The Pittsburgh Steelers allowed unrestricted free agent wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders to run off to the Denver Broncos uncontested during the offseason and in all likelihood he won’t be missed one bit.
While Sanders is regarded by many as being an above average route runner that managed to catch 67 passes in 2013, it’s his lack of clutchness that likely resulted in him not being offered a long-term deal from the Steelers.
So let’s define that lack of clutchness.
During his time in Pittsburgh, Sanders only caught 55.6% of the passes thrown his way on third downs. As a means of comparison, Antonio Brown has caught 66.9% of all third down passes thrown his way during that same span. Even Heath Miller (66.7%) and Jerricho Cotchery (60.4%) easily out-shined Sanders on third downs during that same span of time.
To make matters even worse, Sanders only caught 51.8% of the passes thrown his way on all downs with the Steelers trailing on the scoreboard in the fourth quarter of games. While he certainly had his warts during his time in Pittsburgh, even former Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace managed to catch 65.2% of the balls thrown his way in the fourth quarter while behind.
Being as Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has a career completion percentage of 61.7% when behind in the fourth quarter, it’s not hard to find where the weak link in the chain has been.
So now that Sanders is gone, how is the level of clutchness of the players that will be asked to replace him?
It’s too early to tell with Markus Wheaton, who has all of six career catches so far. It should be noted, however, that he only caught 46.2% of the 13 passes thrown his way during his rookie season. A lot is expected out of him in 2014, so we should know real quick if he will indeed be an upgrade over Sanders. Rest assured, it’s hard seeing him being much worse when it comes to clutchness.
If Wheaton is not an upgrade over Sanders, newcomer Lance Moore should be.
During his eight seasons with the New Orleans Saints, Moore caught 65.8% of the third passes thrown his direction. As a means of comparison, all-everything tight end Jimmy Graham has caught 62.4% of the third down passes thrown his way since coming into the league.
So what about Moore in the fourth quarter with the Saints trailing? How does a 63.3% completion percentage sound? In fact, dating back to 2006, there’s only six other wide receivers that have a higher completion percentage than Moore has in that situation that have been targeted more than 80 times. Also, of those six players ahead of him on that list, Moore’s 13.27 yards per catch in those situations is second only to his former teammate Marques Colston.