ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. offered some thoughts Wednesday on South Carolina wide receiver/punt returner Ace Sanders’ decision to turn pro a year early, and where he might fit in at the next level.
Like most of the USC players in this draft other than running back Marcus Lattimore, Sanders is projected by Kiper to go early on Day 3 of the three-day draft, when the fourth through seventh rounds are picked.
“Sanders is super quick, dynamic, similar to what Andrew Hawkins is doing with the Bengals,” Kiper said. “Sanders could be a similar kind of player to Hawkins. Incredibly quick. Great slot guy and punt returner.”
Hawkins went undrafted out of Toledo in 2008 and was in the Canadian Football League, and got a brief run with the St. Louis Rams, before catching on with the Bengals last season. He had 23 catches for 263 yards last season and 51 catches for 533 yards and four touchdowns this season. Like Sanders, Hawkins is small – 5-7 and 180 pounds – but managed to finish third on the Bengals in catches and receiving yards in 2012. Unlike Sanders, he does not return punts.
“A lot of those (USC) guys (other than Lattimore), I’m projecting more Day 3 type of guys, early Day 3 type of guys,” Kiper said. “There’s a lot of guys in the mix.”
Kiper remains not so high on defensive end Devin Taylor.
“I think Taylor was kind of that underachiever type,” Kiper said. “You kept waiting for him to have that breakout game or that breakout year. Didn’t happen. But certainly has enormous physical ability, if somebody can push the right buttons. Maybe in the fourth, fifth, sixth round area, he can be a factor.”
As for free safety D.J. Swearinger, Kiper said, “Swearinger loves to hit, confident kid, tough. I think he has a role maybe as a fifth-round pick.”
And what about strong safety/outside linebacker DeVonte Holloman?
“Holloman the same way (as Swearinger),” Kiper said. “Can play multiple positions, great special teams guy, can help you as a 4-3 outside linebacker. He got his weight up to 240. I think he’s the kind of guy on Day 3 who will be a pick as well.”
Center T.J. Johnson was a fixture on USC’s line. Where might he fall in the draft?
“T.J. Johnson has played guard and is a veteran,” Kiper said. “Has played a lot of football at South Carolina and went up against a lot of good players and held his own. He could be late-round pick.”
Of course, the most interesting storyline involves Lattimore, who will not be able to work out at the combine, but will attend to get his knees examined.
“Obviously, we’re all waiting to see with Marcus Lattimore, what happens with the medical (situation),” Kiper said. “Obviously, he’s got first-round talent. Where does he come off the board? Is it second round, third round? What happens there with Marcus Lattimore is going to be interesting to see, how he moves through the draft process.”
Finally, Kiper offered some unprompted thoughts on another USC player: running back Kenny Miles.
“As a priority undrafted free agent, maybe Kenny Miles has a chance to make a football team,” Kiper said.