You can not say you didn\’t see it coming, but rookie receiver Emmanuel Sanders has all but taken over the number 3 receiver spot from veteran Antwaan Randle El as the Steelers head into week 12 against Buffalo Bills. Sunday against the Raiders, Sanders logged 30 non penalty snaps versus just 8 for Randle El and was the number 3 receiver on all sets that featured 3 receivers in the game.
If you look back at the offensive participation reports, you can see that Manny has slowly been eating into the snaps of El. His route running and understanding of the offense has improved noticeable over time as well has his ability to shake off the few setbacks he has had. A few times this past Sunday, Sanders had great separation from the man that was covering him and even fought off press coverage a few times as well.
Sanders is blessed with well above average speed and is much faster than the elder statesman, Randle El. He adds another deep threat to the offense and much like fellow receiver Mike Wallace, he can take the top off of coverage if needed. So far this season he has 11 catches on 18 targets, 9 of which have resulted in 1st downs and 2 have resulted in touchdowns. Not bad for a rookie that has only really been factored into the offense over the last 6 weeks.
The work Sanders did at the Prime U camp of the legendary Deion Sanders seems to have readied him for this role. Manny has mentioned several times that the work against NFL corners at the camp helped prepare him for what he would face every Sunday in the NFL. It is not just his route running and catching that is drawing attention of coaches as he has shown several times that he is not afraid to block on the edges. That trait is a must to have as a Steelers wide receiver. You can tell he has taken to heart what future Hall of Fame teammate Hines Ward has been teaching him since he was drafted back in April. In addition, he is also seen down field and around the ball on special teams and has chipped in on several punt and kick returns in addition.
Where Sanders goes from here is anyone’s guess, but with his increased role in the offense, it would not be surprising to see him total 30 catches in his rookie year along with a few more trips to the endzone. As long as he stays grounded and listens to the coaching staff, he will likely be the heir apparent to Ward in a few years and a great backup should either Ward or Wallace go down for an extended amount of time due to injury.
Needless to say, Manny has arrived.