Is Emmanuel Sanders the Denver Broncos x-factor against the New England Patriots tomorrow? Judging by the past, Sanders could be exactly that. The Pittsburgh Steelers played the Patriots three times during Sanders career there and all of them were his best single game performances of that particular season.
We all know that Sanders' production since coming to Denver has been off the charts when compared to his production while in Pittsburgh. In fact, in four seasons with the Steelers, Sanders accumulated a +1.7 grade through Pro Football Focus metrics. Most of that came from an impressive rookie campaign and if you take that out of the equation he posted a disappointing -2.1 PFF grade. However, since coming to Denver he has put up an eye popping +5.9 grade and has become the deep threat he should have always been.
Fantasy focus: Rolling with Sanders
Emmanuel Sanders showcased everything that makes him a special player last week against the Chargers, and now everybody must acknowledge the talent that he has.
With his production now off the charts from his time in Pittsburgh, I wondered how he actually fared against the Patriots while there. I was stunned to see that when Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the Patriots were on the docket, Emmanuel Sanders got up to play some football.
In 2010 and in his rookie season, Sanders averaged a measly two catches for 29 yards per game. He would add another 48 yards in the return game, but overall it was a fairly typical season for a rookie wide receiver in the NFL. Against the Patriots, Sanders posted his best game with five receptions for 41 yards and one of his two touchdowns on the season, but also added 156 return yards to his stats.
The next season, Sanders regressed a bit to average another two catches per game for just 26 yards per game. He was also taken off of kick return duty. Even with those setbacks, he came to play in a big way against the Patriots to haul in five catches for 70 yards for his best statistical game of that year.
Those two games likely have little correlation to today, but I felt it was relevant to share since they were his best games as a pro in those two seasons. If we fast forward to 2013, we can look at Sanders best game as a professional football player prior to coming to the Denver Broncos and yes, it was against the New England Patriots again.
In an embarrassing road loss, Emmanuel Sanders would be one of the few bright spots for the Steelers hauling in six catches for 98 yards - the closest he would ever get to a hundred yards receiving before Peyton Manning. 2013 would be his best season as a pro, averaging four catches for 46 yards per game on the year. Laughable when compared to his present pace in 2014.
The point of this data is to consider how well Sanders has played the Patriots in his career during a time when he was relatively ineffective in the Steelers offense. Since coming to the Broncos, Sanders has increased his production by 100%. He has nearly as many yards and receptions through seven games as he has had through entire seasons as a Steeler and since he has a history of playing his best against Bill Belichick's defenses, he could be putting up some impressive numbers on Sunday.
Is Emmanuel Sanders going to be the Denver Broncos x-factor tomorrow? I say yes.