Editor’s note: Over the final couple of weeks before preseason camp, SEC Country will take a position-by-position look at South Carolina’s 2016 roster. Up next in the position preview series are the wide receivers.
While much of the spotlight will be on the quarterbacks for South Carolina heading into preseason camp, there figures to be an equal focus on wide receivers.
Gone is the reliable and dynamic Pharoh Cooper, who left early for the NFL and will suit up with the Los Angeles Rams. Now, it’s a new crew with little experience and a whole lot to prove because the aerial attack for the Gamecocks is in flux heading into a fall camp that will be important for each player.
The most important player to kick things off is Deebo Samuel, who showed flashes as a redshirt freshman a season ago and should step up as a sophomore, especially if healthy. Behind him, well, that’s the question mark at which we will take a closer look.
Returning from 2015
Samuel is the most exciting returning receiver, along with being the lone returner who possesses any substantial experience. He had 12 catches for 161 yards and a touchdown as a freshman. He missed seven games with a hamstring injury, but looks primed for a big sophomore season as he looks to step into Cooper’s shoes.
The tall sophomore caught five passes for 74 yards last year as a redshirt freshman, making him the second-most experienced receiver coming back.
Smith has yet to record a reception in his career at South Carolina. He has spent time going back and forth between catching passes, trying to break them up on defense and playing running back. He’s on offense heading into the fall and will have a chance to make an impact in his fourth year on campus at wide receiver.
Charleston redshirted in 2015. A native of Illinois, he was an under-the-radar prospect that the Gamecocks nabbed in the Class of 2015.
The new guys
The 6-foot-3, 208-pound Edwards got on campus this spring as an early enrollee, giving the coaches the chance to get a solid look at one of the top in-state recruits from last year. The Conway, S.C., native looks primed to be part of the passing game. He was listed as one of the starters at wide receiver, along with Samuel and Smith, on the post-spring practice depth chart. A Mr. Football finalist, Edwards had finished 53 catches for 969 yards and nine touchdowns as a senior. He was rated the No. 45 wideout in the 2016 class.
The Gamecocks pulled Pollard out of Georgia in its 2016 recruiting class, adding him to the fold as a versatile receiver that can do a variety of things on the field (he doubled as a running back in high school at points). He recorded 1,163 receiving yards and 18 scores as a senior at Colquitt County. He was rated the No. 68 wide receiver in 2016.
The product of Mays high school in Atlanta, Davis is another big playmaker coming in to help pad a thin position for the Gamecocks. He had 58 grabs for 1,024 yards and 17 touchdowns in his final high school season and ranked as the No. 68 player at the position in the nation.
A signing day addition, Banks was once a North Carolina commit. There has been buzz that he could make an early splash in Columbia. He posted 61 catches for 813 yards and six touchdowns as a senior. Banks was the No. 121 wideout in the nation in 2016.
The fifth and final receiver in the 2016 class, Dawkins is another in-state prospect, hailing from Duncan (S.C.) Byrnes. He has 73 receptions for 1,319 yards and 17 touchdowns as a senior. The 247Sports Composite rankings pegged Dawkins as the No. 139 receiver in the country in the 2016 class.
Preseason depth chart
Samuel and Smith enter the fall as starters, joined by Edwards, who was on top of the depth chart from the moment he set foot on campus in January.
Those are the expected main contributors, with Googer backing up Samuel and Charleston behind Edwards. All signs point to Samuel being the feature piece and top target for Perry Orth and/or Brandon McIlwain and he sounds ready for the challenge.
He can’t do it alone, so how Edwards develops – and potentially someone like Banks or another freshman – would go a long way in setting up the offense for more success. But this much is clear: The door is open for any player that can prove to be a dynamic playmaker in an offense that has plenty of question marks.
All ratings and rankings are from the 247Sports composite unless otherwise noted