Mohamed Sanu set for a fantasy revival in Atlanta
The Atlanta Falcons have signed 26-year-old Mohamed Sanu to a five-year, $32.5 million contract, with $14 million fully guaranteed. The former Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver fills the void left by Roddy White, an 11-year veteran released by the Falcons earlier this year.
After releasing White, it was clear the Falcons were in the market for another wide receiver to help create more opportunities for stud Julio Jones. The move to add Sanu, however, comes as somewhat of a surprise.
In terms of guaranteed money, this deal tops the ones signed by Travis Benjamin and Marvin Jones earlier this week, as well as by Torrey Smith and the San Francisco 49ers a year ago. At the time of the signing, Smith had four consecutive seasons with at least 750 yards. For comparison, Sanu has only once reached 500 receiving yards.
Also somewhat perplexing is the fact that Sanu has primarily been a slot receiver for the entirety of his career. In 2015, he ran 87.6 percent of his routes from the slot, the second-highest percentage among all receivers.
That’s an important note because the Falcons drafted East Carolina receiver Justin Hardy in the fourth round last year, and he was expected to take over full-time slot duties in 2016. Last year, in nine games, Hardy played from the slot on 67.9 percent of his routes.
In terms of on-field production, our grades have not been favorable to Sanu in recent years. In 2015, he graded out negatively overall, recording our 103rd-ranked passing grade out of 119 qualifying receivers. His 2014 grade was equally poor.
However, in 2014, when starting in place of the injured Marvin Jones, Sanu was mostly effective. He led the team in WR Rating (92.7) and recorded 56 receptions on 97 targets for 790 yards and five touchdowns. That season he finished as WR40 in fantasy.
In 2015, he was little more than an afterthought as the fourth target on the team, recording 36 receptions on 53 targets for 411 yards and no touchdowns. His 0.98 yards per route run ranked fifth-worst among receivers. He finished as the WR79.
Although Sanu has been mostly irrelevant for fantasy purposes, his value gets a significant boost operating in an offense containing Julio Jones, who routinely demands double-coverage or extra help from a safety over the top. In seven games with the Falcons last season — despite being woefully inefficient and totaling eight drops on only 44 targets — Leonard Hankerson still managed to catch 26 passes for 327 yards and three touchdowns. After the first six weeks of the 2016 season, Hankerson was a tail-end WR3 for fantasy purposes.
While Sanu moves from fighting for targets behind A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, and Marvin Jones, he now becomes the clear No. 2 receiver — but No. 3 target, behind Jones and running back Devonta Freeman — on an offense that ranked sixth in passing yards and eighth in attempts in 2015.
It looks like the Falcons overpaid from a pure football sense, but from a fantasy perspective, Sanu goes from being a benchwarmer (at best) to a player with legitimate WR3 upside.