South Carolina's Sanders will be missed

There are always a few surprises when the final list of college underclassmen declaring for the NFL draft is released.

A late addition Tuesday night from the SEC was South Carolina receiver/return specialist Ace Sanders, who had a change of heart and decided to enter the draft.

All players have until Friday to change their minds as long as they don’t enter into an agreement with an agent. Sanders’ decision to turn pro brings the total number of SEC players leaving early this year to a whopping 33.

It’s always a gamble when a player in Sanders’ position gives up his senior season. He’s not going to be a first-rounder, and there’s no guarantee that he'll go in the top three rounds.

That’s not a slight because Sanders is a super player and an explosive game-changer with his ability to return punts and make things happen after the catch. But he’s also 5-foot-8, and those guys as a rule don’t go very high in the draft.

He was so dynamic in the Outback Bowl with his three touchdowns that maybe he decided that he wasn’t going to get any hotter and the time was right to take his shot at the NFL. Moreover, watching teammate Marcus Lattimore go down with knee injuries in back-to-back seasons also had to have an effect.

Either way, here’s hoping that Sanders is getting good advice and listening to the right people because he would have been one of the top 10 or 12 players in the SEC next season.

His departure is a bummer for the Gamecocks, too. With Sanders back, that offense had a chance to be as explosive as it’s ever been under Steve Spurrier. It still should be very good, but replacing Sanders won’t be easy.

The thing he does best is find the end zone. He scored 11 touchdowns this past season, including two on punt returns, and those guys are invaluable.

From a selfish standpoint, I’ll miss watching him play. He was easily one of the most entertaining players in the SEC and always a treat to interview after games.

We’re not supposed to have favorites in our business, but it was hard not to like Sanders and the way he played the game.

I just hope this decision is the right one for him.

One thing we've learned about Sanders is that he revels in proving people wrong. A product of Bradenton, Fla., he was overlooked by Florida and Florida State during the recruiting process because of his size.

Obviously, he wasn't too small to play in the SEC, and regardless of where he does go in the draft, here's betting he won't be too small to play in the NFL, either.