Mohamed Sanu is just what the Patriots needed. Is he all that they needed? The way they are playing defensively, probably.
Since 2012 when he entered the draft out of Rutgers fresh from a 115-catch season, he’s had Perfect Patriot written all over him. I thought he was a perfect fit for the offense back then (“This kid reeks to high heaven of David Givens-ness.") Nothing he’s done in his seven seasons in the NFL alter that.
He’s 6-2, 215, versatile, is happy to block, doesn’t drop the ball (one drop this year, one of the NFL’s most surehanded receivers since coming into the league) and can work inside (no receiver gave his QB a higher passer rating on in-breaking routes in 2018 than Sanu did for Matt Ryan). He isn’t fast. He doesn’t get in the end zone much. He’s a very good complementary wide receiver, not a game-breaker.
As for the Patriots giving up a second-rounder, I’ll get to that in the story. But I’d like to respectfully offer a pre-emptive, “Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…..” on that front.
Here are five takeaways on the player who will likely stand as the team’s big 2019 trade deadline move.
TRICKLE DOWN HELPS
Julian Edelman’s been targeted 27 times over the past two games. He’s been targeted 68 times this season. For a guy that’s 33, he takes more physical punishment than just about any wideout in football and is the Patriots' most important offensive player not named Brady. Sanu can help lighten the load, especially on third down.
Both Edelman and Sanu can work between the numbers. Jakobi Meyers is showing a growing ability to do that as well. Josh Gordon, Phillip Dorsett and N’Keal Harry are outside guys. The Patriots needed to become a little less predictable on third down and Sanu should help them do that. He’ll also help take the reliance away from James White. And he’ll make it so the urgency for Gordon and Harry to return is a little less urgent. One hope? Sanu doesn’t slow the progress of the glue-fingered Meyers.
WHAT SANU CAN DO FOR YOU
Coming into this season, Sanu was the fourth-best receiver in the league getting separation against press coverage according to Next Gen Stats. You’ll notice if you bang that link that Sanu was one of the first to respond to the tweet saying “7/11” as in always open. Last spring, Josh McDaniels noted that the team was better served getting Edelman more on the outside of the formation. "Julian plays a lot outside the formation," he said. "Does Julian do some of those things inside the formation? Absolutely he does. But he does a lot more on the outside in the running game and passing game. It's what he's become. There's a little bit of a difference based on the way we've used him than those other guys."
Sanu, according to Pro Football Focus, has the fourth-most yards from the slot position since 2016.
HE’LL MAKE THE QB SMILE
Tom Brady’s tepid embrace of the team’s offensive performances continued after the whacking of the Jets. Why? Production on third down and in the red zone. Since the first Jets game, the Patriots are 28 for 77 on third down. That’s 36 percent. And there are stretches – usually after teams out figure what kind of potion McDaniels is pouring down their throat – when the numbers dip even more.
Last night, the Patriots started 4 for 4 on third down and were 3 for 12 the rest of the way. In the first meeting against the Jets, the Patriots were 2 for 10 on their final 12 attempts. Don’t you, “Yeah but the score…” me! You don’t honestly think the Patriots aren’t trying to convert and keep their punter off the field?
As for the red zone, you can see how hard it is for the Patriots to scheme something up when they get in close to get somebody open. It’s a fact of post-Gronk life. They are 10 for 19 in the red zone over their past four games. They’d like to be better than that, especially when (presumably) better teams come calling. Sanu should help with that.
SO IT'S A 2? WHO CARES
I’m hearing a lot of, “Hmmmm…a second-rounder. Feels like a lot, Mike. No, yeah, really, feels like a looootttttt.”
A) The second-rounder will probably be about the 64th pick anyway.
B) If the receiver – and the offense in general – have the potential to be the Achilles' heel that prevents the Patriots from taking advantage of a historic season defensively (and it does), no price is too high.
C) The Patriots roll the dice in the second round anyway – which is probably why they took Tavon Wilson back in 2012 when Sanu was still on the board for them. Serves them right to have to spend a 2 on him now.
D) He isn’t a rental. He’s under contract for next season with a $6.4M salary. They are getting – potentially – 24 games out of him (plus playoffs), not eight. E) I’d rather see a season-and-a-half of Sanu than four years of Jordan Richards, Duke Dawson, you get the point. Always take the known NFL quantity.
MINDING THE BUSINESS
While a Falcon, Sanu was steadfast about not wanting his contract tinkered with. In July, when the Falcons were puzzling over how to pay Julio Jones, Sanu offered on Twitter that, “Ain’t no prices ever dropping over here this ain’t Walmart..” So what did it take for the Patriots to cram Sanu under the cap? Or what will it cost, since they are probably still trying to make it happen?
We’re going to find out, but Sanu’s deal called for him to make $3.529M over the rest of the season. It won’t be hard for the team to fashion a new deal for him, according to Miguel Benzan of Boston Sports Journal. And if they can fire-sale Michael Bennett out of town, they can save some dough against the cap and – zing, zang – just like that it’s a clean move.
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