Josh Norris, an NFL Draft writer for Rotoworld.com and a proud Elon graduate, has agreed to help us break down some of the Gamecocks’ NFL prospects as the season goes on, as well as take a look at South Carolina’s opponents and some intriguing figures around the SEC.
This week, we asked Norris what scouts are doing in the early part of the college football season, with the NFL Draft still eight months away. We also got the preseason skinny on the South Carolina seniors who are on pro scouts’ radars right now.
He also talks about several Vanderbilt prospects, including how one offensive player and one defensive player could cause problems for the Gamecocks.
Tell me who are the guys that the pro talent evaluators are looking at as the season starts.
Right now, these scouts are just focusing in on these senior prospects. It’s really a crap shoot to determine which juniors and going to declare early. So when you go to each campus and you go to watch game film and interview, there’s already so many seniors you have to look at, there’s really not enough time to look at the juniors as well until they declare. That’s kind of what the January, February, March time frame is all about.
I’m not sure if anybody is going to be in that top 20 caliber this year, but obviously the defensive end Devin Taylor who played across from Melvin Ingram last year. Devin Taylor is getting a bunch of publicity because he certainly has the frame for everything. I really like how he finds contact through his hands and shows the ability to beat an overextended offensive lineman. That’s a big plus. He has the frame. I worry if he has the lateral agility and the balance and the base. I see him on the ground quite a bit and that’s something I don’t like to see when I evaluate defensive linemen. I think if he can add some more strength, add some more power and really punch on first contact and deliver a blow. What Chandler Jones has kind of turned into, the defensive line, outside linebacker hybrid the Patriots have. He’s got all the measurables. I think he could add a lot to his game by just being more of a power rusher.
D.J. Swearinger is somebody who caught my eye last year when I was watching Antonio Allen. Swearinger is someone who really closes, really hits hard. He and (DeVonte) Holloman are a great tandem, they really are. I think I prefer Swearinger just because of how aggressive he is with his angles and how quickly he close to the line of scrimmage, and he really delivers a much better pop in my opinion. Now that aggressive style can come back to haunt you at times, but it really hasn’t for him. I think that he was kind of overshadowed last year by Stephon Gilmore. I think that Swearinger could take that next step this year and really make a name for himself kind of like Gilmore did last year and Ingram did last year. I think Swearinger might be that next player.
And finally, one player on offense is T.J. Johnson. He’s really rugged, and he’s a technical player. He does all the right things. His pad level is extremely low for a center of his height. I do wonder if he has the movement skills laterally to mirror consistently because it seems like against quicker defensive linemen like Fletcher Cox of Mississippi State last year, he allowed a lot of those guys to loop around him on stunts and twists, but I think he’ll crack an NFL roster. I think he’s absolutely a great college center.
And I know that Akeem Auguste, he’s someone that is kind of under the radar obviously. He has speed. I like the transition for him from safety to corner. He is somebody I want to see this year, he really is. I think he could be a nickel cornerback at the next level if he get healthy.
What about Vanderbilt? The Commodores always seem to produce an NFL player here and there. Is there anybody on that roster that pro folks are keeping their eye on?
They’ve got four guys on the radar. They have an outside linebacker in Archibald Barnes and defensive end in Walker May. Barnes is pretty athletic. He’s got some good lateral moves, he’s 6-3, 6-4 almost, he struggles at the point of attack when an offensive lineman gets to the second level but given enough space, he can catch up to (Marcus) Lattimore on those slanting runs and those zone runs that I know South Carolina loves to run. May is someone like a T.J. Johnson of the defense. He’s technical, he’s gritty, rugged. I think he’s reliable.
The two guys I am intrigued by are Zac Stacy, the running back, who is 5-9 but more than 200 pounds and he’s got some solid speed. Now he was tackled or hit in the backfield a bunch last year because the Vanderbilt offensive line isn’t much to write home about, but he broke a lot of those tackles and gained some positive yardage. I think that kind of build and somebody who is durable is definitely valuable at the next level.
And then Jordan Rodgers, the quarterback, a former junior college player. I think he’s kind of this year’s Austin Davis, the guy at Southern Miss last year. He understands the concepts, is very comfortable in the pocket and has excellent movement skills, but I just don’t think the arm talent is there. Within 15 yards, he can really sling it out there and get it where it needs to be, but beyond that, especially on the run, I worry about it. He can beat you, especially with his legs, but I think Jordan Rodgers is one of the few guys that South Carolina won’t be able to contain in the pocket, but I think guys like Swearinger and Holloman could give him fits if any of his passes get erratic.