COLUMBIA – South Carolina wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and cornerback Stephon Gilmore have both decided to skip their senior season and enter the NFL draft, according to ESPN. USC confirmed Jeffery’s departure later Thursday, but has not released anything on Gilmore.
NFLDraftScout.com ranks Jeffery as the No. 40 overall prospect and No. 5 receiver. It ranks Gilmore as the No. 50 overall prospect and No. 7 cornerback.
The only USC junior left to decide his status for next year is defensive end Devin Taylor, who said he was not projected to be picked in the first three rounds by the NFL’s committee that advises underclassmen on where they might be selected. Free safety D.J. Swearinger and strong safety DeVonte Holloman have already said they will return to school next year.
Underclassmen have until Jan. 15 to enter the draft.
Lorenzo Ward, who was promoted before USC beat Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl from defensive backs coach to defensive coordinator, said leading up to the bowl that he felt optimistic Gilmore would return next season. And Gilmore said Ward’s promotion would affect his decision, because he and Ward are close.
But in the end, Gilmore decided to make the same decision as Jeffery, who was widely expected to leave early. They are considered USC’s top two underclass prospects for this draft.
Gilmore started every game in his college career and finished with eight interceptions and 17 pass break-ups, including four interceptions (one in the bowl game) and seven break-ups this year. He has good size for a corner – 6-1, 193 pounds – which could help him at the next level.
Jeffery will go down as the most productive receiver in USC history – the school’s all-time leader in receiving yards, 3,042, which ranks second in Southeastern Conference history. He is one of just two SEC players with 3,000 career receiving yards, a mark he reached by making four catches for 148 yards, including a 51-yard Hail Mary touchdown catch, in the first half of the bowl game – before he was ejected because of an altercation with corner Alfonzo Dennard.
Jeffery’s 183 career catches rank second at USC to Kenny McKinley’s 207. Jeffery tied Sidney Rice for USC’s all-time touchdown catch record, with 23, though Rice did that in two years (McKinley’s career spanned four). With his effort in the bowl game, Jeffery also ended his career with 12 100-yard receiving games – one more than Rice’s school record.
Jeffery’s departure means USC’s offense will lose him and three other players who started in 2011: tackle Rokevious Watkins, tackle Kyle Nunn and right guard Terrence Campbell.
In addition to Gilmore, the defense will lose tackle Travian Robertson, spur linebacker and leading tackle Antonio Allen, consensus All-American end Melvin Ingram, cornerbacks C.C. Whitlock and Marty Markett (who shared a starting spot) and middle linebacker Rodney Paulk (who shared a starting spot with junior Shaq Wilson).