New York Jets Free Agent Target: Emmanuel Sanders?

A closer look at wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, a potential target for the New York Jets in free agency

One name that has been frequently associated with the New York Jets this offseason is Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver, Emmanuel Sanders. With four seasons under his belt, Sanders is about to hit the free agent market for the first time in his career. In our roundtable last week, salary cap expert, Joel Corry, discussed the type of contract he is likely to receive:

 I would look for upper echelon #2 WR money with the Brian Hartline neighborhood ($6-$6.25M per year/$12.5M guaranteed) as my target.

Should the Jets consider making a push for him at this type of money? Let’s take a closer look at Sanders:


5 foot 11. 180 pounds. 4.41 forty time (2010 3rd round pick)

  • 2010: 13 games – 28 receptions – 49 targets – 376 yards – 2 TDs – 13.4 yards per catch
  • 2011: 11 games – 22 receptions – 43 targets – 288 yards – 2 TDs – 13.1 yards per catch
  • 2012: 16 games – 44 receptions – 74 targets – 626 yards – 1 TD – 14.2 yards per catch
  • 2013: 16 games – 67 receptions – 112 targets – 740 yards – 6 TDs – 11.0 yards per catch

Sanders began as an effective role player for the Steelers in his first two seasons. In 2012, he climbed his way up to being the fourth option in Pittsburgh’s passing game, behind Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Heath Miller, all of whom had more receptions, yards, targets and touchdowns than him that season. However, Sanders had an impressive yards per catch and logged 16 games for the first time of his career. He appeared to be showing signs of being ready for a more featured role in 2013 when Mike Wallace inevitably left in free agency. New England came up with an offer sheet for Sanders as a Restricted Free Agent but the Steelers matched the deal to ensure his return.

His 2013 was mildly disappointing. He didn’t make any strides on his reception to target ratio. In 2011, he was at 50%. In 2012, he bumped up to 59%. In 2013, he flatlined at 59%. Sanders’ yards per catch also dropped over 3 full yards. He did score more touchdowns in 2013 than he did in every other previous season combined. Yet, he never really rose up opposite of Antonio Brown as the team’s number two option, despite having a terrific opportunity to do just that with tight end Heath Miller missing a substantial amount of time. Ironically enough, it was former Jet Jerricho Cotchery who was more efficient and productive with his opportunities. On 36 less targets, Cotchery only had 138 less yards, a higher yards per catch by two yards and four more touchdowns.

When going back through eight of Sanders’ games from the 2013 and 2012 seasons, what stands out most about him is that there is not one thing that stands out most about his game. Sanders is a talented receiver but he has average size and does not play overly physical. He has very good but not great speed. It would be inaccurate to call him a burner or a true home run threat. In his career, he has only exceeded 80 yards three times and has never had a 100 yard game. He has occasional inconsistencies catching the football and is only slightly above average after the catch, thanks mostly to his speed, not an ability to break tackles. Sanders runs good routes and possesses strong field awareness but is not exceptional in either area.

In our previously mentioned roundtable article, Corry said Golden Tate would command about a million per year more than Sanders and the reason we keep banging the drum for Tate here instead of a guy like Sanders, is because Tate plays bigger than his size and does have an exceptional ability to avoid drops and break tackles. If you moved Tate around between split end, flanker and slot as a frequently featured receiver, he projects to have a higher ceiling than Sanders.

Would Sanders upgrade the Jets current receiving situation? Absolutely. However, that isn’t really saying much. I don’t see good value in paying him 6 million per year when I’m not sure his ceiling is much higher than what we saw in 2013. If he couldn’t crack 750 yards and a 11.5 YPC in a pass happy offense with a top ten quarterback opposite of All-Pro Antonio Brown, what is he going to produce in a more run orientated Jets offense with a sophomore quarterback who still has to prove himself a capable starter, without an All-Pro opposite him at receiver?

I say the Jets should pass.

Of course, Sanders did find a way to make arguably his biggest play of the season against the Jets in 2013.

Author: Joe Caporoso

Joe Caporoso is the Owner and EIC of Turn On The Jets. His writing has been featured in the New York Times, Huffington Post, MMQB and AdWeek. Caporoso played football his entire life, including four years at Muhlenberg as a wide receiver, where he was arguably the slowest receiver to ever start in school history. He is the EVP of Content at Whistle Sports