This post begins a two-part series on Gamecocks beginning their journey to the NFL. Today, I'll take a look at Eric Norwood and Darian Stewart, and next time I'll review Clifton Geathers and Lemuel Jeanpierre. I'll talk about who picked up each player and when, whether or not that player went when I thought he would and why or why not, and how I view the player's future with the organization that picked him up. Your own input on these and any other questions you wish to speak to is welcome in the comments section.
All-American Norwood, a player many of us will fondly remember as one of the best to suit up in the Garnet and Black, was taken by the Carolina Panthers in the fourth round with pick 124.
I--and many other, more draft-knowledgeable prognosticators--saw Norwood as a second- and maybe even late-first-round pick. While there was some concern that Norwood lacked absolute top-shelf OLB speed or DE size, there was no doubting the results he's capable of producing after he was consistently one of the SEC's best defenders for his entire career. That he fell this far is--undoubtedly--surprising. I may very well be wrong--and we will soon learn if Norwood can reproduce the magic that defined his college career in the NFL--but I think Norwood falling this far says a lot about how rigid and shortsighted the NFL can be in how it evaluates players. Norwood may not be a perfect physical specimen for either of the positions he can play, but that never stopped him from dominating at the highest level of college competition. That should tell you what you need to know about him; sometimes great players can transcend minor physical shortcomings, even in the NFL.
As far as his future in the league, Norwood should make the roster in Charlotte. In fact, the Panthers' coaching staff believes Norwood will compete for a starting OLB spot. Even if he doesn't start, he will see significant playing time in pass-rush situations.
Check out what fans are saying in the comments section at the SB Nation Panthers community. They know they lucked up on this one. Heck, they even managed to get an extra pick out of it by trading 10 spots down.
Stewart was picked up as an undrafted free agent by the St. Louis Rams.
I thought Stewart would be a late-round pick by a team looking for a backup SS, particularly one that could be effective in early-down running situations. Also in his favor is that he can play other positions in specialty packages as well as help out on coverage units. However, while I do think a team would have made a good choice to bite on Stewart late, it's not terribly surprising that he went undrafted. Questions about his athletic ability to play his primary position in the NFL have been present all along, and they undoubtedly caused teams to pass on him in favor of other qualified players.
As with all UDFAs, Stewart will have a tough haul to make the roster in St. Louis. Don't get me wrong; the pitiful Rams' defense is in great need of help in the secondary. Stewart could be a guy that could help them, particularly the secondary's role in rushing defense, which was a problem spot for the Rams last year. He'll have plenty of competition to find a spot on the team, though. The Rams also signed Idaho SS Jeromy Jones, and they just traded for SS Kevin Payne, who was effective last season as the Chicago Bears' starter. Stewart will have to compete against these players as well as the rest of the St. Louis secondary for his place.
Whatever happens, I do believe Stewart has a place somewhere in the league, even if just as a special teams guy. He was always a favorite player of mine for his big-play hits, and I wish him luck.