The San Francisco 49ers just acquired wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders from the Denver Broncos, and Niner Noise breaks down how he’ll affect the Niners offense in 2019.
Sanders figures to provide an immediate impact to head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense, and Niner Noise breaks down what the pass-catching threat offers to San Francisco.
Emmanuel Sanders’ skill set
After reviewing Sanders’ tape there are two things that stand out about his game: his route running and his ability to add yards after the catch.
Having been in the league for 10 years, Sanders understands the intricacies of route running, which is evident by his consistent ability to get open.
Watching Sanders is very similar to watching current New York Giants wide receiver Golden Tate. Tate is known for his elusiveness after the catch, which is something that stands out when watching Sanders.
An interesting thing to note is that Tate has also played 10 years in the league, and it took the Philadelphia Eagles a third-round NFL Draft pick to get him from the Detroit Lions back in 2018.
Sanders cost the 49ers about the equivalent of a third, as the Broncos’ fifth-round selection is expected to be high and the Niners’ fourth rounder is expected to be low in the round.
The best way to utilize Sanders’ skill set is by using him on intermediate in-breaking routes. These type of routes need precise route running and also give a better opportunity of adding yards after the catch than an out-breaking or simple go route down the sideline.
How Emmanuel Sanders’ skill set fits 49ers offensive scheme
Arguably the key facet of the Shanahan scheme is utilizing the middle of the field, which is known to be more productive than passing outside the numbers. This is the main reason why tight ends and pass-catching running backs do so well in the scheme.
As mentioned above, this is where Sanders is most effective, thus the scheme should accentuate his skill set.
The biggest problem for the 49ers offense this season has been red-zone touchdown percentage. Through six games of the season, the 49ers have only scored a touchdown on 38.46 percent of their red-zone trips, which ranks 29th. This is behind the abysmal New York Jets and Washington Redskins!
Due to his excellent route running and his consistent hands (according to Pro Football Focus, Sanders hasn’t dropped any of his 30 catchable targets this season, only the Arizona Cardinals’ Larry Fitzgerald and Broncos’ Courtland Sutton are ahead of him), Sanders should be a reliable target for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in the red zone.
How Emmanuel Sanders will affect the rest of the offense
One of the disappointments for the 49ers offense is that none of their wide receivers have been able to take a step forward in 2019. The only player to perform above expectations has been Kendrick Bourne. This has again left most of the burden to tight end George Kittle.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing to give a lot of targets to Kittle, as he is one of the best tights end in the league. However, bringing in a quality wide receiver like Sanders will force defenses to take a bit of attention away from Kittle, which will help the latter get more favorable matchups.
And if 2018 is anything to go by, Kittle takes full advantage of favorable matchups.
The player that is mostly likely going to be hurt because of the Sanders acquisition is wide receiver Marquise Goodwin. One of the key players for the Atlanta Falcons’ historic offense in 2016 was wide receiver Taylor Gabriel. Sanders doesn’t have the 4.27 40-time speed Gabriel has, but did run a 4.41 (to go back to the comparison to Tate, who ran a 4.42). Thus, one should expect Shanahan to dial up plays which have Sanders as the primary deep threat whenever they need a big play, which was Goodwin’s main role in the offense, previously.
The 49ers offense mostly had to run the ball effectively and get occasional chunk plays, as their defense has been so dominant. However, it’s inevitable their defense slows down. Sanders will help the 49ers’ pass offense break out and may look something like the Shanahan-led Falcons offense in 2016.