Irish A-to-Z: CJ Sanders

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One of the eye-opening performers on last year’s camp circuit, freshman wide receiver CJ Sanders flashed elite speed at The Opening, running one of the fastest 40-yard dashes of any player in attendance. Now on Notre Dame’s campus, it’s up to Sanders to keep running fast, especially if he wants to find his way into the mix of a crowded wide receiver depth chart.

A diminutive bolt of lightning who profiles perfectly as a slot receiver, Sanders is one of the likely beneficiaries of CJ Prosise’s cross-training at running back, competing with Torii Hunter and starter Amir Carlisle for snaps. With return abilities that up his value, Sanders looks to open some eyes at training camp, a true freshman to watch in the coming days.

 

CJ SANDERS
5’10”, 185 lbs.
Freshman, No. 9, WR

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Sanders’ performance at The Opening helped vault him to a national prospect, erasing any worry that his lack of size would make it difficult for him to compete at the highest level. A four-star prospect, Sanders had offers from Georgia, Tennessee, UCLA, USC, Stanford and others before committing to Notre Dame after a spring visit.

An offer from Ohio State—a school Sanders grew up following—never came, though it was reported that Urban Meyer and company were kicking the tires on Sanders, but after it was too late.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

It’s hard not to love what Sanders could bring to this offense. If he’s as electric in space as he appears on his highlight tape, the Irish could have a super-charged Robby Toma on their hands. (And really, that feels like the floor of his abilities.)

That comparison might be underselling what Sanders is capable of doing, especially if you consider his return skills, where he could potentially make an early impact. And Sanders has elite speed—running in the 4.3s in Oregon and setting the 100m record as a junior at Brentwood Academy, running a 10.64. That’s really fast. (For reference, Florida State All-American Jalen Ramsey didn’t beat that time at Brentwood.)

Expect Sanders to come into camp and be among the fastest on the roster from day one. And that kind of speed usually gets you onto the field.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

As much as I like Sanders, it’s hard to find a way where he’ll make a sizable impact on this offense, unless an injury limits Carlisle. (Then again, Greg Bryant’s suspension all but completes C.J. Prosise’s transition to running back.) But it’s too soon to tell if Sanders is advanced enough from a football IQ perspective to jump into the lineup.

But where he could shake things up is on special teams, likely serving as an upgrade in the return game, potentially taking over for Greg Bryant on punt return. (I’d kick the tires on Sanders as kickoff returner as well.)

Sanders shouldn’t be looked at like a normal freshman. He had a successful acting career as a child (stop me if you’ve heard this one, but he played a young Ray Charles in the film Ray…), accelerating his maturity process while also building some bulletproof confidence. That’ll help with the big stage that is Notre Dame Stadium.

Realistically, I’m pegging the return game as Sanders’ likely home. That hasn’t been kind to freshmen (we’re still waiting for Davonte Neal to break a return), but Sanders shows better instincts. He’s also a wonderful candidate for the “designated deep ball receiver,” a role dating back to Golden Tate, then passed along to Chris Brown and Will Fuller that usually means you’re destined for good things.

 

THE 2015 IRISH A-to-Z
Josh Adams, RB
Josh Barajas, OLB
Nicky Baratti, S
Alex Bars, OL
Asmar Bilal, OLB
Hunter Bivin, OL
Grant Blankenship, DE
Jonathan Bonner, DE
Miles Boykin, WR
Justin Brent, WR
Greg Bryant, RB
Devin Butler, CB
Jimmy Byrne, OL
Daniel Cage, DL
Amir Carlisle, RB
Nick Coleman, DB
Te’von Coney, LB
Shaun Crawford, DB
Scott Daly, LS
Sheldon Day, DL
Michael Deeb, LB
Micah Dew-Treadway, DL
Steve Elmer, RG
Matthias Farley, DB
Nicco Fertitta, DB
Tarean Folston, RB
Will Fuller, WR
Jarrett Grace, LB
Jalen Guyton, WR
Mark Harrell, OL
Jay Hayes, DL
Mike Heuerman, TE
Kolin Hill, DE
Tristen Hoge, C
Corey Holmes, WR
Chase Hounshell, TE
Torii Hunter, Jr. WR
Alizé Jones, TE
Jarron Jones, DL
DeShone Kizer, QB
Tyler Luatua, TE
Cole Luke, CB
Nick Martin, C
Greer Martini, LB
Jacob Matuska, DL
Mike McGlinchey, OT
Colin McGovern, OL
Peter Mokwuah, DL
John Montelus, OL
Nyles Morgan, LB
Sam Mustipher, OL
Quenton Nelson, OL
Tyler Newsome, P
Romeo Okwara, DE
James Onwualu, LB
C.J. Prosise, WR/RB
Doug Randolph, LB/DE
Max Redfield, S
Corey Robinson, WR
Trevor Ruhland, OL