Would Emmanuel Sanders have been better Patriots fit than Mohamed Sanu?

Would Emmanuel Sanders have been better Patriots fit than Mohamed Sanu?

Hindsight is always 20/20. Hindsight also suggests the New England Patriots may have been better off with the *other* veteran wide receiver.

The Patriots acquired Mohamed Sanu from the Atlanta Falcons on Oct. 22 in exchange for a 2020-second round pick. Hours later, San Francisco 49ers -- who reportedly had interest in Sanu -- "settled" for Emmanuel Sanders, sending a 2020 third-rounder and a 2020 fourth-rounder to the Denver Broncos for the 32-year-old receiver and a 2020 fifth-rounder.

Fast forward to Dec. 10, when both receivers and their respective offenses are going in opposite directions. Here are Sanu's stats with New England compared to Sanders' stats with San Francisco, including both teams' records since the trades:

Sanu (3-3 with Patriots): 18 receptions, 135 yards, one TD in five games played
Sanders (5-2 with 49ers): 28 receptions, 407 yards, three TDs in seven games played

Those stats come with a caveat: Sanu suffered a high ankle sprain in his third game with the Patriots that sidelined him for one game and has limited his effectiveness in the last two. Sanders, meanwhile, has stayed healthy after recovering from a torn Achilles in the offseason.

But as The Athletic's Mike Sando points out, there's evidence to suggest Sanders would have fit better in New England even if both players were healthy.

Per Sando, Sanders has caught 67 passes of 15 yards or more in the last four seasons, compared to Sanu's 44. Those kinds of big plays have been relatively rare in New England, where the Patriots are tied for 13th in the NFL in passing plays of 25 yards or more.

That's not too surprising considering the Patriots lack of weapons compared to San Francisco, which has an All-Pro tight end in George Kittle and a speedy slot man in Deebo Samuel.

"Sanders would be the intermediate to deeper threat that they don’t have in New England right now," an NFL evaluator told Sando.

Patriots rookie N'Keal Harry eventually could be that deeper threat but has yet to realize his potential. And save for a 10-catch, 81-yard effort against the Baltimore Ravens, Sanu hasn't been able to get open consistently for quarterback Tom Brady.

That begs the inevitable question of whether Sanders -- who averaged 5.9 receptions per game last season compared to Sanu's 4.1 -- would have given New England's offense a bigger spark.

Sanu still has time to carve out an increased role for the 10-3 Patriots down the stretch and into the playoffs. But if Sanders continues to thrive with ex-Patriots QB Jimmy Garoppolo, it will be worth wondering "what if."

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2020 NFL Pro Bowl live stream: Watch Skills Showdown online

2020 NFL Pro Bowl live stream: Watch Skills Showdown online

New England Patriots fans haven't had much reason to watch the NFL Pro Bowl in recent seasons, but 2020 is different.

Patriots players haven't participated in the Pro Bowl in each of the last three years because they were playing in the Super Bowl and thus not allowed to take part in the league's version of an All-Star Game.

The Patriots were eliminated from the AFC playoffs on Wild Card Weekend, giving the team's three Pro Bowl selections (cornerback Stephon Gilmore, linebacker Dont'a Hightower and special teams ace Matthew Slater) the opportunity to participate in this season's game. Hightower was ruled out due to injury, but Gilmore and Slater are expected to play.

Gilmore also will feature in Thursday night's 2020 Pro Bowl Skills Showdown. The event is basically football's version of NBA Saturday night, which includes the Skills Challenge, the Slam Dunk Contest and 3-Point Shootout.

Here's the information you need to watch Gilmore compete in the Pro Bowl Skills Showdown.

When: Thursday, Jan. 23 at 9 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Live stream: WatchESPN

Gilmore reveals his Chiefs-49ers Super Bowl prediction

Could this former Patriots receiver's son be the next Patriots receiver?

Could this former Patriots receiver's son be the next Patriots receiver?

One way to get a feel for just how long Bill Belichick has been head coach in New England? Players who were kicking around the league in the early portion of Belichick's Patriots tenure have children Belichick has the opportunity to draft in April. 

Last week we touched on the fact that Randy Moss has a son entering the NFL Draft as a tight end out of LSU. Thaddeus Moss could end up being a mid-to-late round option for a team in need of a tight end. 

This week? Another former Patriots receiver has a son who's putting on a show in Mobile, Ala. for this week's Senior Bowl. 

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Belichick never had a chance to coach Shawn Jefferson. The longtime NFL wideout with over 7,000 career receiving yards left the Patriots via free agency for the Falcons after four years in New England.

His first year with Atlanta, 2000, was Belichick's first as head coach of the Patriots. (The two did overlap in Foxboro in 1996, when Belichick coached defensive backs under Bill Parcells.)

But might Jefferson's son end up a Patriots draft target?

Van Jefferson, from the University of Florida, has been one of the most impressive performers at his position at this year's Senior Bowl. The week's practices — thoroughly covered and broadcast by NFL Media these days — has allowed Jefferson to put his nuanced skills on display against some of the best defensive backs in the country. 

After a strong showing on Tuesday in the week's first practice, Jefferson was one of the best pass-catchers on the field again Wednesday.

Despite lacking the athleticism of some of the others at his position who will be considered first-rounders this year — it's thought to be an incredibly deep class at receiver — Jefferson has made plays this week both down the field and at the intermediate level by understanding leverage and making contested catches.

"He is a route technician on a level that has the corners tripping over themselves," The Athletic's Dane Brugler wrote this week. "And it is tough to blame them because they haven’t faced many players at the college level with Jefferson’s detailed patterns. Instead of pure speed, he relies on pace, tempo and purpose, making every step matter and tying defenders in knots."

Jefferson spent three years at Ole Miss before transferring to Florida. The 6-foot-1, 197-pounder finished his collegiate career with 2,159 yards and 16 touchdowns. He caught 49 passes for 657 yards and six scores in his final season.

Belichick and his coaching staff are in Mobile for college football's premier postseason all-star game. Perhaps what they see from the Florida wideout with some Patriots connections will push them to consider him on draft weekend to bolster a receiving corps that needed all the help it could get this season.

Or not. Jefferson's father is currently assistant head coach and receivers coach for the Jets.