As the title above states, Emmanuel Sanders will begin the final regular season of his current contract this afternoon. The now fourth-year wide receiver is set to step into the starting split end position in Pittsburgh’s offense, and the timing could not be any more perfect for the former S.M.U. Mustang pass-catcher.
Sanders does enter his fourth season with much to prove after his first three years were limited by injuries and hurt by ball-security issues. That is not however to say that “Manny” does not have the type of skill-set to make him a successful receiver at the professional level. In fact, Sanders set career-highs in starts (seven), catches (44), receiving yards (626), and yards per reception (14.2) during the 2012 season.
Pittsburgh’s brass seemed confident enough in Sanders to let Mike Wallace leave for “greener pastures” this offseason, and they actually almost lost their wide receiver to the Patriots when New England signed him to a restricted free agent (RFA) tender this past April.
Now a starter, “Manny” will have the chance to be a primary target in the Steelers’ aerial attack during the 2013 campaign. Sanders should also receive plenty of chances to succeed if Antonio Brown, rookie speedster Markus Wheaton, and the savvy veteran Jerricho Cotchery can occupy the attention of opposing defenses this fall. Plus, with Heath Miller hobbled with his knee injury, Sanders should have a chance to become a legitimate red zone threat for Pittsburgh’s offense during the Pro Bowl tight end’s absence.
Sanders will have a 16-game audition (hopefully more if the Steelers qualify for the postseason) to prove to teams around the league including the Steelers that he is worth a sizable chunk of change when he becomes an unrestricted free agent (UFA) next March. Ben Roethlisberger could use a reliable target to throw to opposite Antonio Brown, and Sanders has a great chance to provide that role during the upcoming regular season.
The money and interest always exist for competent pass-catchers on the free agent market, and Sanders is in a perfect situation to earn and garner both if he can realize his potential in the present.
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