PFF Preview: How does trading Emmanuel Sanders affect the Broncos this season?

Denver Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (10) celebrates the win over the Oakland Raiders at Broncos Stadium at Mile High.
Sep 16, 2018; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (10) celebrates the win over the Oakland Raiders at Broncos Stadium at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

After weeks of rumors and speculation, the Denver Broncos decided to trade Emmanuel Sanders and a fifth-round pick to the San Francisco 49ers in exchange for a third-round pick and a fourth-round pick.

The move is undoubtedly a good one for the Broncos, whose season was over with very little chance of resigning the veteran receiver after his contract expires in March.

Where does the move leave Denver’s aerial assault ahead of a road matchup with the Indianapolis Colts? Let’s take a look

Broncos’ tight ends struggling

Over the past five drafts, the Broncos have invested a first, third and two fifth-round picks into the tight end position and are getting nothing in return.

Of the Broncos’ four worst offensive players in terms of overall grade, three are tight ends. Within the passing game, all three of the lowest-graded Broncos are tight ends.

Jeff Heuerman, the highest-graded of the three tight ends, has earned that honor thanks to his effort as a blocker. His pass-blocking grade of 64.1 is nearly 40 points better than Noah Fant’s, and his run-blocking grade of 56.4 is nearly 10 points better.

However, Heuerman has been one of the team’s least effective targets in the passing game, earning the quarterback a passer rating of 48.8 when targeted. That mark is the lowest on the team by 21.2 points.

Noah Fant, on the other hand, has been bad all around. He is their lowest-graded player overall, their lowest-graded player in the passing game, their second-lowest-graded pass blocker and their lowest graded run blocker.

Tight ends almost always struggle in their rookie season, but the scope of Fant’s struggles is becoming more and more concerning by the week.

Who steps up following Sanders’ departure?

After the Broncos made a wise trade with the 49ers regarding Emmanuel Sanders on Tuesday, their receiving core became very shallow.

Sanders was the team’s second-highest graded offensive player and receiver as well as being the team’s second-leading receiver in receptions, yards, touchdowns, yards per reception and first downs per PFF.

Fortunately for Denver, the tremendous leap in development¬†Courtland Sutton has seen from year one to year two will ease the pain of Sanders’ departure, but they will still need their other weapons to step up.

DaeSean Hamilton is the most obvious candidate to take Sanders’ place. Hamilton earned his highest grade of the season filling in for him against the Titans, but has been disappointing for the most part this season.

Among Broncos wide receivers, Hamilton holds the lowest overall grade, lowest receiving grade, lowest drop grade, lowest reception percentage, lowest passer rating when targeted and has the most drops.

Meanwhile, Tim Patrick is just getting back to practice after being on IR and the tight ends, as previously shown, won’t be of much help.

Someone has to step for Denver. It doesn’t matter if that’s DaeSean Hamilton, Noah Fant, JuWann Winfree, Fred Brown, Diontae Spencer or Tim Patrick. But the season is going to hurt even more if someone does not fill the void left by Sanders.