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NFL DRAFT 2017 – TEAM PREVIEWS – SEC – SOUTH CAROLINA

Will Muschamp takes over after a disappointing end to the Steve Spurrier era. We preview the senior players he’ll rely on his first season


As great as the Steve Spurrier era was for the majority of his tenure, it didn’t quite end particularly well with the legendary coach departing midway through a difficult 2015 season.  Shawn Elliot did what he could as the interim leader but the team continued to struggle to their first losing season in thirteen years, a 3-9 record and just 1-7 in conference.  Will Muschamp takes over and the talented defensive coach has work to do on both sides of the ball.  In terms of prospects for the next draft, there aren’t many but the better draft-eligible players look to be on defense.
 

THE TOP 5

Skai Moore, Sr, LB/S, #10 – 6ft 2, 220 lbs

It says something about how great a prospect Skai Moore is that he’s listed at the top here despite the fact that he will miss the entire 2016 season with an unfortunate injury.  Or maybe it says more about the quality of upper classmen the Gamecocks have to offer.  Both are the case, but I’ll take the former, as I absolutely love Moore’s game.  The herniated disk in his neck required fusion surgery, ending his senior year before it can begin.  While it’s easy to say in hindsight, he perhaps feels a tinge of regret that he didn’t enter the previous draft, something he unofficially announced would be the case before taking it back.  He certainly does have the option of taking a redshirt year and returning to play in 2017 instead, but that will feel like a long wait all the way to the 2018 draft, and the eventual choice could well be to rely on his past achievements and be a part of the next draft, provided the recovery goes as planned.  All of that above means that he is of course not technically “one to watch” for the upcoming college season, but he’s very much to be kept in mind for next spring’s big event.  Back to the play on the field, and Moore was sensational in 2015.  His knack for making the big impact game-changing plays continued, adding another 4 interceptions to bring his career total up to 11 over three seasons.  He is a little undersized as a linebacker but is a great athlete with speed and absolutely excels in coverage.  Moore is quick and fluid dropping back, with fantastic vision and play-reading ability to anticipate early and fly toward the action.  The football IQ is so high as a natural pure football player, that despite the slight build physically, he might have been worthy of first round consideration were it not for the injury and another big year.  Along with the interceptions, Moore totalled 111 tackles last season, with 6.5 tackles for loss (TFLs), 2 sacks, 3 pass breakups and 3 forced fumbles.

Kelsey Griffin, Sr, DL, #94 – 6ft 2, 316 lbs

It’s slim pickings elsewhere on this roster.  I very much enjoyed the film of big interior lineman Kelsey Griffin though, and the former 4-star recruit out of high school might be worth investing a draft pick in.  He’s a bit short but well built.  The stats might not reflect it but he can create a bit of disruption in the backfield at times, able to force his way through.  Those aforementioned stats added up to an underwhelming 14 tackles, 3.5 TFLs and 2.5 sacks last season.  The flashes suggest better than those read though.  Part of the reason for the low numbers were the limited snaps on offer, with a number of veterans ahead on the depth chart which has meant that Griffin is yet to officially start any games over his first three seasons while playing in 26 over that times.  But with the likes of Gerald Dixon Jr and Philip Dukes graduating, this should be the season for Griffin to get a better opportunity to make an impact, and in doing so state his case for NFL scouts.  Griffin combines his heavy build with good energy and motor.  He doesn’t just put his weight into it, but also uses his hands well to generate penetration and to disengage from offensive linemen’s block attempts, even though in truth there doesn’t seem to be a great plan behind those rushes right now.  He continues to fight even if his initial effort fails, and really hustles in pursuit.  His draft prospects are wide open right now and could go in any direction; it’s a case of wait and see as to how his senior year goes.

Darius English, rSr, EDGE, #5 – 6ft 5, 238 lbs

English was touted to be the one to replace Jadeveon Clowney following his departure as the number one overall pick in the 2014 draft, but that didn’t happen at all as planned and in fact went the opposite way as he fell pretty much to 3rd string on the depth chart.  Though his college career overall has been a case of under-performing and under-achieving, his 2015 was a step in the right direction, and sets up to hopefully fulfill some of that expectation in his last opportunity in 2016 – maybe.  First things first, English is way too skinny.  Bulking up with added muscle is an absolute must with plenty room to do so onto his rangy long frame.  The fact that he hasn’t (by the looks of things) done the work in the weight room could raise a question of the commitment and work ethic, though that is just a simple query on my part without knowing more details, but would like to ask and find out what his coaches answer with.  He’d have to get stuck in to a proper strength and conditioning program early with an NFL team before seeing much action.  All that said, English is a smooth athlete, looking decent when dropping a little into shallow zones and working in space.  The effort is pretty good when chasing in pursuit.  But the lack of strength and physicality results in being comfortably controlled for the most part in his primary role as a pass rusher.  He finished his 2015 season with 28 tackles, 6 TFLs, 4.5 sacks, 3 QB hurries and 2 forced fumbles.  After a 2014 season that saw just 2 TFLs and 1 sack in those categories, fingers are crossed to improve those numbers again as a senior.

T.J. Holloman, rSr, LB, #11 – 6ft 2, 240 lbs

The pressure is on for Holloman to step up and be the leader in the absence of Skai Moore.  He’s played well over his 3 seasons that have included 16 starts in 36 played over his time with the Gamecocks.  That has included making some big plays of his own with 5 career interceptions and can also usually be relied on for a few highlight reel hard hits every now and then.  An active player, Holloman gets around the ball plenty as a solid all round linebacker, even if he doesn’t truly excel in an area.  Being an average athlete also limits his upside with ok range but not really flying between the sidelines.  His smart play and good read & react skills help him get a good start toward the action, helped by his background of playing a little bit of quarterback for half a season during high school.  Over the 10 games he featured in during 2015 (starting 9), Holloman totalled 63 tackles, 2.5 TFLs, 2 pass breakups and 2 interceptions.  A good college player, but right now he seems to lack that real selling point that a scout can point to that would convince a team to draft him.  But he offers a good build that can hold up at the next level and if he does go undrafted, is worth a look in the pre-season at the very least.

Marquavius Lewis, Sr, EDGE, #8 – 6ft 4, 270 lbs

We’re probably scraping for other potential draft picks from the senior class at this point, and continue to look for them on the defensive side of the ball.  Perhaps Lewis can build on a decent first season at the FBS level, having joined South Carolina last year as a junior college transfer.  He immediately earned himself a significant role that saw him start every game of the season in 2015.  His contributions resulted in 45 tackles along with 4.5 TFLs, 3 sacks, 6 QB hurries and a pass breakup.  Entering a second season playing in the SEC with more knowledge of what to expect, he’ll have a chance to better those numbers as a senior.  There’s good size as well with Lewis.  The negatives centre around his athletic traits, which are nothing special unfortunately.  There is a lack of ideal explosion off the snap with a very average initial burst instead.  As a result, he perhaps isn’t going to ever develop into a particularly productive pass rusher.  He does show good ability in setting the edge and holding up against the run which led to the solid tackle numbers.

OTHER PROSPECTS TO WATCH

Jordan Diggs, rSr, S, #42 – 6ft 0, 210 lbs

There were times last season that Diggs’ number 42 jersey was appearing on screen rather a lot during South Carolina games, and was intrigued to see what his game was like under individual focus and scrutiny.  There’s some definite positives.  The motor is constantly high, and brings a lot of physicality as a tackler.  That said though, he’s not an ideal athlete for the safety position who doesn’t flow around the field all that smoothly or change direction too well.  He’s possibly moving to linebacker as a senior, and he does have a bit of a “tweener” skill set and size combination that makes him a tricky fit for the next level.  The high motor is good but his enthusiasm tends to get the better of him too often leading to over-running plays, having to reverse and backtrack or take bad resulting angles.  His off-field intelligence is certainly worth noting as an academic honour roll recipient each year in college, but it doesn’t always translate to football IQ in his case at times.  The numbers were pretty average for his junior season, finishing with 48 tackles, 0.5 TFLs, 1 INT and 1 forced fumble.

Elliot Fry, Sr, K, #29 – 6ft 0, 165 lbs

Fry made a great start to his time in college, joining the team as a walk-on and immediately taking on the starting place kicking duties as a true freshman.  His numbers that first year were impressive, hitting on 15 of his 18 attempts (83.3% conversion), and making all but one of his 55 extra points.  The two seasons since haven’t quite been as good, going 18 of 25 in 2014 (72%) and 20 of 28 last year (71%).  However, his reliability on the PAT’s continued, hitting every single one both years.  His success on field goals over 50 yards hasn’t been great, hitting on just 2 of 9 career attempts over that distance with a long of 52 yards.

Mason Zandi, rSr, OT, #74 – 6ft 9, 308 lbs

Height is what immediately stands out about Zandi at nearly 6ft 9 tall.  That size might be a reason to give him a shot in camp as few can offer that kind of length.  In truth there isn’t a great deal else on offer.  Zandi is a little bit slow moving, lacking much in the way of athletic traits.  That contributes to overall pass protection that leaves him looking very vulnerable far too often, including some pretty bad blocking attempts that allow instant pressure.  2015 was his first year as a regular in the line-up, starting each of the first 10 games of the year, before a high ankle sprain kept him out of the last couple contests.

Sean Kelly, rSr, P, #13 – 5ft 10, 195 lbs

After a couple seasons with Florida Atlantic then a year in junior college, Kelly did a great job in his first year with the Gamecocks after, like his fellow special teamer Fry, joining as a walk on.  He averaged 44.25 yards per punt, good for 20th best in the nation and 4th in the SEC.  Along with showing his strong leg that has included 47 of his 195 career punts going for over 50 yards, he’s shown decent touch to down the ball inside opponents 20-yard line as well.

Jonathan Walton, Sr, LB, #28 – 6ft 0, 237 lbs

The physical measurables are a bit lacking with Walton, who comes in at just under 6ft tall and not a great athlete with poor acceleration leaving his range of coverage from his linebacker position being quite limited.  What he does do well is hit hard, known for his thumping tackling.  Another plus is his versatility to play any of the linebacker spots, something he has done while earning 6 starts in each of the past two seasons, while playing in all 25 games over that period.  He finished last year with some solid stats, with 42 tackles, 5 TFLs, 1 sack and 2 forced fumbles, even though the tackle total was down from the 61 he put up in 2014.

Rico McWilliams, rSr, CB, #1 – 5ft 11, 186 lbs

A solid cornerback who plays disciplined football with few mistakes in his game.  McWilliams plays pretty smart and is a battler on the field.  He isn’t the fastest in deep speed or short area acceleration though with his all-round athletic traits letting his potential down a bit.  He’s building experience with 10 of his 18 career starts coming last season, finishing with 32 tackles, 1 TFL and a couple pass breakups.

Perry Orth, rSr, QB, #10 – 6ft 1, 205 lbs

There’s no doubt that overall Orth failed to take great advantage of his opportunity to lead the offense last year, including some pretty bad numbers at times.  That said, he had some decent moments, such as the 3-touchdown performance against Clemson at the end of the season where some of his passes were perfectly thrown right on the money.  The issue is they are far outweighed by the mistakes with so much inconsistency that led to his 54.8% completion rate and 9 interceptions to just 12 TDs.  I really like his composure in the pocket and how he trusts his throws, forgets his errors and shows no fear in releasing the ball without hesitation.  However, his reading of defenses just isn’t there, failing to recognise what linebackers and safeties are doing in coverage over the top and underneath that led to many of his interceptions thrown.  I hope he gets another shot in 2016, but let’s face it, Orth is a massive outsider to have any chance at the pros, and true freshman Brandon McIlwain probably gets his feet wet early as well.

Chaz Elder, rSr, S, #17 – 6ft 2, 209 lbs

Elder showed some promise as a redshirt freshman in 2013 that included 6 starts and some decent production that followed his arrival as a fairly high recruit out of high school.  There’s not been the progress or development since then though, with his numbers and snaps dropping off each year.  He needs a big final season.

JUNIORS TO KEEP AN EYE ON

Bryson Allen-Williams, Jr, LB, #4 – 6ft 1, 235 lbs

I really like this junior linebacker’s game, and could be developing into a potential future draft pick.  A fantastic athlete, Allen-Williams may be short but looks to have long rangy arms.  While strength and power might not be the best right now, he’s solidly built and moves really well around the field fluidly.  His mental game looks to already have developed, reading plays well that leads to being highly active during his limited reps.  Still, up to this point he has only played a minor role without too much action that included just the one start.  His style of play might lead to him taking up some of what the team will lose in Moore’s absence

Alan Knott, rJr, C, #70 – 6ft 4, 270 lbs

If that listed weight is correct, then that seems far too light.  You wouldn’t know it to watch him play though, holding up well at the point of attack in the interior of those SEC trenches.  Knott is physical and aggressive in his play, always looking to finish his blocks.  Durability is a concern though.  He suffered a knee injury in the 2014 pre-season, missed time in 2015 with a sprained ankle, and just had wrist surgery during this off-season.

David Williams, rJr, RB, #33 – 6ft 1, 222 lbs

Williams has good size, but has struggled to impress so far.  On his better runs he does use that build and his power well when charging forward.  Those aren’t often seen though.  He has a tendency to dance around in the backfield too much.  The vision is questionable as is his ability to create and his overall football IQ that sees him just run head first into traffic too often, failing to exploit opportunities.  His pass protection is a definite area of weakness as well right now.  On 86 attempts last season, Williams managed just 299 yards, an average of only 3.48 yards per carry.

Taylor Stallworth, Jr, DL, #90 – 6ft 2, 308 lbs

A chest injury last season meant Stallworth could only take part in 9 contests in 2015, but did start 5 of those.  He is yet to have much of an impact so far though, with just the 8 tackles, 1 TFL and 1 pass breakup on the year.  The effort is good, and looks to use his hands rather than just push, but is hampered by a lack of explosion or any real interior rush threat.

Cory Helms, rJr, C/OG, #57 – 6ft 4, 301 lbs

Helms will be a very welcome addition to the team this year on a line that could use his experience.  The Wake Forest transfer had to sit out 2015 due to transfer rules, but will take his place in the line-up this year to build on the 23 starts he accumulated in 2 years with the Demon Deacons.  Though he’ll likely start at guard, he has experience at center too.  His slow movement is the main area of weakness, but Helms is very stout with a strong anchor when blocking in a protected phone booth space.

Abu Lamin, rSr, DL, #99 – 6ft 3, 326 lbs

Another member of the defensive line rotation, Lamin could also be a beneficiary of departed veterans after two seasons as a backup after joining the team in 2014 from community college.  He brings good size, but doesn’t use it properly to his advantage right now, playing too high out of his stance that makes him easy to control and push back rather than the other way around.

Chris Lammons, Jr, CB, #3 – 5ft 9, 183 lbs

Lammons is undersized, but he is active, energetic and fights for everything; a very scrappy, battling football player.  He certainly isn’t shy, willing to take chances and attack the ball in the air, challenge the receiver and trusting his reads.  He’s had some injury troubles over his first couple seasons though, and needs to prove he can stay durable.

D.J. Park, rJr, OG, #69 – 6ft 4, 325 lbs

More O-line help.  Park did feature in 10 games last season but mostly doing so on special teams units rather than on the offense.  He’ll get a chance to show what he can do this year though, potentially taking over the right tackle spot.  He’s a bit of an unknown right now, but offers decent size.


Rebecca Rennie

Hello all, I'm Rebecca, also going by Bex, and I am the RealSport College Football Editor, as well as writer and NFL Draft analyst.  I also edit other sports including the CFL, cycling and golf, while occasionally contributing to the NFL section as well.  I'm a fan of most sports and enjoy discussing with fellow fans, so do please comment on articles and interact.  A big fan of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and of the Central Florida Knights in college.

NFL DRAFT 2017 – TEAM PREVIEWS – SEC – SOUTH CAROLINA

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