Top NFL Draft Prospects: On and off field, USC tackle Chad Wheeler one to watch
Both NFL scouts and the local police know Wheeler well
In preparation for the 2017 football season, NFLDraftScout.com will profile the top NFL draft-eligible prospects with a different player profile each day. The series will culminate with the preseason top-20 prospects in August.
Generally speaking, NFL scouts like to see players with an abundance of aggression and physicality -- as long as it stays between the lines of the football field.
That's where Chad Wheeler went wrong.
The three-year starting left tackle for the Trojans drew headlines (and reportedly a psychiatric evaluation) following a bizarre altercation on Dec. 19, 2015 with Los Angeles police that ultimately led to Wheeler getting suspended from the team for the Holiday Bowl. Wheeler was not arrested and he has since been reinstated by head coach Clay Helton. He is expected to return to left tackle, pairing with the massive Zach Banner to give the Trojans arguably the top duo at these positions in all of college football for 2016.
The NFL will want to investigate the specifics of Wheeler's confrontation with police, as well as his medical records. He has suffered at least two concussions while at USC, and he missed the final five games of the 2014 season after suffering a torn ACL in his right knee. Previously, Wheeler missed time during his senior season of high school (2011) due to a shoulder injury, which also required surgery.
While off the field has been an issue for Wheeler, on the field he's been a standout. After redshirting his first season on campus, Wheeler earned Freshman All-American acclaim from multiple publications for starting all 14 games. He enters his senior campaign with 34 career starts under his belt while coming off a 2015 campaign in which he was named second-team all-conference.
Wheeler is a hulking presence with broad shoulders, a trim middle, long arms and well distributed weight. He shows good initial quickness off the snap in pass protection, generating depth with a polished, patient kick slide.
There is nothing patient, however, about his use of hands. Wheeler uses his long reach and impressive strength to grab hold of opponents, rag-dolling them, at times. He anticipates counter moves well, showing the balance to slide laterally while keeping his legs bent and his butt down to maintain leverage and power.
Wheeler is especially effective in the running game, creating a powerful surge at the point of attack due to his strength. Wheeler's initial burst and rare straight-line speed for the position stand out when he's asked to block at the second level, as he gobbles up yardage, surprising opponents with his ability to get downfield.
While showing terrific burst off the snap, Wheeler has a straight-linish build, which impacts his flexibility and change of direction. He is vulnerable to speed rushers who can get him leaning and struggles when redirecting his charge at the second level as a run blocker. Too often Wheeler gets downfield only to miss his intended target because of this stiffness.
Wheeler's size, speed and experience in a pro-style scheme are sure to generate plenty of interest in the blocker-needy NFL. Wheeler comes with some plenty of red flags on and off the field, however, which could make his senior season (and the interviews which follow it) critical to his draft stock.
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