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17 for '17: Deontay Burnett

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Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Our countdown of USC’s most intriguing players to watch in spring practice continues. Note: This is a list of guys who have the most to gain and are best positioned to do so.

For each player, we examine the depth chart, back story, outlook, key questions and how their role could swing in spring.

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9. DEONTAY BURNETT

Profile: 6-0, 170, junior

Current pecking order: He’s at the very top, though it’s unclear whether he’ll line up in the slot or on the outside.

Background: Two years out, USC’s 2015 signing class has produced some big swings and a few notable misses. Burnett is a straight steal. The onetime Washington State commit was torn going into signing day after receiving a late offer from Michigan. The Trojans called that morning and made his decision easy. The local product didn’t care that he would be a blueshirt and then he practiced his way out of a redshirt. Despite a limited role, he led USC in receiving yards one game and averaged 16 yards a catch for the season. He was the first receiver off the bench for much of 2016 and productive in that role. When Steven Mitchell went down with an injury, Burnett became a starter and had more catches, yards and touchdowns than any USC receiver. He closed out the season with an epic Rose Bowl performance (13 receptions, 164 yards, three touchdowns).

Outlook: No offensive player seemed to improve from 2015 to 2016 as much as Burnett. His rapport with Sam Darnold was apparent dating back to last spring and continued through training camp and the season. In fact, you can bookend Darnold’s takeover with two brilliant completions to Burnett. The first was a laser over the middle to convert a third-and-8 vs. Stanford, this after Darnold had just replaced Max Browne for the night (and ultimately for the season). The second was the game-tying touchdown strike between three defenders in the final minute of the Rose Bowl. While Burnett is physically unassuming and lacks the prep pedigree you look for in a top-level receiver, he has shown throughout his time at USC that his ceiling is higher than you thought. He’s also still pretty young — he won’t turn 20 until after the fifth game. Burnett has defied the odds to the point that most assume he’ll be Darnold’s primary target this year. The bigger question has become whether he’ll be elite. To assume he won’t would not only be premature but par for his course.

Key questions: Can he play outside? Is he a No. 1 receiver? How much better can he get?

Swing potential: He can be the Trojans’ go-to wideout or forced to battle for playing time with a deep crop of young receivers.

Discuss on Trojan Talk

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17 FOR '17

No. 17: Andrew Vorhees

No. 16: Chris Hawkins

No. 15: Jamel Cook

No. 14: Vavae Malepeai

No. 13: Clayton Johnston

Bonus: Michael Brown

No. 12: Daniel Imatorbhebhe

No. 11: Josh Fatu

No. 10: Jordan Iosefa

No. 8: Marlon Tuipulotu

No. 7: Roy Hemsley & John Houston

No. 6: Chuma Edoga

No. 5: Jack Sears

No. 4: Matt Fink

No. 3: Michael Pittman

No. 2: Jack Jones

No. 1: Vaughns, Imatorbhebhe & Jones

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