Return man draws Vikings' interest

The Vikings are keeping their options open at receiver, including inquiring about one that could be used more as a return man than receiver, at least initially.

Whether or not the Vikings get a receiver in the first round of April's draft, there is an ace in the hole that has caught their interest. According to an NFL source, the Vikings have been inquiring about receiver Ace Sanders, who is expected to be a mid-round pick.

Sanders, whose given name is Tracy, also interviewed with the Vikings informally at the NFL Scouting Combine, he told Viking Update.

A first-round selection of Tavon Austin, another slot receiver who brings versatility to the position, would likely eliminate the Vikings' interest in Sanders later in the draft, but Sanders' return ability is every bit as enticing as his production as a slot receiver.

In each of his three seasons at Georgia, Sanders improved in receptions, receiving yards and punt return yards.

As a receiver, he started with 25 catches, improved to 29 in 2011, and then 45 receptions last year for 531 yards and nine touchdowns. He saw a similar trend as a punt returner, starting with nine in 2010, then moving to 16 for 149 in 2011 to 28 for 429 yards last year – an impressive 15.3 yards per return in 2012.

That last category could be his early ticket to the NFL.

"Honestly, it's a bigger factor than I had thought because when I got up to the room, it was just they were bringing out playbooks and showing me schemes and stuff. Some teams are just looking to draft a returner so I was like, ‘Well, I'm your guy,'" Sanders said after meeting with teams at the combine.

Initially, he said he would be fine with being exclusively a return man, but eventually …

"Eventually I would probably want to get out there and work the slot, but I feel like if a team drafted you they would at least look at you. Based off your game film and the conference you came from, they would at least look at you there," he said.

The Vikings could be looking for a return replacement – or at least an insurance policy – there. Marcus Sherels was their only punt returner in 2012, averaging a respectable 9.0 yards on 32 punt returns, but he also called for 27 fair catches. Additionally, Sherels took over as the main kickoff returner when Percy Harvin was lost for the season with an ankle injury. Sanders only returned two kickoffs at Georgia.

Not surprisingly, his all-purpose yardage improved each year from 388 in 2010, to 555 in 2011, to 977 last year.

Although the 5-foot-7, 173-pound Sanders was timed at only 4.58 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, he said he has been timed as low as 4.38 (hand held) while training.

He also has athletic bloodlines. His father, also Tracy, played for Florida State before moving on to the NFL, the World Football League and the Arena League. Ace said he learned a lot about football and life from his father, including the mistakes he made.

"From dedication to working out to money situations all the way from, shoot, from putting yourself around the right people – just small, simple things that you would think people would know, there are a lot of mistakes that could be made," Ace said.

Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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