Often overshadowed by some of the more relevant teams in the Southeastern Conference, the South Carolina Gamecocks are poised to return to prominence in 2019. Though they’ll endure their share of growing pains this season, particularly during conference play, the Gamecocks have enough talent to overcome a daunting schedule. I’ve highlighted four seniors that will be pivotal to the Gamecocks’ resurgence, effectively boosting their stock for the 2020 NFL Draft.
Starting under center
Arriving on campus in 2016, the original plan was for Jake Bentley to redshirt. In fact, he did, albeit briefly. Following a sluggish start to the Gamecocks’ season, however, Bentley’s redshirt was promptly removed. He made his first collegiate start against UMass, and the rest, as they say, was history.
Last season proved to be a breakout year for the ascending talent. Playing in 13 games, Bentley’s 3,171 passing yards resulted in 27 touchdowns against 14 interceptions. In a late November clash against Clemson, the junior quarterback set a South Carolina single-game passing record, throwing for 510 yards against the conference rivals. Bentley established himself as a leader in 2018, displaying the quintessential toughness and poise that commands respect at the next level.
The 21-year-old is slated to face a murderer’s row of SEC opponents in 2019. How he performs in those telling matchups, however, will go a long way in defining his legacy and determining his draft stock.
Winning out wide
If South Carolina expects to keep pace with the conference heavyweights in an offensive slugfest this season, Bryan Edwards will need to be a primary focal point.
Named to the 2019 Biletnikoff Award preseason watch list, the senior wideout has entrenched himself as one of the more formidable pass catchers in the country. Playing opposite Deebo Samuel last season, Edwards racked up 55 catches for 846 yards and 7 touchdowns. More of a traditional receiver rather than the do-it-all gadget player that Samuel was for the Gamecocks, Edwards elite size gives him a sizeable advantage over most defenders. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound wideout possesses outstanding body control and excels at making contested catches. His profile is reminiscent of former Gamecocks receiver Alshon Jeffery.
Currently a projected second-round pick of the 2020 NFL Draft, Edwards will have ample opportunities to boost his draft stock this season. If South Carolina’s top pass catcher can raise his level of play against top SEC talent, he could conceivably propel himself into first-round conversation.
Dominating the trenches
A transfer from Jones County Junior College in 2017, the 6-foot-6, 302-pound defensive tackle has the makings of a future All-Pro at the next level.
Javon Kinlaw‘s Gamecocks’ career got off to a relatively slow start. As a sophomore, he played in just seven games, tallying 17 tackles and 2 tackles for loss. While his raw talent was apparent to even the most casual football fan, few could have forecasted a breakout junior campaign that put him on NFL radars.
Announcing his arrival to the college football world, Kinlaw registered 30 tackles (9 for loss) and 4 sacks in 2018. The raw specimen displayed an impressively quick first-step off the ball to fire into the backfield, and violent hands to disengage from blockers.
Kinlaw has the potential to play his way into the first-round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Similar to 2019 first-round defensive tackle Jerry Tillery, the lengthy defensive tackle will need specific aspects of his game refined in order to make the seamless transition. If Kinlaw can develop a wider array of pass rush techniques and a place a greater emphasis on pad level, he should be among the first 32 players to hear their name called in April.
Pressuring the passer
The undersized edge rusher will look to rebound from an injury plagued junior campaign that limited him to just five games. He accounted for 11 tackles and two sacks in a disappointing third season.
Named a permanent team captain as a sophomore, D.J. Wonnum has started 18 games for the program since 2017. Coincidentally, he enjoyed his best season as a sophomore, notching 57 tackles (13 for loss) and 6 sacks.
The 6-foot-5, 252-pound defender is lauded for his work ethic and toughness. While he’ll need to add around fifteen pounds if he aspires to be a traditional 4-3 defensive end, he has the skill set to thrive as a 3-4 outside linebacker. Assuming the injuries are behind him, the gritty pass rusher could provide tremendous value as a mid-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.