NEW YORK — South Carolina had six players selected on the final day of the NFL Draft on Saturday, bringing the Gamecocks’ total to seven players taken during the three-day event. It matches the 2009 Gamecock draft class with the most players the program has had taken in the draft since nine were chosen in 1954.
The first Gamecock to come off the board on Saturday was wide receiver Ace Sanders, who was drafted with the fourth pick (101st overall) in the fourth round by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Later in the round, junior running back Marcus Lattimore and senior defensive end Devin Taylor heard their name called in back-to-back picks. Lattimore was taken by the San Francisco 49ers with the 131st pick, and Taylor was drafted by the Detroit Lions with the 132nd pick.
Senior Spur DeVonte Holloman was selected in the sixth round by the Dallas Cowboys with the 185th pick. In the seventh round, senior center T.J. Johnson was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals with the 251st pick. Rounding out the draft for the Gamecocks, senior tight end Justice Cunningham was deemed “Mr. Irrelevant” as he was taken with the final pick (254th) of the draft by the Indianapolis Colts.
Sanders, a 5-8, 175-pound junior from Bradenton, Fla., was a game changer for the Gamecocks at wide receiver and punt returner. In 2012 he set the school record for punt return yards in a season with 429 on his way to being named the Co-SEC Special Teams Player of the Year by the league's coaches, becoming the first Gamecock to earn that honor. He had the unusual distinction of making both the All-SEC first team (return specialist) and second team (all-purpose) as selected by the league’s coaches. He was also a second-team All-SEC choice by the Associated Press as an all-purpose performer and was named a second-team All-American by Phil Steele and a third-team All-American by CBSSports.com as a punt returner. He led the SEC and was fourth in the nation with an average punt return of 15.3 yards. He had eight returns of 27 yards or more, including a 70-yarder for a score against Georgia, a 50-yarder at LSU and a 63-yard touchdown against Michigan in the Outback Bowl. Sanders started all 13 games this season at wide receiver, leading the team in receptions (45) and receiving touchdowns (9) and ranking second on the squad in receiving yards (531). He played in all 40 games over the past three seasons and made 21 starts, logging 99 career receptions for 1,230 yards with 13 touchdowns.
A 6-0, 218-pounder from Duncan, S.C., Lattimore is one of the best running backs to ever wear Garnet and Black. In just three seasons with the Gamecocks, he left his mark in the South Carolina record books, finishing his career ranked first in both rushing (38) and total touchdowns (41), tied for second in career 100-yard rushing games (11), third in points scored (246), fourth in rushing attempts (555) and sixth in rushing yards (2,677). An honorable mention All-SEC selection by the Associated Press, he was the Gamecocks’ leading rusher with 662 yards and 11 touchdowns despite playing in just nine games this season. His season was cut short for the second year in a row after suffering a severe right knee injury in the win over Tennessee. As a freshman Lattimore was named a first team All-American by CollegeFootballNews.com, second team by Walter Camp and fourth team by Phil Steele and was a unanimous choice for National Freshman of the Year. He was also a unanimous selection for SEC Freshman of the Year and first-team All-SEC by both the league’s coaches and the Associated Press. In 2011 he was a Heisman Trophy candidate before suffering a knee injury that ended his season. Despite playing in just seven games, he still earned second-team All-SEC honors by the Associated Press, the league’s coaches, Rivals.com and Phil Steele. He was also named the Dr. Harris Pastides Scholar-Athlete for football in the spring of 2012.
Taylor, a 6-8, 267-pounder from Beaufort, S.C., started all 13 games for the Gamecocks this season and logged 40 tackles with 8.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. He was also credited with five pass breakups and three hurries. He garnered a spot on Phil Steele’s third-team All-SEC unit and participated in the East-West Shrine Game following the season. Taylor played in 52 games over the past four seasons, making 45 starts. He recorded 161 tackles, 35.5 tackles for loss, 18.5 sacks and 22 quarterback hurries. He ranks among the Gamecocks’ career top-10 in both sacks (sixth) and tackles for loss (tied for second). As a freshman he earned third-team Freshman All-America honors by CollegeFootballNews.com and was a Freshman All-SEC performer according to the league’s coaches. In 2010 he earned first-team All-SEC honors by the Associated Press, Phil Steele and Rivals.com and was named second-team All-SEC by the coaches. He was an honorable mention All-SEC selection by the Associated Press in 2011.
Holloman, a 6-2, 241-pounder from Charlotte, N.C., moved to the Spur position after playing strong safety for most of his career and was one of the leaders on defense in 2012, starting all 13 games. He tallied 57 tackles on the year, which ranked fourth on the team, and tied for the team lead with three interceptions, including his third career interception against rival Clemson. Holloman, who also collected eight tackles for a loss, two sacks and forced two fumbles, was selected to play in the East-West Shrine Game following the season. He played in 51 games during his career, including 35 starts, and recorded 207 tackles and seven interceptions.
Johnson, a 6-6, 319-pounder from Aynor, S.C., served as a team captain this season and was the leader of the Gamecock offensive line. He started a school-record 53 games over the past four seasons and is the only Gamecock in history to start in four wins over in-state rival Clemson. Johnson earned second team All-SEC honors by the league’s coaches and Phil Steele and was on the preseason Rimington Award watch list for the second-straight season. He was also named to Phil Steele’s Midseason All-America and All-SEC squads and was a member of the SEC Fall Academic Honor Roll. Following the season, he was selected to play in the East-West Shrine Game.
Cunningham, a 6-4, 264-pounder from Pageland, S.C., served as a team captain and played an important role in the offense both as an excellent blocker and a reliable target in the passing game. He played in all 13 games, including 11 starts, and wrapped up the year with career bests in receptions (23), receiving yards (324) and yards per catch (14.1). In the Gamecocks’ win over Tennessee, Cunningham hauled in a career-high six passes for a career-high 108 yards. He made 23 starts and played in all 53 games over the past four seasons and finished his career with 50 receptions for 581 yards and a touchdown.