Even as a nine-year veteran, Emmanuel Sanders now finds himself in a position he’s never been in before.
Sanders entered the league with the Steelers as a third-round draft pick out of SMU, and was tutored by Hines Ward and Mike Wallace. When he left Pittsburgh at the end of the 2013 season and headed to Denver to sign with the Broncos, he joined an offense that was coming off an historic season and was joined by veterans Wes Welker and Demaryius Thomas in the receiving corps.
Now, for the first time in his career, Sanders is the lone veteran receiver on the roster, seven years older than the next oldest at the position.
“It’s definitely different, ‘cause I’m like the older guy in the room,” Sanders said at his youth football camp. “It’s something I’m not really used to. I’m used to having some type of veteran presence but at the same time, I’m embracing the role.”
While the Broncos’ receiving corps may lack experience, one thing it clearly isn’t lacking is talent. Both Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton flashed immense upside during their rookie season in 2018, and Tim Patrick showed the potential to eventually take over for Sanders opposite Sutton.
“Them guys are confident guys that believe in themselves, so that’s why I really enjoy playing with them,” said the veteran. “It’s one thing to play with a guy who’s second-guessing their ability and those guys don’t second guess their ability, they want to be great. So, to play with those guys and be able to mentor these guys and to show them the way. Show them the way I was successful with my work ethic and through conversation. Y’know, that’s what I’m all about. Trying to make those guys successful.”
While Sanders has a bond with all the young guys on the roster, his relationship is especially close with second-year wide receiver Sutton, who went to his Alma Mater of SMU.
“We grew up in the same area. He grew up like 15-20 minutes away from me, kinda in the same area. So that makes us even more close, then we went to the same school, so, I’m enjoying hanging with Courtland. We got similar backgrounds in terms of the way we think. He wants to be great, he expects greatness out of himself so my job is to try to make him the best he can possibly be on a daily basis.”
Denver’s young crowd of receivers should be incredibly productive in 2019, not only thanks to Sanders’ veteran guidance but the installation of new offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello’s offense as well.
Scangarello runs a zone scheme from the Mike Shanahan/Kyle Shanahan coaching tree, making it fairly similar to the zone scheme that Denver ran during its 2015 Super Bowl run. Unfortunately for Sanders, he hasn’t been able to fully immerse himself in the offense as he’s rehabbed from his achilles injury.
“It’s very similar [to Kubiak’s],” Sanders saidnof the new offense. “I haven’t had the opportunity to really play in the offense ‘cause I’ve been hurt, so I’ll know more when the season comes around and I’m able to see how we’re gonna attack people. ‘Cause right now, who knows? Are we gonna be 60 percent run, 40 percent pass? Like, what’s gonna be the balance?”
Once he does get into the offense though, Sanders is sure it will have a potent passing attack.
“Both of them are predicated off the run. Both of them are predicated off the play action, so a lot of big plays. When I played in Kubiak’s offense, I had like 1,100 yards and like 75 catches, so it’s a lot of big-play opportunities.”
With Vic Fangio keeping the defense in tip-top shape, and Scangarello turning the offense around, the Broncos could be a sneaky wild card team in 2019.