Two months ago, Stephen Gilmore was regarded by NFL scouts as a very good cornerback in college with sufficient talent to stick around the NFL for a decade or more.
Then he took a business trip to Indianapolis and everything changed.
Ever since his impressive performance at the NFL Combine, Gilmore's stock has skyrocketed. He turned himself from a player that many people thought would be a second round pick at best into one taken in the upper half of the first round.
Gilmore's hard work paid off Thursday night when the Buffalo Bills selected the former South Carolina cornerback with the No. 10 pick of the first round in the 2012 NFL Draft.
"Stephon Gilmore is one of my favorite players in this draft," NFL Network draft guru Mike Mayock said. "He started 40 straight games in the SEC. No injuries. No issues. This is a kid that's going to step in on day one. Remember the division they're in. In order to win this division, they have to play Tom Brady and the New England Patriots twice a year. They have the wide receivers and the tight end. You can't get enough good cover guys in this division. This is their answer."
Gilmore becomes the highest player from USC to be taken in the draft since WR Troy Williamson was picked No. 7 by Minnesota in 2005, as well as the seventh Gamecock defensive back since 2006.
Gilmore's selection means USC's reputation as "Defensive Backs U" should be strengthened.
Buffalo finished No. 30 in the NFL last season in points allowed. The Bills signed free agent DE Mario Williams a few months ago and have one of the top defensive lines in the NFL.
"Offensively, they can compete," Mayock said. "They need thoroughbreds like this kid (Gilmore) who can step in on day one and compete at the highest level."
NFL Network's Rich Eisen described the Bills taking Gilmore as a "great pick."
He is also the tenth former Gamecock to go in the first round, and the first since Jonathan Joseph in 2006. Ironically, Gilmore and Joseph both grew up in Rock Hill, S.C.
NFL scouts loved Gilmore's speed (ran the 40 in 4.4 seconds at the NFL Combine), willingness to be physical (181 career tackles), instincts (8 career interceptions), durability (started all 40 games in his three-year career) and high character.
USC'S FIRST ROUND DRAFT PICKS
2012 - DB Stephon Gilmore, Buffalo (10)
2006 - DB Johnathan Joseph, Cincinnati (24)
2005 - WR Troy Williamson, Minnesota (7)
2004 - DB Dunta Robinson, Houston (10)
2000 - DL John Abraham, NY Jets (13)
1993 - OL Ernest Dye, Arizona (18)
1988 - WR Sterling Sharpe, Green Bay (7)
1981 - RB George Rogers, New Orleans (1); Willie Scott, Kansas City (14)
1979 - DB Rick Sanford, New England (25).
2012 NFL DRAFT - TOP 10 PICKS IN FIRST ROUND:
1. Indianapolis - QB Andrew Luck (Stanford)
2. Washington - QB Robert Griffin III (Baylor)
3. Cleveland - RB Trent Richardson (Alabama)
4. Minnesota - OT Matt Kalil (Southern Cal)
5. Jacksonville - WR Justin Blackmon (Oklahoma State)
6. Dallas - CB Morris Claiborne (LSU)
7. Tampa Bay - S Mark Barron (Alabama)
8. Miami - QB Ryan Tannehill (Texas A&M)
9. Carolina - LB Luke Kuechly (Boston College)
10. Buffalo - CB Stephon Gilmore (South Carolina)
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