Posted by Jerry Hinnen
South Carolina likely didn't have any illusions about where star receiver Alshon Jeffery was going to play his football next season. But the Gamecocks were no doubt hoping that Jeffery might be the only major early departure for the NFL Draft; the decision made Wednesday by junior corner Stephon Gilmore, however, means that Jeffery will have company on the way out of Columbia.
Both players have now publicly declared for April's draft, with Jeffery relaying his decision to ESPN and Gilmore's mother confirming her son's choice to CBSSports.com RapidReporter Josh Kendall. Gilmore informed the Gamecock coaching staff Wednesday.
"I'm ready for the next step," Jeffery said. "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."
For Jeffery, the decision was a likely no-brainer. Though the buttoned-up nature of the Gamecocks' 2011 offense (and increased defensive attention without the presence of Marcus Lattimore) saw a sizable decline in Jeffery's numbers, his All-American sophomore season -- 88 catches, 9 touchdowns, and more yards (1,517) than any wideout not playing in a non-BCS league or the state of Oklahoma -- meant he'd already proven just about everything he could prove at the college level. His final collegiate game showed that his immense physical talent is as intact as ever, as he skied for a game-changing Hail Mary and finished with 148 yards in a Capital One Bowl MVP performance.
It wasn't enough for either of our CBSSports.com draft experts to move Jeffery into the first-round of their most recent mock drafts, but a series of good workouts could change things.
Gilmore didn't have nearly Jeffery's nationwide name-recognition, but he arguably had a much larger impact on the Gamecocks' 2011 success than his offensive counterpart; after a subpar 2010, the South Carolina secondary finished second in the nation in pass defense and third in opponent's passer rating, with Gilmore's four interceptions and cover-corner skills playing a large role in that improvement. Our Dan Brugler has Gilmore projected to go to the New England Patriots with the 28th pick of the draft.
That kind of projection is why the Gamecocks will have some big shoes to fill in the passing game -- on both sides of the ball -- come 2012.
Check out where Jeffery, Gilmore, and all the 2012 draft prospects rank on the CBSSports.com draft board, and follow all the news on early entrants here.
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