USC and the NFL draft: Oh, what could have been ...

Early departures, sub-par classes to blame for USC’s draft shortfall

jperson@thestate.comApril 29, 2008 

As he walked into Williams-Brice Stadium last month to survey the scene at South Carolina’s pro timing day, Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier took a look around and noticed there were no NFL head coaches in the house.

Among the 10 players working out for scouts were a pair of walk-on linebackers, including 28-year-old Marcus Davis, the Eau Claire graduate who played in a Columbia semi-pro league before making the Gamecocks’ roster as a scout-team player.

“Yeah, maybe someday we’ll have some players the scouts want to come see,” Spurrier said.

Most of them had come to see one player this year — tailback Cory Boyd, who was the lone Gamecock drafted over the weekend. When Boyd went to Tampa Bay in the seventh round with the 238th overall pick, it marked USC’s worst representation in the draft since being shut out in 2001.

At first glance, the meager showing appears to be a clear indictment of the bare cupboard Lou Holtz left for Spurrier when he retired after the 2004 season. And certainly Holtz’s final USC recruiting class in 2004 included a number of marginal prospects and reaches.

But in fairness, Boyd would have had company had three of his former teammates not bolted for the NFL with eligibility remaining.

Defensive backs Johnathan Joseph (first round, Cincinnati) and Ko Simpson (fourth round, Buffalo) took off after the 2005 season, while receiver Sidney Rice (second round, Minnesota) followed them out the next year.

Each had two years left, meaning Joseph and Simpson would have been part of this year’s draft had they exhausted their eligibility. Rice would have been better off financially playing one more season and entering this year’s draft, which had a much weaker group of receivers.

The Gaffney native was the first receiver taken in the second round last year after six were picked in the first round. No receivers were drafted in the first round this year.

But it’s tough to blame Rice, who grew up in a humble, single-story home, for chasing the dollars. If he continues to develop and builds on a strong, rookie season, Rice’s big payday will come.

Even with Rice slipping to the second round, the Gamecocks have had three first-round draft picks the past five years: defensive back Dunta Robinson (Houston, 2004), receiver Troy Williamson (Minnesota, 2005) and Joseph. Only four SEC teams have had more over that span: LSU, Arkansas, Auburn and Tennessee.

However, in terms of overall draft picks since 2004, the SEC’s list looks a lot like its standings with LSU (29), Georgia (25), Auburn (23), Florida (22), Tennessee (21) and Arkansas (19) leading the way.

USC is eighth among SEC teams with 11 players drafted since 2004, an average of 2.2 per season.

Ironically, Boyd might have had an easier time making an NFL team had he not been drafted. The 6-foot-1, 213-pounder joins a Buccaneers team with five tailbacks, including offseason acquisition Warrick Dunn and former Alabama standout Kenneth Darby, the Bucs’ seventh-round pick a year ago.

As an undrafted free agent, Boyd could have landed with a team with fewer tailback options.

There are early indications the 2009 draft will be more kind to the Gamecocks.

Receiver Kenny McKinley and linebacker Jasper Brinkley bucked the recent trend at USC by returning for their final seasons. But the Gamecocks’ top prospect next year could be an underclassman: ESPN draftnik Mel Kiper ranks Jared Cook, who will be a redshirt junior in the fall, among the top two tight ends in the country.

Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.

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