Porter Gustin has had a career marred by injuries at USC. The talented edge rusher has flashed dominance when he has been on the field but, over his final two years at USC suffered two devastating season ending injuries. Porter’s path to the draft has been as much about promise on the field as it has been setbacks and disappointment. Amidst the adversity, Porter has proven he can bounce back, and his work ethic has drawn high praise from his coaches at USC.
When you look at Gustin as a prospect, you may choose to see a player who has struggled with injuries throughout his career. But, when you really look there is a promising player who has proven he can bounce back from anything and that is worth buying into at the next level. I talked to Porter about his experience at USC and his Path to The Draft, here is Porter’s story from All-American recruit to NFL draft prospect.
One of the most decorated recruits in the country, Porter arrived at USC with a ton of hype. Rated as a 5-star prospect by Rivals, Gustin was an all-everything LB in high school whilst also playing QB for Salem Hills in Utah. Ultimately, he would choose USC over offers from Notre Dame, Ohio State and Arizona State. Gustin was drawn to USC as they were the first ‘big time school’ to offer him and the allure of playing for a team he grew up watching dominate college football.
With high expectations given his status as a recruit, Gustin made an immediate impact as a freshman. He saw a lot of action rushing off the edge as an outside linebacker for the Trojans and started in a couple of games. It was a promising start but Porter knew there was work to be done to improve. “My freshman year had some ups and downs but personally I knew I was far from where I wanted to be. I learned that in order to reach my goals I was going to have to work extremely hard in the offseason to improve myself as a player.”
After a promising Freshman campaign, Porter looked to build on the impressive start he had made to his USC career. “I worked as hard as I ever had in that offseason and I felt I had made some major improvements.” Porter was poised to have a breakout season going into his sophomore year and believed USC had the talent to make a run at the National Championship.
Porter was named a full time starter as a sophomore and looked to convert his increased playing time into improved production on the field. USC opened the season against Alabama but were beaten convincingly by the tide. They would bounce back to finish the year with a 10-3 record and an iconic Rose Bowl win. As an All-Pac 12 honorable mention, it was the breakout campaign many expected from Porter as a sophomore. He finished the year with 68 tackles, 10 TFL and 5.5 sacks and had outstanding performances against Washington, Utah and Notre Dame.
After a breakout sophomore campaign, Porter began to generate some NFL buzz ahead of his junior season. “I heard some of the buzz but I knew that none of that mattered. In fact, the buzz only motivated me to work harder.” Porter worked to develop his game and was confident in his ability to put everything together on tape for NFL scouts to see. “Going into my junior year I felt that I knew exactly what I needed to do in order to be a first round pick.”
During that offseason, I evaluated Porter’s tape from the year before and was impressed. I graded him as a potential Day 2 draft pick and believed he could really rise up boards with a big junior campaign. Porter was excited about what the season could hold for him personally and the team. “I knew nobody had worked as hard as me and no one had improved as much as I had and I couldn’t wait to put it on tape. Our team was stacked and anything less than a national championship would be a failure.”
Poised for a big season, Porter got off to a good start to his Junior year. Going into USC’s week 3 showdown with Texas, Porter suffered a broken toe in practice. The injury required surgery to put metal pins into his toe but, Porter still started against the Longhorns. Despite the pain, Porter was able to dominate in the first half of the game recording 2 sacks and 4 tackles. “Playing through the broken toe injury was the most painful injury I’ve ever played on. Somehow I was able to forget about the pain for a couple seconds during each play.”
Porter also tore his bicep during the game and was shut down by the medical staff at halftime. “They looked at it at the half and didn’t let me go anymore, I knew I’d be out a few weeks but never imagined it would keep me out the whole season.”
Porter would go on to attempt a comeback against Arizona State but was ultimately shut down for the rest of the season. A season that began with early round buzz, came to a painful end for the USC edge rusher.
Ahead of his senior season, Porter was optimistic he could bounce back from the injuries that plagued him the year before and show NFL scouts the type of player he was. “After the toe healed I had a healthy offseason and really good spring, I felt extremely comfortable with the defense and confident in my abilities.”
Unfortunately, Porter went on to suffer an MCL sprain in the run up to USC’s opener after a positive spring and fall camp. “That limited what I could do during camp in terms of preparation and getting the rust off. So that was a bit of a setback.” Despite the injury, Porter got off to a strong start. Once again named a starter at OLB for the Trojans, he racked up 2 sacks in USC’s opening game of the season. Against Texas in week 3, the team he was injured against the year before, Porter had an outstanding game. He was all over the field and the Texas offensive line could not block him, finishing the game with 7 tackles, 3 TFL’s and 2 sacks.
Off to an incredibly hot start, Porter garnered interest from Senior Bowl Executive Jim Nagy and was looking like the promising draft prospect you saw when watching his sophomore tape. Through USC’s first 5 games, the 6’5”, 260lb edge rusher amassed 22 tackles, 7.5 TFLs and 6 sacks.
After a few dominant performances, Porter recalls that he was just beginning to feel 100% again going into USC’s week 6 clash against Colorado. With the MCL sprain now behind him, Porter had the chance to put his best performances on tape for scouts to see. However, his season would once again be cut short due to injury.
In the second half of USC’s clash with Colorado, Porter broke his foot. The disappointment he felt a year ago returned, only this time more prominent. “I’ve never been so disappointed. I felt like I never got the chance to play fully healthy and show what I am capable of. It felt as if I never got a reward for the improvements I made and the endless hours of work I put in, it’s been two years since I last played healthy.” The injury ended Porter’s senior year just as he was starting to convert on the flashes you saw when you watched his tape two years before.
Four months removed from the injury that abruptly ended his promising senior campaign, Gustin is preparing for the NFL Draft in California. Having recently been cleared to participate in all football activities, he is working out in the hopes of being able to complete all the drills at the combine. Whilst it may be better for him to wait until his Pro Day to participate in certain drills, he is attacking his pre draft preparation with the same infallible work ethic that he became known for at USC.
In the run up to the draft, the Utah native has been working with well respected defensive line coach Pete Jenkins, who has coached several former first round picks. Porter knows the value that such an experienced coach can bring to his game throughout this process. “Coach Pete is the best of the best when it comes to pass rush and defensive line techniques. His knowledge and experience with NFL athletes are second to none so any time I can train with coach Pete it is well worth my time.”
Finally healthy, Porter knows he needs to prove to scouts what he can do when he is 100%. Many scouts pre draft evaluations will begin with his injury concerns, so proving he is now healthy is important for him going forward. However, there are other areas Porter feel he still has a lot to prove to NFL scouts. “Showing that I can play comfortably as a stacked backer and that I can cover at a high level is something that I think scouts are looking for since I have limited tape on it.”
When asked if he feels he is being overlooked by NFL scouts, Porter said he does not feel that is the case. Rather, he just needs to prove his health and show them what they might not have got a chance to see on tape.
What’s Next For Porter
Despite the numerous setbacks, Porter’s attitude and approach to overcoming adversity are admirable and it is what makes me believe he will be a solid player at the next level. No matter where his name gets called in the draft or what team he lands with, Porter can be an impactful pro player. When asked what his goals are for the next level he said, “I want to play for a long time, I want to win a lot of games and compete for a lot of championships. When it’s all said and done I want to be seen as one of the best to ever play at my position.”
Everyone here at NFL Draft Geek would like to thank Porter for his time and wish him the best of luck at the next level!