As a Recruit
When the sign-ups were going around for this series, I knew I needed to take this one. Sanders hails from my hometown of Charleston, SC, and once played for Burke High School, which is in the same region as the high school I attended and played for. (What seems like a rapidly-increasing number of years ago.)
Sanders did not stay at Burke, but instead transferred to Fort Dorchester High School in order to play at a higher classification for a program that has a history of producing Power-5 talent.
An under-the-radar recruit, Sanders’ only Power-5 offer came from Georgia Tech. According to Rivals, his only other offers were from Presbyterian and Western Carolina(Paul Johnson’s Alma Mater! Please speculate wildly about how this isn’t a coincidence). Johnson himself stated at he felt Sanders was the most under-recruited player in the country during his signing day press conference.
Even Johnson didn’t find Sanders until later in the process. The WR was invited to the last weekend of official visits at Tech before receiving an offer and committing during the last week of the recruiting cycle. Until he visited, most of the Tech faithful had never heard his name.
At 6’1”, 185 lbs. Sanders doesn’t quite fit the “gigantic option receiver” mold, but he has decent length with a frame that looks like it can hold more weight. He’ll need to get into the 200-210 lb range to consistently take the punishment he’s going to see from the ACC.
In order to properly evaluate Sanders’ athleticism, it’s important to notice the subtleties along with the overt traits.
What jumps of the screen with Sanders is the short-area quickness. He’s just doing guys dirty out there. You won’t find many 2-star recruits that juke guys out of their shoes with this kind of consistency. He does it both from a standstill and in-stride as well, which makes it all the more impressive.
His quickness shows up in more subtle ways in the way he runs his routes. His breaks are lightning fast and consistently get him big separation. I was also struck by how smooth he was in and out of his breaks. That combination of quickness and smoothness is rare. Really, really rare. I haven’t seen this kind of combination of athletic traits come to Georgia Tech in some time.
To add on, he’s simply quite fluid. He routinely breaks away from ankle tackles while maintaining balance, and can shift his weight effortlessly.
He regularly blows by angles and runs away from pursuit, but he never looks like he’s flying. This is at least partially due to his smooth stride. Smooth striders simply don’t look like they are running fast when they are. Those of you who watch the NFL Combine saw John Ross break the 40 yard dash record this year without looking like he was moving all that fast.
With the lack of jump balls in his film, I’m not sure how much of a leaper he is, and that may be an important athletic shortcoming. He did play basketball for Fort Dorchester as well, so this could simply be a trait that isn’t seen on film.
Physicality is Sanders’ biggest athletic shortcoming. He breaks lower-body tackles by using his balance, but isn’t going to run over anyone or drag anyone. I also worry about his ability to fight for the ball at the catch point. He had so much separation in high school that he rarely had to put up a fight. He won’t be afforded that luxury against better competition.
Sanders is a hands catcher who is adept at catching the ball away from his body. He also had to adjust to some pretty bad throws on his film, which is a testament to how far his skills have developed to this point.
As a route runner, we’ve already discussed how quick and sudden he is in and out of his breaks, but it’s also worth noting how well he comes back to the ball when it’s needed. This could make him lethal on comeback routes, much like Smelter was in 2014.
The biggest concern is a lack of blocking film. Considering Sanders isn’t dominant physically on film, this will be a real concern for his adjustment to option football. He’ll need to prove that he can be physical and a good blocker before he sees the field.
What to Expect
With 2 starters entrenched and a promising group of young receivers on the way, expect a redshirt for Sanders. He’ll also need to learn blocking, which doesn’t bode well for early playing time.
Once the older receivers graduate, expect Sanders to immediately get into a battle for playing time. If he can block, he’ll at least be a rotational player for Georgia Tech, though CPJ doesn’t always utilize his rotational guys heavily. The lack of size will limit his upside as a #1, but he could easily be a speed complement, as he’s easily faster than either of Tech’s current starting WRs.