Not too long ago, the South Carolina Gamecocks were just barely above the Vanderbilt Commodores in terms of SEC hierarchy. Now, the Gamecocks are consistently in not only the top 25, but amongst the top 10. Used to be USC would send about one, maybe two guys pro each year. These days, the Gamecocks have had 24 of their own selected in the last five NFL Drafts, including a remarkable seven in the 2013 NFL Draft alone.
While the Gamecocks might not match last year’s number of draft selections, there are still 4-5 guys that will more than likely be selected in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Of course, everyone knows it all begins and ends with all-world defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who’s arguably the best defensive prospect to come along since Lawrence Taylor in the class of ’81. I really don’t have to go too in-depth here, as you can read his full scouting report here. Bottom line, Clowney is, hands down, the best player in the country, and a team would have to be crazy to pass him by.
Some think Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater will go number one, and in normal years, I’d probably agree. But Bridgewater’s ceiling is here (raising hand to chin level), while Clowney’s is there (pointing to Saturn). If there was a QB prospect like Andrew Luck available, then maybe I could understand a team passing him by, but there’s no one like that in this class. Mark it down, with the first pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Oakland Raiders will select Clowney.
It’s a big gap between the best defensive prospect of the last 30 years of college football with the number two prospect for the 2013 Gamecocks, but someone has to fill that role and that guy is QB Connor Shaw. Some might call me crazy on this, as many draft sites don’t think he’ll even be drafted, but I think he’s got the moxie to make something happen this year, possibly in the same way Matt Flynn did in 2008.
Shaw doesn’t have outstanding measurables or stats, but he finds a way to win games, evidenced by his 17-3 record as a starter. He’s got decent short-to-intermediate arm strength and can put the ball in a tight window in that range. Also, he’s got plus speed, and has a long history of turning a broken play into a highlight. If he builds upon his impressive 66.8 percent career completion rate and helps leads USC back to the SEC title game, he could really boost his stock.
Clowney’s fellow defensive end counterpart, Chaz Sutton, could see his profile raised the most this fall, especially with Devin Taylor departed to the NFL. Sutton did a little bit of everything for the Gamecocks last year, lining up inside, outside, and even playing snaps at linebacker. Now that the 6-foot 3, 256-pounder is settled in one position, he’ll look to build on his five sacks last year.
Personally, I think his draft stock would’ve been higher if he stayed at OLB for his senior season because that’s likely where he’ll play in the pros, but anyone playing opposite of Clowney is in a fortunate position for increased stats.
Defensive backs Jimmy LeGree, Victor Hampton and Brison Williams will also be looking to increase their draft stocks with strong seasons this fall. Defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles is another guy to keep an eye on. The underclassman had 3.5 sacks inside for USC last year and should only add to that again with offenses continuing to focus on stopping Clowney.