|USC safety Dion Bailey had 61 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and five interceptions this season.|
Bailey, a 6-foot, 200-pound redshirt junior, declared at an on-campus press conference two days after making four tackles with two tackles for loss in a 45-20 Las Vegas Bowl win over Fresno State, helping limit what had been the most prolific passing offense in college football to just 217 yards.
Bailey had a team-high five interceptions to go along with 61 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss this season. His leadership helped provide stability during a tumultuous season where the Trojans had three coaches but still finished with 10 wins.
Alternating between outside linebacker and safety in his time at USC, Bailey had 11 career interceptions and 16.5 tackles for loss in three seasons as a starter. Add in his experience as a slot corner, and Bailey could be regarded as the next Tyrann Mathieu, an extremely versatile defender that has value in a pass-first league.
"He would be a good candidate to play in sub packages as a nickel/dime linebacker," NFL Media analyst Daniel Jeremiah told College Football 24/7, describing Bailey as a tweener. "If he plays safety, he'll be an excellent underneath defender but I'd have concerns with him as the high safety."
Bailey could be the first of several prominent USC players to bypass their remaining eligibility. Star wide receiver Marqise Lee said Saturday he would likely make a decision in the next two weeks, while a similar timetable is expected for cornerback Josh Shaw, linebacker Hayes Pullard, defensive end George Uko and center Marcus Martin. They are among the key players that could be the difference in USC contending for the Pac-12 title next season or rebuilding in its first season under new head coach Steve Sarkisian.
Follow Dan Greenspan on Twitter @DanGreenspan.