An unheralded third-round receiver with great explosiveness and hands: That description might sound a little too familiar to Steelers fans.
That’s because it not only describes 2010 selection Emmanuel Sanders of Southern Methodist, but it was also a fitting description of Pittsburgh’s 2009 third-round pick, Mike Wallace.
Fans can only hope that Sanders can come in and match the type of production Wallace provided during his rookie campaign. Especially now in the wake of the recent Santonio Holmes departure.
It was Wallace who last season emerged as a viable target in Pittsburgh’s passing attack, catching 39 balls with six of those going for scores.
The most important of those touchdowns came against Green Bay in a Week 15 victory. It was Wallace's last-second catch in the end zone that propelled the Steelers to a 37-36 victory. It was that catch that established Wallace as a young player to keep a watchful eye on in Pittsburgh.
Suffice it to say that Sanders definitely has some expectations to live up to now. Not only will he be playing in the shadows of Wallace’s rookie achievements, but he must now come in and pick up the slack as a contributor in the place of Holmes.
Rest assured, though, if there’s anything that Sanders knows about, it’s contributing.
The Southern Methodist product comes to the Steelers after a 98-catch, 1,300-yard season last year. It’s true the numbers were inflated in June Jones’ pass-happy attack, but nonetheless, Sanders has proved he can be a definitive threat in the passing game.
The Steelers had such an interest in Sanders that they felt the need to make him one of the 30 potential draftees invited to the UPMC training facility earlier this month.
In a recent Pittsburgh Post Gazette article, Steelers WR coach Scott Montgomery is quoted as saying, "He had the ability to catch the ball and get north-south. I really, really feel good about his quickness with the ball in his hand."
When you watch a highlight reel of Sanders, there’s no denying Montgomery’s assessment, and his 4.4 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine in February only helped to solidify it.
Even though it may have come against marginal Conference USA competition, the 5'11" Sanders still showed that when he has the ball in his hands he has top-notch playmaker ability.
Not only were the Steelers impressed with the receiver’s speed, but his leadership prowess most likely rubbed off on them as well. Sanders helped his team on and off the field last season in their quest to become bowl-eligible for the first time in 25 years.
He has been a starter since his freshman season and has drawn nothing but rave reviews from those around the Mustang program, who cite his hard work and uncanny desire to keep getting better.
All in all, it would seem Sanders has the makeup to be a perfect fit for a Steelers organization that has been marred by turmoil in recent months.
There’s no doubt the Steelers can use some help at the wideout position. Hines Ward is getting up there in years and Holmes is off to New York.
It looks like Sanders is just the guy to provide a spark though. He brings the speed and playmaking ability of a Santonio Holmes and does so without the unnecessary headaches.
That should be greatly appreciated by the organization and a fanbase that has seemingly dealt with headache after headache this offseason.
There seems to be a good possibility that Sanders can come in and not only match what Wallace accomplished last season but surpass it.
Sanders provides a bright outlook for a franchise which at this time is so desperately in need of one.
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