Breaking down South Carolina’s 10 most important football players, with best and worst case scenarios and our predictions for each.
10. JERELL ADAMS
6-6, 224, Tight end, Sophomore
Why He’s Important: In a talented group of tight ends, Adams stands out for his size and talent. Shaw says he stands out in summer workouts, too.
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Best Case: There’s not much ceiling on how good Adams can be as a pass catcher. He caught four passes last year but averaged 22.5 yards per reception.
Worst Case: Adams doesn’t translate his potential to production and loses playing time to Rory Anderson and Drew Owens, who also could emerge as dynamic playmakers.
Our Prediction: 27 catches, 412 yards, six TDs
9. KAIWAN LEWIS
6-0, 221, Linebacker, Sophomore
Why He’s Important: The big question for the defense is linebacker, and Lewis could be the starter in the middle. He showed a lot of promise last season, mostly on special teams, and picked up the system quickly this spring.
Best Case: Lewis overcomes his inexperience to be the type of intelligent and vocal leader in the middle of the defense that Shaq Wilson was last year.
Worst Case: The combination of responsibility and physical demands is too much too soon for a sophomore.
Our Prediction: 75 tackles
8. CODY WALDROP
6-4, 315, Center, Freshman
Why He’s Important: The only new starter on the offensive line, Waldrop takes over for stalwart T.J. Johnson at perhaps the line’s most crucial position.
Best Case: Waldrop’s natural size and strength are enough to overcome his inexperience and fans don’t notice a drop off at center.
Worst Case: Waldrop’s shotgun snaps become a problem, a seemingly small detail that can derail the timing of South Carolina’s shotgun offense.
7. SHAQ ROLAND
6-1, 182, Wide rReceiver, Sophomore
Why He’s Important: Wide receiver Bruce Ellington is an important, but known, commodity. Roland has the talent to transform the Gamecocks wide receiver corps from average to more than that.
Best Case: Roland regains the confidence he had as a sure-handed playmaker at Lexington High and becomes the high ball target South Carolina hasn’t had since Alshon Jeffery.
Worst Case: The drops that plagued Roland at times this spring become a regular thing, and his quarterbacks don’t have the confidence to throw the ball up and let him make plays.
Our prediction: 45 catches, 950 yards, seven TDs
6. KELCY QUARLES
6-4, 293, Defensive tackle, Junior
Why He’s Important: Quarles has to hold the middle of the line if Clowney is going to have the maximum effect. He’ll be flanked by a new starter this year so he must be a veteran presence.
Best Case: Quarles improves enough to become the kind of rock Travian Robertson was in the middle with more pass rush potential.
Worst Case: Quarles’ talents don’t translate as well to new defensive line coach Deke Adams’ more-attacking style and his production slips.
Our prediction: 40 tackles, five sacks
5. BRANDON WILDS
6-2, 218, Running back, Sophomore
Why He’s Important: Wilds, who missed last season because of a sprained ankle, might not start, but South Carolina needs him to at least be a complement to Mike Davis. If both run well, the Gamecocks can absorb the loss of Marcus Lattimore.
Best Case: Wilds returns to his 2011 form and gets 200 or more carries.
Worst Case: Wilds’ injury is no longer a concern, but it’s possible he and Davis don’t find a shared workload that works well for both.
Our prediction: 205 carries, 940 yards, seven TDs
4. VICTOR HAMPTON
5-10, 197, Cornerback, Junior
Why He’s Important: The junior is a leader in a secondary that needs one after the departure of D.J. Swearinger. He also has enough physical talent to be an All-SEC player this year.
Best Case: Hampton’s off-field behavior remains solid, and he backs up all his Twitter talk about how good he plans to be this year.
Worst Case: Hampton can’t continue his solid citizen behavior, which once had him close to being dismissed from the team.
Our prediction: Six INTs
3. CEDRICK COOPER
6-2, 235, Linebacker, Sophomore
Why He’s Important: The Gamecocks have to find some linebackers, and Cooper has fantastic size and skills. The moment Cooper arrived on campus in 2011, former defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson was in love, and no one in Columbia has fallen out of love.
Best Case: Cooper, who added 20 pounds this summer, is fully healed from an ACL injury suffered during bowl preparation, and wins the starting weakside linebacker position.
Worst Case: The time Cooper missed during bowl practice and spring practice prevented him from picking up enough of the defensive plan to reach his full potential.
Our prediction: 84 tackles
2. CONNOR SHAW
6-1, 204, Quarterback, Senior
Why He’s Important: Shaw’s mobility gives an offense that has yet to prove it has a go-to weapon lots of options. When he is healthy, his mobility is good for three first downs per game, which can make the difference between a win and a loss.
Best Case: Shaw starts the season well, thus keeping himself on the field rather than holding a clipboard while Dylan Thompson takes snaps, and stays healthy.
Worst Case: Another injury or a slow start opens the door wide for a quarterback rotation. It worked well for the Gamecocks last season and could again, but there’s no guarantee it will
Our prediction: 2,100 passing yards, 550 rushing yards, 25 TDs
1. JADEVEON CLOWNEY
6-6, 272, Defensive end, Junior
Why He’s Important: It goes beyond the fact that he’s the best player on the team and maybe in college football. Clowney must become Marcus Lattimore, the type of leader who carries himself in a way (and plays in a way) that gives all his teammates the belief they can win any game.
Best Case: Derrick Thomas’ single-season NCAA record of 27 sacks is out of reach in the modern era, but Clowney is on record saying he’s shooting for 20. Even that is hard to imagine, but 17 sacks, seven pass breakups (in the form of deflections) and 20 quarterback hurries is not.
Worst Case: Clowney will get plenty of attention from opponents and not just in the form of double-teams. He can be game-planned for and strong tackles have shown they can hold him at bay if they get their hands on him. Even so, he should get double-digit sacks just by showing up every Saturday.
Our prediction: 15 sacks