The 2023 NFL Draft will kick off on April 27th. The South Carolina Gamecocks have produced 15 first-round draft picks throughout their history, including two first overall picks.
Let’s take a look at each first-round pick in Gamecocks’ history.
1979 NFL Draft: S Rick Sanford (25th overall), New England Patriots
Rick Sanford was the first Gamecock in history to be a first-round pick. He went on to have a solid career, spending six seasons in New England. During that span, he made 60 starts and recorded 16 interceptions and nine fumble recoveries.
In 1985, he signed with the Seattle Seahawks. He appeared in five games for the franchise, then retired.
1981 NFL Draft: RB George Rogers (1st overall), New Orleans Saints
George Rogers was a legend at South Carolina. He is the program’s all-time leader in rushing yards (5,091); the next closest player (Harold Green) is over 2,000 yards behind him. In 1980, Rogers won the Heisman Trophy after rushing for 1,784 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Rogers became an immediate star in the NFL. As a rookie, he led the league with 1,674 rushing yards and won Offensive Rookie of the Year. He would play three more seasons with the Saints, averaging 74.1 rushing yards per game. Then, he was traded along with some late-round picks to the Washington Redskins for a first-round pick.
In his first season with Washington, he rushed for 1,093 yards and seven touchdowns. In 1986, he rushed for 1,203 yards and 18 touchdowns (most in the NFL).
He retired in 1987, citing lingering injury issues.
1981 NFL Draft: TE Willie Scott (14th overall), Kansas City Chiefs
Rogers was not the Gamecocks’ only first-round pick in 1981. His teammate Willie Scott was selected by the Chiefs with the 14th overall pick.
Scott played sparingly over his first two NFL seasons. In 1983, he hauled in 29 receptions for 247 yards and a career-high six touchdowns. He played two more seasons for the Chiefs.
In 1986, he joined the Patriots. He spent three seasons with the organization and started two games.
1988 NFL Draft: WR Sterling Sharpe (7th overall), Green Bay Packers
Sterling Sharpe is one of the most notable alumni in South Carolina history. Across his seven NFL seasons, the five-time Pro Bowl selection was one of the best wide receivers in the league.
1993 NFL Draft: OT Ernest Dye (18th overall), Phoenix Cardinals
After making only one start as a rookie, Dye shifted to guard. He started all 16 games for the Cardinals in 1994. However, he struggled with injuries over the next few years.
In 1997, he signed with the St. Louis Rams but saw little action. In 1999, he rejoined the Cardinals, but he had to retire following a car accident.
2000 NFL Draft: LB John Abraham (13th overall), New York Jets
John Abraham was one of the premier sack artists in the NFL. He is 13th in league history in total sacks (133.5). He produced double-digit sack seasons for three different teams (Jets, Atlanta Falcons, and Arizona Cardinals).
At the time of retirement, he accumulated five Pro Bowl selections and three All-Pro nods.
2004 NFL Draft: CB Dunta Robinson (10th overall), Houston Texans
Dunta Robinson was taken with the 10th overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft. He was a standout at the combine; his 4.34-second 40-yard dash was tied for the third-fastest time among all participants.
Robinson had a phenomenal rookie season. He recorded 88 combined tackles, six interceptions (tied for the third-most in the NFL), three sacks, and three forced fumbles. As a result, he was the Defensive Rookie of the Year runner up.
He went to have a 10-year NFL career, playing for the Texans, Atlanta Falcons, and Kansas City Chiefs. His 594 career combined tackles is the fourth-most among South Carolina alumni.
2005 NFL Draft: WR Troy Williamson (7th overall), Minnesota Vikings
However, he did not become a long-term piece for the Vikings. In his first three seasons, he appeared in 39 games, recording 79 receptions for 1,067 yards and three touchdowns on 167 targets.
In 2008, the Vikings traded Williamson to the Jacksonville Jaguars in exchange for a sixth-round pick. In two seasons with the Jaguars, he played a limited role. He recorded eight total receptions for 64 yards and a touchdown.
2006 NFL Draft: CB Johnathan Joseph (24th overall), Cincinnati Bengals
Johnathan Joseph enjoyed a lengthy NFL career. His 192 career starts leads all South Carolina alumni, per Pro Football Reference.
His best seasons came with the Houston Texans. He made back-to-back Pro Bowls (2011, 2012) with the franchise. He was also a second-team All-Pro in 2011.
Joseph remains the Texans’ all-time leader in both interceptions (17) and passes defended (118).
2012 NFL Draft: CB Stephon Gilmore (10th overall), Buffalo Bills
Stephon Gilmore had a successful five-year run with the Bills, capitalized by his first Pro Bowl selection in 2016. Following the season, he signed a five-year deal with the New England Patriots in free agency.
In New England, Gilmore took his game to another level. In 2019, he led the league in both interceptions (six) and passes defended (20); he became the first former Gamecock to win NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
The five-time Pro Bowler has bounced around the league in recent years. In 2021, he was traded to the Carolina Panthers. Following the season, he signed with the Indianapolis Colts. In March, he was traded to the Dallas Cowboys after only one season with the Colts.
2012 NFL Draft: DE Melvin Ingram (18th overall), San Diego Chargers
Gilmore’s college teammate, Melvin Ingram, was drafted shortly after him. At South Carolina, the All-American edge rusher had 10.0 sacks in 2011.
In the NFL, he developed into a double-digit sack artist, as well. In 2015, he had a breakout season with 10.5 sacks. He posted 7.0+ sacks in each of the next four seasons.
Ingram played for the Miami Dolphins in 2022. He recorded six sacks in 17 games. He is currently a free agent.
2014 NFL Draft: DE Jadeveon Clowney (1st overall), Houston Texans
Jadeveon Clowney had a legendary college career. The SEC Defensive Player of the Year had an unbelievable combination of speed and strength.
In five seasons with the Texans, he had 29.0 sacks and 64 tackles for loss. In 2019, he was traded to the Seattle Seahawks.
Clowney spent the last two years with the Cleveland Browns. Last season, he had 28 combined tackles, two sacks, and four tackles for loss in 12 games.
The Browns released him in March, and he is currently a free agent.
2018 NFL Draft: TE Hayden Hurst (25th overall), Baltimore Ravens
Hayden Hurst was South Carolina’s first offensive player to be selected in the first round, since 2005. Notably, he was a member of the Ravens’ 2018 draft class, which included Lamar Jackson, Orlando Brown Jr., and Mark Andrews.
Hurst was productive in Baltimore, but he split snaps with Andrews and Nick Boyle. In 2019, he hauled in 30 out of his 39 targets for 349 yards and two touchdowns.
Last season, he was solid for the Cincinnati Bengals. He posted 52 receptions for 414 yards and two touchdowns.
He signed with the Carolina Panthers in free agency.
2020 NFL Draft: DT Javon Kinlaw (14th overall), San Francisco 49ers
As a rookie, Javon Kinlaw recorded 33 combined tackles, three tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, and one interception. Unfortunately, he has missed extended time in each of the last two seasons. In 2022, he logged only 162 total defensive snaps.
Kinlaw is finally healthy this offseason. He will look to build some momentum in 2023.
2021 NFL Draft: CB Jaycee Horn (8th overall), Carolina Panthers
After missing the majority of his rookie season, Jaycee Horn emerged as an elite cornerback in 2022. In 13 games, he had 53 combined tackles, seven passes defended, and three interceptions. In pass coverage, he was targeted 60 times, but he only allowed an opponent passer rating of 62.4, which was the fourth-best mark among players targeted 50+ times.