No one can question the popularity of Eric Decker but Emmanuel Sanders is a better receiver for the offense of the Denver Broncos. It would be foolish to say that Sanders has had a better career than Decker to this point, but the ceiling for Sanders is much higher.
Decker, as productive as he was for the Broncos, is what he is and there’s not much room for improvement. In fact it’s likely that his numbers will drop off being away from Peyton Manning and the Broncos explosive offense.
Sanders, on the other hand, has only scratched the surface of his potential. He spent his first five seasons in the NFL with the Pittsburgh Steelers, a run first oriented team. Sanders had his best individual season in 2013 with 67 catches for 740 yards and six touchdowns. If all goes to plan, Sanders will eclipse those numbers in week 12.
Those are just numbers though and anyone can look those up, what does Sanders bring to the Broncos that Decker did not?
The first thing that jumps out at you about Sanders is his ability to beat press coverage, and get into his pattern quickly. The Broncos, especially Decker, really struggled with the press coverage from the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl. No one is blaming Decker for the horrific performance of the Broncos in the Super Bowl but when he was taken out of the game, it affected the entire offense.
Sanders possess the quickness to get off the line and give Peyton Manning an early target to look for. That ability is also vital versus a team with a great pass rush. Believe it or not there were some plays to be made underneath in the Super Bowl but outside of Demaryius Thomas, no one was beating the press coverage. Sanders presence will be felt immediately in that area.
The Broncos offense is built on timing and with the idea that the receivers will do something with the ball after the catch. Sanders can take a five-yard crossing route and turn it into a 55-yard touchdown. Decker wasn’t bad after the catch but does not have the speed or explosiveness of Sanders.
In addition to his ability to take a short pass and turn it into a big play, Sanders can also get deep. Manning may not throw the deep ball that often anymore, but he will do it when that’s what the matchup dictates. Sanders has the speed to get behind a defense and that will put even more pressure on opposing defenses.
If they have to account for Sanders running a fly route or a deep post, then the safety cannot cheat on the shorter patterns. Both D. Thomas and Julius Thomas will benefit from Sanders stretching the defense.
In a lot of ways, the Broncos offense was built for a receiver like Sanders. The goal of the offense is to get their playmakers into favorable matchups, and take advantage of those matchups. Sanders is a matchup problem no matter where he lines up.
If he lines up on the outside, then defenses have to worry about his speed and will often be forced to keep a safety deep. If Sanders lines up in the slot, then defenses have to commit more players to the middle of the field to prevent the big play. In both cases, Manning and the Broncos should see favorable matchups.
Decker was and is a very good receiver, and many Broncos’ fans will probably always have a place in their heart for him. However when the Broncos signed Sanders after Decker left, it was an upgrade.