The New England Patriots released wide receiver Mohamed Sanu Wednesday after trading a second-round pick for the wideout prior to last year’s trade deadline. Sanu, who was connected to the San Francisco 49ers during that time, played two seasons with Kyle Shanahan in Atlanta. Like most players under Shanahan, Sanu’s best seasons came when Kyle was his play-caller. No, I don’t mean just looking at raw stats. Sanu has 32 receptions for 310 yards and a touchdown this season, though in a much different offense. He’s a veteran that can line up both inside and outside. Sanu also knows the offense and has Shanahan’s trust.
The 49ers have been decimated by injures at the receiver position. Jalen Hurd tore his ACL and will miss the entire season. Richie James broke his wrist and has yet to return to practice, though he posted on Instagram that he’s “free.” Shanahan is “hopeful” Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk will return to practice next week, but that doesn’t mean they’ll suit up for Week 1. I’d say there’s a strong chance that Aiyuk plays, but Samuel is closer to 50/50 as he’s yet to practice and will need to get into game shape.
Would he help the 49ers? First, you have to ask yourself why Sanu was released. Before he was traded, Sanu was on pace to maintain his career averages as he caught 33 passes for 313 yards and a touchdown. Sanu caught 80% of his targets. In New England, things took a turn. Sanu caught just 26 of his 47 targets (55%) for 207 yards and a touchdown. Here’s a blurb from Football Outsiders Almanac on Sanu’s usage:
Part of the issue was Sanu’s role as a big slot receiver was muzzled in terms of an average depth of target. Not once in any of Sanu’s full seasons in Atlanta did he have more than 45% of his passes in the short area, yet 55% of his plays in 2019 were in the short area—a number that very well could have been higher if he spent the whole year in New England’s constipated offense. The situation around Sanu will need to open up in order for him to rediscover himself as a big slot threat over the middle.
Taylor Kyles, terrific last name, covers the Patriots on Pats Pulpit. Here’s how he described Sanu:
He had an ankle injury about midway through his Pats tenure, which significantly hurt his ability to perform. He also dealt with a few untimely drops and wasn’t always on the same page with Brady. He’s tough as hell, blocks his ass off, brings physicality and leadership, hands are usually strong, good catch radius. But his explosiveness is gone, and he can’t drop really drop his weight in routes so he won’t separate much.
From everything you know and have read about Sanu, do you think it’d be worthwhile for the Niners to bring him in? Shanahan won’t use him underneath as the 49ers have plenty of receivers who already could do that. Sanu seems like more of the big slot replacement for Hurd, and he has more experience than Jauan Jennings. He’d also be insurance for Jordan Reed. The next question would be whether or not Sanu is willing to come in and play on a minimum contract if we got to that point. Since Sanu is a vested veteran—a player who has acquired four years of NFL service—he’s free to sign with any team.
Would you sign Sanu if he cleared waivers?
This poll is closed
Yes, the 49ers need a veteran
No, roll with the young guys
No, he’s too old
Yes, since he has experience with Shanahan
John Lynch on Mohamed Sanu: "Actually pretty pleased with our depth at WR... He's an excellent football player... when a good football player becomes available we're always interested... But we're probably more comfortable at the WR position than most people think... We'll see."— Jake Hutchinson (@hutchdiesel) September 3, 2020