After one more game, Darius English will head off to a professional football career it looked for a while he would never have.
“He has certainly flashed enough that I think NFL teams are going to be interested,” said Gordon McGuinness, SEC analyst for Pro Football Focus. “When you’re able to make that kind of impact, somebody is definitely going to take a look at you.”
English, a 6-foot-6, 245-pound senior defensive end, leads South Carolina and is tied for third in the SEC with nine sacks this season. He will start his 20th career game Dec. 29 when the Gamecocks (6-6) take on South Florida (10-2) in the Birmingham Bowl.
“He started doing this well toward the end of last year as well. He’s a guy who finishes pass rushes quite well,” McGuinness said. “A lot of guys, even the top pass rushers in the SEC, they get a ton of pressure, but not necessarily all of it is converted into hits and sacks.”
English has converted at a higher rate this year than at any time in his career. With one more sack, he’ll become the fourth Gamecocks player with a double-digit sack season, joining Jadeveon Clowney (13 in 2012), Andrew Provence (10 in 1982) and Melvin Ingram (10 in 2011).
“He is a guy that does a nice job with his hands in pass rush,” South Carolina coach Will Muschamp said. “He keeps his feet moving. He’s got a good takeoff. He has done a very good job of narrowing down and instead of a lot of things OK, doing very few things really well.”
English’s previous career high in sacks came last season when he had 4.5. This year, he rates 16th in the nation among seniors, and 39th in the nation overall, in PFF’s Pass Rush Productivity statistic, which takes into account sacks, hits and hurries versus number of attempts and is weighed slightly toward sacks and hits. While Texas A&M star defensive end Myles Garrett converted 33 percent of his pressures into sacks or hits this year, English had a sack or hit on more than 50 percent of his pressures.
“I think somebody is definitely going to take a look at him,” McGuinness said. “I’m not sure it will be before the third day (fourth through seventh round). Physically with him there are going to be some questions with his height and weight where he fits. I imagine teams are going to look at him either as a 4-3 defensive end or a 3-4 outside linebacker, but I would imagine NFL teams are going to be interested in him at least as a pass-rushing specialist.”
English, who graduated this month and been named second-team All-SEC by the Associated Press, shared the Gamecocks’ Comeback Player of the Year award along with punter Sean Kelly, and shared the team’s Most Explosive defender award with Chris Lammons. English’s “comeback” was from a hip injury that Muschamp thought would limit him to spot duty this year.
Instead, he started all 12 games of the regular season and is tied for ninth in career sacks at South Carolina with 15. He would move up to seventh place all-time with one sack against the Bulls.
“He practices at a high level,” Muschamp said. “He really does. I think we’ve done a good job. (Assistant coach) Mike Peterson has done a really good job narrowing down pass rush-wise, some of the things he does. That’s what I’ve seen as much as anything, and I would go back to practice with Darius. He practices hard. He goes out and practices the right way.”
The soft-spoken English credited Peterson and new defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson for his breakout season.
“Coach T-Rob’s defense really puts you in position to make plays and to make things happen in the backfield,” he said. “I really appreciate being able to play in his defense. Not every pass play am I going to be rushing the passer, but when I am, I am going to be in a great position.”
English could play defensive end in a 4-3 system or outside linebacker in a 3-4 system in the NFL, McGuinness said. The Gamecocks list English as a defensive end but often play in a 3-4, outside linebacker role because of his size, which is light for a traditional defensive end.
“We’re not asking him to 2-gap anybody,” Muschamp said. “What we’ve asked him to do, he has been very effective.”
Darius English bio
Position: Defensive end
Ht./Wt.: 6-6, 245
Hometown: Powder Springs, Ga.
Key stats in 2016: He had nine sacks, which tied for third in the SEC and 20th in the nation. He also had 57 tackles, 12 1/2 for loss and forced a pair of fumbles.
Honors: He was named to the Associated Press All-SEC second team.
NFL Draft outlook: “English needs to engulf a few extra helpings at the dinner table and fill out that frame, but the kid can play and be a tough defender. He is tall and with a long and lean frame. He will need to add some serious bulk.” – ESPN.com
USC’s all-time sacks leaders for a season:
1. Jadeveon Clowney (2012)
T2. Andrew Provence (1982)
T2. Melvin Ingram (2011)
4. Kelcy Quarles (2013)
T5. Darius English (2016)
T5. Eric Norwood (2008)
T5. Bill Janus (1978)
T5. Karey Johnson (1981)
T5. Andrew Provence (1981)
T5. Melvin Ingram (2010)