Kelcy Quarles will forgo his final year of college eligibility and enter the 2014 NFL Draft, Quarles' father told the The State newspaper on Wednesday.
Quarles' departure is a mutual decision between the player and coaching staff, Buddy Quarles said. Head coach Steve Spurrier had an idea that Quarles was considering turning pro and told the Hodges, S.C., native to walk with the team's seniors during pregame ceremonies on Senior Day before the Nov. 30 game against Clemson.
"I think they all came to that conclusion," Buddy Quarles said. "They had a good assumption that he's going to be leaving."
Through 9 games this season, Quarles has recorded 21 tackles, including 11 for loss and 7 sacks -- a crazy number for an interior defensive lineman. And while Quarles has certainly proven himself to be one of the Gamecocks' best defensive players, there is here's no question that his statistical production has been aided by the amount of focus that Jadeveon Clowney has drawn from opposing offenses.
Clowney, as you might have heard, will also be entering the 2014 NFL Draft. If Quarles had decided to stick around, he would have likely had the kind of season that Clowney has so far in 2013: technically disruptive but ceding gaudy stats to less talented or experienced teammates who aren't being game-planned away from by opposing offenses.
As we noted in our 2013 preview, Quarles using a strong season as a springboard to the NFL Drat was always a strong possibility.
Quarles will once again enter the season as the unquestioned starter at defensive tackle alongside another newcomer (Byron Jerideau in 2012, likely J.T. Surratt in 2013). As long as he can stay healthy, he should once again be a leader on a veteran South Carolina defensive line. Barring injury, he could make a run at All-SEC honors, potentially launching him into a decision to forgo his senior season and enter the NFL Draft.
Technically, Quarles could have entered the 2013 NFL Draft following his true sophomore season. The NFL requires that players be three years removed from high school to enter the draft. Quarles spent his first year out of high school at Fork Union Military Academy prior to enrolling at South Carolina in 2011.
Replacing Big No. 99
Replacing Quarles will not be an easy task. While there is, of course, the practical concern of finding someone to come close to replicating Kelcy's ability to blow up the interior offensive line, there are a number of things he brings the table that simply cannot be replaced. For instance, Kelcy's exposed-belly game is on point, and he's even taken it up a notch in what appears to be his final season in Columbia. He's also a fantastic interview, as evidenced by his stirring comments about Connor Shaw following the win against Missouri.
Quarles' departure will leave a number of talented-but-unproven underclassmen to battle for his starting spot in 2014. Phillip Dukes is listed as Quarles' immediate backup on the most recent depth chart, and he would likely compete with fellow rising junior Gerald Dixon, Jr. to start alongside J.T. Surratt. Kelsey Griffin (the 6th-ranked defensive tackle in the 2013 class) and Deon Green could also work their way into the mix. And there's still a ways to go until signing day, but currently committed JUCO transfer Abu Lamin should vie for early playing time if he ends up signing with the Gamecocks.
Greenwood trio in the pros
If Quarles does indeed make an NFL team -- though there's some disagreement about where he will get drafted, he should absolutely end up on a roster somewhere -- he will be the third and final member of 2010's highly-recruited Greenwood High School trio to make it to the NFL. D.J Swearinger was taken by the Houston Texans in the second round of the 2013 draft and has been promoted to starting safety. The Texans also took Sam Montgomery one round later but cut him in October because of alleged marijuana use.