South Carolina’s roster took a hit Thursday with the announcement that wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and cornerback Stephon Gilmore will enter this year’s NFL Draft.
Jeffery’s decision comes as no surprise. He was named the MVP of the Capital One Bowl after catching four passes for 148 yards and setting the Gamecock record for career 100-yard receiving games with 12.
“I would like to thank the fans, my teammates, Coach (Steve) Spurrier and everyone involved for all the opportunities South Carolina has provided me,” Jeffery said a statement released by the school. “I am proud to say I will always be a Gamecock.”
Jeffery, 6-foot-4, 229 pounds, is rated the fifth-best wide receiver prospect in the country by NFLDraftScout.com. The school’s all-time leading receiver with 3,042 yards believes he can improve that evaluation during workouts for NFL teams. He is one of three wide receivers in SEC history with more than 3,000 yards receiving.
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He had 49 catches for 762 yards this season.
“I’m ready for the next step,” Jeffery said in a statement released to ESPN’s Joe Schad. “I’m physical and can make plays in the red zone. I can make big plays in big games. I can work on my speed and get quicker. I want to be like Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson and Andre Johnson.”
Jeffery’s height, size and ability make him a major pro prospect, Mel Kiper Jr. wrote on ESPN.com last month. “Imposing presence, a matchup nightmare. Phenomenal hands, decent burst, elite size. Speed is a bit of a question,” Kiper said.
Jeffery’s replacement next season could be commitment Shaq Roland, a Lexington High star as a wide receiver and kick returner. He said he hopes to be the next Jeffery.
Gilmore, who had four interceptions this season, began thinking about going pro during the holiday break and finalized his decision earlier this week, his mother told The State.
“We could tell he was weighing his options, points about staying and points about going,” Linda Gilmore said. “We could tell he has matured a lot since he has been at USC. After having that discussion, we pretty much told him as long as he was willing to do the work to get his lifelong dream that we would be OK with his decision.”
Gilmore informed his parents and the South Carolina coaching staff of his decision by phone Wednesday, Linda Gilmore said. Gilmore is the seventh-best cornerback prospect and the 50th-best prospect overall, according to NFLDraftScout.com.
“He told us that’s what he really wanted to do,” Linda Gilmore said. “I am a little overwhelmed. I just like the way that he looked at everything. He has really matured.”
Redshirt freshman Victor Hampton was Gilmore’s backup and would be in line to replace him.
The only other South Carolina player known to be considering a jump to the NFL is defensive end Devin Taylor, who said Monday he still is “50-50.” Taylor was projected by the NFL’s underclassman advisory committee as a fourth to seventh round selection.
Underclassmen have until Jan. 15 to declare for the NFL Draft and can withdraw their name before Jan. 18 without losing their collegiate eligibility as long as they don’t sign with an agent.