Is Emmanuel Sanders the missing piece for the Saints offense?

Is Emmanuel Sanders' move to New Orleans going to be the push the Saints need to get them through the postseason? Or is he just yet another placeholder at WR2 in the depth charts?

Emmanuel Sanders’ decade long NFL career will officially continue this upcoming NFL season down south in the Big Easy. Last week, the veteran wide receiver signed a two-year, $16 million contract with the New Orleans Saints. Can Sanders have a legitimate impact on the team? Or is he too far past his prime to keep New Orleans from having yet another ‘coming-up-short’ postseason headline?

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Career Highlights

Sanders was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers during the third round of the 2010 NFL Draft as the 82nd overall pick. During his rookie year with Pittsburgh, he brought in 28 receptions for 376 yards and two touchdowns over the course of 13 games. The Steelers reached the ultimate game, allowing Sanders to make his first Super Bowl appearance during his rookie year. However, the excitement was cut short after Sanders fractured his foot and had to be carted off the field during the second quarter after only completing two catches.

He spent the next three seasons with the Steelers and had a combined 161 receptions for 2,030 yards and 11 touchdowns. Sanders’ contract with Pittsburgh expired in 2014 and he went on to sign a three-year deal with the Denver Broncos from free agency. During his first season with the Broncos, Sanders had his career-best year with 101 receptions for 1,404 yards and nine touchdowns. These stats did not go unnoticed and Sanders made his first Pro Bowl appearance.


sanders impact with the saints

He returned in 2015 with another strong season for Denver. He was ranked as the 13th overall wide receiver that year with 76 receptions, 1,135 yards, and six touchdowns. Sanders also finally got to have a little postseason redemption in the 2015 season where he was the leading overall receiver for either team of Super Bowl 50 with six receptions and 83 yards. Denver came out on top of Carolina 24—10.

The Denver Broncos retained Sanders for the next five years up until the 2019 season. His time with the Broncos resulted in a combined 404 receptions for 5,361 total yards and 28 touchdowns. Sanders played the first two games of the 2019 regular season with Denver before being traded to the San Francisco 49ers (with a 2020 fifth-round pick) in exchange for both a third and fourth-round 2020 Draft pick. Sanders completed his 2019 season in San Francisco adding another 36 receptions and 502 yards and three touchdowns  — he also grabbed his third Super Bowl appearance.

Current Performance Data

Sanders has undoubtedly had an impressive career. But what do his current stats and trends say? To get a better feel of how Sanders should fit into the New Orleans’ offensive, let’s take a look at a few different data points and see what can be said for his most up-to-date performance information.

A few of Sanders’ key NextGen stats were in the top quartile of all receivers (including tight ends) this past season. His 66 total receptions in the 2019 season was 34th overall in the NFL. His 68.04 catch percentage was 36th and his 869 total receiving yards was 33rd. He seemed to struggle with making good movement after the catch. He only averaged 3.8 YAC which was one of the worst in the league and ranked 101st against other receivers.

When graded on individual productivity, Sanders had a “Very Good” overall Pro Football Network OSM grade of 33.47 placing him as WR37 on the 2019 season. Sanders had two “Elite” game-day performances last season with an OSM grade north of 40.00. He also had a solid Super Bowl showing with a “Good” OSM grade of 25.78.


sanders impact with the saints

Sanders’ overall production proved that he was a reliable receiver. He ranked above average in the majority of the NextGen stat sheets but failed to show up as a top player in any one metric. His OSM grades also helped show that his number can be called in a pinch when you need a go-to man for productivity.

The Verdict

The New Orleans Saints have arguably one of the best receivers in the NFL right now with Michael Thomas — his overall OSM grade of 38.31 in 2019 was WR04 in the league. But the Saints have spent several years now trying to find that number two. Thomas has outshined the Saints’ WR2 by triple-digit receptions for consecutive years now. Last season’s number two receiver, Ted Ginn Jr. (who is now a free agent), had 119 fewer receptions than Thomas.

Sanders is definitely an upgrade over Ginn and will have an impact on the Saints. Ginn, who had a few “Good” games in 2019 but was mostly quiet, had an overall OSM of 28.31. Compare that to Sanders’ 33.47 and it’s fairly easy to spot the differences on paper. Sanders is just a more well-rounded receiver at this point.


Sanders should fit well into the offensive schemes of Sean Payton. Having another reliable receiver on the field for quarterback Drew Brees will be a sigh of relief for the offense. Last season, Saints’ running back Alvin Kamara had more receptions than any other receiver in 2019 (with exception to the tight end). But it’s just hard to see Sanders having a big enough upswing in performance this season to be the key difference-maker in the New Orleans offense.

But, fortunately for Saints fans, this is definitely the type of move you want to see during the offseason. While Sanders is not the answer, he definitely is a part of the answer. The New Orleans depth chart still has some puzzle pieces that need to fall in place, but Sanders will be able to help this already potent offense.

Thoughts on this feature? Something you would like to see during the offseason? Follow us on Twitter or join in on the conversation on Facebook. You can also check out my other articles from this season here.

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