David Cloninger

Looking at South Carolina’s NFL roster reveals a lot of surprises

Atlanta Falcons fullback Patrick DiMarco (42)
Atlanta Falcons fullback Patrick DiMarco (42) USA TODAY Sports

It’s strange how it works out – players who can’t miss as big-time NFL players sometimes do, and afterthought draft picks/free agents sometimes have lengthy pro careers.

The NFL season begins this week and several Gamecocks will be in action. South Carolina has 27 alums on current NFL rosters, including injured reserve and practice squads, and some are being leaned on as veteran starters.

Take Patrick DiMarco, an indispensable fullback/H-back at USC. I loved his devotion to the game, but knew he would probably see his football career end after college. As good as he was for the Gamecocks, he was a 6-foot-1 fullback, which most NFL teams don’t exactly desire.

Undrafted, DiMarco got a tryout with San Diego, then made Kansas City’s roster in 2012. He went to Atlanta the next season, was elevated from the practice squad to the active roster and will enter his fifth NFL season coming off a trip to the Pro Bowl.

In terms of straight physical tools, how much did Sidney Rice outweigh DiMarco? Yet Rice retired in 2014 after multiple concussions, with only one of his seven seasons really displaying his awesome potential.

USC has had two No. 1 overall picks and two last picks, dubbed “Mr. Irrelevant.” Of the two top guys, George Rogers had a solid career, but was out of the NFL before he turned 30, and Jadeveon Clowney has yet to prove himself after numerous injuries.

The two other guys have had solid careers. Kicker Ryan Succop is starting his eighth season in the NFL, while Justice Cunningham isn’t currently on a roster, but appeared in four games over the past three years, also serving on practice squads.

This year, rookies Pharoh Cooper, Brandon Shell and Jerell Adams each made an opening day active roster, while Isaiah Johnson made the Buccaneers’ practice squad. Ex-Gamecocks Bruce Ellington and Connor Shaw are already down for the year with training-camp injuries, while Chris Culliver is starting the year on IR.

There are a few others who could really have big seasons.

Antonio Allen, one of the most natural ball-hawks USC has seen, returned to the Jets after tearing his Achilles before last season. He was enjoying a sturdy career in New York before the injury, and I think he’ll return to form after a year away.

Damiere Byrd made the Panthers’ roster after being a practice-squad player last year. It’s not that unusual because we all know Byrd was exceptionally fast; I just wondered if he could ever be an NFL guy since he was average at catching the ball at USC. He’ll get a chance to catch passes from the league’s last MVP and perhaps return Carolina to the Super Bowl.

T.J. Johnson, who was drafted, is back for another year with the Bengals. He’s played in 16 games the past two years. Johnathan Joseph, the oldest of USC’s NFL roster, is with Clowney in Houston.

Look back at the list of draftees and the names pop – Eric Norwood, Troy Williamson, Kalimba Edwards. None ever made it big in the NFL (although Norwood has had a great career in Canada).

Then there’s Darian Stewart, undrafted out of USC. He knocked Cam Newton silly Thursday night and was honored as part of last year’s Super Bowl champion beforehand. We all knew how good he was with the Gamecocks, yet he didn’t hear his name called on draft day; it took a free-agent tryout to get him in the league. He hasn’t looked back.

Every year we attend Pro Day, where players go through a battery of tests. They’re timed and measured in every way possible to see if they could someday reach NFL stardom.

If scouts just watched game film, they’d save themselves a lot of trouble.

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Catching up with USC’s NFL alumni

Jerell Adams, TE, New York Giants

Antonio Allen, S, New York Jets

Damiere Byrd, WR, Carolina

A.J. Cann, OL, Jacksonville

Jadeveon Clowney, LB, Houston

Jared Cook, TE, Green Bay

Pharoh Cooper, WR, Los Angeles

Chris Culliver, CB, Miami

On reserve physically unable to perform list while rehabbing from a knee injury last year.

Mike Davis, RB, San Francisco

Patrick DiMarco, FB, Atlanta

Bruce Ellington, WR/KR, San Francisco

On injured reserve. Will not play this season after tearing a hamstring in the preseason.

Stephon Gilmore, CB, Buffalo

Melvin Ingram, LB, San Diego

Alshon Jeffery, WR, Chicago

Isaiah Johnson, S, Tampa Bay

On practice squad.

T.J. Johnson, OL, Cincinnati

Johnathan Joseph, CB, Houston

Captain Munnerlyn, CB, Minnesota

Ronald Patrick, OL, Tennessee

On practice squad.

Kelcy Quarles, DT, Indianapolis

On practice squad.

Corey Robinson, OL, Detroit

Connor Shaw, QB, Chicago

On injured reserve. Will not play this season after breaking a leg in the preseason.

Brandon Shell, OL, New York Jets

Darian Stewart, S, Denver

Ryan Succop, PK, Tennessee

D.J. Swearinger, S, Arizona

Devin Taylor, DE, Detroit

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