UPDATE: Well, the Houston Texans now have quite the Palmetto State flavor on their roster.
They drafted Clemson wide receiver and Central native DeAndre Hopkins in Thursday’s first round, South Carolina free safety and Greenwood native D.J. Swearinger in Friday’s second round, and LSU defensive end Sam Montgomery (Swearinger’s high school teammate) with their second pick of the third round.
The only non-Palmetto State native among Houston’s four picks so far in this draft is offensive tackle Brennan Williams of North Carolina. He grew up near Boston.
Remember, too, that one of Houston’s starting cornerbacks is USC product and Rock Hill native Johnathan Joseph.
The South Carolina connections with the Texans go all the way to the top. Owner Bob McNair, who grew up in western North Carolina, is a 1958 USC graduate. In 1998, McNair’s $30 million donation to USC established a scholarship program in his name. Texans team president Jamey Rootes was a three-year starter for Clemson’s soccer team and a member of the 1984 and 1987 national championship squads.
The draft concludes Saturday with the fourth through seventh rounds. The Texans pick No. 27 in the fourth round. Might they go after USC running back Marcus Lattimore or Clemson running back Andre Ellington, who grew up in Duncan and Moncks Corner? That would certainly be wild.
Here is a look at the USC and Clemson players hoping to be drafted Saturday, and where they were projected to go by NFLDraftScout.com …
** SOUTH CAROLINA
WR Ace Sanders, Round 4
RB Marcus Lattimore, Round 4-5
OLB DeVonte Holloman, Round 4-5
DE Devin Taylor, Round 6-7
TE Justice Cunningham, Round 7 or free agent
C T.J. Johnson, Round 7 or free agent
RB Andre Ellington, Round 3
DE Malliciah Goodman, Round 5
FS Rashard Hall, Round 7 or free agent
C Dalton Freeman, Round 7 or free agent
WR Jaron Brown, Round 7 or free agent
Now on with the Swearinger portion of this entry …
Free safety D.J. Swearinger and wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins played against each other the past three years in the South Carolina-Clemson rivalry. They crossed paths early in last year’s game, when Swearinger trash talked Hopkins after Swearinger made his first tackle.
“Come on, man, with the soft block,” Swearinger recalled telling Hopkins. “You’ll get your running back killed.”
That they are now teammates with the Houston Texans is not interesting just because they used to play for the Gamecocks and Tigers, though that will make their Thanksgiving week fun.
It is far more compelling because they will learn from two of the NFL’s best players. While Hopkins sits in position meetings with Andre Johnson, Swearinger will shadow free safety Ed Reed, a future Hall of Famer who signed with the Texans in the offseason after 11 seasons with the Baltimore Ravens.
Johnson and Reed were teammates at Miami and played on the 2001 national championship team, one of the most talented groups in college football history. Reed was drafted in 2002, Johnson 2003. While they enjoy their reunion this year in Houston, they will have two rookies at their sides, eager to pick their brains.
Hopkins was picked in Thursday’s first round, 27th overall. Swearinger went 30 picks later, with the second round’s 25th selection Friday. He was USC’s first pick this year.
“I watched Ed Reed before every game,” Swearinger said on a teleconference with Houston reporters. “Him and Sean Taylor both. That’s definitely a guy that I’m looking forward to learning from him and feeding off him. Back in high school I started watching (Reed). Sean Taylor and Ed Reed are some of my idols that I looked up to when I was in high school. I want to just keep it going in the NFL.”
Swearinger was the fifth safety taken, behind Texas’ Kenny Vaccaro (15th to New Orleans), LSU’s Eric Reid (18th to San Francisco), Florida’s Matt Elam (32nd to Baltimore) and Florida International’s Johnathan Cyprien (33rd, first in the second round, to Jacksonville). Last year’s 57th pick, quarterback Brock Osweiler, received a four-year contract from the Broncos worth about $3.1 million, including a $997,584, according to The Denver Post.
Reed is considered perhaps the greatest safety in NFL history, but will turn 35 in September. The Texans’ starting strong safety is Danieal Manning, who turns 31 in August. The Texans list Shiloh Keo, their fifth-round pick in 2011, as their backup free safety. So Swearinger has a chance to be Reed’s understudy next season, on a team that is 12-4 and 10-6 the past two seasons, and is trying to break through after losing in the divisional playoff round both years.
Houston’s starting secondary also includes cornerback Johnathan Joseph, a first-round pick from South Carolina in 2006. The Texans play a dime package, with six defensive backs, about 50-60 percent of the time, which means Swearinger could see significant action next season. The Texans’ third safety last year, Quintin Demps, struggled at times and is no longer on the team, leaving a vacancy that Swearinger will contend to fill.
When Swearinger played for the Gamecocks, he earned a reputation as a hard hitter and intense player. In the 2012 regular season finale at Clemson, he laid a clean hit on running back Andre Ellington, then flexed over him, shouted a curse word at him and was flagged for a personal foul. Earlier last season, Swearinger was suspended one game for a helmet-to-helmet hit – a play that college and NFL officials now monitor much more closely.
“He just knocks guys out,” said analyst Todd McShay, on ESPN’s draft broadcast. “He’s going to have to be careful at the next level with the way he hits.”
Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips enjoys Swearinger’s physicality.
“It’s pretty easy to watch him for coaches,” Phillips said on a teleconference. “It’s pretty easy to watch a guy who strikes like he does and moves like he does and is athletic as he is, but as physical as he is, too. That always adds to your team.”
Phillips said Swearinger could fill the role that Glover Quin occupied last season in the situational packages the Texans frequently use. Quin, who signed with the Detroit Lions in the offseason, covered tight ends in these situations, while also having run-stopping duties.
“(Swearinger) fits well in there,” Phillips said. “We played that at least 50 percent of the time, so it’s almost like adding a starter.”
Here are some other things Swearinger had to say on his teleconference …
“At the combine I had a great visit and great meeting with (the Texans). Their DB coach (Vance Joseph) is great. I got a phone call last week that said they were very interested in me and I said that I would love to go and play with my idol and that it’d be great.
“Last week they called me to confirm my numbers and their coach, coach (Gary) Kubiak, he talked to me. He gave me a lot of hope when he was talking to me, so I was looking forward to it.
“I take a whole lot of pride in being physical. Since I was little, it’s been a strong part of my game to be a physical force in the middle and to control the middle. I think I’ve done a great job of that, and I’m just ready to take my game to a whole other level and get to the biggest level of football. You have to be a physical force, and I think I would be a great force in the middle and I think our defense will put a lot of fear in the offense’s part.”
Swearinger said he has never met Reed or Joseph, but looks forward to learning a few things from the starting safeties, Reed and Manning.
“The ability to read the quarterbacks, and (Reed) has had a lot of career picks and I’m looking forward to learning and looking to what he sees from the quarterbacks.
“DeAndre (Hopkins) was an outside receiver so I didn’t really line up against him at all except for once my sophomore year. He got me on a double-move and I still remember that.”
And here is more from Wade Phillips, who is entering his third season coordinating the Houston defense …
“D.J. Swearinger is very athletic in the mold of safeties that we like. He can play the strong safety or free safety. He can cover a slot guy if you need him to. He’s very versatile that way. He’s smart, tough, aggressive, all the things you’re looking for.
“He’s a big hitter. Like I say, he’s a tough, physical player but he has good range. He can play free safety. He’s got great range overlapping or he can play strong safety and get in the box.
“We’ve got veteran players (at safety) that are outstanding players. Hopefully some of that rubs off all the time. The little things as far as learning to be a pro and those kinds of things, those guys can really help them with and getting them settled in the first year. Some of the things that younger guys need to go through, those guys can give them the experience they need by talking to them about it.”
Phillips said you maybe can expect to see Swearinger and Reed on the field together.
“(Swearinger) still has to work in and show us that he can do the things we think he can do, but he fits that mold that he can play either safety (strong safety or free safety). Not everyone is healthy all the time. He can play in our sub-package, which he would be your starter almost. He can vie for that. I think he’ll compete real well.”