• Will Cuberos

Rising Tide Raises All Ships: Why Emmanuel Sanders Makes All of the Receivers Better

Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann


It would be easy to use coach-speak when talking about what Emmanuel Sanders brings to the 49ers: veteran leadership, playoff experience, Super Bowl champion. All of those things are true, but aside from the usual superlatives, Sanders will bring even more to the 2019 49ers.

Prior to their trade with the Broncos, the 49ers had one of the youngest receiver groups in football, with 28-year-old Marquise Goodwin as the elder statesman. Remove Goodwin from the equation, and Sanders has more NFL experience then Dante Pettis, Kendrick Bourne, Deebo Samuel combined. In both of his stops Sanders has been a consummate pro and has played along side top tier-talent and seen firsthand what the best do to prepare.

Before being traded to San Francisco, Sanders primarily worked outside of the numbers on his receiving routes. Of his 41 targets in Denver, 20 were outside the numbers, 13 were between the numbers but within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, with two targets coming behind the line of scrimmage. Since his arrival, Jimmy Garoppolo has shown a propensity to target the middle of the field, whether it was Trent Taylor or George Kittle, Garoppolo always finds himself working between the numbers. Discounting passes completed behind the line of scrimmage, 79 of Garoppolo’s 139 pass attempts have been between the numbers.

But at least in his first game in the Red and Gold, it seems Shanahan’s plan is to deploy Sanders into Garoppolo’s sweet spot. Of his five targets Sunday, three were inside the numbers, resulting in two first downs and a touchdown. This would be a new area of the field for Sanders to get the majority of his work, but it would serve two purposes: it gives Garoppolo a reliable target where he likes to work, and it draws more defenders to the middle of the field.

If you were to nitpick the 7-0 start, your most likely target would be the young receiver group. Following Sunday’s game rookie Deebo Samuel leads all receivers with 187 yards, a paltry 31.2 yards per game average. With Sanders and Kittle roaming the middle of the field and pulling multiple defenders their way, Pettis, Samuel, Bourne and others should find more advantageous match-ups in the secondary.

While Sanders brings a wealth of off-field experience to this receiving group, it’ll be the attention and coverage he draws that will benefit the 49ers’ young receivers the most.


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