Size: 5-7, 176 pounds
Year: Junior (two-year letterman)
High school: Atlanta Sports Academy (Atlanta, Ga.)
Hometown: Atlanta, Ga.
Unlike his famous father, Sanders Jr. wasn’t quite the prime target as a recruit (sorry, I had to). A two-star Scout.com prospect, Sanders Jr. spent one year at prep school, but played his high school ball at suburban DFW Flower Mound Marcus. As a high school senior in 2012, he played in the Under Armour All-American Bowl, and chose SMU over offers from Houston and North Texas. Sanders Jr. played quarterback, cornerback and wide receiver during his high school and prep career, but opted to play wideout in college.
Sanders Jr. started four of SMU’s games in 2014 and caught 23 passes for 188 yards (8.2 yards per catch), both of which ranked fourth on the team. He was SMU’s primary kick returner, with 37 kick returns for 759 yards (20.5 yards per return). Sanders Jr. had a couple productive games at receiver, including his seven-catch, 57-yard day against South Florida. However, he also had five catch-less games. He also had just three catches of 15 or more yards all season. The entire receiving corps suffered from poorly designed plays, poor or absent blocking and a quarterback carousel, but it also lacked a truly consistent threat all season. Sanders Jr. didn’t stand out from the rest in his attempt to become one.
Sanders Jr. made his impact as a kick returner. He rattled off some big returns (four of 50 or more yards) en route to All-AAC first-team honors as a return specialist. But he made just as many poor decisions to bring the ball out from deep in the end zone. The low moment was his 9.7 yards per return in a blowout loss to North Texas. While the entire special teams unit was a mess, Sanders still had some inconsistencies between his big returns.
When Chad Morris and his staff took over in December, they were a little concerned with the receivers on the roster. So they recruited immediate help. The coaches have talked up the freshmen receivers as immediate contributors, which means players similar to Sanders Jr. will get less offensive snaps. It’s more of a reflection on what the freshmen can do than what a guy like Sanders Jr. can’t do.
Sanders Jr. will be fighting for snaps in the slot behind freshman Xavier Castille, the all-but-certain starter at the position. With his small frame, only a handful of explosive offensive plays to his name, and if the freshmen make the impact they are expected to, Sanders might be able to count his catches on one hand at season’s end. He’ll be right in the mix at kick returner, but if he is going to be the guy there, he needs to make better decisions and see the field better. The emphasis on improving special teams should help him in that area. The best-case scenario is around 10 catches and a truly all-conference type season as a returner.