A day-by-day Broncos player breakdown is something we've been doing since our days at BroncoTalk nearly a decade ago. This year the tradition continues as we look at the Denver Broncos roster heading into the 2015 season in our 90-in-90 series.
Name: EMMANUEL SANDERS
Position: WIDE RECEIVER
Height: 5'11 Weight: 180
Age: 28 Experience: 6
When Emmanuel Sanders signed as a free agent with the Denver Broncos just after the 2013-14 season, reactions were mixed about how the wide receiver would fill the shoes of fan-favorite Eric Decker.
But it took about three minutes and a quick reminder of just how floppy Decker's shoes could be before Broncos Country opened its arms and hearts to the former Pittsburgh Steeler.
Broncos' vice president and GM John Elway had reportedly been working on a deal with wide receiver Brandon LaFell after initially targeting Sanders but seeing too big of a price tag. When negotiations with LaFell hit a snag, Elway took a look at Sanders again and found the receiver's market price had dropped, making him a target once again. Ultimately, Sanders signed with the Broncos on a three-year, $15 million deal, in spite of having a verbal commitment to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Sanders endeared himself to fans immediately with tons of social media interaction, following thousands of fans on Twitter via his #FollowMeE weekly campaigns and holding weekly Q&As with #AskE as well as tons of swag give-aways.
But it was his production last year - even in preseason - that made fans fall in love with the happy-go-lucky wide receiver who had called playing in Denver with Peyton Manning "wide receiver heaven." And once Sanders added the Mile High Salute to his signature bow after a score, it was all too easy for Broncos fans to adopt No.10 into the fold.
It is not hard to find good stats on this guy. In his first season with the Broncos, Sanders logged nearly double the number of yards receiving as his best year in Pittsburgh, getting 101 catches for 1,404 yards and nine touchdowns. His best season in yellow and black was 2013 - his fourth and final - with 740 yards receiving.
Other than great production, fans probably associate with Sanders most his great hands, blazing speed and willingness to lay out for a catch - sometimes to his own detriment.
More than once the wide receiver took a blow that looked fatal, but just once did he suffer real consequences, sustaining a concussion in the Nov. 21 game against the St. Louis Rams.
And this year, as a second-year Bronco, Sanders is taking on more of a leadership role with the team, spending more time taking passes from backup quarterback Brock Osweiler as well as working with young receivers.
"I remember when I was coming in as a young guy, I had Hines Ward as a leader," Sanders said. "He took me and Antonio Brown under his wing and just taught us everything he knew. It ended up paying off for me, so why wouldn't I give back?"
No doubt, he has his eye on a big future with this team as well.
You would be hard-pressed to find something remotely "critical" about Sanders, much less "bad."
About the only thing is that at 5'11, he's no giant, but that hasn't appeared to stop him from beating out many a defender in his path, thanks to his "crisp routes" (thanks for that reference, sadaraine!) and lightning speed down the field.
Perhaps, that is one critique - it's easy for Sanders to outrun his quarterback's passes. As sadaraine also put it, "he's like the CHJ of the offense," so it's impossible to find something bad about the guy.
As soon as the offseason got underway, Sanders was on the podium stating that the message from new head coach Gary Kubiak was "world championship," and a few months later he was quoted as saying he believed the New England Patriots should lose their Super Bowl rings.
"Am I mad? Yeah, yeah I'm kinda mad," Sanders said via 9 News when the receiver stopped by a kids football camp at Dove Valley. "I don't think they should be Super Bowl champions this year."
But it's what the first-time Pro Bowler is saying now that has fans the most excited once again. Sitting out most of preseason to nurse a hamstring, Sanders is ready to go as the Broncos open against the Ravens on Sunday.
"I feel good, I feel really good. I'm excited and the season starts Sunday," Sanders said Monday after practice. "Today was a good start. I feel like, offensively, we went out there and we moved the football. We had the opportunity to get one extra practice in before we start on Wednesday our preparation for Baltimore."
That's not championship mentality. https://t.co/fl7GoReqXd— Emmanuel Sanders (@ESanders_10) September 6, 2015
One of the things Sanders will be practicing a little extra this season is returning punts. While some aren't keen on the team's No. 2 receiver putting himself in that kind of danger, Sanders sees it as just another opportunity to make plays with the football.
"Why not? It's an opportunity to get the ball in my hands, and it's an opportunity to make plays, so I'm excited about it," Sanders said, noting that his goal is always to get a first down. "Anything after that is all positive, but I just try to get a first down. Ten yards, and whatever happens after that, happens."
Sanders, who returned punts in college and also as a rookie with the Steelers, says it's all about getting more comfortable with it, and once he does, plan on watching him take a few to the house.
"Right now, I'm a punt returner and it's to just catch the ball," Sanders said. "But I know myself. The more comfortable that I get with them, I'm going to be trying to score. I want to be the best at doing it. If I'm going to be doing it, I want to be the best."
I prob. should but the way I'm wired won't let me. https://t.co/aeAD3KXY1e— Emmanuel Sanders (@ESanders_10) September 6, 2015
His coach isn't worried about Sanders touching the rock on returns either.
"I have total confidence. He's fine, he practiced great today and he's very explosive," Kubiak said, adding that it's important not to risk an injury with Sanders catching punts but also a great way to use such a dynamic player. "We've never had any doubt that he could do that. I'm looking forward to watching him do it."
After sitting out a good bit of Training Camp and not playing in any preseason games due to a hamstring injury, Sanders is healthy and will be ready for Week 1 when the Broncos host the Baltimore Ravens.
And though Sanders says he still gets first-game jitters, he is more than ready to get the season going.
"There are a lot of emotions going into it, and you want yourself to be on top of your game, but you know that everybody else is getting ready to play 40, 50, 60 plays. You have to understand that it's a journey," he said. "That's my mindset. The goal is to make the playoffs. You have to understand that the season is an uphill battle and you just have to keep fighting."
One person besides Sanders who is especially happy to have the receiver in full action this weekend is Manning.
"Emmanuel is a guy that loves football in the heat of a Sunday. He goes out and just plays with great enthusiasm and great passion. He loves to compete, loves to win and truly loves the game," said No. 18. "He brings a lot more than just his speed and route running. He brings an energy. He brings a competitive spirit that I think is kind of contagious."