The Steelers drafted Emmanuel Sanders in the third round of the 2010 NFL Draft and for much of his rookie year he was one of “two dogs vying for the same bone” to quote Steelers standard bearer Mike Tomlin.
The other dog of course was Antonio Brown with whom Sanders was competing for a roster spot.
- Tomlin’s decision paid big dividends as the receiving tandem helped the Steelers reach Super Bowl XVL where Sanders injured his foot.
Recovery was slow, keeping Sanders out of 11 games and allowing Antonio Brown to leap frog him on the depth chart. Although Sanders missed the last three regular season games, while Mike Wallace was dropping passes in Denver, Sanders made a statement by catching everything thrown his way, finishing the night with six catches for 81 yards.
2012 was a rough year for the Pittsburgh Steelers receiving corps however for Sanders it did not start that way. Through most of the first half of 2012 Sanders quietly began making a name for himself as the kind who just happened to manage to come up with the ball when the Steelers needed a third down conversion or in similar situations.
The numbers back that up. Throughout his career, Sanders has caught extremely well on the road and likewise has made the majority of his catches when the Steelers are tied or behind.
- It is not too much of a stretch to say that early in the season, Emmanuel Sanders was looking very much like Hines Ward had early in his career.
Then the malaise that infected the rest of the receiver corps got to Sanders. He fumbled twice in Cleveland (who didn’t) another time in Baltimore, followed by a lack luster performance vs. San Diego (did anyone play well that afternoon?) suffered some injuries, and finished the season with a wimper.
Steelers Need to Stand Pat with Sanders
Emmanuel Sanders has had injury issue with the Steelers and his play was inconsistent late in 2012. But Sanders is still an asset to the Steelers now and an investment in him now can pay long-term dividends.
- Expect the Steelers to give Sanders and original round tender
The Steelers can safely offer Sanders and original round tender. It is highly unlikely that any team would be willing to give up a third round pick for him, and if they did it would not likely be so high that the Steelers couldn’t match it.
The Steelers are in an advantageous spot with Sanders. He’s show enough for them to know that, when healthy, he can be a legitimate starting NFL wide receiver, but his body of work is not such that he can yet command a large salary.
Salary cap space allowing, the Steelers should seek to sign Sanders to a long term deal once the draft and free agency have sorted themselves out.