When Cincinnati Bengals superstar wideout A.J. Green went down with an injury, No. 2 receiver Mohamed Sanu, who would have been a No. 3 receiver if Marvin Jones didn’t miss the entire season, was thrust into the No. 1 role against a weak Carolina Panthers secondary. Sanu looked like a revelation, as he hauled in ten passes for 120 yards. While the Indianapolis Colts had no issues holding him to just three catches, he followed that 54-yard performance up with another 120-yard explosion, burning up the Baltimore Ravens beat-up defensive backfield with 125 receiving yards on just five receptions.
After catching 47 passes for 455 yards and averaging under ten yards per reception in 2013, Sanu looked like a playmaker in the Bengals offense last season with 56 catches for 790 yards and five touchdowns, averaging 14.1 yards per reception.
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The Rutgers product lined up inside or outside depending on the matchup, and while he didn’t go deep often in comparison to Green, he averaged a high amount of yards per reception on the strength of about six yards after the catch per reception, per Pro Football Focus.
Unfortunately for Sanu, he did a whole lot of nothing once Green came back from his injury and quickly hit his stride, as the No. 1 receiver’s strong performances at the end of the season seemed to correlate with a sharp downturn in production from his partner in crime.
In the final five games of the regular season, Sanu caught just two passes twice and was held to one catch in each of the final three contests with his highest total being a 19-yard haul on a pair of receptions in Week 13 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While Sanu’s drop in numbers could be partially explained by the fact that Andy Dalton is a poor quarterback who doesn’t know how to spread the ball around, Sanu isn’t exactly the most consistent receiver either.
Drops aren’t as good of an indicator of reliability as, say, catch rate, because, ultimately, drops are just one way a receiver can leave a play on the field. However, it’s also the worst way a wide receiver can fail to make a play, because, essentially, a drop is almost completely the receiver’s fault and is a loss of yardage that should have been guaranteed.
According to PFF, Sanu led the league in drops with 14 passes clanging off of his hands. In fact, 20% of all of the “catchable” passes thrown in his direction ended up as drops, and that’s a grotesque total that tied him with Tennessee Titans renowned drop-artist (and deep threat) Justin Hunter. Even Torrey Smith and Kelvin Benjamin, who are both better at stretching the field than Sanu, had lower drop rates than the Bengals third-year breakout man.
Sanu’s drop rate is undoubtedly depressing, but he was still productive despite the amount of plays he left on the field. According to Advanced Football Analytics, he averaged a solid 8.1 yards per target off of a 57.1% catch rate that is a bit low but is respectable given his 14.1 yards per reception.
The problem is that Sanu could easily under-achieve next season if his yards per reception average dips, because he put up just 5.9 yards per target (that’s awful, by the way) in 2013 due to a sub-10.0 YPR. Since most of his YPR was due to YAC and he needed the high YPR to offset his drops and inconsistency, Sanu is a guy who could go either way next season depending on his usage in the Cincinnati Bengals passing attack.
In fact, the Bengals passing attack as a whole is hard to figure out, as we don’t have a clear picture of how all the pieces fit. Jones and Tyler Eifert are returning from injuries, and because Jones played so well in 2013 and is more consistent (way less issues with drops), he figures to have the inside track at the WR2 gig to Green’s obvious No. 1 spot.
Dec 22, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Mohamed Sanu (12) against the Denver Broncos at Paul Brown Stadium. The Bengals won 37-28. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Assuming the Bengals only draft a receiver as a mid-round flier (at the highest), there will be a role for Mohamed Sanu in the offense.
Considering how well he played as the default No. 1 guy with Green out, he has enough ability to chip in, and his ability to play inside or outside is helpful.
That said, he really has to work on his hands in order to continue to play a big part in the offense, because he will lose targets to Jones, Eifert, and, perhaps, a rookie and/or Denarius Moore.
In 2013, Sanu had 77 targets, and that number jumped up to 98 last season. However, Sanu’s 98 targets were actually quite low in comparison to the number of snaps and routes he took, which indicates that he may not have been that good at getting open (or, more likely, that Dalton just didn’t care to look in his direction when Green, who led the league in PFF’s yards per route run compared to Sanu’s low average, was on the field).
I think Sanu will have between 70 and 80 targets next season, but it’s hard to see him cracking 700 yards after his career-high 790 last year. Even if he beats Jones out for the No. 2 job, he’s not getting fed 98 times by Dalton.
He can be a more efficient receiver next season if he can work on his hands, and he does have the potential to develop into a legit No. 2 if he can become more reliable.
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