The top 10 South Carolina football players you need to know for the 2016 season.
1. DE Marquavius Lewis, Sr.
Built like an NFL defensive end, the 6-4, 270-pound former superstar JUCO transfer stepped in and started right away. The overall run defense might not have been up to normal South Carolina snuff, but Lewis did his part on the outside coming up with 45 tackles. Now he has to be a bigger pass rusher after coming up with three sacks and just 4.5 tackles for loss. He was a terrific playmaker at Hutchinson Community College, and now, after a year at the SEC level, he’s about to double his production in the backfield.
2. LB T.J. Holloman, Sr.
With Skai Moore gone for the year, Holloman is the leading returning tackler coming up with 63 tackles with two interceptions and 2.5 tackles for loss. Beefed up a bit to get up to 240 pounds on his 6-2 frame, and smart enough to be a regular on the SEC Academic all-star teams, he’ll likely step in for Moore in the middle now after showing the ability to mix in at any spot in the corps. Fast, a pure tackler, and with great range, he could push for a 100-stop season.
3. QB Brandon McIlwain, Fr.
The hype is now through the roof. The 6-0, 206-pound true freshman got to school early and showed off the moxie and dual-threat skills to potentially break through a crowded field of quarterbacks and get the start. He’s only 6-0 and 206 pounds, but he’s phenomenally quick – he ran for 1,545 yards and 30 scores in his senior year – and has a good enough passing arm to push the ball all over the yard. Very smart, very poised, and mature enough to handle himself just fine, he’s a potential difference-maker right out of the gate. The best quarterback in spring ball, he has to build on his showing and be every bit as strong in fall camp. If he can do that, he’s the starter.
4. SS/LB Jordan Diggs, Sr.
The three-time SEC Academic all-star took over a starting job at strong safety but could end up moving to linebacker to add more quickness to the unit. The new coaching staff is playing around with the possibilities, but if he’s still in the defensive backfield he needs to start doing more when the ball is in the air. He’s coming off a 48-tackle season, but he only made one pick and didn’t break up any other passes. Even though he’s 6-0 and 211 pounds, he’s more like a run defending linebacker than a playmaking safety.
5. DT Kelsey Griffin, Sr.
One of the mainstays in the defensive interior over the last few years, he turned into a steady starter last season occupying double-teams. He didn’t produce too much with just 14 tackles with 2.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss, his job is as an anchor with the power and experience be an even bigger factor. At 6-2 and 302 pounds, he’s built for leverage, and he has the quickness to do more behind the line.
6. WR Deebo Samuel, Soph.
There wasn’t much in the way of a passing game for the Gamecocks, and what production there was mostly went to Pharoh Cooper and Jerrell Adams. But Samuel got his feet wet as a freshman catching 12 passes for 161 yards and a score – closing out the year with 104 yards and the score on five catches against Clemson. At 6-0 and 205 pounds he’s got decent size, and he’s able to get physical when needed. Healthy now after struggling for a bulk of last year with a hamstring injury, he needs to be the No. 1 target.
7. QB Perry Orth, Sr.
Part of the quarterback fun, the Gamecocks have several options, and Brandon McIlwain might be too good to keep off the field. However, Orth is right there in the hunt for playing time with 6-0 and 200-pound size, all-star smarts, and enough experience to be a part of the solution – it wasn’t his fault the team struggled. He started out his career at Florida State College – not FSU – before walking on at USC and taking over the starting gig halfway through last year. He completed 55% of his throws for just under 2,000 yards with 12 touchdowns and nine picks, while running for 138 yards and two touchdowns.
8. PK Elliott Fry, Sr.
One of the positives of the offense, Fry hit 20-of-28 kicks with three of his misses coming from beyond 40 yards including a miss from 57 and two from 55. The former walk-on has put together a strong career, hitting 15-of-18 field goals in his first season and being solid ever since. The leg and range are there to be tried out from 50, but his worth is as an automatic factor from inside 45.
9. LB Jonathan Walton, Sr.
Ready to do more in his final season on the outside, the veteran should be a key part of the puzzle. The 6-0, 236-pounder stepped up as a sophomore with 61 stops and came up with 42 tackles with a sack and five tackles for loss in six starts last season. Able to play either outside spot, he started out the year on the weakside but will likely play on the strongside throughout this season and end up being used more as a pass rusher.
10. LB Bryson Allen-Williams, Jr.
Whichever side Jonathan Walton plays on, Allen-Williams will play on the other. More likely a weakside defender, the 6-1, 230-pounder was a big-time prospect who has yet to break through and dominate. He moved around a bit – starting out at defensive end early on in his career – and making 23 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss with a pick last season as a key backup, it’s time to play up to his potential as a pass rusher.