After having only one player selected in the entire 2018 NFL draft (Hayden Hurst to Baltimore), South Carolina could have as many as three first-round draft picks in the next professional draft. It’s not likely, but it could happen.
Based on available 2019 mock drafts and what we’ve seen on the field thus far, here are our five most likely Gamecocks to be selected by the NFL next year:
Deebo Samuel, senior wide receiver
The senior wide receiver might have been as high as a second-round selection if he had come out this year, according to one analyst, and the decision to return could push him into the first round.
“Deebo Samuel would have been in consideration for the second round had he not suffered an injury in 2017,” Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller wrote this week. “If healthy and recovered, Samuel will have a chance to improve his stock by matching — or exceeding — his electric play from before his injury.”
Samuel had 474 all-purpose yards and six touchdowns in 11 quarters of football last year and then missed the rest of the season because of a broken leg. He’ll be the first option this season for a Gamecocks offense that is planning to run a lot of plays.
Miller projected Samuel as next year’s No. 24 overall pick to the Oakland Raiders. CBSSports.com’s 2019 mock draft had Samuel being selected 21st overall by the Dallas Cowboys.
Jake Bentley, junior quarterback
This name probably will make some South Carolina fans do a double take, but SBNation’s 2019 mock draft lists the Gamecocks junior quarterback as the No. 29 overall pick by the Green Bay Packers.
“This one will probably be considered controversial,” according to the website. “However, taking a first-round quarterback in 2019 would give the Packers a fifth-year option on a rookie deal. With Aaron Rodgers turning 35 in December, could Green Bay replace him when his contract runs out after the 2019 season?”
Bentley didn’t have a breakout year last season, but he has traits that pro teams covet like size, arm strength and intelligence. He’s also got the ability to put up the type of numbers in a fast-paced offense that would make him consider an early jump into the NFL.
Javon Kinlaw, junior defensive tackle
Speaking of traits that NFL scouts love, meet Kinlaw. The 6-foot-6, 300-pound junior defensive tackle has the type of initial quickness that makes players his size first-round draft picks. South Carolina fans, of course, would feel like they hardly got to know Kinlaw, who joined the team last year as a junior college transfer and had become its best defensive lineman by the final third of the season.
Kinlaw had 20 tackles, including two for loss, last year, and if he makes the kind of jump between 2017 and 2018 that he made from his arrival on campus last summer to last fall, he’ll have a tough decision to make about his senior year of college.
Zack Bailey, senior offensive lineman
The 6-foot-6, 309-pound senior played tackle last year but is moving back to guard this year, and that should help his NFL stock. Bailey will play on the interior of the offensive line at the next level and, at one point, was considered a candidate for early entry this year. He’s likely to be judged on two games next season, against Georgia and Clemson, because those two teams have the type of defensive linemen he will see in the NFL.
Bryson Allen-Williams, senior linebacker
The senior linebacker had 75 tackles, including 8.5 for loss, in his last healthy season with the team. This year, he returns from a shoulder injury that cost him 10 games last year and is expected to split time for South Carolina between the Buck defensive end and outside linebacker. At 6-foot-1, 231 pounds, he’ll need good numbers on the field and at the NFL combine to sneak into the early rounds of the draft, but Allen-Williams already has shown enough to be on professional radars entering the season.