And, per usual, that offseason involves some roster attrition. The story broke this morning in all the Irish football news outlets that junior WR CJ Sanders plans on graduating this summer (he was an early enrollee in 2015) and will then go to another school to finish up his FBS eligibility.
BREAKING: Sources tell #IrishIllustrated and @247Sports that #NotreDame WR CJ Sanders will gradate transfer. Sanders will continue taking classes in South Bend, graduate this summer, then play his final season elsewhere next year https://t.co/JAZMjEIGy8 (FREE) pic.twitter.com/QwGSgx4q6J— Tom Loy (@TomLoy247) January 2, 2018
Sanders exploded onto the scene as a freshman in 2015 with his dynamic speed and shiftiness, returning a punt for a touchdown against UMass and then following that up with an ELECTRIC kickoff return TD in the pivotal season finale at Stanford.
Last year as a sophomore, Sanders held down the starting slot receiver role and continued his kick return production. He caught 24 passes for 293 yards and 2 touchdowns (including one in overtime in the season opener at Texas) and added another two kickoff return touchdowns against Syracuse and Army.
This past season, Sanders lost any and all playing time he once had on offense, strictly relegated to returning kickoffs. He had a decent year doing so, but had his first season without a return touchdown, returning 29 kicks for 654 yards with a long return of 52.
If Sanders planned on being more than just a return specialist in his senior year, the writing has likely been on the wall for a while that he would be leaving ND after graduating to play out his eligibility. He reportedly informed his teammates and coaches a few weeks ago.
Sanders finished his Irish career with 2,326 combined kickoff and punt return yards, 3 kickoff return TDs, a punt return TD, and nearly 300 more yards receiving to go along with a pair of receiving TDs.
He averaged about 23 yards per kickoff return, and should be able to contribute in a big way on special teams for his next team, at the very least. Likely, he will move to a program that will also want to use his speed and cutting ability on offense.
No specific programs have been named as likely destinations, but some are guessing a school like Vanderbilt, considering Sanders’ Tennessee connections, could be an option for Sanders to get lots of playing time in his final collegiate season.