Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports


Mohamed Sanu Is Not the Answer for the 49ers, but He Is Part of the Sanu-tion

Nick Newman
Sep 16, 2020 at 6:00 AM


Rejoice! The 49ers have finally signed a veteran receiver, who actually has been a consistent pass-catching threat throughout his career. None of the other receivers the team has recently signed - Tavon Austin, J.J. Nelson, and Kevin White - has the ability to fill that Emmanuel Sanders role. Mohamed Sanu, on the other hand, does.

Let me start off by explaining the title of this article. By no means is this a jab at Sanu. What I am trying to say is that he won't come in and single-handedly cure the team's receiver woes. Simply put, he is just not on the level as some of the league's other receivers who could come in and completely change the complexion of the passing game. The types of receivers like Julio Jones, Mike Evans, Michael Thomas, DaVante Adams, etc. are few and far between. That's pretty obvious.

So Sanu is not the answer, but all the potential is there for him to be part of the solution, or "Sanu-tion" if you will - I know, I'm a genius. One thing about the 49ers' offense, is that it takes a village. As cliche as it is, it is extremely true with the current team. Kyle Shanahan's offense depends on a larger number of players than arguably any other offense in the league. The workload has been spread out fairly evenly across multiple players, with the exception of George Kittle of course.

For Sanu, coming to San Francisco does not come with the same pressure he experienced when he went to New England. He doesn't have to carry the weight of being THE wide receiver the team just traded a second-round pick for. This is the perfect fit for him, and the team will take any production he can provide.

This offseason, there were nothing but question marks surrounding the team's receivers. Hell, even despite the Sanu signing, there are still a ton of questions. Going back to the questions from the offseason, literally every single receiver had at least one fair question surrounding him:

  • Deebo Samuel: How quickly will he recover from his broken foot?
  • Kendrick Bourne: How will he handle being a starting wide receiver?
  • Jalen Hurd: Can he stay healthy?
  • Trent Taylor: Will he stay healthy? Will he be the player we saw close out the 2017 season?
  • Brandon Aiyuk: What will he do as a rookie?
  • Dante Pettis: Can he be the player we saw close out his rookie year for a full season?
  • Jauan Jennings: Will he make the team?

Some of these questions have already been answered, and not in the 49ers' favor. After seeing what happened last Sunday against the Cardinals, it is not looking very promising that any of these questions will work out in the 49ers' favor.

With no definitive date for Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk to return - at this point the team is hoping to get them back within the next few weeks, but it is not for certain - the team simply had to do something. Understandably so, as Dante Pettis was a Week One starter.

Enter Sanu, who, in my opinion, became an absolute no-brainer to sign after the laughable game put together by the 49ers' receivers.

Here is what to expect from Sanu-

1) Higher level of experience: It's hard to believe that the old dog in the wide receiver room was Kendrick Bourne. He has spent more time actively playing in Shanahan's offense than any other receiver on the team. Bourne has the energy of a puppy, which is by no means a bad thing, but it was rather worrisome that the most experienced receiver in the locker room was the 25-year-old Bourne, who entered the league as an undrafted free agent four years ago.

Of course, that is no longer the case now that Sanu is on the team. Sanu has had a successful NFL career, and, not so surprisingly, has caught more passes and touchdowns than all of the 49ers' main receivers combined.
Sanu: 403 catches - 26 touchdowns

Bourne + Taylor + Samuel + Pettis + James: 271 catches - 24 touchdowns

  • Kendrick Bourne: 90 catches - 9 touchdowns
  • Trent Taylor: 71 catches - 3 touchdowns
  • Deebo Samuel: 57 catches - 3 touchdowns
  • Dante Pettis: 38 catches - 7 touchdowns
  • Richie James: 15 catches - 2 touchdowns

Sanu also has big-game experience, as his teams have made the playoffs on six different occasions. Throughout those six playoffs, Sanu has played in nine games, including the Super Bowl in 2017, when Kyle Shanahan was his offensive coordinator.

2) Dependability and consistency: As a rookie in 2012, Sanu missed seven games. But since then, he has been an extremely dependable receiver, as far being active on game days goes. Over the last seven seasons, Sanu has played in 109 out of 112 possible regular-season games. This is significant because aside from Bourne, all other receivers struggle to consistently stay healthy.

Jimmy Garoppolo will benefit from having a consistent receiving threat. Excluding Sanu's rookie season, when he was pretty much a non-factor, he has put up some solid numbers.

Between 2013 and 2019 Sanu averaged (per game):
  • 5.35 targets
  • 3.55 receptions
  • 40 receiving yards

3) Similar averages in comparison to Emmanuel Sanders: When Emmanuel Sanders was added to the 49ers' offense last year he didn't exactly set the world on fire with his production.

Last regular season, Sanders averaged (per game):
  • 5.3 targets
  • 3.6 receptions
  • 50.2 receiving yards

These averages seem like realistic numbers for Sanu to produce. They're not too far off from what he averages for his career, and, more assuringly, they are below most of the averages Sanu obtained with Shanahan in 2017.

With Shanahan in 2017, Sanu averaged (per game) in the regular season:
  • 6.4 targets
  • 4.5 receptions
  • 46.9 receiving yards

4) An early impact: Sanu has familiarity working in his favor, and, because of it, expect him to get on the field this Sunday against the Jets. I don't expect him to log a large number of snaps, as I expect his workload to gradually increase on a week-by-week basis. However, I am expecting him to start putting up those Sanders-like numbers as soon as Week Three.

5) Not a Sanders-like off-field impact: When Sanders came to San Francisco last year, the young receivers were in awe. They had stars in their eyes when the Super Bowl champion, Sanders, walked into the locker room. They knew they needed him, and they were thrilled to have him.

For some reason, I don't think the current group of receivers will embrace Sanu the same way they embraced Sanders. They will get along and work cordially together, but it is an interesting dynamic. The 49ers' receivers probably wish they did their jobs well enough to have Shanahan hold off on signing another receiver, especially one like Sanu, but, unfortunately, that is not the case.

It kind of gives off a loving step-dad vibe, where the love isn't instantly reciprocated. Sanders was the beloved "pops" of the locker room, and now this Sanu guy is coming in to replace that figure. Sanu is probably thrilled to now be a part of the reigning NFC champion San Francisco 49ers, but at first, that feeling may not be mutual among the other receivers. Sanu is going to come in and take their playing time. But they'll come around eventually, and ultimately understand Sanu makes them a stronger family.

What the 49ers need from Sanu:

Going back to the numbers Sanders averaged on a game-by-game basis last year, they were rather pedestrian. That is all Sanu needs to come in and do: average a stat line of three to four catches for 50 yards, and make a few big plays. Just look like a threat.

Reflecting on the "it takes a village" mindset of the 49ers' offense, that's all it needed Sanders to produce last year, and it is all it needs from Sanu this year. Sanu does not need to put up WR#1 numbers, more like WR#3 numbers. And that is totally fine.

Sanu just needs to give the 49ers offense something. He needs to be that dependable, reliable, and consistent veteran the team is lacking, which he has shown he can be. It is not necessary for him to come in and try to be something he hasn't been before. In other words, he doesn't need to come in and pretend to be a receiver he's not. He just needs to come in and be himself.

The 49ers are looking for on-field help, more so than they're looking for an older receiver to guide these young calves. That was Sanders' role last year, and he did a damn good job of it. That is not Sanu's place, that is not his role. His role is to be a threat in the passing game and put up a decent stat line, not to feel the need or be asked to take others under his wing.

There is no question that the receiver room is better with Sanu. The only question is, how much better? We'll just have to wait and see.

Follow me on Twitter: @NinerNick_22
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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