What an NFL Draft run for the Palmetto State.
Clemson running back C.J. Spiller was the ninth overall pick in 2010. A pair of former Lowcountry high school stars – Summerville’s A.J. Green and Fort Dorchester’s Robert Quinn – went in the 2011 first round.
The 2012 draft marked the first time since 1981 that two South Carolina Gamecocks – Stephon Gilmore and Melvin Ingram – were picked in the first round.
Next year is all about Jadeveon Clowney, the Gamecocks’ All-Planet pass rusher.
But 2013 isn’t bad for an NFL Draft “off year.” Clemson wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins made 48 consecutive one-handed catches on ESPN’s “Sports Science” this week and, more impressively, might go in the first round Thursday night. South Carolina’s D.J. Swearinger and Clemson’s Andre Ellington are likely early picks. Wherever Marcus Lattimore goes in the draft, the South Carolina running back and his recovery from knee surgery is a major draft storyline.
Here are the top draft candidates from South Carolina and Clemson, and a projection:
THURSDAY (Round 1)
School: Clemson Position: Wide receiver
Note: A junior with great hands, “Nuk” vaulted out of Sammy Watkins’ shadow last season, an 18-touchdown year capped with his famed fourth-and-16 catch against LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Hopkins was involved in an NFL Combine controversy last week when his name was connected to a trashed Indianapolis hotel room (he vehemently denied accusations).
FRIDAY (Rounds 2-3)
School: South Carolina Position: Safety
Note: A fearless and fierce hitter with coverage and blitzing skills, Swearinger plays better than his modest combine numbers.
School: Clemson Position: Running back
Note: When healthy, Ellington was one of the nation’s best running backs over the last three seasons: 3,436 rushing yards, 33 touchdowns and 59 receptions. Plus, he’s a good kick returner. Durability – Ellington pulled a hamstring at the NFL Combine – has been a problem.
School: South Carolina Position: Running back
Note: Almost everyone is pulling for Lattimore to bounce back in the NFL after a horrific knee injury suffered last fall against Tennessee. Lattimore’s recovery is going better than expected but there is no target date.
SATURDAY (Rounds 4-7)
School: Clemson Position: Defensive end
Note: Underachieved as a senior – until his three sacks against LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
School: South Carolina Position: Wide receiver/return specialist
Note: Junior star of the Gamecocks’ Outback Bowl victory over Michigan is most likely to make his NFL impact in the return game.
School: South Carolina Position: Outside linebacker
Note: Typical pluses and minuses for a “tweener” who isn’t quite a strong safety but has enough strength to take on blockers as a linebacker.
School: South Carolina Position: Defensive end
Note: Scouts love the basketball wingspan and intelligence, but not the inconsistency.
School: Clemson Position: Center
Note: A smart, agile player who will have to add bulk to ward off massive NFL interior linemen.
School: Clemson Position: Safety
Note: Made some big plays and can deliver ball-jarring hits but consistency was an issue.