In 2009, NFL teams selected seven former Gamecocks in the NFL Draft. Although many of us wondered how a team with that much talent could have finished the 2008 season so poorly, we generally agreed that that draft was a significant moment for Carolina football, a moment when it seemed like we had turned a corner in terms of fielding enough talent to compete with our SEC rivals.
We may be about to turn another such corner. After a historic season that saw Carolina notch several historic firsts, including its first back-to-back wins over Clemson in 40 years, its first win over a top-ranked team (Alabama), and its first-ever SEC Eastern Division title, Carolina may be approaching another milestone at the upcoming April 28-30 NFL Draft. One of Carolina's largest, most talented classes ever will be entering the draft this year. USC showcased no less than 14 players at its recent pro day:
In all, fourteen former Gamecock football players showcased their skills for scouts representing 28 of the 32 NFL teams on Wednesday in the University of South Carolina's annual Pro Timing Day.
Those who took part in the activities were Ladi Ajiboye, Blake Baxley, Garrett Chisolm, Chris Culliver, Josh Dickerson, Patrick DiMarco, Hutch Eckerson, Tori Gurley, Jarriel King, Spencer Lanning, Brian Maddox, Cliff Matthews, Weslye Saunders and Charles Turner.
Some of these players will not be drafted, with special teams performers like Baxley and Turner having little real chance and Dickerson, Lanning, and Maddox facing long odds. However, Culliver, Gurley, King, Matthews, and Saunders will almost certainly be taken, and Ajiboye, Chisolm, DiMarco, and Eckerson all have a realistic shot and will definitely draw interest as undrafted free agents if they're not drafted. In other words, we have a very real chance to see nine former 'Cocks drafted. That would tie our current record, set in 1954. Of course, back then, there were dozens of rounds, so for all intents and purposes, we have a shot at breaking the record that matters this year, which is the aforementioned 2009 class. Considering that that record was set only two years ago, it stands to reason that we're truly in a different era in Carolina, when we consistently have enough talent to impress the guys who know what they're talking about when it comes to evaluating players.
Of course, what's missing from this crop of draft talent are elite, definite first-day prospects. We may be notching that scalp over the next two-to-three years, when Alshon Jeffery, Stephon Gilmore, Marcus Lattimore, and perhaps others will threaten the first round.