South Carolina Football: Ranking the Gamecocks' Best Pass-Catchers
It's been a topic of discussion all offseason, but the Gamecocks' receiving options will continue to draw a lot of attention as we gets closer to the start of the college football season.
South Carolina has plenty of options that come in all shapes and sizes for Connor Shaw and the passing game. There are smaller, faster players, like Damiere Byrd, along with bigger, more physical pass-catchers, like Justice Cunningham.
The quarterback position has settled on Connor Shaw and will now look to expand the offense in a way we've grown to love from Steve Spurrier. These players have a perfect opportunity to make an immediate impact because seemingly every position is up for grabs.
Here's a look at where the Gamecocks' pass-catchers rank on the 2012 football team as well as some potential newcomers who could jump up the rankings for the Gamecocks.
No. 1: WR Ace Sanders
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The Gamecocks' most viable returning pass-catcher is Ace Sanders.
The junior from Bradenton, Florida is a guy who possesses the most talent and combined experience. He should become the first option in the Gamecocks' passing attack in 2012.
Sanders has 54 career receptions for 699 yards with four touchdowns. The 5'8", 175-pound receiver could really flourish as the top receiver for the Gamecocks this upcoming season. He has great hands and can use his breakaway speed to gain yards after the catch.
He'll need to play big for the Gamecocks in order for South Carolina to move the ball through the air. Something tells me he's ready for the challenge.
No. 2: RB Marcus Lattimore
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Marcus Lattimore may be on the comeback trail from a serious knee injury in 2011, but he looks to be a top receiving option for South Carolina this upcoming season.
Lattimore isn't known for tremendous speed, but what he can do in the passing game is very impressive. He's shown a knack for making the big catch out of the backfield to pick up some much need yardage for the Gamecocks. He's a safety valve for the quarterback with his catching ability.
His career receiving totals look like this: 48 catches for 594 yards with three touchdowns.
These numbers are only through a season-and-a-half, in addition to all the focus he receives in the running game. This is a very reliable receiver for the Gamecocks and a guy that can be a force when used in the passing game.
Look for Lattimore to be a force for the Gamecocks in the passing game this season.
No. 3: TE Justice Cunningham
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Justice Cunningham is one of the unheralded players in this Gamecock offense.
He does a little bit of everything for South Carolina on the offensive side of the ball where he lines up at tight end and fullback, depending upon the formation. He's got excellent size—6'4" tall and weighing 264 pounds.
He's primarily used as a blocking tight end but expanded his role in 2011 when he caught 18 passes for 142 yards and a touchdown. Cunningham only had nine catches in the prior two seasons combined.
Cunningham's frame and solid hands could be a nice option for the Gamecocks, giving them a big-body receiver looking to fill in for some of the production lost when Alshon Jeffery left for the NFL.
He's an underrated player who hasn't been mentioned much but is definitely one of the better pass-catching options for South Carolina.
No. 4: TE Rory Anderson
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Rory Anderson may line up at tight end, but he's built like a wide receiver and can be a mismatch for opponents this season.
Anderson was headed for a redshirt season his freshman year before playing out of necessity for the Gamecocks. He ended up being a pleasant surprise with eight catches for 188 yards with three touchdowns. The big stat here is his yards per catch average of 23.5 yards per reception.
He is a tall, lanky tight end but has a nice burst of speed once he has the ball in his hands. His ability to get behind the defender should create an advantage for South Carolina in the passing game.
He gained valuable experience last season with the hopes of being even better in 2012. Anderson should see increased output this upcoming season and will be a big receiving option for Connor Shaw.
No. 5: WR Bruce Ellington
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South Carolina had a top receiving option on campus. The only problem: he was the starting point guard for the men's basketball team.
Bruce Ellington became a dual-sport athlete in 2011 when he decided to give football a try once again after having a stellar high school career at Berkeley High School. Ellington picked things up quickly and showed that he could be a two-sport star at South Carolina.
Ellington's a smaller receiver, standing 5'9" tall, but has a very solid frame at 197 pounds. He has great speed—thanks to his conditioning from the basketball court—with excellent hands as well. He caught 17 passes last year for 211 yards, with a big 49-yard catch against Clemson.
He's also the Wildcat quarterback for South Carolina, so Ellington is used in a variety of ways on the South Carolina offensive side of the ball.
It was a surprisingly good year for Ellington, considering he hadn't played football since high school in 2009. The Gamecocks think he can be even better this season after participating in spring practice and summer workout sessions.
This offense needs Ellington to step up to the challenge in 2012. He's a warrior and will do what he can to help the Gamecocks win this season.
No. 6: WR Nick Jones
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Nick Jones didn't get all the publicity that Marcus Lattimore did at James F. Byrnes High School, but he's certainly a player who deserves some attention.
Jones redshirted his freshman season in 2010 but became a part of the receiver rotation in 2011 and was a solid contributor. Jones caught 12 passes for 143 yards and a touchdown while playing in 10 of 13 games this past season.
He's another one of these shorter receivers for the Gamecocks, but he's built like Ellington with a solid, sturdy frame. Jones will not blow you away with his speed, but he does seem to make the tough catches when he's needed.
This is another player that could add some big catches for South Carolina in 2012 if he works hard this offseason and shows he's ready to take the next step for the Gamecocks.
No. 7: RB Brandon Wilds
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Brandon Wilds was another big surprise for South Carolina in 2011. He filled in for Marcus Lattimore when he was injured, and the Gamecocks didn't skip a beat.
His running style reminds you of Lattimore in a way, but he has another thing in common with his superstar teammate: catching the football.
Wilds caught 15 passes last season for 136 yards with a 9.1 yard per catch average.
No. 8 Damiere Byrd
Damiere Byrd had a lot of promise out of high school.
The short, speedy wide receiver had the look of a breakaway talent at wide receiver for the Gamecocks but ended up with a four-game NCAA suspension to start the 2011 season.
The suspension set Byrd back and eventually hurt his production in his freshman campaign.
The Gamecocks love the speed of Byrd and know he has the ability to make an impact on offense. The major question with Byrd will be can he make the catch and hang on to the football. He had a few drops on some wide open pass plays and only ended up with one catch for 16 yards.
He opened up the 2012 Garnet and Black Spring Game with a 70-yard touchdown catch where he got behind the defender and raced towards the end zone.
South Carolina hopes to see that in a game that counts this season.
No. 9: WR K. J. Brent
K.J. Brent has yet to take a snap for the Gamecocks in his short career, but he was extremely close to playing in 2011.
Brent showcased a ton of ability in fall camp his freshman year before he ended up redshirting this past season. He seemingly caught every ball thrown his way and almost earned a spot in the rotation. Instead, he gained an extra year to add strength and learn this offense, and it paid off this spring.
Brent moved to the slot receiver position from the outside and showed improvement from the fall.
He's got a chance to be a big possession receiver for the Gamecocks, standing 6'4" tall. If he continues to catch the ball like he has, he'll make an impact for South Carolina this season.
No. 10: WR Shamier Jeffery
Shamier Jeffery is known for being Alshon Jeffery's younger brother.
He hopes he's known for much more after the opportunity he has this season for the Gamecocks.
Jeffery, like redshirt freshman K.J. Brent, impressed in the fall preseason camp before the 2011 season. He was another player that looked very fluid for the Gamecocks at the wide receiver position, as he has the ability to run solid routes and make the catch.
The Gamecocks redshirted Jeffery last season and think he could be a candidate to step right in where Alshon left off. Jeffery is a bit smaller than his older brother but is considered the better athlete with more speed.
If he can catch like his brother, Shamier Jeffery will make a name for himself very quickly.
No. 11: WR DeAngelo Smith
DeAngelo Smith is a guy with a lot of promise who hasn't been able to take the talent from the practice field to an actual game.
Smith looked like a breakout sensation last spring when he starred in the annual Garnet and Black Spring Game. Smith caught four passes for 118 yards with three touchdowns and looked like a real threat for USC this past fall.
However, that wasn't the case as Smith finished the year with just three catches for 22 yards.
The Gamecocks hope Smith will be more comfortable in a game situation now that he's had a chance to work into the offense without Alshon Jeffery in the mix. He played in an offense in high school that was run-based, so it's understandable that Smith has taken some time to learn how to be a receiver.
This has to be the year for DeAngelo Smith. He has the ability of a big-play wide receiver. He just needs to show up to play on game day like he does in practice.
Other Players (including Incoming Freshman) Not Ranked
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There are several other options for the Gamecocks that weren't mentioned in the Top 10 rankings. They are as follows:
- WR D.L. Moore - Moore is one of the veteran leaders for the Gamecocks and knows this offense well. He could step up and be a solid threat for the Gamecocks with his leaping ability and size, but he really needs to show that he can handle the pressure. Finished with just eight catches last season for 52 yards with one touchdown.
- RB Kenny Miles - Miles is the senior leader in the backfield and has decided to stay with the Gamecocks for one more season. His production may vary depending upon the health of Marcus Lattimore and Shon Carson, but he could be another steady option out of the backfield in the passing game.
- TE Drew Owens - Owens looked like the young tight end who would end up playing in 2011 but redshirted his first season at USC. He's got the size and look of an SEC tight end. Owens suffered a knee injury in the spring game but should be ready to go by the fall.
- RB Shon Carson - Carson is another tailback option for USC but has a bit of a different skill set than the others. He's got the speed that's missing from Lattimore and Miles and could be a player who could add value out of the backfield. The question will be how he'll perform after the serious injury suffered in 2011.
- TE Kelvin Rainey - Rainey is a true freshman who enrolled in January to take part in spring practice with the Gamecocks. He's a versatile player that could line up in a few different positions on offense for South Carolina. He most likely will redshirt but that depends on how he performs this fall.
- TE Corey Simmons - Simmons is a player who will provide depth for the Gamecocks but won't be expected to make an impact this season.
South Carolina will also welcome several freshman receiving options that could jump up the rankings as well.
- WR Shaq Roland - Roland is the star receiver out of the 2012 signing class. He's got the hands, speed, route running and leaping ability that you want in a receiver at this level. He could easily work his way into the mix and be one of the top receivers on this team as a true freshman. He's that good.
- WR Jody Fuller - Fuller has the solid frame and good hands to come in and make a dent in the rotation for the Gamecocks. He's got good speed with a 4.5 40-yard dash and makes plays. He's another freshman that could rise with a good showing in preseason camp.
- TE Jerell Adams - Adams is a physical specimen who could add weight to his big frame and still be a mismatch at tight end. Adams has the ability to be a star defensive end as well. The talent is there, and he spent time at prep school getting ready for this season. He could be a future All-SEC tight end if he sticks to the position.
- WR Kwinton Smith - Smith has the size, speed and strength you want in a tall SEC receiver. He's a standout on the baseball field. He could be a big-time wide receiver for the Gamecocks but may end up redshirting his freshman season.