SDS talent evaluators Jon Cooper and Brad Crawford spent several months breaking down last year’s highlights, incoming talent and projected 2014 impact following spring practice to compile a list of the SEC’s Top 100 players heading into fall. Athletes were selected by position then ranked overall counting down to No. 1.
Stick with SDS throughout summer and get in on the action using the hashtag #SDSTop100 as we unveil a new player daily leading up to opening night on Aug. 28.
98. Kaiwan Lewis, Jr., LB, South Carolina
The first of 12 linebackers in the Top 100 is a budding star on South Carolina’s defense, a notch ahead of undersized playmaker and fellow Gamecock Sharrod Golightly. Lewis split time with T.J. Holloman in pursuit of opposing ballcarriers in 2013 after making a switch from kickoff coverage and tallied 54 tackles, a sack and two interceptions. His breakout performance came during South Carolina’s Capital One Bowl win over Wisconsin when the 6-foot, 235-pounder led the defense with nine tackles, a forced fumble and a pick.
The Gamecocks faced several questions at linebacker last spring following leading tackler Shaq Wilson’s exit after a productive five-year career and Lewis took advantage. As one of defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward’s few returning players with SEC experience at the position, Lewis made 10 starts as a sophomore and is No. 1 on the depth chart entering the fall at the Mike position despite seeing limited action this spring following minor knee surgery.
Alongside Skai Moore, Holloman and Golightly, Lewis gives South Carolina a stout core of linebackers needed in the run-geared SEC East against the likes of Georgia’s Todd Gurley and Florida’s combination of Jeff Driskel and Kelvin Taylor. He’s added 14 pounds of muscle this offseason, now at 235, and is focused on continuing his progression as one of the Gamecocks’ best on his side of the football.
2013 statistics: 54 tackles, 4 TFL, 2 INT
2014 projection: 56 tackles, 5 TFL, INT
Photo Credit: Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports