One college football program that has clearly improved its level of talent over the past five years is the University of South Carolina. Long a member of the sport’s underclass, South Carolina has finally become a player in the SEC, winning the East Division championship in 2010 and winning 11 games each of the past two seasons while capturing bowl victories and building extended winning streaks over rivals Georgia (three games) and Clemson (four). Scouts are certainly interested in the kind of NFL talent the Gamecocks now possess.
Who are the three best pro prospects on the team this season?
Sports betting sites are going to change their 2014 NFL odds – in terms of championship percentages and in terms of week-to-week game spreads – based on which team winds up with the first pick in the draft. That team, whoever it might be, is almost certain to pick South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney with the No. 1 overall selection in next year’s draft. Clowney is likely to come out of college one year early to cash in at the pro level. He might stay, but the smart money – literally as well as figuratively – says that Clowney will turn pro.
It’s true that Clowney does need to become a better run-stuffing end, providing more support for his tackles in that facet of defense. Clowney and his South Carolina teammates got pushed around in the second half of last year’s loss at LSU. However, Clowney is already an NFL-caliber pass rusher. He is conspicuously aggressive and noticeably fast. He is regularly able to use his footwork to get outside an offensive tackle and swiftly get to the quarterback from the edge. It’s not as though his inside moves are chopped liver, but Clowney’s devastating speed on the outside is what has so many scouts drooling about his ability at this point in time.
A second quality pro prospect on the Gamecocks also resides on the team’s defense, which is where South Carolina must be stronger if it is to succeed in 2013. Kelcy Quarles is the team’s best defensive tackle. Quarles does benefit from Clowney’s work on the outside at the defensive end spot, but Quarles is considerably good in his own right. The attractive feature of Quarles’ style of play is that while he’s a quality run-stopping tackle, he’s not a space-filler. Quarles possesses solid pass-rushing skills and rates as a relatively mobile tackle who can operate in a multi-dimensional manner. He’s not a one-trick pony the way some defensive tackles are. He is not easy to block, always a foremost strength for a defensive lineman.
A third professional football prospect on the Gamecocks is cornerback Victor Hampton. This young man is the anchor of the South Carolina secondary. He hasn’t been an imposing or overwhelmingly good player to this point in his career, but he made big strides in the second half of the 2012 season and began to make better, quicker reactions to the ball. He is a very physical hitter and a looming presence for opposing wide receivers. He will certainly merit a look from pro scouts this coming autumn.
Click here to get a full list of futures for the 2013 college football season.