Found March 17, 2013 on SteelBlitz Steelers Blog:
The Pittsburgh Steelers could lose wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders in restricted free agency. The New England Patriots have expressed interest in signing Sanders away from the Steelers and have already met with the receiver in free agency. So far this off-season the Patriots have lost Danny Woodhead, Wes Welker and Brandon Llyod. If the Patriots were to sign Sanders in free agency the Steelers would have lost their number on receiver, Mike Wallace, and their third receiver. Also, because the Steelers placed an original tender on Sanders they would get the Patriots third round pick as compensation. The Steelers would also save close to $1 million in cap space if Sanders left in free agency. Due to the cap savings and extra draft pick many fans believe the Steelers would be better off losing Sanders. However, they would than be forced to draft at least one, and probably two receivers in the draft this April. There is also no guarantee that the player they draft will turn into as good of a player as Sanders has been for the Steelers during his three year career. During Sanders three NFL seasons he has caught 94 passes for 1,290 yards and five touchdowns. In his first two seasons Sanders battled foot injuries, but last season he played in all 16 games and had the best season of his young career. Last season Sanders served as the Steelers third receiver and put up a stat line of 44 receptions, 626 yards and one touchdown. With more playing time it would be fair to speculate that Sanders could become a solid receiver in Todd Haley’s offense and with the departure of Mike Wallace Sanders is expected to be the Steelers second receiver behind Antonio Brown. Brown and Sanders were drafted in the same draft back in 2010 and at one point Sanders was considered to be the better player. Foot injuries allowed Brown to surpass Sanders on the depth chart and he hasn’t looked back, but Sanders will be looking to make a name for himself next season. The only problem now, for the Steelers at least, is whether or not Sander will be playing for them next season. Another mid-round draft pick and salary cap room would be nice; especially in a draft that is middle-heavy, but the Steelers are in need of play-makers on offense and losing another one would further deepen that hole. There are also some misconceptions out there about Sanders abilities and production. Many believe that Sanders is very injury prone. Although he did miss time in his first two seasons due to foot injuries Sanders has played in 40 games for the Steelers and played in all 16 games a season ago. There is no reason to think that his foot injuries will continue to be an issue and if he can stay healthy he can continue to improve as a wide receiver. There has also been talk about Sanders drop issues in the NFL. Last season Sanders dropped three passes, Brown dropped 4 and Wallace dropped 6. None of the three ranked towards the top of the league in dropped passes however. Wallace had a drop rate just over 5%, Brown’s drop rate was 3.77% and Sanders had a drop rate of 4%. Multiple top ranked receivers in the league including Calvin Johnson had higher drop rates than all three Steelers receivers and much higher rates than Sanders. Another concern with Sanders is his low touchdown rate. During his three NFL seasons Sanders had only scored five touchdowns. That rate would be expected to increase if he sees more playing time. When the Steelers get close to the end zone they typically use fewer receivers which makes it less unlikely for the third receiver on the depth chart to score touchdowns. Also, if you compare stats between Sanders, Brown, Jerricho Cotchery and Plaxico Burress, the top four receivers on the Steelers roster currently, in terms of touchdowns Sanders comes in second. Based on touchdowns per receptions Sanders scores one touchdown every 18.8 receptions. Burress comes in first with one touchdown every 8.6 receptions, followed by Cotchery at once every 19.5 receptions and Brown with one every 21.5 receptions. Emmanuel Sanders may not be the best receiver on the Steelers roster, but with more playing time his stats should improve. Projecting Sanders stats if he got the number of targets that a typical second receiver got they would come to the following: 62 receptions, 849 yards, and four touchdowns. That stat line would be very similar to the line that Antonio Brown put up last season as the Steelers number two receiver. The Steelers need to add play-makers to their roster this off-season with the loss of Mike Wallace and Rashard Mendenhall. Losing Sanders would only increase those issues. There is also the fact that the Steelers will not be using free agency to fill these spots and there is no guarantee that draft picks will pan out so keeping Sanders, at this point in time, is the best option for the Steelers and may prove much more valuable than a third round pick and some cap space.
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