In what should come as a surprise to no one, Jared Cook has declared that he will forego his final year of eligibility and enter the NFL Draft. Although Coach Spurrier claims that he does not project for the first round, Cook projects to be our highest draft pick and is a sure-fire first-day selection. His career stats line at Carolina, which would undoubtedly be more impressive if we could have garnered more consistency at QB over the past two years, only tells part of the story. At 6'5, 240 lbs, and with a sub-4.4 40 time, Cook has an incredible combination of physical attributes. Combine that with great hands and you have the makings of a great NFL TE/WR. The only thing keeping him from being near perfect in scouts' eyes is his subpar blocking abilities, which he'l need to work on. Considering that after he's drafted he'll sign a contract that will set him for life, you can't blame the guy for not wanting to risk injury by coming back for 2009. I wish him luck and hope he represents our university well in the pros.
Cook join Captain Munnerlyn and Emanuel Cook as juniors foregoing their final year of eligibility. Eric Norwood and Darian Stewart, who were also considering taking off, opted to return. Overall, I'm satisfied with the way the situation with our NFL-minded juniors panned out. The two Cooks are likely to be high picks, so we've known all year that they would likely not be here next year. Although Jared is an immense talent, Weslye Saunders will capably fill his shoes. Emanuel may be harder to replace, but because Stewart is returning and we've recruited the secondary well over the past few years, I think we will be able to maintain a high level of play at the safety positions. Munnerlyn will not be missed; he's definitely a talented athlete, but his play this year was below expectations and we won't miss a step at corner as our younger guys fill his shoes. Finally, Norwood's choice to return is huge. If he had chosen to leave, we would have to replace the three linemen that played the vast majority of significant downs, and while we have young talent at the position, that kind of turnover is hard to handle without at least a temporary drop in level of play. Moreover, Norwood will provide much-needed senior leadership for this team. If he maintains his high level of production, he will undoubtedly go down in Gamecocks' history as one of our best ever.
Another thing to be aware of is that UGA's Knowshon Moreno and Matt Stafford declared for the NFL today. Again, no surprises here; both are projected as first-round picks, with Stafford possibly going first. Mark Richt has tabbed Joe Cox, who actually played significant downs back in 2006 before Stafford emerged as the starter, as Stafford's successor, although other QBs on the roster will likely get their shot in Spring practice. I would imagine that the immensely talented Caleb King will replace Moreno as the featured back.
Moreno and Stafford's decision is of interest to Gamecocks fans because Carolina plays UGA early in the year, while King and especially Cox will be settling into their new roles. I doubt that UGA will miss a beat in their running game, as King is a monster player that gained a good deal of experience this year as Moreno's relief back. Cox (or whoever else might win the job), however, may be a different story. Cox is talented and has had time to develop his abilities and knowledge of UGA's offense, but he has not played much since 2006 and will likely still be getting comfortable when the Gamecocks travel to Athens for our annual throw down with the Dawgs. We can hope that a talented Carolina D can force Cox to make a few game-changing mistakes.