Can Ace Sanders Retain His Punt Returner Duties in 2015? Or His Roster Spot?


Ace Sanders is on the rise this offseason.

Or, at least that’s what the Jacksonville Jaguars coaching staff wants us to believe. After a 2014 campaign that saw Sanders amass a meager 55 yards over 12 games, I have a reason to doubt Ace Sanders suddenly returning to form.

But if we’re to take Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley at face value (and I believe we should, he hasn’t been too far off the mark before, once you account for his constant enthusiasm) then Sanders could be becoming something special this offseason. We’re only at OTAs but Sanders’ name keeps popping up. “He keeps stacking them up,” Bradley said of Sanders’ good workouts per ESPN’s Michael DiRocco.

DiRocco expands on that, saying:

"That’s good for Sanders, but the reality is that what Sanders does as a receiver during OTAs, minicamp and training camp likely doesn’t matter as much as what he does as a punt returner. That’s what the Jaguars drafted him to do and he has been a disappointment there in his first two seasons."

It’s a fair point. Sanders was supposed to come to Jacksonville and be this dynamic player who can capitalize on space. He was instantly slotted in as a punt returner and while the returns were lackluster in his first season, his promise as a wide receiver and what he showed with the ball in his hands on offense suggested he could improve. Sanders was adding 5.7 yards per reception in 2013 according to Pro Football Focus, good for 21st in the league. Unfortunately, he didn’t do much better in the return game, averaging just 5.6 yards per return (61st according to PFF). He saw a meager rise to 7.3 yards per return in 2014 (good for 46th in the league per PFF).

Those aren’t the rankings or averages the Jaguars had hoped to see from Sanders.

It certainly isn’t what Bradley had in mind, saying, “I’m hoping what I see from Ace as a receiver shows up as a punt returner.” Sanders is making gains in the OTAs as a receiver, but those numbers in the return game must improve. If he doesn’t increase his averages in the return game, the Jaguars may bring someone else in who can do it better. Per Fox Sports, the Jags aren’t shy about auditioning other players.

At this point, Sanders appears to be expendable. I view the vocal praise from the coaching staff as motivation for him to keep improving, encouraging a flagging player to continue working hard at honing his craft. Whether Ace Sanders is actually improving is up for debate and until the punt return numbers or practice shows a lack of improvement, we’ve got to assume there’s a new Ace Sanders with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Hopefully we’ll see some improvement, but even if it limited, he’ll have to defend his right to his roster spot. Punt returner isn’t such a valuable position that Sanders can coast along. His lack of production as a receiver hurts him as well.

A this point we’re questioning whether Sanders can even retain his spot. I would be fine seeing Sanders let go in favor of a more intriguing option. We’ve seen what he can do in two seasons and it has been unimpressive. Unless he drastically improves, it may be time for the Jaguars to cut ties.

Next: Can Blake Bortles Surpass Teddy Bridgewater?

More from Black and Teal