The 49ers acquired wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders from the Denver Broncos on Tuesday. Many people, Kyle Shanahan included, feel that Sanders was the missing piece to the puzzle that has been the 49ers offense this season. While their running game has been top-notch, their passing game has been lacking — specifically when it comes to their wide receivers. Let’s break down what this trade means for the team.
Wide Receiver Room
The surface-level answer is pretty easy: Emmanuel Sanders is an immediate upgrade to the receiver position, and the moment he stepped in there he was immediately the best wide receiver on the team. Article over. With his addition to the team we can officially all stop lying to each other and ourselves with, “This team doesn’t need a WR1.” Sanders may not turn out to be the incredible WR1 we would like (or that he once was) but the fact remains, he will be the guy that teams plan to put their better corner on.
Wide receiver was very likely San Francisco’s weakest position group on the roster. Whether you want to attribute it to injury, youth/lack of experience, or simply just the wrong players, it was a weakness and John Lynch addressed it. Not only is Sanders a great player teams now have to worry about, he will also help out other younger receivers in the room. For too long “gadget players” have been taking on different roles in this offense, taking away from what they do best. Marquise Goodwin is probably the best example of this. Goodwin is the speed guy that is faster than everyone on the field. He will take the top off any defense, but he is not a WR1 — which at times he was asked to be. I think this frees him up to do what he does best and overall make him a better player on the team. This is the case with multiple receivers on this team, specifically I think Goodwin, Pettis, and Deebo will see the quality of their plays improve with the presence of Sanders.
Giving Jimmy Garoppolo an experience, reliable target is going to do wonders. You can argue he isn’t the player he once was speed-wise. However, one thing Emmanuel Sanders can do is catch the ball, something this team could use. According to playerprofiler.com, through this year Emmanuel Sanders has a true catch rate (percent of catches off only catchable targets) of 90.9% putting him at 12th best in that stat in the league right now. To put that in perspective, DeAndre Hopkins season has a 90.7% true catch rate and Larry Fitzgerald has an even 90%. Those two players are considered to have some of the most reliable hands in the NFL, and Sanders is higher. That’s all with Joe Flacco throwing to him.
Current 49er WR’s True Catch Rates:
- Marquise Goodwin – 73.3%
- Deebo Samuel – 78.9%
- Richie James – 71.4%
- Dante Pettis – 64.3%
- Kendrick Bourne – 90% (Surprisingly higher than I expected)
Needless to say, some sure hands could be extremely valuable to this team. Jimmy takes considerable heat for incompletions and interceptions. The stat sheet may not show it, but those that watch know that while it is a problem he has sometimes, his teammates haven’t always helped him out.
With the lack of a true WR1, I think Jimmy has been stuck trying to spread the ball around more than he should, and naturally it has had a negative impact on his game. The 49ers are one of two, yes TWO teams in the entire NFL without a wide receiver to have at least 20 receptions on the year. For most teams in the NFL it’s not even close, with multiple receivers to hit that mark or one player to surpass that number by double or even triple on occasion. The other team failing to hit this mark is the Oakland Raiders. Jimmy could use a wide receiver to throw to regularly and it should do nothing but boost his numbers.
George Kittle has been the “go-to guy” in the passing game this year. He has no doubt proven to be capable of taking on that role — but wouldn’t it be nice to get him less attention? George has still proven dominant even with excessive coverage. Imagine what he could do with even one less guy on him.
Kyle Shanahan’s claim to fame is the ability to create space unlike anyone else. He now adds a player with elite route-running skills. That is sure to only make his playbook even stronger. Not to mention the goal line plays. The 49ers now add a receiver with great hands and superior agility, the opportunities are endless.
But What Did It Cost?
Obviously, the trade was Emmanuel Sanders and the Broncos 5th-round pick for the 49ers’ 3rd and 4th-round picks. Personally, I thought that was a bit rich for a 32 year old receiver in a contract year. Now, I have absolutely no doubt that he is going to help this team get to where they are going. However I pegged his worth at a 3rd-round pick. A lot of people buy into the idea that the Broncos’ 5th-round pick will be so close to the 49ers’ 4th-round pick that it’s almost like San Francisco only gave up a 3rd-round pick for a proven receiver. Positive way of looking at it but going into the draft with only 6 picks and 5 of those on the final day is not the best way to get young talent. My theory on the addition of the 4th-round pick is that the Eagles, who were said to make a late run, finally had enough of Nelson Agholor’s drops and Desean Jackson’s injury this season and wanted to add another viable pass catcher. This then drove the price up a bit higher but John Lynch knew a move needed to be made and he did his due diligence. Now Emmanuel Sanders is a San Francisco 49er. Let’s see what happens next.