South Carolina football: draft accolades for former Gamecocks

4 South Carolina football players were drafted this weekend.

The NFL Draft kicked off last Thursday night, where we heard the first of four Gamecocks called to the stage as they look to begin a career at the professional level. Within the first eight picks, cornerback Jaycee Horn was taken off the board, and he’ll make the short trip up the road to Charlotte to play for the Carolina Panthers. Horn became the seventh player in program history to be taken in the top 10, and the 16th first round selection.

The next pick wouldn’t come until the end of Day Two, when linebacker and leading tackler Ernest Jones was chosen 103rd overall by the Los Angeles Rams. Israel Mukuamu and Shi Smith would go on Day Three to wrap up the event.

So how do these players fit in with their new teams? Let’s look through some post-draft accolades for these four picks, and project their impacts for the future.

Immediate starter

Jaycee Horn was taken by the Panthers with the eighth overall pick, and he will immediately enter the starting rotation in the Carolina secondary. The Panthers were lacking of a legitimate lockdown corner, but they’ll get that in Horn.

The defender had the lowest completion rate for cornerbacks in the SEC last season, and earned National Player of the Week honors after a two-pick performance versus Auburn. Horn was a starter the day he stepped foot in Columbia. That shouldn’t change when he gets to Charlotte.

Steal of the draft

Shi Smith was taken in the sixth round of the draft, after many projections saw him going a couple of rounds earlier. The slot receiver will join Horn in Charlotte, and could factor into the wideout rotation with DJ Moore, Robby Anderson, and David Moore.

Draft analyst Todd McShay believes that he’ll excel at the next level, and that the Panthers might’ve landed the steal of the draft.

“He didn’t have great quarterback help (at South Carolina). That was part of the problem. When he came down to the senior bowl, certain guys just jump out. He was one of the most sudden, twitchy athletes I saw the entire week. That 4.43 speed and quickness in short area tells you he can be a better player in the NFL than he was at South Carolina.”

Smith left the South Carolina program with the fourth-most catches in school history. Look for him to have a productive career in the NFL, too.

Draft day surprise

Ernest Jones was the lone player picked on Day Two, going in the third round to the Rams. While his being drafted wasn’t a surprise, he was picked about two rounds ahead of where many mock drafts predicted.

Jones was extremely productive at South Carolina, leading the team in tackles two of his three seasons in Columbia. That productivity led the Rams to take a chance on the linebacker early in the draft. The Rams do utilize a 3-4 scheme, so the need for inside backers is there. Jones could find himself in the defensive rotation, particularly in run situations, sooner rather than later.

Wildcard

Israel Mukuamu was picked in the sixth round by Dallas, a team in desperate need of secondary help. While Mukuamu provides length and athleticism on the back end, where he’ll play is still a bit up in the air. A corner for his entire career at South Carolina, he has a body type that may be better suited at safety.

Mukuamu is a ball hawk that picked off seven passes in three seasons with the Gamecocks. It will be interesting to see how the Cowboys decide to use the 6-foot-5 defender.

Best fit

Shi Smith may not get the starting nod over DJ Moore and Robby Anderson, but he should be a factor at the slot with David Moore. The Panthers are young at wideout, and they just added their quarterback of the future in Sam Darnold, which should only help Smith’s stock in Charlotte.

Smith also won’t have the same pressure as teammate Jaycee Horn to have an immediate impact, meaning he should be able to focus on working his way up the depth chart. He possesses great route running abilities and sure hands. Don’t be surprised to see him receiving ample opportunities this Fall.