Two of the NFL’s best teams in 2019, the New England Patriots and 49ers, both faced a similar problem as the trade deadline approached.
The seemingly well-oiled machines had identified an identical issue: A lack of consistent play from the wide receivers.
While both teams attempted to rectify their passing-game issues at the deadline -- the 49ers dealt a pair of draft picks to the Denver Broncos for Emmanuel Sanders while the Patriots used a second-round pick to acquire Mohamed Sanu from Atlanta -- the results weren’t exactly analogous for the two contenders.
Sanders just completed a dominant performance in New Orleans, catching seven passes for 157 yards and a touchdown -- he threw for one, too. Meanwhile, Sanu caught just one pass for 13 yards in Week 14 as New England suffered a home loss at the hands of Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs.
Since Oct. 22, the day both players found their new homes, Sanders is averaging 10.44 receiving yards per target. Sanu? The former Falcon is averaging just 4.66 yards per target.
The 49ers reportedly balked at the price Atlanta wanted for Sanu, but the Patriots might have been better off bringing Sanders in, according to The Athletic’s Mike Sando.
"Sanu has been a solid receiver for a long time, but not as much of a downfield threat. Over the past four seasons, Sanders holds a 67-44 edge over Sanu in passes gaining more than 15 yards, despite Sanu playing four additional games. Sanu could have been a natural fit in San Francisco given that Shanahan was previously his offensive coordinator in Atlanta. He might even be flourishing there, given San Francisco’s superior surrounding talent, including George Kittle. The fit has been questionable in New England.”
The 49ers also have an obvious advantage in fielding George Kittle, who continues to cement his status as one of the NFL’s top tight-ends week in and week out.
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But imagine what Josh McDaniels, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady could have whipped up with Emmanuel Sanders stretching the field.
This might go down as a rare mistake in player personnel from the Patriots’ front office, and it also might just be the move that propels the 49ers into playing February football.