First look: South Carolina freshman DL Aaron Sterling
South Carolina’s football team has several known commodities heading into the 2018 season. Think: Deebo Samuel, T.J. Brunson, etc. However, the Gamecocks will need some so-far unknown players to step up if they are going to reach their full potential. With that in mind, here are five potential breakout players for the 2018 season.
No one who made a large impact in the 2017 season qualified for the list. For instance, none of the three top running backs was considered because all three got lots of playing time last year.
LB Eldridge Thompson
At 6-foot-1, 215 pounds, Thompson has the same frame as Skai Moore, whose place Thompson might take in the starting lineup. The junior college transfer had 10 tackles last season and has one year left to make an impact at this level.
WR Shi Smith
This spot could go to OrTre Smith, too. One of the Smith boys is going to need to step up as the third wide receiver. Bryan Edwards proved he can be a No. 1 target last year, and he’ll be a great No. 2 option with Deebo Samuel back this year, but those two can’t catch every pass. Shi Smith had 29 catches for 409 yards and three touchdowns last season. OrTre Smith had 30 catches for 326 yards and three touchdowns.
TE K.C. Crosby
There’s plenty of opportunity at the tight end position as Hayden Hurst and his 44 catches are headed for the NFL. Crosby, a 6-foot-1, 242-pound senior, has seemed the heir apparent to that spot for a while, but he had only two catches for 11 yards last season after missing half the season because of injury. Jacob August is back as well, but he seems typecast as a blocker first and pass catcher second. Crosby is the more athletic of the two.
CB Keisean Nixon
So far, the 5-foot-10, 192-pound defensive back is more famous for his relationship with Snoop Dogg than for anything he’s done on the field, but that might be about to change. Nixon, who had eight tackles and two interceptions this season, shared time with regular starting cornerback Rashad Fenton throughout the Outback Bowl. Nixon long has been lauded by coach Will Muschamp for his potential, but the junior college transfer has only one year of eligibility left.
DL Aaron Sterling
The 6-foot-1, 240-pound sophomore was almost too productive last season to make this list. He had 23 tackles, including three tackles-for-loss, but there is plenty more potential there, especially for a team that still is looking for an elite pass rusher to pair with D.J. Wonnum.