April 23, 2012

South Carolina turning into Cornerback U.

Long before he developed into a potential first-round draft pick at cornerback, Stephon Gilmore was a state championship quarterback at Rock Hill (S.C.) South Pointe High School.

Gilmore rushed for 1,331 yards and threw for 1,771 yards his senior year in high school. Even at that point, Gilmore was seen primarily as a potential cornerback prospect. But many recruits who had that kind of success on offense would try to find any way possible to stay on that side of the ball in college.

CORNERBACK U. 2012
Our choice: South Carolina.
Who they've sent: Sheldon Brown (Cleveland Browns), Chris Culliver (San Francisco 49ers), Andre Goodman (Denver Broncos), Johnathan Joseph (Houston Texans), Captain Munnerlyn (Carolina Panthers), Dunta Robinson (Atlanta Falcons).
Who's next: Stephon Gilmore is projected to get selected Thursday in the first round of the draft.
Other finalists: Alabama (Kansas City's Javier Arenas, Houston's Kareem Jackson, St. Louis' Marquis Johnson, Pittsburgh's Anthony Madison), Auburn (St. Louis' Roderick Hood, Oakland's Pat Lee, Indianapolis' Jerraud Powers, San Francisco's Carlos Rogers, Chicago's Jonathan Wilhite), Boise State (Minnesota's Chris Carr, Dallas' Orlando Scandrick, Washington's Brandyn Thompson, New York Jets' Kyle Wilson), Florida State (Denver's Tony Carter, New York Jets' Antonio Cromartie, free agent Bryant McFadden, New Orleans' Patrick Robinson), Georgia (Minnesota's Asher Allen, Denver's Champ Bailey, Chicago's Tim Jennings, Buffalo's Prince Miller), LSU (Kansas City's Travis Daniels, Tennessee's Chris Hawkins, Arizona's Patrick Peterson, New York Giants' Corey Webster), Miami (Washington's Phillip Buchanon, Houston's Brandon Harris, Cincinnati's Kelly Jennings, New York Giants' Brian Johnson, Green Bay's Sam Shields), Michigan (Cincinnati's Leon Hall, Jacksonville's Morgan Trent, Green Bay's Charles Woodson), Ohio State (Oakland's Chimdi Chekwa, Cincinnati's Nate Clements, Carolina's Chris Gamble, Minnesota's Antoine Winfield, Jacksonville's Ashton Youboty), Texas (Baltimore's Chykie Brown, Pittsburgh's Curtis Brown, San Francisco's Tarell Brown, Washington's Cedric Griffin, San Diego's Quentin Jammer, Jacksonville's Aaron Ross, Buffalo's Aaron Williams).
Candidate you might not have considered: Tuskegee, a Division II HBCU program, had three cornerbacks in the NFL last season. Buffalo's Drayton Florence, a former second-round draft pick, has 17 interceptions in his nine-year career. Dimitri Patterson served as a backup with the Cleveland Browns last year after making nine starts for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2010. Frank Walker has recorded nine interceptions in a nine-year career that has included stops with the New York Giants, Green Bay Packers, Baltimore Ravens, Minnesota Vikings and Dallas Cowboys.
Not Gilmore.

"He was convinced - and rightfully so - that long range his best position was defense and corner," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. "That's where he wanted to play, and that's where we put him."

In that case, Gilmore certainly picked the right school.

Gilmore almost certainly will get drafted in the first round Thursday. He will join a growing list of former South Carolina cornerbacks making an impact in the NFL.

Johnathan Joseph earned All-Pro honors with the Houston Texans last season. Other former South Carolina cornerbacks with starting jobs in the NFL last year included Sheldon Brown (Cleveland Browns), Andre Goodman (Denver Broncos), Captain Munnerlyn (Carolina Panthers) and Dunta Robinson (Atlanta Falcons). Those four players have a combined total of 79 career interceptions.

That list doesn't include Chris Cullliver, a third-round pick last year who recorded 35 tackles and one interception as a backup in his rookie season with the San Francisco 49ers.

Gilmore likely will join Robinson and Joseph as South Carolina cornerbacks who were drafted in the first round.

Even before Spurrier arrived in South Carolina and upgraded the program, the Gamecocks were continually sending cornerbacks to the NFL. Brown, Goodman and Robinson both played at South Carolina for Lou Holtz, who preceded Spurrier.

So why has South Carolina been so effective at sending cornerbacks to the NFL? Spurrier has trouble explaining it before finally coming up with one possible reason.

"It just seems like most of them have been in-state guys, so maybe there's something to the state of South Carolina,'' Spurrier said. "The high schools produce excellent defensive backs."

Indeed, four of the six current and future NFL cornerbacks from South Carolina were home-state products. Joseph graduated from Rock Hill Northwestern, Brown played at Richburg Lewisville, Goodman played for Taylors Eastside and Gilmore came from Rock Hill South Pointe.

Joseph arguably has been the biggest success.

He spent his first five pro seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, who selected him with the 24th overall pick in the 2006 draft. Joseph signed with Houston as a free agent in 2011 and helped the Texans make their first playoff appearance last season.

Robinson, the 10th overall draft pick in 2004, played six seasons with the Texans before moving to Atlanta in 2010. Brown went to the Philadelphia Eagles in the second round of the 2002 draft and remained in Philadelphia until he was traded to Cleveland in 2010. Goodman was drafted by Detroit in the third round in 2002 and later moved on to Miami and Denver. Munnerlyn is a former a seventh-round draft pick who worked his way into a starting role last season.

Gilmore has a chance to get drafted the earliest of all these South Carolina cornerbacks.

"The earliest I've heard talk of him going is to the Jacksonville Jaguars with the seventh pick," said Rob Rang, a senior analyst for nfldraftscout.com, said last week. "That's pretty early for me. He certainly deserves to be in top-20 consideration. I have him going 20th overall to the Tennessee Titans. But at the same time, this is a draft where once you get past the first five or six guys, everyone's got a different opinion on who's the next group, so it's going to be interesting to see exactly where he ends up."

WHAT'S POSITION U.?


The Position U. series is our attempt to determine which schools provide the most NFL talent at each position. We will analyze a different position just about every day up until the April 26 start of the NFL Draft. For the purpose of this series, we only took into consideration players who were still active as of last season.
April 13: Quarterbacks
April 14: Running backs
April 17: Offensive tackles
April 18: Guards/Centers
April 19: Pass rushers
April 21: Linebackers
April 23: Cornerbacks
April 24: Safeties
April 25: Kickers and punters
Gilmore likely will be the second cornerback taken in the draft. The near-certain pick to get drafted first among all cornerbacks is LSU's Morris Claiborne. Frankly, if we are doing this project a few years from now, LSU very well end up being our pick over South Carolina as Cornerbacks U.

This could mark the second straight year an LSU cornerback is taken with one of the first five picks in the draft. Patrick Peterson went to the Arizona Cardinals with the fifth overall selection last year. Most mock drafts currently have the Tampa Bay Buccaneers using the fifth pick on Claiborne this year.

When we last did this project six years ago, Ohio State was our choice as Cornerbacks U. The Buckeyes also would have been a reasonable pick this year. Ohio State's cornerback contingent includes three-time Pro Bowl pick Antoine Winfield (Minnesota Vikings), 2004 Pro Bowl selection Nate Clements (Cincinnati Bengals), Chris Gamble (Carolina Panthers), Chimdi Chekwa (Oakland Raiders) and Ashton Youboty (Jacksonville Jaguars).

But it's worth noting that many of those Ohio State players have been in the league for quite some time. The exception is Chekwa, who spent his rookie season last year on injured reserve.

We felt South Carolina had a better combination of older players (Brown and Goodman), guys in their prime (Joseph) and younger players (Munnerlyn and Culliver). Gilmore will strengthen that group even more when he enters the league this fall.

He may have won a state championship in high school as a quarterback.

But he's about to make a very nice living as a cornerback.


Steve Megargee is the national college columnist for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.




 

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