BRADENTON -- Ace Sanders waited until the day of the NFL deadline before deciding whether to declare for the draft or go back to South Carolina.
"I felt the only thing I could change with my draft stock was my size, and I am not going to get any taller. There was no point going back and putting wear and tear on my body before entering the draft next year," the former Manatee High standout said.
After Sanders was passed over in the first three rounds Thursday and Friday, the Jacksonville Jaguars selected him with the fourth pick of the fourth round (101st overall) on Saturday.
Now the 5-foot-8, 175-pound receiver/punt returner will be given a tall order in trying to help a woeful Jaguars team that was tied for the fourth worst punt return average in the NFL last season at 7.3 yards per return, which Sanders more than doubled in college.
Sanders will worry about that challenge soon. After hearing his name called on Saturday he was just relieved that the process was over for him.
"I am just happy to be off the board. At the end of the day that is what a
lot of people wish, to be off the board. It didn't matter where I got picked as long as I got picked," he said.
Sanders wasn't just battling his size. He ran a 4.58-second 40-yard draft at the combine that fueled a lot of skeptics because of the position he plays.
But it didn't bother Jacksonville general manager David Caldwell, who said the Jaguars almost took Sanders in the third round.
"When you watch film, you see that his quickness is electric. He has some serious juice in terms of his ability to get off the mark and separate in a short area," Caldwell said. "His timed speed is what it is, but the video shows he can get behind defenders in the SEC and run away from guys. This is the kind of a guy who loves football and is highly competitive and tough. He has been extremely reliable at South Carolina. Our coaches like the idea of having a guy who has his separation quickness."
Sanders was the SEC Co-Special Teams Player of the Year in the SEC last season and a first-team All-SEC punt return specialist.
He was second in the FBS last year in total punt return yardage with 429 and ranked fourth with 15.32 yards per return. He led the Gamecocks with 45 receptions and nine receiving touchdowns and was second in receiving yards.
Sanders, who will likely be used in the slot, said his pass-catching skills have been overlooked, perhaps because he has drawn so much attention with his punt returns.
"A lot of people haven't seen me excel as a slot receiver, but I believe I know my abilities and with the right coach and the right system I can excel there as well as a punt returner," he said. "I am effective as a punt returner because on my first step I am going north or south. I am not an east or west runner. I go out relentlessly and have no fear.
"Punt returns are a team effort. As long as I have people around that have as much confidence in me as I have in them, then I will be fine."
When he was debating whether to come out for this year's draft, Ace Sanders was informed by the NFL Draft Advisory Board that he would likely be a fourth round pick.
He adds depth to a receiving group that has a chance to develop. Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts are emerging while backups Mohamed Massaquoi and Jordan Shipley are considered serviceable.
Sanders will likely be the fourth receiver and used in the slot. His punt return skills fill a big need for the Jaguars, whose longest punt return last season was 28 yards, among the worst in the NFL. Jacksonville did not have a punt return for a touchdown.
The 101st pick in the 2012 draft, Denver cornerback Omar Boldin, signed a five-year deal worth $2.5 million that paid him $474,428 his first year and averages $643,607 annually. With a rookie wage scale, Sanders' salary can be expected to be close to those numbers.
Jacksonville later took Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, a playmaker who is projected as a receiver in the NFL.
That move excited Sanders, according to his Twitter feed. "We got weapons for days!! I gotta call my boy Denard!!! That's like family? Im real excited," Sanders tweeted.