South Carolina Football: Ranking the top-20 NFL Gamecocks of all-time

Former South Carolina football cornerback Stephon Gilmore intercepts a pass in Super Bowl LIII. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Former South Carolina football cornerback Stephon Gilmore intercepts a pass in Super Bowl LIII. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports /
1 of 21

The South Carolina football program has had a knack for putting players in the NFL at a higher rate than the on-field winning (or losing) in college would indicate. However, a smaller group of NFL Gamecocks really stand out above the others as the best South Carolina football alums to play in the League.

Honorable Mention

AJ Cann: An elite run blocker in college and in the League, AJ Cann (2010-2014) was a starting guard in the NFL for a decade. Spending most of his career with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Cann led the way up front for a team that was one play away from the Super Bowl when former Gamecock teammate Stephon Gilmore knocked away a Blake Bortles pass to seal the game. He is currently a free agent but is expecting to sign somewhere this offseason.

Andrew Provence: Andrew Provence (1980-1982) was the best defensive tackle to ever don a block C on his helmet. After dominating the Georgia Bulldogs in college, he was selected by the Atlanta Falcons in the 3rd round of the 1983 NFL Draft. Provence made the NFL’s All-Rookie team that season and hung around in the league for seven seasons before injuries forced his retirement.

Sidney Rice: One of the best receivers to ever play for South Carolina football, Sidney Rice (2004-2006) had a couple of really good seasons in an injury-shortened pro career. On the verge of being labeled a “bust” due to injuries and being unable to crack the starting lineup, Rice won a starting job heading into his third season. In his first year as a starter for the Minnesota Vikings, Rice became Brett Favre’s top target and reeled in 83 balls for over 1300 yards.

The Pro Bowl came calling for Rice after his 2009 season, but injuries sent the talented receiver back to the bench. Rice’s career remains a big “what if” as, due to his health, he was only able to accumulate 2000 more yards over the other six years of his career.

Steve Courson: Steve Courson (1973-1976) was a good offensive lineman at the University of South Carolina but was a significantly better pro blocker. He started on multiple Super Bowl championship-winning Pittsburgh Steelers teams that were known for their toughness on both sides of the ball.

Courson later admitted that he started using steroids toward the end of his Gamecock career and continued using the performance-enhancing drugs throughout his time in the NFL, tainting a good career.

Kalimba Edwards: A two-time All-American at Carolina, Kalimba Edwards (1998-2001) continued his strong work as an EDGE player in the NFL. A part-time player for most of his career, Edwards was a pass-rush specialist who logged over 30 sacks and 31 more tackles for loss in his 7-year career with the Detroit Lions and Oakland Raiders. Edwards’ career ended after NFL owners, in a fairly public manner, colluded against him for holding out for more money heading into the 2010 season.

Max Runager: Max Runager (1974-1978) was a good punter for the Gamecocks of the mid-1970s, but he put it all together as a pro. Runager spent eleven years in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles, San Fransisco 49ers, and Cleveland Browns, including winning two Super Bowls with the 49ers in the ’80s.

Darian Stewart: An underrated player both in college and in the NFL, Darian Stewart (2006-2009) went undrafted in the 2010 NFL Draft but became a Pro Bowler several years later. He spent his 10-year career with the St. Louis Rams, Baltimore Ravens, Denver Broncos, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers and won a Super Bowl with the Broncos.

Corey Miller: Corey Miller (1987-1990) was primarily an EDGE player at South Carolina, racking up double-digit sacks for his career. As a pro, though, he split his time between EDGE and a more traditional linebacker spot. He played for nine seasons with the New York Giants and Minnesota Vikings.

DJ Swearinger: A leader of the Gamecock secondary in college, DJ Swearinger (2009-2012) went on to be a leader of multiple NFL defensive back groups. Swearinger played for nine years in the league but could have played longer. He was (allegedly) blackballed from the NFL after being very outspoken against multiple NFL owners’ business and football dealings.

Jamar Nesbit: Jamar Nesbit (1995-1998) was one of the best offensive linemen to ever play for the Gamecocks. He wasn’t selected in the 1999 NFL Draft but was signed as an undrafted free agent and played for 11 years all over the offensive lines of the Carolina Panthers, Jacksonville Jaguars, and New Orleans Saints. He won a Super Bowl with the Saints.

Captain Munnerlyn: A cornerback who truly played bigger than his size, the 5’8″ Captain Munnerlyn (2006-2008) played 11 seasons in the NFL, ten of them with the Carolina Panthers and Minnesota Vikings. Munnerlyn was best equipped as a slot corner but was often forced into duty on the outside because he was the best option available. He also won the Korey Stringer Good Guy Award during his career.

Ernest Dye: Ernest Dye (1991-1992) was one of the most athletic offensive linemen in Gamecock history. He played both tackle and guard in college, and that versatility served him well in the NFL as he started games inside and outside for the Phoenix Cardinals and St. Louis Rams before a serious car accident ended his career.

Hayden Hurst: One of the best tight ends to ever be a Gamecock, Hayden Hurst (2015-2017) was put in a bad situation in Baltimore behind one of the league’s top tight ends Mark Andrews. After leaving Baltimore, Hurst’s star began to shine a bit more brightly.

With more opportunities his next three seasons with the Atlanta Falcons and Cincinnati Bengals, Hurst tallied over 1200 yards and 11 touchdowns and signed a big free agent contract with the Carolina Panthers this offseason.

Damiere Byrd: One of the fastest Gamecocks of all-time, Damiere Byrd (2011-2014) was never a dominant player in college, but he was extremely valuable because of the threat of his speed. That threat transitioned well to the NFL where Byrd is beginning his 10th season this fall. That speed has resulted in some big plays, as well, including 6 touchdowns longer than 40 yards.

Brandon Shell: Brandon Shell (2011-2015) started games at both right tackle and left tackle in college, a trend that continued in the NFL. The nephew of Hall of Famer Art Shell, Brandon Shell has started over 60 games in his career. Now heading into his 8th NFL season, Shell will be competing for a starting tackle spot on one of the best teams in football, the Buffalo Bills.

Harold Green: One of the best running backs to ever play for the Gamecocks, Harold Green (1986-1989) also had some success at the NFL level. His best season came in his third year in the League. In the 1992 season, he made the Pro Bowl after posting almost 1400 yards from scrimmage.