COLUMBIA — The most widely discussed player in South Carolina’s 2013 NFL draft class, running back Marcus Lattimore, is not expected to be ready to run in drills this morning at the Gamecocks’ pro day, though he will attend.
While Lattimore will get most of the attention from fans who show up at Williams-Brice Stadium, there are several other former Gamecocks with plenty on the line as NFL scouts observe them.
Obviously, what the players accomplished in games at Williams-Brice and elsewhere during their college careers will carry lots of weight as teams finalize their plans for the draft April 25-27. But a few tenths of a second here or there shaved off a 40-yard dash or three-cone drill time could make the difference between being a mid-round pick and a late-round selection.
Eighteen former USC players are scheduled to take part in pro day, including Lattimore, whose participation will be significantly limited because he is still recovering from a multi-ligament right knee injury suffered last October.
The most prominent players are the seven who attended last month’s NFL combine: tight end Justice Cunningham, linebacker DeVonte Holloman, center T.J. Johnson, wide receiver Ace Sanders, free safety D.J. Swearinger, defensive end Devin Taylor and Lattimore.
Most draft analysts believe that if Lattimore were 100 percent, he might be the first running back taken in this draft. Now, a lot of where he goes will depend on what NFL medical staffs learned while examining him at the combine, and what they think of his progress when they poke and prod him again shortly before the draft.
NFLDraftScout.com projects Lattimore to get picked in the fourth or fifth rounds and rates him the No. 11 running back in the draft. Swearinger is projected for the third or fourth rounds and is No. 6 at his position. Holloman, No. 11 among outside linebackers, is predicted to go in the third round. Taylor, ranked 12th at his position, is expected to be picked in the third or fourth.
Sanders was the only USC player besides Lattimore to turn pro early. Though his punt returning skills add to his value, he is currently projected by NFLDraftScout.com as a fifth or sixth rounder and is ranked No. 23 at his position.
Cunningham and Johnson round out USC’s draft class. Cunningham is not projected to be selected by NFLDraft Scout.com, which rates him 17th among tight ends. Johnson is ranked ninth among centers and is projected as a seventh rounder or a free agent signee.
At the combine, Lattimore only went through medical exams and interviews with teams. They were both valuable to him, because he could back up the assertions of his renowned surgeon, Dr. James Andrews, that he is ahead of schedule in his recovery, and also could demonstrate to teams, during the interviews, the mature demeanor that made him a leader at USC. Among the four USC players expected to get picked in the middle rounds — Sanders, Taylor, Swearinger and Holloman — Sanders has perhaps the most to improve at pro day.
He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.58 seconds at the combine. That did not rank among the top 15 receivers. The 15th-fastest time was 4.5. But his three-cone drill time of 6.81 seconds ranked eighth, which demonstrated his shiftiness. Though his 20-yard shuttle time of 4.37 seconds didn’t place among the top 15 receivers, his 60-yard shuttle time of 11.29 was fourth.
Taylor, who is 6-7 and has a promising albeit lean, 266-pound physique, tested well at the combine — as expected. Among defensive linemen, he ranked second in the broad jump, three-cone drill and 20-yard shuttle; fifth in the vertical jump; and eighth in the 40-yard dash. Yet he lacked impressive on-field production last season, according to ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.
Swearinger’s strengths are his aggressive and hard hitting, but he finished third in the three-cone drill at the combine among safeties, showing off his ability to change directions.
Holloman started at strong safety for part of his college career, but is now 243 pounds and suited for linebacker. He ranked 11th in the three-cone drill among linebackers and fifth in the 20-yard shuttle, which is a good sign for him because speed is not his best asset.