Forty-nine catches. 775 yards. Eight touchdowns.
That’s former South Carolina Gamecocks wideout Bruce Ellington’s stat line from the 2013 season.Of course, we know Ellington’s story: he declared for the NFL Draft after his junior season and was drafted in the fourth round by the San Francisco 49ers.
So who will replace Ellington as the top receiving threat in 2014? Let’s have a look at how things look in 2014 with who should stand as the five key contributors.
Shaq Roland: 25 catches, 455 yards, 5 TDs in 2013
This staff has been high on Roland from basically day one, and now’s his time to step into the spotlight. The reason his numbers look so low is because he played in ten games and only started six, his most productive game coming on a six-catch, 112-yard showing in the Capital One Bowl in January. With Ellington gone, we have the opportunity to see Roland showcase his skills that much more, but the question is if he’ll be able to carry on the momentum from 2013 and handle that added responsibility.
Damiere Byrd: 33 catches, 575 yards, 4 TDs
Byrd’s biggest issue going into 2014 is the status of his knee and if he’s able to come out of the gates strong, which is why he’s listed on the second team right now; he sat out part of the spring session to get himself back to as close to 100% as possible. It’s a sure bet he’ll be on the field on August 28 in some form or fashion. Of course (and you probably saw this video in our Dylan Thompson article a few days back) we all know what Damiere is capable of when healthy.
Pharoh Cooper: 3 catches, 54 yards, 1 TD; 399 KR yards
I included Cooper in this list because even though he wasn’t utilized in the passing game all that much last season, he more than proved himself as a key part of the Gamecocks’ special teams. This year, with the absence of Ellington, his involvement as a pure receiver should grow that much more. Cooper’s obviously not the best player on the team, but there’s little argument of his pure versatility and his ability to get it done whether it’s in the backfield, as a receiver, or on special teams.
Mike Davis: 34 catches, 352 yards, no TDs
The staff hasn’t been afraid to utilize Davis in the receiving game, and the fact that he had one more catch than Byrd, a natural WR, proves that point. I’d expect more of the same going into this season to some extent, mainly because it’s been proven to work so well in the past. Why not have the team’s top offensive threat come out of the backfield and show his receiving skills as well?
Nick Jones: 27 catches, 281 yards, 5 TDs
If the top three go down (which at this point looks to be Roland, Byrd, and Cooper), the Gamecocks have themselves a nice little insurance in the form of the fifth-year senior. He’s appeared in all but one game in the past two seasons and while he may not exactly be on the same level as the previously mentioned trio, it’s nice to know that he can step in when called upon.