NFL fans across the country fell in love with guys like Joshua Cribbs and Devin Hester. While neither player were known as capable receivers, they changed the game with big plays on special teams. This year I believe the next man in line is South Carolina Gamecocks WR Ace Sanders. Sanders finished 6th in the nation in return yards and dazzled eyes in the SEC as he would take a punt inside the 20 back to the house to flip the momentum in a game.
5′ 8″ 175 lbs.
When Ace Sanders makes it in the NFL it won’t be because what he does as a receiver, it will be because of the amazing things he can do as a returner. Just watching him last season, you can see he has the rare ability that only the likes of Devin Hester and Joshua Cribbs has. When most returners get the ball inside the 15 they let it go, that isn’t the case with Sanders. Even with defenders coming at him he takes the punt and turns a negative into a positive. He will make two guys miss with a juke move to the inside and his speed will do the rest. He has the confidence and nerves you look for in a great return man and the ability to change the game on just one play.
Part of the reason Sanders is so good on punt returns is what he can do in the open field. Either coming off a screen pass or on a punt, his combination of vision and moves make him tough to tackle. His vision enables him to look at oncoming opponents and time his cut just at the right time. Once he gets passed the defender and has an open lane in front of him he is off to the races.
While I don’t like to knock a guy for being short, it is hard to ignore the fact that Sanders is only 5′ 8″. He will come into the NFL as one of the shortest players in the game, and in a game that is turning more physical, it doesn’t look good for him. He won’t be able to match up in press coverage, where receivers will just knock him off the line and take him out of the play. His body will also be subjected to some nasty hits on special teams.
While I love what Sanders can do as a returner, I have serious questions about his ability to be a reliable receiver at the next level. His route-running needs work as most of the time he would either work off a screen pass or a fly route. Sanders has shown nice hands but his inability to separate from man to man coverage. While Sanders may be able to come in and make a few contributions as a receiver, I don’t see him becoming a starter in the NFL.
It is difficult to watch Ace Sanders and not imagine what he can do in the NFL as a return man. He has everything you could ask for, speed, vision, and an arsenal of moves to make defenders miss. Every time he goes back to take a punt, you have to watch because you know he might do something special. As a receiver he is ordinary, he uses his speed to get open rather than run routes. I believe he has a great future as a return man, but will never be a reliable receiver. He should find his way into the 5th Round for his return skills.
Ace Sanders Highlights: