South Carolina picked up three commitments for the 2015 class Monday, but none was as important as that of 4-star athlete Octavis Johnson, a projected defensive back from Clinch County High School in Homerville, Georgia.
Johnson announced the news with this tweet:
Picking up Johnson is a nice coup for the Gamecocks, who were always one of the favorites but never the sole favorite to land his services.
Per Phil Kornblut of GoGamecocks.com, Johnson had declared Tennessee his favorite as recently as last week and took a visit to Knoxville this spring. However, Clinch County assistant Rance Morgan explained that South Carolina was always in the back of his mind:
He had been thinking about South Carolina for awhile and South Carolina was always in his top three. He visited Tennessee a couple of weeks ago but kept thinking about South Carolina. He's been following recruiting and seeing the commitments picking up and he had to protect himself. He didn't want anything to slip away so he went ahead and pulled the trigger.
So, what does Johnson bring to the table in Columbia?
Versatility, mainly. He is capable of playing cornerback, safety, wide receiver or running back, and the Gamecocks can use him either (a) where he fits best or (b) where they most need a contributor.
At the moment, it looks like he might fall at the intersection of those two things. South Carolina is in desperate need of cornerbacks—according to Bleacher Report's Charles Bennett, converted tailback Jamari Smith is slated to start in 2014—and Johnson would prefer to begin his career in the defensive backfield instead of on offense.
"The wide receiver coach wants him to think about playing on the other side, but he wants to play cornerback," Morgan told Kornblut. "His favorite player is Champ Bailey."
Johnson isn't quite as long or fast as Bailey, one of the best defensive backs in football history, but he can do some of the same things. He is quick, and he breaks well on the ball in coverage. Here is how ESPN Scouts Inc. (subscription required) described Johnson as a prospect:
Johnson is a fun and exciting prospect. Plays in a very conservative, run dominated offense without many perimeter plays for him to be involved in. Would need to add bulk and strength to his frame to become a fulltime runner on offense. Measurables may be better suited for defense unless he's employed as a utility weapon in the spread offense which may be where his upside is the greatest. Will likely receive mid-major attention as well as some programs from the big five conferences.
STRENGTHS: Johnson is a quick, dynamic athlete who shows versatility to play in all three phases of the game. As a runner, has the speed to get the corner. Shows good balls skills to attack the football on both sides of the ball. Can break on the ball well in zone coverage. ... AREAS OF IMPROVEMENT: Lacks top end speed. Shows some hip tightness to change directions suddenly as a defender. Will need to add more bulk and strength to his frame. ... BOTTOM LINE: Johnson could be recruited on either side of the football. Is a versatile athlete who does not do any one thing great but has potential to be a BCS caliber prospect.
Johnson is 6'1" and weighs 181 pounds, which are pretty good measurables for a new-age type of cornerback. He has the height to defend longer receivers on the outside but also the speed to chase quicker ones down the field on fly and go patterns.
He ranks as the No. 266 overall player and the No. 24 athlete on the 247Sports composite. His composite grade (.9019) would rank him as the No. 24 pure cornerback in the 2015 class, as well.
Together with fellow Gamecocks commit Mark Fields, the No. 12 pure cornerback in the class, Johnson gives South Carolina a foundation for a very good secondary in the future. No. 12-ranked athlete Jalen Christian is also capable of playing cornerback (although he is more likely to play receiver), and No. 27-ranked safety Antoine Wilder helps round out the promising secondary group.
South Carolina's 2014 class included three 4-star cornerbacks—Wesley Green, D.J. Smith and Chris Lammons—along with 3-star early enrollee Al Harris. Because of that positional depth, there is a chance Johnson might be asked, at some point, to try his hand at safety in order to keep the best five defensive backs on the field.
Either way, he and the rest of these younger players should fill a need—and soon—for the Gamecocks. The secondary might struggle a bit in 2014, but the future at the position is bright, talented and deep.
Johnson is another big reason why.
All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports.
Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT