After the Broncos had gone out and spent hundreds of millions of dollars in free agency on the defensive side of the football, they found themselves a really nice bargain at wide receiver to replace Eric Decker in former Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Emmanuel Sanders.
Sanders is just 27 years old, is coming off a career-year in Pittsburgh, and offers the Broncos a ton of versatility. John Elway said as much when the team picked him up.
“He can play anywhere,” Elway said of Sanders. “He can play inside, he can be outside. He’s explosive. Great separation skills. He can do it all.”
And he can.
Sanders has demonstrated an ability as Elway said, to play either inside or outside as a receiver, and to also be versatile enough on special teams to return kicks and punts, or even take some trick plays out of the backfield.
With Sanders, the dynamic of the Broncos’ offense is going to change completely, and they got him for pennies compared to the guaranteed money his ex-teammate Mike Wallace got from the Dolphins in 2013.
Obviously, teams didn’t view Sanders as dynamic as Wallace and he didn’t produce like Wallace did while in Pittsburgh, but I think in Denver, Sanders can be more productive than Wallace was, even in his time with the Steelers.
The major concern with the Broncos last offseason was whether or not there would be enough balls to go around to get elite level production out of the trio of Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, and Wes Welker. Fans were drooling at the possibilities, but the Broncos shocked the football world by not only incorporating those three to the tune of double-digit touchdowns for each, but they also added a Pro Bowl season and double-digit TDs for Julius Thomas and a 1,000 yard/double-digit TD year for RB Knowshon Moreno.
Expectations shattered, they may now be a little lofty, but it’s certainly reasonable to assume the volume of plays coming Sanders’ way in Denver’s offense will almost positively be more than they were while he was a member of the Steelers. The Broncos will filter the offense through star receiver Demaryius Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas, but while Eric Decker was a finesse receiver with size and strength, Sanders is a smaller receiver with quickness and explosiveness.
The Broncos liked his ability to create separation, and he’ll have opportunities to do so from a variety of different spots. The Broncos will use him on the outside, inside in the slot, in bunch formations, and any other ways you can think. One area where Sanders could be used is in the screen game, where he could use his quickness, shiftiness, and explosiveness after the catch.
Sanders’ versatility will be evident in the early goings. He is a completely different style of receiver than Eric Decker and the options of having him out there with Thomas-squared and Welker is very intriguing.
Sanders is so quick in space, can change direction on a dime, and can create so much with his acceleration. Even with Welker in the fold, the Broncos’ best vertical passing threats were Demaryius and Julius Thomas, so adding a third could really create some opportunities for those guys and give the Broncos a whole lot of options.
Plus, at 27, it’s safe to say that Sanders is entering the prime of his career. He was able to catch a career-high 67 passes for 740 yards and six touchdowns last season, and I think he could see a lot of favorable matchups with the other weapons the Broncos have in their offensive arsenal.
This is an exciting player and since the heat of free agency wore off and the draft passed, it was easy to forget the Broncos had even added Sanders.
The rest of the league won’t have that luxury.