ORLANDO, FL - JANUARY 02: Stephon Gilmore #5 of the South Carolina Gamecocks returns a blocked extra point for a touchdown during the Capitol One Bowl against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Florida Citrus Bowl on January 2, 2012 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
As you've surely heard by now, Stephon Gilmore and Alshon Jeffery have both opted to forego their senior seasons and enter the NFL Draft. Neither have signed with agents yet, so they can rejoin the fold, if they so wish. I would say with about 95% certainty that that won't happen with Jeffery; it might with Gilmore, although it's still not likely, particularly considering that Gilmore's stock will likely improve as scouts get a better sense of his impressive measurables. I actually won't be surprised if Gilmore is our first player taken for that reason.
It's a popular opinion among Gamecocks fans that we've suffered unduly over the years from early entrees into the draft. Whether that's true or not (I would argue that all teams suffer from this to some degree), I hope no one bemoans Jeffery and Gilmore's choice. Both are precisely the kinds of players for whom it makes sense to declare early--they likely have a solid shot at being selected in the first round, and, barring something unseen, will be taken no later than the second. They're almost guaranteed a roster spot and instant financial security for themselves and their families. It would thus be foolish for them to come back, considering what can happen in a year's time.
Moreover, their success is good for Carolina. When you recruit the best players in the nation, you deal with the prospect that those players will bolt a year early. In fact, you need them to think that they can leave early if they do their part and shine on the field. Having players like Gilmore and Jeffery come out early and be selected in the early rounds gives the coaches a story they can tell to high-caliber recruits who are likely to have the same option. Those recruits will then know that they can come to Carolina and have a fast-track into the NFL. That's a big draw for the top players, players who can come in and help Carolina to more record-breaking seasons.
These two guys stayed at home before it was cool to do so, choosing the Gamecocks over programs like Alabama and Southern Cal. They laid the blueprint for the recruitment of players like Marcus Lattimore, Jadeveon Clowney, and Shaq Roland. I'm happy they're going to get to live the dream and represent the Gamecocks as NFL stars.