If Case Keenum wants to have a productive first season, he needs Emmanuel Sanders to be one of his most productive weapons on the outside.
Emmanuel Sanders may have an uncertain future in Denver, but there’s no question the Broncos need him to put up big numbers in 2018. Case Keenum’s first year in charge of the Broncos offense will largely hinge on Sanders’ ability to have a big season.
That’s no shot at Demaryius Thomas, who is still the best receiver on the Broncos roster. The point here is that Keenum is going to need a big time secondary target to emerge to be effective. Looking at the players available to him, Sanders is the best bet to provide big time production.
The 31-year-old wide receiver certainly has every incentive to play well this year. The Broncos have the ability to part ways with Sanders at the conclusion of the 2018 season with zero financial penalty. Otherwise, they’ll be locked into paying him over $10 million in 2019, the last year of his current contract.
It may be difficult for Sanders to produce enough to merit that kind of money in 2019, but it’s not impossible. Remember, Sanders is just one year removed from his last 1,000+ yard season. He put up 1,032 receiving yards in 16 games in 2016 before injuries limited him to just 555 yards in 12 games for Denver last year. Obviously, the Broncos are hoping Sanders can bounce back in a big way.
The addition of Courtland Sutton as a first round draft pick is only going to heighten the pressure on Sanders. The 6-foot-3 wideout is expected to take over for Thomas in the long run, but it’s not impossible the Broncos could elect to go with two big wide receivers on the outside next season. If Sanders doesn’t want that to happen, he needs to become one of Keenum’s best weapons.
The presence of Thomas on the other side should give Sanders plenty of opportunities to work against single coverage. That will make it very easy to see whether or not he’s still capable of beating NFL defensive backs on a consistent basis. Sanders won’t have anywhere to hide on film.
In the end, if Sanders can stay healthy, he should be a solid bet to put up above-average numbers in Bill Musgrave’s offense. Keenum should provide the Broncos with better quarterback play than they enjoyed last year. That, coupled with the ability to play in more than 12 games should allow Sanders to flirt with 1,000 yards receiving again.