In a recent post, I referred to South Carolina's 2011 NFL Draft crop as likely its best ever. I wrote sanguinely about our prospects' chances and what a fine draft day would signify for the program:
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.
Needless to say, I was a little off in my projections. In fact, I was way off: only two former 'Cocks were drafted, Chris Culliver in the third round and Cliff Matthews in the seventh. The other seven prospects in question are now staring down a lengthy wait to learn where they'll get their chance to make a roster, as there will be no undrafted free agency until after the NFL resolves its labor disputes.
What happened? Well, in some cases, we probably shouldn't be surprised that not as many of our guys as expected were drafted. Patrick DiMarco, Ladi Ajiboye, and Garrett Chisolm were never viewed as much better than possible sixth- or seventh-round picks in the first place. Despite my optimism, it probably would have been a miracle for all of them to have been drafted.
The ones who I'm surprised about are Tori Gurley and Weslye Saunders. Some have disagreed with me, but I've never thought Gurley's choice to declare early was a bad decision, although with hindsight it now appears to be an utter disaster. To me, Gurley has the makings of a reliable backup possession receiver. He has the hands, he blocks extremely well, and he's a smart player. I know NFL scouts were probably wary of his lack of breakaway speed, but Gurley certainly wouldn't be the first relatively slow receiver to find a place in the league. My guess is that scouts thought otherwise and also may have been wary of a player with so little proven production in college. I find that a little mystifying, as I've always thought NFL scouts could see past things like that and would realize that Gurley could have been a 1000-yard receiver on many teams.
Honestly, I'm probably most surprised about Saunders. Obviously, character concerns must have played a large role in Saunders's fate, but I expected a team to take a chance on him. Scanning the picks, you'll see numerous players with character concerns who weren't shunned, including UNC's Marvin Austin, who like Saunders sat out last season due to perceived involvement with agents. Heck, Cameron Newton went first overall, and he has character concerns in abundance. One can only assume that Saunders has failed to convince prospective buyers that he's learned from his experiences.
What does this mean for the program? Well, not much other than disappointment in the short-term. However, it is good for recruiting to have lots of your players taken in the NFL Draft, so there could be long-term repercussions. That said, if this SBN mock draft holds true, we may be experiencing one of our best drafts ever next year, which will ease the sting of this one a little bit.