The numbers aren’t really that eye popping, but when you look closer at South Carolina’s 2017 recruiting class, you will see a meticulous batch of players brought in to fill immediate needs.
More specifically, this a defensive-centric class. It would be easy to make jokes at Gamecocks head coach Will Muschamp’s expense given that these were the exact issues he had at Florida, but as a defensive-minded coach, he understands the needs of that side of the ball.
In 2016, South Carolina’s defense wasn’t awful, but they finished 66th in total defense, 51st in scoring, 39th in passing and 91st in rushing. Shoring up a defense’s deficiencies is his M.O. and he certainly went after it.
Another reason for the disparity between the two is South Carolina’s offense was very young in 2016. They ended up with two freshmen quarterbacks competing for the starting job, two more freshmen and five sophomores all in the starting lineup.
That offense finished way down in the bottom half of every major offensive statistical category in 2016, but gave fans a reason to hope with a shootout performance against South Florida that they eventually lost.
Conventional wisdom says that they should improve in 2017 and this particular class that finished 21st in the 247Sports Composite will almost certainly be asked to compete for starting jobs at several defensive positions.
Jay Urich (***)-Wren (Piedmont, SC)
Quarterback development plagued Muschamp’s tenure at Florida. No matter the offensive coordinator, none of his quarterbacks rose to or beyond their potential when he was in Gainesville.
Luckily, he and offensive coordinator Kurt Roper have been able to suffer the slings and arrows of developing two freshmen at the position in 2016 and should be in good standing heading into the 2017 season.
Obviously, Muschamp is trying to follow in line with two previous bosses, Gus Malzahn and Nick Saban, in finding more mobile quarterbacks. If for no other reason, the fans in Columbia deserve to see some fireworks from their offense.
Urich has terrific size and while a redshirt may be in order for him in 2017, his presence in fall camp will go a long way in deciding how truly good the two quarterbacks on campus right now are.
Eric Douglas (***)-Mallard Creek (Charlotte, NC)
Summie Carlay (***)-Laurens Dist 55 (Laurens, SC)
Dennis Daley (***)-Georgia Military College (Milledgeville, GA)
Jordon Carty (***)-South Broward (Hollywood, FL)
Jordan Rhodes (***)-Creekside (Fairburn, GA)
The 2016 offensive line was certainly a part of the problem and they were probably the most experienced position group on that offense. This is why Muschamp, and really any coach, is going to load up with as many stout athletes as it can.
None of the players in this list achieved “blue-chip” status, but if you look at each of their measurables, the average size is around 6’5”, 280 pounds. With a little love and care in the weight room, these guys can become SEC-ready linemen.
Daley is a JUCO transfer who should already have some working knowledge of college-level schemes and Carlay is one of the five early enrollees for the Gamecocks. It stands to reason that one of these guys should probably be challenging for a spot or two along SC’s line in 2017.
OrTre Smith (****)-Wando (Mt. Pleasant, SC)
Chad Terrell (***)-North Paulding (Dallas, GA)
Two receivers doesn’t seem like a lot, but considering Carolina has their three top options from 2016 coming back this season, one of those being the electric Deebo Samuel, Smith and Terrell’s presence should provide enough depth.
Smith is already on campus and his 6’3”, 215-pound frame is going to be hard to ignore this spring. In the era of wunderkind wideouts, Smith could be the next guy to set the conference ablaze.
Terrell is similar in size to Smith and this is probably Muschamp and Roper’s idea. Young quarterbacks need big targets. The type of receivers that can high point the ball and outmuscle the opposition.
Smith and Terrell fit the bill.
Will Register (***)-Chapin (Chapin, SC)
The tight end position tends to be overlooked when analyzing these classes. They just kind of slip through the cracks. Muschamp’s pal Kirby Smart didn’t even sign one in his heralded class this year.
Muschamp stayed in state and got the prototypically-sized tight end in Register. He’s 6’5”, 250 pounds.
Roper normally uses a two tight end system and Register is the type of pass-catching tight end who can work really well into the Jumbo package plays, whether in goal line or short-yardage situations in general.
There are currently two rising juniors that will be in front of Register when he reports for fall camp, but his size may be too hard to ignore.
MJ Webb (****)-Morgan County (Madison, GA)
Javon Kinlaw (****)-Jones County J.C. (Ellisville, MS)
Brad Johnson (****)-Pendleton (Pendleton, SC)
Aaron Sterling (***)-Tucker (Tucker, GA)
The fifth member of this group, Tyreek Johnson, will be “grayshirting” for the Gamecocks, so he won’t be arriving in Columbia until next January.
The four other members are arguably the most star-studded of SC’s 2017 class.
Out of the 6 four-star players signed, three of them are on the defensive line and one of those is already on campus. His name is MJ Webb and he is a big, bad dude.
Kinlaw is a JUCO transfer out of Mississippi who is 6’6”, 305 pounds. Johnson is a little on the smaller side, but he gives Muschamp that edge speed that he enjoyed as the DC at Texas and the head coach at Florida.
Sterling, a one-time Alabama commit, is another Georgia boy that Muschamp was able to take out of the state.
Overall, the Gamecocks are losing several key players from last year’s class, which is why Muschamp put so much focus on adding to the position. Stopping the run was the weakest part of Carolina’s defense last year and getting a seasoned and large guy like Kinlaw will be pivotal for them going forward.
Sherrod Greene (***)-Rocky Mount (Rocky Mount, NC)
Davonne Bowen (***)-Woodmont (Piedmont, SC)
Damani Staley (***)-Ridge View (Columbia, SC)
Eldridge Thompson (***)-Coffeyville C.C. (Coffeyville, KS)
The first string linebacker group will be bringing two of its four primary members back, but beyond that there is very little experience/depth behind them.
None of the above players enrolled early for spring practice, but getting the JUCO transfer in Thompson in by the summer will be important.
247Sports lists all four as outside linebackers and really none of them look to be over 225 pounds at this point. Greene is the largest out of the four and could be in line to move to middle linebacker depending on the options Muschamp and defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson have in front of them.
This is a sneaky group and given the Gamecocks’ need for more speed on the edge, having so many outside guys was most likely intentional.
Jamyest Williams (****)-Grayson (Loganville, GA)
Keisean Nixon (***)-Arizona Western College (Yuma, AZ)
Kaleb Chalmers (***)-Northwest Mississippi C.C. (Senatobia, MS)
Jaylin Dickerson (***)-Pinecrest (Southern Pines, NC)
Tavyn Jackson (***)-James Rickards (Tallahassee, FL)
Zay Brown (***)-Clarke Central (Athens, GA)
Cornerbacks and safeties as far as the eye can see.
If you were wondering how desperate Muschamp and staff were to get defensive backs on campus, this should give you your answer. In total, South Carolina signed four true corners and two true safeties.
One of those corners happens to be the crown jewel of the entire class in Loganville native Jamyest Williams. Williams announced yesterday on Signing Day and although he was thought to be a Gamecock lean for awhile, it must’ve been nice to see him put the hat on.
Muschamp is most likely to develop this particular group of defenders around Williams. Even the two JuCo transfers in Nixon and Chalmers.
The defense will return most of its defensive backs from 2016, but Muschamp must be sending a message to those guys and the ones directly behind them: We have a bunch of guys who I will make sure challenge you every day.
Shi Smith (****)-Union (Union, SC)
Smith might as well be attached to the other receivers in this class, because he did a heck of a job his senior year at the position.
Most likely, his “athlete” designation comes from his experience as a running quarterback and safety, but he’s a receiver all the way.
He should figure in to the SC offense early in his career as he is a shifty and incredibly fast runner, having clocked a 4.4 40 at one point.
The most intriguing storyline may be whether or not Muschamp decides to try him on punt and kick-off returns. He’s not a very large player at 5’9” and 175 pounds, but Smith’s elusiveness may be too good to pass up under the circumstances.
This is pretty tri-state-area kind of class, but South Carolina has always been that way, even under Steve Spurrier. They keep as many in-state kids as they can and try to get the ones from North Carolina and Georgia that the others can’t.
In his first full recruiting cycle, Muschamp did a very good job with this, but he also used his old Gator connections to pick up some commitments from the Sunshine State.
Here’s the breakdown:
South Carolina: 8
North Carolina: 3
The four players from Mississippi, Kansas and Arizona all came from junior colleges, which was a point of emphasis for the staff.
As good as in-state rival Clemson has been lately, only one of their 2017 signees was from the state of South Carolina. Muschamp knows how important it is to not only keep the players inside the border, but ensure they come to him instead of Dabo Swinney.
The only position group that wasn’t represented in this Gamecock class was running back and that may be because they signed two of them last year.
And even though the two-deep at the position will only be sophomores next year, this is something Muschamp will need to make up for in 2018.
Otherwise, this is a very solid Top 25 class. Muschamp knows he’s not going to be getting the top-shelf players to come to Columbia, but if he can get the ones who fit his demeanor best, the development will follow.
If the offense makes inroads this upcoming season, you should see the coaches move towards getting even more skill position athletes. It’s a big “if”, but this class should be paying dividends for South Carolina in a couple of years.