Led by a glut of 2023 NFL Draft prospects, the South Carolina Gamecocks are a sneaky contender to be the surprise team in the SEC this season. With a mixture of transfer portal steals and home-grown stars, Shane Beamer’s squad may have their most successful season in years. Will it turn into one of the program’s most substantial draft hauls next April?
South Carolina prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft
The late 2000s/early 2010s was a prosperous time for South Carolina football as it pertains to the NFL draft. In 2009, led by Jared Cook, the Gamecocks sent seven players to the NFL via the draft. They repeated that number again in 2013, with second-round pick D.J. Swearinger the standout prospect.
While their 2012 class had one less draftee, they had two first-round picks in Stephon Gilmore and Melvin Ingram. South Carolina has had multiple first-round picks since, but they’ve not had more than four draftees in a single class. Could that be about to change in the 2023 NFL Draft? Who are the top Gamecocks prospects to watch this fall?
Cam Smith, CB
There’s every chance that Cam Smith follows the path of recent South Carolina cornerbacks as a first-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. Smith had a breakout year as a redshirt sophomore. The heir-apparent to Jaycee Horn showcased his playmaking ability with 11 pass deflections and three interceptions. Smith boasts size, length, and vertical explosion to be a nightmare at the catch point for opposing wide receivers. Unsurprisingly, he plays the game with the same brand of physicality as his former teammate.
Spencer Rattler, QB
Spencer Rattler failed to live up to the QB1 hype from last year during a tumultuous season for Oklahoma. At this point, we’re betting on a new start to revitalize the young quarterback’s career.
The skill set that led to his elevated ranking last year — the arm talent and creative mobility — remains. The question is, can his talent and temperament be nurtured at South Carolina in a way that facilitates the upward trajectory we saw in 2020?
Jaheim Bell, TE
Already earning attention in the 2023 NFL Draft class, the arrival of a (hopefully) competent QB should only elevate Jaheim Bell’s stock. The 6’3″, 230-pound tight end is a hyper-athletic pass-catching weapon. He stretches the field with excellent speed while possessing the releases and route-running sharpness to create separation at any given moment. If he can continue to develop as a blocker — and he’s shown that he possesses the strength to be stellar here — then Bell could contend at the top of the class.
Austin Stogner, TE
Former Oklahoma TE Austin Stogner was a key component of helping bring Rattler to South Carolina for the 2022 college football season. Now, they’ll look to elevate their 2023 NFL Draft stock together.
Stogner is a versatile tight end who saw multiple alignments during his time with the Sooners. He boasts deceptive athletic ability and proved capable in contested-catch situations. Furthermore, the new South Carolina TE showcases solid blocking ability — both in the ground game and as a pass protector.
Zacch Pickens, DT
Former five-star defensive tackle Zacch Pickens began to deliver on his promising skill set and recruiting standing last season. With five tackles for loss and four sacks, it was by far his most productive season to date.
The South Carolina DT boasts a stout frame at 6’3″ and 305 pounds and has a potent blend of power, low pad level, and genuine athletic capability. He’s fast, flexible, explosive, and strong, with the length to be seriously disruptive. If he can pull that all together this fall, he’ll rocket up 2023 NFL Draft boards come April.
Jordan Strachan, EDGE
A hyper-productive 2020 campaign for Georgia State made former walk-on Jordan Strachan one of the jewels of the transfer portal last year. After a positive first season with South Carolina where he tallied six tackles for loss and snagged his first career interception, can Strachan push on as a 2023 NFL Draft prospect?
Strachan showcases a good first step, quick hands, the flexibility to bend around the edge, and plays with a hot motor. If he can add strength to his game he has the potential to be a pass-rushing 3-4 OLB in the NFL.
Devonni Reed, S
Entering his sixth season of college football, Devonni Reed transferred to South Carolina following the most productive season of his Central Michigan career. He’s already proven his mettle against SEC completion, snagging his only career pick-six against LSU.
Reed is a 6’0″, 195-pound safety who was under-recruited due to his size but certainly plays bigger when you watch the tape. He hits with genuine ferocity and flashes excellent play diagnosis and closing speed against the run. Reed could be in for a big year.
Dylan Wonnum, OT
Primed for ascension last fall, a back injury that required surgery limited Dylan Wonnum to just six starts. The South Carolina offensive tackle has a slender build at 6’5″ and 305 pounds, but don’t let that fool you. He boasts excellent play strength alongside impressive fundamentals as a pass protector.
Wonnum also has left and right tackle experience, proving truly versatile. As long as he remains healthy and keeps Rattler upright, Wonnum should attract attention in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Josh Vann, WR
While South Carolina’s tight end room is impressive, it’s wide receiver Josh Vann who could be Rattler’s go-to guy this season. The 5’11”, 190-pound pass catcher had something of a breakout year last fall with 679 receiving yards at 15.8 yards per catch despite an abysmal QB situation. Vann is surprisingly physical despite coming in under 6’0″ and possesses one of the most solid pairs of hands in college football. Vann also showcases enough wiggle to create separation and add value after the catch.
Jordan Burch, EDGE
Could this be the year that Jordan Burch lives up to his high school billing? The former five-star hasn’t always sat atop the Gamecocks’ depth chart but is primed for a big year that should see him establish himself amongst the 2023 NFL Draft class.
At 6’6″, 275 pounds, Burch is an imposing figure to contend with off the edge. As you’d expect, he’s strong and physical. However, he also possesses explosion, fluidity, and flexibility as an athlete. His 61-yard pick-six against Eastern Illinois is a great example of his insane athleticism.
Christian Beal-Smith, RB
After four years with Wake Forest, Christian Beal-Smith heads to South Carolina looking to assert himself on an impressive 2023 NFL Draft running back class. The Gamecocks have to replace 240 lost carries and over 1,200 lost rushing yards following Kevin Harris’ and Zaquandre White’s departure to the NFL.
It’s easy to class the 5’10”, 200-pound rusher as a “power back” with his ability to grind out yardage with lower body strength. However, he also showcases vision and good footwork to complement that skill set.
Vershon Lee, G
With all eyes on Rattler, the South Carolina offensive line is going to be under intense scrutiny this fall. For Vershon Lee, that should give him an opportunity to emerge as a 2023 NFL Draft guard prospect.
The 6’4″, 309-pound starting left guard also has tackle experience. He boasts the frame, length, and athleticism to thrive on the interior while showcasing the football intelligence that separates the great from the good at the position.
Brad Johnson, LB
With Jaylan Foster’s departure, Brad Johnson is the most productive returning player to South Carolina for the upcoming season. The 6’2″, 238-pound linebacker tallied 74 tackles last fall, including four for loss and 2½ sacks. He also secured an interception.
The sixth-year senior displays good play recognition ability and always seems to be around the floor. Meanwhile, Johnson also showcases some explosion and speed coming downhill both against the run and also as a blitzing LB. Johnson is also a reliable tackler.
MarShawn Lloyd, RB
While Beal-Smith might be the more well-known name on South Carolina’s roster this fall, don’t discount MarShawn Lloyd from making an impact in the upcoming season. Lloyd’s only a redshirt sophomore having missed the 2020 campaign with a torn ACL, but he showed flashes of potential last year.
The 5’9″, 212-pound RB has a nice blend of physicality and finesse, with some elusiveness to his game. A solid season could see him earn 2023 NFL Draft recognition.
Antwane Wells Jr., WR
A very productive FCS receiver for James Madison, Antwane Wells Jr. tallied 1,853 receiving yards and 21 touchdowns in just 22 games for the Dukes. With his transfer to South Carolina, he has the opportunity to put his name into the national spotlight as a potential 2023 NFL Draft prospect.
Wells has an exciting blend of speed, size, and physicality. Boasting impressive ball-tracking skills, the former JMU pass catcher is a menace at the catch point with reliable hands that can pluck the ball out the sky.
Corey Rucker, WR
Another product of the transfer portal, Corey Rucker heads to South Carolina off an impressive second season for Arkansas State. The third-year pass catcher tallied 826 yards and nine touchdowns for the Red Wolves last fall.
At 6’0″ and 203 pounds, he has the size and physicality to be impactful at the catch point. Meanwhile, he poses an after-the-catch threat with some twitchiness and elusiveness for his size. If he can conjure up an equally productive campaign at the SEC level, Rucker could rocket up 2023 NFL Draft boards.