What To Expect From Steelers WR Emmanuel Sanders In 2013

By Matthew Marczi

These two facts have been well established for some time now: that former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace is gone, and that the Steelers intend to rely on fourth-year pro Emmanuel Sanders to replace him in the starting lineup. What is yet to be understood is what we should expect to see out of Sanders as a full-time starter.

Drafted in the third round in 2010 following the trade of Santonio Holmes to the New York Jets, Sanders was drafted to bring depth and youth to the wide receiver room with Hines Ward in the twilight of his career at the time. Only it was Antonio Brown, Sanders’ draft classmate, who emerged as the starter alongside Wallace.

Now with Wallace gone, it is the 2010 duo’s time to shine with Brown and Sanders slated to line up as the starters at wide receiver in 2013. We have already seen what Brown can do. Over the past two seasons, he has started 13 of the 29 games he has played in, accumulating nearly 1,900 yards in the process.

Though a midseason ankle sprain somewhat derailed his first full season as a starter, Brown was on pace to have his second consecutive 1,000 yard season seven games into the year. After the week nine injury against the New York Giants, he missed the next three games.

One positive that came to light from the tail end of his year following the injury was his emergence as a red zone threat. He scored a touchdown in each of his last four games, with three of them coming from within nine yards of the goal line. It was an underappreciated concern for the post-Wallace offense, as no wide receiver other than Wallace had more than two touchdowns in 2011.

Now the question that must be answered is about Sanders and what he can offer the Steelers offense as a full-time starter. Though he had career highs in starts, total snaps, yards, and yards per catch, and also managed to play in all sixteen games for the first time in his young career, he also had a career-low one touchdown and also fumbled a career-high three times.

Despite playing in every game and participating on 68% of the team’s total offensive snaps (which was 7% more than Brown’s year-end total), his utilization was disproportional to his playing time.

Now, Sanders, as the team’s best run-blocking wide receiver, was often left in on running plays with Brown and Wallace on the sidelines, which is no small factor. Another thing to consider is the fact that Sanders’ replacement of Brown in the starting lineup a season ago coincided with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s injury, which no doubt hurt his production. These and other factors make it all the more difficult to project what Sanders might be able to do as a full-time starter.

Nevertheless, here are some facts. In 2012, Sanders was targeted on 4.7 passing plays per game, and he averaged 2.8 receptions, which was good for a nearly 60% completion percentage. According to Advanced NFL Stats, Sanders had the highest Success Rate among Steelers receivers despite being targeted on a significantly higher percentage of passes down the field.

As a starter in 2013, and the addition of the speedy Markus Wheaton, it is unlikely that Sanders will see nearly 40% of his targets come down the field, as he did in 2012, which should increase not only his targets, but also his catch rate.

Of course, it is one thing to look to the past in an effort to project the future. The reality is that there are more questions than answers about what Sanders will do in his new role, questions that can only be answered on the field.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi
Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • steeltown

    If he stays healthy Sanders should have a good year, he’ll see more balls thrown his way and he’ll be playing for a contract

  • 2443scott

    i my self am not relieing on sanders ……i expect others to pick up the slack he hasnt shown me he can stay healthy plus he hasnt even played much as a steeler to even see what he can or cant do and with him a contact player we all know where that goes …its the long end zone to no where …pats only had interest in him to plug wr holes if they really thought he was worth it they would signed him to a bigger contract steelers couldnt afford ….and why he signed with them i dont know its not like they gone to superbowl any more so means it was all about money to him …

  • Douglas Andrews

    I think Sanders is showing us about all he can as a receiver. He’s a good blocker and a pretty good pass catcher. The only problem i have with Sanders is durability. He’s very slight and IMO his smallish frame is gonna lend to some issues as we saw last year with the fumbles, and the shoulder problems. Having said that I think he can be a pretty decent number 2 but can he stay healthy during a full season is the question. If he can i’m sure he can put up some big numbers this year. I think he’s worthy of a long term contract at the right price.

  • SteelerDave

    The only way he gets a contract is if it is done before training camp ends and that is
    very unlikely.

  • Gautama Om

    Very well written Mr. Marczi. I’m looking forward to reading more of your work.

  • r4kolb

    1 touchdown 3 fumbles….enough said. As far as playing for a contract…we all saw how Wallace really picked up his game playing for a contact. (Sarcasm)

  • Matthew Marczi

    Thanks, I appreciate it!

  • Steve

    If the running game produces 4 yards per carry, that will be a 1st down every 3rd play. The run opens up the passing game. When you run the ball down the throats of the opposing teams, they get demoralized. We need to hold onto the ball and get turnovers, which turns into wins.

  • Steve

    Good job Matthew,, I like your work!

  • Matt Searls

    I wish we would just draft a wide receiver 1st or 2nd round. Honestly i think a brown is overpaid, how many touch downs does he have? Wheaton is a number 2 at best. Sanders is good as gone. Enough with the 3rd and 6th rounders. We have an elite qb and no true number 1 receiver…

  • Tim Barca

    Not sure that I totally agree with you here, just drafting a guy in the 1st or 2nd does not necessarily make them a #1. Ward was not even considered a “#2 at best” when he was drafted in the 3rd round. And Wheaton hasn’t even stepped foot into the facilities yet, let’s give him a practice or two before we decide his professional potential. I do get what you are saying, but I also understand why the Steelers didn’t draft a WR in the first round the past 2 years as well…

  • joed32

    Th last one we drafted that high was Sweed.

  • charles

    Just as with Woodley, I lhave little cause for optimism with Sanders. The stats you gave shows him in a better light though. We have a real lunchpail group of recievers right now. Hines Ward should be proud. Lets hope that Haley can expose their talents…

  • steeler4life

    should have a good year if he stays healthy, and that’s the biggest key with Sanders. Also the fumbles. Good upside just needs to focus.