Combine nerves? Ace Sanders disappoints

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Two weeks after South Carolina’s win in the Outback Bowl, we received surprising news that Gamecock wideout Ace Sanders was forgoing his senior season for the NFL Draft. Banking off a career-best three touchdowns against the Wolverines and a Southeastern Conference Special Teamer of the Year honor, Sanders’ stock had never been higher as a slot receiver and return threat.

Upon further review – like we predicted in January — it was a bad decision then and it looks even worse now after Sunday’s results at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. Sanders dropped several passes during individual drills and recorded a 4.53 electronic 40 — slower than most of us expected. The majority of receivers were in the 4.4 range with a few breaking the 4.3 threshold including Texas A&M’s Ryan Swope. Texas speedster Marquise Goodwin took top honors with a jaw-dropping 4.27.

Of the 35 wideouts that participated in the 40, Sanders’ average time of (4.5) ranked 31st.  Only Duke’s Conner Vernon, Missouri’s T.J. Moe, Syracuse’s Alec Lemon and Brandon Kaufman from Eastern Washington were slower.

Size has always been the issue with Sanders who was the smallest receiver in Indy (5-foot-7, 173 pounds) but his skill set hasn’t come into question — when compared to other draftable wideouts — until now. Can he excel in the slot ala Wes Welker at the next level? Is he strong enough to separate in coverage against proven defensive backs? Is he strictly a special-teamer?

Sanders’ best attribute is his quickness. He doesn’t have top-end speed or elite-level hands but is shifty with big-play potential in space. He’ll help a franchise as a situational player in the return game but his size and overall effectiveness as a wide receiver raises questions for general managers. Sunday’s performance in front of many coaches and scouts didn’t help his stock.

South Carolina’s Pro Day is March 27 at Williams-Brice. Sanders needs a spectacular showing just to move into the fourth round range with so many talented pass-catchers in this year’s draft. A fifth or sixth round selection seems more likely at this point.

Photo Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

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