate 11 sacks, he has now battled injuries for two consecutive seasons. His traits as a pass rusher are evident on film, so if he is able to prove his health during the pre-draft process, there is still potential for Gustin to warrant a high selection.
This season, Gustin had already accumulated 7.5 sacks in 6 games, recording at least 1.0 sack in five out of the six games he played in. As a pass rusher, Gustin has a high motor and will pursue through the whistle. He has above average play strength at the point of attack, and can stack and shed blockers with his upper body strength. Built like a Greek God at 6’5 and 255 pounds, his well balanced frame holds up well against a variety of potential blockers.
Gustin will physically dominate tight ends or running backs that attempt to pick him up in pass protection. Additionally, he has good initial hands and does an excellent job of avoiding engagement when necessary. Gustin is talented around the edge, with solid bend and the ability to dip and rip around offensive tackles. Playing on either side of the formation, Gustin is an experienced and versatile pass rusher.
Against the run, Gustin plays his position well and holds his ground. With awareness of the line of scrimmage, he will get on his run fits and use an array of block destruction moves to anchor in his gap. Gustin is rarely beaten to the edge, stringing plays along and forcing everything inside. He has the quickness to get down along the line of scrimmage when tested outside, and sets a good, hard edge as a result. Always chasing down the football with eye discipline, Gustin can bring some pop against ball carriers.
In USC’s defense, Gustin is often asked to blitz on stunts or slants. Not only does this limit the amount of true edge rushing reps that Gustin gets during games, he is not as effective in that role. Too often, Gustin will get stonewalled by interior offensive lineman as they pick up the stunt. Despite good initial hands, Gustin can take too long to process and string together pass rushing moves to finish reps. Though he has solid bend around the edge, it isn’t elite, and he can lose his footing or fail to finish running the tight circle to the quarterback.
Against the run, Gustin will also take an extra moment to process the play, and is only an average reactor as a result. While he has stack and shed ability, it will generally come just a second late. Gustin has rarely been asked to play stand-up linebacker or drop into coverage, limiting his potential role for an NFL team.
Gustin has a legendary diet that has allowed him to grow into the physical presence that he currently plays at. The ankle injury would prove costly for Gustin if he isn’t able to participate in pre-draft drills or the Senior Bowl because it likely will diminish his training efforts. Additionally, as a prospect his main weapon is his lower body strength and winning around the edge, and ankle flexion, strength, and mobility is key to performing in this role.
Gustin looked like a potential day 2 selection on film, as it is hard to ignore his production (14 sacks in his last 14 games) and physical profile. With his work ethic, it would be unwise to bet against Gustin reaching his physical peak before the end of the draft cycle. However, the injury concern will now always be there for NFL franchises. For a prospect with a potentially limited ceiling, there is a the possibility that his draft stock dips.