Prior to the 2011 University of South Carolina football season, FITS correspondent Jordan Dominick published an article entitled “Is Connor Shaw Ready?”

His story assessed the then-redshirt sophomore’s ability to take over for starting quarterback Stephen Garcia – who at the time was in the middle of a sustained career implosion that would eventually see him booted from the Gamecock football team.

In his story, Dominick quoted Shaw’s father – Georgia high school coach Lee Shaw – as having zero doubt about his son’s ability to take over the starting job at South Carolina.

“Connor has great instincts and with his dual threat capabilities, I believe he is ready for the demands of SEC football and most importantly the demands of leading his team to a very successful season,” Shaw said. “Connor has worked very hard this off-season to prepare himself as the starter at South Carolina.”

Boy did father ever know best …

Shaw’s career as a Gamecock dramatically exceeded expectations. In two-and-a-half seasons at the helm of head coach Steve Spurrier’s offense, he posted a 27-5 record as a starter – including a perfect record at home (17-0), in bowl games (3-0) and against arch-rival Clemson (2-0). Shaw threw for 6,074 yards and 56 touchdowns at USC – completing 65.5 percent of his passes and throwing only 16 interceptions (including only one pick in 2013). He also ran for 1,683 yards and another 17 touchdowns.

Shaw also provided a level of mental toughness, calm leadership and peak performance in the clutch that helped the Gamecocks rise over their historical mediocrity – posting three consecutive 11-win seasons (the school had won 10 games just once previously) and three consecutive Top Ten finishes.

He was, in a word, “Shawsome.”

Heading into the 2014 NFL draft, though, Shaw is facing some of the same doubters he faced three years ago … in fact NFL expert Mel Kiper, Jr. has referred to Shaw as a “career backup” in the pros, predicting his name will be called somewhere between the fifth and seventh round (if he’s drafted at all).

Wow …

Could Shaw – a 6-foot-1, 210-pound native of Flowery Branch, Georgia – really go un-drafted?

Yes – which is surprising.

Shaw’s height and weight are roughly identical to former Texas A&M standout Johnny Manziel and Louisville superstar Teddy Bridgewater – both of whom are projected to be chosen in the first round of the draft. Believe it or not, Shaw is faster than both players – posting a 4.62 time in the forty-yard dash (compared to Manziel’s 4.63 and Bridgewater’s 4.78). He also has a higher vertical jump and longer broad jump than both Manziel and Bridgewater. Pro scouts fret over his arm strength, however, leading to this rather dismissive “bottom line” on … 

Lacks prototype measurements and arm talent and played in a high-percentage, dink-and-dunk passing game that has not translated well to the pros, yet possesses the intangibles, toughness, football intelligence and escapability to warrant developing. Is the type of player you root for and has make-it qualities that could eventually surprise. Potentially adds situational value.

“Situational value?” Yeah … write those words down. Right next to “career backup.”

Because our guess is Connor Shaw has already written them down … and is already using them as motivation.

Connor Shaw is indeed “the type of player you root for.” But we think he’s much more than that: We think he’s a Tom Brady-style sleeper in a draft full of overrated signal-callers. And if he does slip all the way down to the seventh round (or the un-drafted free agent pool), expect him to prove his doubters wrong once again … and make one franchise’s fans very happy.

Pic: Travis Bell Photography