Gamecocks wideout Ace Sanders declares for draft

By Jerry Hinnen | College Football Writer
Ace Sanders will be returning punts in the NFL next season. (US Presswire)

Lost in the WAR!-size headlines that rocked the college football world Wednesday -- lost outside of Columbia, S.C., anyway -- was the news that one of the nation's most electric players has elected to turn pro.

After initial reports that he had decided to stay at South Carolina for his senior season, wide receiver Ace Sanders has instead chosen to enter April's NFL Draft, 247Sports affiliate The Big Spur has reported. Sanders also issued this tweet from his account Tuesday:

Sanders leaves the Gamecocks (who have not yet made any official announcement regarding Sanders' plans) as one of their most productive receivers, leading the team with 45 receptions in 2012 and finishing second behind Bruce Ellington with 531 receiving yards. He also finished second on the team in both categories in 2011 behind current Chicago Bear Alshon Jeffery.

But unlike the towering Jeffery, at 5-foot-8, 175 pounds, Sanders isn't exactly your prototype NFL receiver. His draft stock will rest primarily on his outstanding punt return skills, an area where he finished sixth in the country in average return, tied for second with a pair of touchdowns, and generally proved as exciting a threat from that position as any player in the country.

The Big Spur reported that Sanders received a fourth-round grade from the NFL Draft Advisory committee.

Wherever Sanders is drafted, though, what's certain is that his departure -- particularly after many in Columbia expected him to stay -- will be felt going forward, as Steve Spurrier's passing game moves on with only two wideouts (Ellington and Damiere Byrd) who caught more than 12 passes last season. Replacing a returner of Sanders' caliber will be even more difficult.

Spurrier has his program in the kind of shape where this isn't that heavy a blow, but it's not what the Ol' Ball Coach would have wanted all the same.

For more college football news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnCFB on Twitter, subscribe to our RSS Feed, college football newsletter, and get the Eye On College Football Podcast from iTunes. You can follow Jerry Hinnen on Twitter here: @JerryHinnen.

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