As a Gamecock fan, I was bummed that none of South Carolina's players were drafted by the Panthers in the 2013 NFL Draft. I was hopeful that DJ Swearinger would somehow find his way to Carolina, but when the Texans drafted him in the second round my dreams of seeing a member of the Gamecocks' 2013 draft class make his NFL debut in Charlotte appeared to be over because I didn't see the Panthers drafting Ace Sanders, Devin Taylor, DeVonte Holloman, or Byron Jerideau since they had bigger needs at other positions.
Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised when I saw that the Panthers had signed LB Damario Jeffery as a UDFA. I'm well aware of the fact that Jeffery has an uphill battle if he wants to secure a spot on Carolina's' roster since the Panthers are stacked with depth at the linebacker position, but that doesn't deter me from hoping he can work his way onto the final 53 with great special teams play.
Since I've always made it well known that I bleed garnet and black, I figured it would be a good idea to get a second opinion on Jeffery so you won't have to just take my word for it. So, I reached out to Gamecock Man, co-manager of Garnet and Black Attack - SB Nation's official South Carolina Gamecocks blog - to see if he would be willing give his thoughts on Jeffery's career at South Carolina, and luckily for us he was more than happy to oblige.
His thoughts are in the blockquote below:
Damario Jeffery had an interesting career at South Carolina. He was one of our most heralded recruits in the 2009 class, a deep group that gets a large portion of the credit for paving the way to South Carolina's emergence as a contender in the SEC. Rivals ranked Jeffery the 87th best recruit in the country in that class, only three behind Stephon Gilmore at 84 and ahead of Alshon Jeffery at 99.
Needless to say, Damario didn't have the kind of career those two enjoyed. He was highly rated out of high school largely for his athletic potential, and he certainly grew into a guy who looks like a prototypical linebacker. His production didn't match up to his perceived potential, though. He was a solid contributor throughout his career, going in and out of the starting lineup and having the occasional big game.
By the end of his career, he seemed stronger in run support than pass defense. A good example was the 2011 Arkansas game, when he did a great job in run support but was picked on by the Arkansas tight ends. He was starting in place of an injured Antonio Allen in that game, and he was a liability against the Arkansas passing attack, to be honest.
I don't know why he didn't have the kind of career that Gilmore and Alshon Jeffery had, but as Gamecock Man said - it's not like Damario was a complete bust. In case you're curious (and you know you are) you can check out Jeffery's career stats from four seasons at South Carolina in the table below:
While he didn't set the world ablaze with his statistics, Jeffery did well enough to earn consistent playing time at both linebacker and on special teams for the Gamecocks, so even though he didn't live up to the expectations that many had for him coming out of high school, he was able to contribute on a good football team for four straight years.
Because it's pertinent to our interests here at CSR, I also asked Gamecock Man what he thought of Jeffery's chances to make the Panthers' roster, and he came through with some thorough analysis:
For the Panthers, I would imagine he'll need to prove that he can contribute on special teams to make the roster. He is a veteran in kickoff coverage, so he could indeed make a difference for you there. I can't see him making the depth chart at linebacker given your current group, although he might come in handy for depth if you suffer some injuries, particularly considering that you have some guys with spotty injury histories.
Like I said in the beginning of this article, I'm well aware that Jeffery won't make the roster as a linebacker alone. The Panthers are just too deep at the position for a UDFA to make it over some of the other guys on the depth chart. He's going to have to work hard and make an impact on special teams if he wants to suit up in the black and blue this fall, but just because he's a UDFA doesn't mean you should count him out just yet.
If nothing else, Jeffery could land a spot on Carolina's practice squad due to their recent struggles in keeping healthy linebackers on the roster. He would be a good "break glass in case of fire" type player, so I wouldn't be shocked to see him stashed on the practice squad to start the 2013 season.
Author's Note: Jeffery's Pro Day mesaurables were taken from NFL Draft Scout, and his statistics are courtesy of Gamecocks Online.