Steelers Now Look To Replacing Emmanuel Sanders’ Production

If the 2013 season was an audition for Emmanuel Sanders to prove to the front office of the Pittsburgh Steelers that he was deserving of a long-term contract, then he obviously failed that audition.

According to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Steelers never even made an offer to keep Sanders. This could easily have been a story about Jason Worilds had he not come on in the second half of the season. But he did just that, and he was rewarded with a transition tag for it.

Sanders, meanwhile, may have had some of his best statistics, but overall did not impress substantially in his debut as a full-time starting wide receiver. His performance is better described as flashes of highs and lows, rather than consistent.

Now that Sanders is expected to sign with the Denver Broncos, it’s time for the Steelers to work on replacing his production. Of course, given that they evidently didn’t intend to retain him, they surely have been working on this already.

Much of this is expected to come from within, with a re-signing of slot receiver Jerricho Cotchery likely expected to come about any day now. But the big jump should be with second-year player Markus Wheaton.

Dogged by college requirements, injuries, and then, ultimately, the depth chart, the former third-round pick’s rookie season was relatively underwhelming, but the Steelers clearly believe he’s capable of much more.

In fact, general manager Kevin Colbert was asked during the Combine about the prospect of Wheaton replacing Sanders in 2014, and here was his answer:

“Markus had a setback last year. First, he couldn’t be with us for OTAs because of the agreement (the NFL has) with the colleges. So we didn’t get him until the tail end of OTAs in June. He came in behind. He worked his way into the rotation. Then he broke a finger. It heeled. He worked his way back in and broke another finger. It was just a medical frustration for him, but he has had some offseason surgeries to correct that further, and we’re hoping he has a nice year in 2014. You take a kid in the third round, you want him to produce. We expect him to produce. We hope that’s the case.”

With the free agent well at wide receiver quickly drying up, and a complete absence of reports of the Steelers being interested in any of them but Cotchery, one would have to figure that Wheaton will be the primary candidate to replicate, if not exceed, Sanders’ production from 2013, in particular his six touchdowns.

But there have been many reports during the offseason that the Steelers also intend to address the position high in the draft. With wide receiver being one of the deepest positions in this draft, it would stand to reason that Pittsburgh stands a good chance of drafting somebody that will be able to contribute fairly significantly as a rookie, with everything up to and including the first round being open for discussion.

While Sanders may not have set the world on fire, it seemed that Sanders and Ben Roethlisberger were finally starting to develop some chemistry with one another, especially in the red zone, and it’s not easy to replace six touchdowns. Especially when your slot receiver catches 10 of them in a performance that would be shocking to see repeated.

The Steelers must now replace that production, but in truth, it seems those plans are already well under way.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

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

  • Rob H

    I’m just glad we can officially put the mistake that was Emmanuel Sanders behind us. He had the attitude and personality of his buddy Wallace, without the speed to get separation deep, and keep the safeties from cheating too close to the box, which would make you willing to tolerate it.
    In the end, the only one left who thought he was anything more than an adequate number three, was him.

  • Nolrog

    Sanders was not a mistake. He wasn’t the coup that 6th round pick Brown was, but he did decent enough for a 3rd round pick.

  • blackandgoldBullion

    The answer is Wheaton. He was a captain, a leader, a great team player and that’s the guy that will take over the no. 2 WR spot this upcoming year. He has the speed to demand safety help when he goes long. This year when Ben gets the ball to him on a crossing pattern in full stride, he will turn up the field a create a long TD occasionally.

    They will draft another WR that will be tall and hopefully contribute a little especially in the red zone. Cotch will be signed and help out on 3rd downs and in the red zone as well. Also, the running game will be better because of the best acquisition of the year; Mike Munchack!

    They will find a starter or 2 in FA and draft captains or responsible type team players, just like last year. If you want to try to predict draft picks this year, think about the new mantra the Steelers have employed since last year. They now pick guys who either were calling plays on the field or captains.

    I like the way they are thinking because these guys will become real team players, not the selfish types or problem guys of the past, like Sanders. I don’t like guys who drop the ball or turn around mid play jumping up and down intimating that the ball should have been thrown in a different place. Just shut up and play.

    sorry for the long post, but I could talk forever.

  • Rob H

    You’re right in the sense that he wasn’t a mistake like them (or Jackson, Stephens, Davis, etc.), but I was referring more to the mistake of matching the Patriots offer and thinking he could be an adequate # 2 receiver.
    He had the tools to be a great slot receiver along the lines of Welker, but in my opinion didn’t live up to even that, yet he thought and acted like he was a lot more. He and his agent have since found out that they were the only ones who felt that way.

  • cencalsteeler

    Resign Cotch, Wheaton steps in, draft a wr somewhere in rounds 1-3, end of story, problem solved, batta bing batta bam!


    Sanders was a serviceable player…imo just not dynamic enough to continue putting two sub 6′ WRs on the field. In Den he can be a solid #2/slot guy with the attention going to Thomas/Welker.

  • Jeff Anoble

    Actually replacing the production of most every deep ball thrown his way being dropped, or his ill timed drops won’t be hard at all! Any non drafted shrimp receiver will do just fine.


    I’ve heard a lot of talk similar to yours regarding Wheation…I’m still in the wait and see mode with him because what I’ve see to date leaves me wanting to see more before I’m ready to say he is a player. A taller WR that can play imo should be a priority in this draft.

  • Jazz

    I agree with you 100%. I’ve said this numerous amount of times, Emmanuel Sanders is a great slot receiver and multi-purpose WR. He is an adequate 2nd WR, never has been and IMO never will be a #1 WR. Now he is headed to Denver to fill what role? Oh yeah, he will be the #3 WR. If his Dumb A$$ hadn’t made those silly comments last yr about him and FA, maybe the Steelers would have offered him a contract. He got paid, I wish him well.