How do you do, Mohamed Sanu?
Tom Brady reportedly has himself a new target following a trade with the Atlanta Falcons on Tuesday morning, in which the Patriots shipped out a 2020 second-round draft pick for the 30-year-old wide receiver.
Originally a second-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals in 2012, Sanu joined the Falcons in free agency prior to the start of the 2016 season. He helped Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan win MVP honors that season, and was on the precipice of a Super Bowl LI championship before the Patriots torpedoed the Falcons into oblivion.
Sanu escapes the sinking ship in Atlanta, where the team is off to an abysmal 1-6 start, after he had only one catch for three yards in last week’s 37-10 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
Sanu’s role was seemingly diminishing with the Falcons, who have an all-world talent in Julio Jones and promising second-year player Calvin Ridley ahead of him on the depth chart at wide receiver. He unquestionably bolsters the crop of pass catchers in New England, but how much?
The 6-foot-2 Sanu is a larger target for Brady than either of his rock-solid constants in Julian Edelman or Phillip Dorsett, each of whom are listed as 5-foot-10. However, Sanu shares a similar profile to the wild-cards in New England’s passing game, including Josh Gordon, Jakobi Meyers and N’Keal Harry, all of whom are at least 6-foot-2 as well.
The addition of Sanu, rather than Denver’s Emmanuel Sanders (who stands 5-foot-11), for example, could be interpreted as the Patriots having concerns about the viability of many of their taller receivers down the stretch. While Sanu is under contract for an additional season, whereas Sanders is a free agent at the end of 2019, Sanders has a much greater track record of success in the NFL than Sanu – not to mention, New England once signed Sanders to an offer sheet when he was a restricted free agent in 2013.
Sanders has played with Ben Roethlisberger and post-prime Peyton Manning in his career, but even as Denver’s quarterback situation has gone to hell, he’s remained one of the most productive receivers in the game when healthy. Sanders boasts four seasons of at least 70 catches and three seasons north of 1,000 yards receiving, all of which have come since joining the Broncos in 2014 – and remember, Manning was a shell of himself by 2015 when Denver did, in fact, when Super Bowl 50.
Sanu hasn’t exactly played with first-ballot Hall of Famers in his career, but you could do worse than Andy Dalton and Ryan. Sanu posted a career-best 67 catches in 2017 and amassed 838 yards receiving in 2018, his career-high in that department.
Even in Monday night’s 33-0 win over the New York Jets, the Patriots were clearly short a receiver at times – Edelman’s horrendous, league-leading seventh drop in the second quarter notwithstanding.
That said, the strides made by Meyers in each of New England’s last two games are telling. He followed up a career-best four catches against the Giants in Week 6 with a new mark on Monday with five grabs against the Jets.
These weren’t just garden variety catches in a blowout, either. Meyers made plays in traffic, but most importantly, he made plays in situations where Brady would never have looked his way earlier in the season. On New England’s game-opening 16-play, 78-yard touchdown drive, Meyers garnered back-to-back targets from Brady, the latter of which came on third-and-7 with the ball still near midfield at the New York 49. Meyers caught each pass and extended the drive, which culminated in a Sony Michel rushing score and the rout was on.
Will Meyers get buried on the depth chart with the arrival of Sanu, and is that a mistake?
When New England’s offense is firing on all cylinders, you’d expect four-receiver sets to consist of Edelman, Gordon, Dorsett and Sanu. This begs a further question, why has Harry already been designated as one of two players who can return from injured reserve for the Patriots?
Giving up a draft pick that will fall somewhere between Nos. 60 and 64 at the end of the second round for a solid, durable receiver is no overpay. Sanu is no Antonio Brown, nor does he have the upside of Gordon, but since playing in only nine contests his rookie year, Sanu has played in at least 15 games every season since 2013.
Gordon’s reliability – or lack thereof – is well-documented, and Harry hasn’t proven he can even get on the field yet in the NFL. Meyers is beginning to validate his monster preseason, but he’s still a rookie.
Standing pat wasn’t a realistic option for the Patriots. There are still larger needs on the roster – looking at left tackle – but in a season in which the gap between New England in the field appears larger than ever, fortifying another potential weakness is good for business.