After Coach Will Muschamp’s first full season as head coach, he and the recruiting staff wanted to compile a foundation for the future with the 2017 recruiting class. When factoring in a 6-7 season, it seems like they accomplished this, bringing in several big-name players that will look to contribute as soon as this season. In a class that ranked in the top 20 nationally, according to ESPN, there is some serious talent coming in. Although most will not step in from day one and be stars, there are a few that could certainly help out the team in their first season.
The highest-rated recruit to sign for Carolina since Jadeveon Clowney, Williams has the talent to start at cornerback from day one. And finally, after months of speculation as to whether he will flip or not, Williams is a Gamecock. His athleticism is the first thing that stands out about him, as he will likely see time in the return game as well as on defense. He is ranked ESPN’s #3 corner, and his sheer talent will likely earn him the starting role opposite JaMarcus King, depending on how things play out this summer in practices. Williams has all of the tools to become a sorely needed star in the defense backfield and has the potential to be one of the greatest Gamecock DBs in history.
I toyed with inserting OrTre Smith, the other stud receiver Coach Muschamp picked up from SC, but due to Shi Smith’s speed and ability to contribute in multiple facets of the game, I gave him the nod. Shi Smith is an absolute burner on the field, clocking in at around a 4.4 second 40 yard dash. His route running is crisp, and despite his diminutive frame, Shi could become a dangerous deep threat as soon as this season. His speed will take the top off of defenses, allowing OrTre and Bryan Edwards to work underneath, creating the foundation for a formidable Gamecock passing attack with the talented Jake Bentley running the show. Shi Smith’s speed alone will allow him to see the field and I believe he will impress right away.
Defensive line depth is always a good thing to have, and four-star M.J. Webb certainly helps that mightily. He has the size (6’5”, 270) to play both at defensive end and defensive tackle, and will finally give South Carolina’s front the run-stopping presence it has certainly needed the last few seasons. Webb has the potential to be a Michael Bennett type player, lining up at end for 1st and 2nd downs, then kicking inside to tackle to use his quickness to exploit slower guards. Webb has a lot of potential, and if Coach Muschamp and the rest of his staff can develop him, he could become a beast on the defensive line, performing well against the run and pass.
The Gamecock secondary was eaten alive at times last year, but will enjoy an influx of talent as Nixon, Williams, Chalmers, and possibly Mike Hughes have the talent to contribute right away. Coach Muschamp and staff have done a fantastic job at recruiting depth for the secondary, including multiple players with the ability to play both safety and corner. One of those is Keisean Nixon, the number 3 JUCO corner, who has the size (6’0”) and experience (two years of JUCO) to play both. Nixon is my bet to win the starting safety job opposite D.J. Smith, using his length and athletic ability to play free safety, giving the Gamecocks a solid cover man on the back-end of their defense.
Honorable Mention: Javon Kinlaw
Kinlaw, a former Goose Creek standout, will provide more depth to a team that lost three of its four defensive line starters from last year. He, like Webb, has the size to play both inside and out, and would provide a powerful run-stopping presence to Carolina’s defense. I think that both Kinlaw and Webb will be integral parts of the defense this season, and I will go so far as to say that this team will finish in the top 5 in the SEC for total defense. It may be bold, but we have added some key pieces in this year’s recruiting cycle that will set us up to be competitive. With the defense adding studs like Kinlaw, Williams, Nixon, and Webb, we have the pieces in part to become a power player in the SEC again.
Also, just because another recruit is not on this short list, it does not mean that he won’t provide a meaningful impact, like Rico Dowdle. The recruiting rating system is flawed, and sometimes five stars play like much less, and three stars play like much more. There is no way to truly predict player development and willpower, and any player, no matter how overrated or underrated, can make a major impact on a team. Feel free to provide your input, as well as another player you think will make an impact this season!