The NFL Draft begins Thursday night, and almost all of the South Carolina conversation will center around the status of running back Marcus Lattimore.
However, the first name most Gamecock fans will recognize this week probably will be safety D.J. Swearinger. The 6-foot, 210-pound Greenwood native is widely expected to be the first former South Carolina player taken and could go as high as Thursday night’s first round.
“I’ve been hearing I could slide into late first, but definitely early second,” Swearinger said Monday. “I have done what I have to do up to this point. It’s out of my hands now. I’m just waiting for that phone call.”
ESPN’s Mel Kiper and NFL.com draft analyst Josh Norris each have Swearinger projected as a second round pick.
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“He’s a good football player,” Kiper said. “The bottom line is, when you look at the safeties in that second group, after you look at the top three, which are (Texas’ Kenny) Vaccaro, (Florida’s Matt) Elam, and (Florida International’s John) Cyprien, in no particular order, the next safety off the board could be D.J. Swearinger. Looking at that spot, I gave him to Carolina at 44.”
Norris doesn’t think Swearinger will be around that long. He projects Swearinger as the No. 34 pick, two slots into the second round, to the San Francisco 49ers. The difference between late first and early second round is minimal in reality but does come with a drop in profile and a long wait. Friday’s second round won’t begin until 6:30 p.m.
Not everyone is as high on Swearinger. CBSSports.com’s Dane Brugler projects him as the No. 61 pick, while others think he could fall as late as middle of the third round. Most analysts are in agreement with Kiper that Vaccaro, Elam and Cyprien are the top players in what is a deep class of safeties, but Swearinger believes he should be the first safety taken, he said.
“I’m the best safety in this class because I am a leader first and foremost,” he said. “I have the instincts that coaches can’t coach, great ball skills, great feet and hips. I am going to stay in that film room. I am going to be their hardest worker day in and day out.”
“It would be a total disappointment” not to be picked in the first round,” he added. “You can’t have any doubts. The second you doubt at my position, it’s six points, so you have to carry yourself with confidence and have a swagger about yourself that you know you can make plays and make things happen.”
Swearinger started 33 games at South Carolina and finished his four-year career with 244 tackles, six interceptions and 16 pass breakups. He made a name last year as one of the conference’s most ferocious hitters, and, while the SEC took issues with one of his hits and doled out a one-game suspension, NFL teams like his style, Swearinger said.
“A lot of teams have mentioned that they like my aggressiveness,” he said. “They don’t see a problem with it. They just tell me on the next level (the fine is) going to be big bucks.”
In the weeks leading up the draft, Swearinger has traveled for private meetings with the Philadelphia Eagles, New York Jets, Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars and Atlanta Falcons. He plans to watch the draft with his family either in Greenwood or Columbia.
“It’s not really nerve-wracking because I know I have done the best of my ability to impress these coaches,” he said. “I think wherever I end up will be the best place for me. I am just ready for anything.”