With the regular season wrapped up and the South Carolina Gamecocks simply waiting to see where they’ll wind up this bowl season, Steve Spurrier may want to turn his attention to replacing some of his top players for next season. While there will be the usual turnover with seniors using up the last of their eligibility, a trio of junior defensive standouts appear poised to make the leap to the NFL draft this spring, leaving a serious hole in the South Carolina starting lineup.
The biggest name that will be declaring early is of course defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Despite a statistically down junior season following his breakout 2012 sophomore campaign, Clowney is still projected to be one of the first picks of the 2014 NFL Draft this spring with his off-the-chart physical ability and unreal aptitude at creating havoc in the offensive backfield. Despite his sack total dropping from 13 last season to just three in 2013, Clowney demanded to be gameplanned for with double and triple teams. Even so, he was routinely impacting plays in the backfield and opening up avenues for other defenders to clean up.
One of the biggest benefactors of Clowney’s presence has been defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles. The 6-foot-4, 300-pound interior lineman leads the team in tackles for loss (13.5) and sacks (9.5) this season and has emerged as a force of nature on the defensive line. Quarles’ father told the media earlier this season that his son would indeed be leaving early for the NFL, but the defensive tackle later backed off those comments, saying that he was still deciding. However, all indications from coaches are that they expect the defensive line standout to be gone in 2014, cashing in when his stock is high.
Joining the defensive line duo will be cornerback Vic Hampton. The junior defensive back was the team’s top man-to-man defender this season and led the team in interceptions (3) and pass breakups (9) despite missing time with a concussion and a suspension earlier in the season. The 5-foot-10, 202-pound cover-corner excels in press coverage and can jam receivers up at the line of scrimmage with regularity. He is strong and physical with the ability to turn and run with receivers to go along with a nose for the football.
So far, Hampton is the only one who has confirmed his plans to go pro but the team seems confident that all three will be moving on from South Carolina after the bowl game. Each of them participated in the Senior Day ceremony before the Gamecocks’ win over the Clemson Tigers last Saturday which is a strong indication that they’ve played their last home game for the South Carolina program.