The New England Patriots clearly believe Mohamed Sanu can help their offense. They wouldn’t have sent a second-round draft pick to the Atlanta Falcons — an unusually high price for a midseason trade — if they didn’t.
But what exactly does Sanu bring to the table? Here’s a snapshot of the 30-year-old wide receiver’s game:
BY THE NUMBERS
First, the basics: Sanu has 33 catches for 313 yards and one touchdown this season. Last season was his best to date, as he caught 66 passes for a career-high 838 yards and four touchdowns.
Playing in the Pro Bowl-sized shadows of A.J. Green in Cincinnati (2012 to 2015) and Julio Jones in Atlanta (2016 to 2019), Sanu has surpassed 650 receiving yards in each of the last three seasons and four of the last five and has missed just two games since his rookie year.
Sanu, who’s listed at 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, does the vast majority of his work from the slot. In seven games with the Falcons this season, he lined up inside on 78.1 percent of offensive snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. Twenty-six of his 33 catches came from that alignment.
His outside-inside splits haven’t always been so lopsided — he’s had a slot percentage below 55 percent in five of his eight NFL seasons — but 68.7 percent of his career receptions have come from the slot, per PFF:
2019: 78.1 percent of snaps, 26 of 33 catches
2018: 70 percent of snaps, 51 of 66 catches
2017: 53.8 percent of snaps, 46 of 67 catches
2016: 50.4 percent of snaps, 41 of 59 catches
2015: 81.7 percent of snaps, 28 of 33 catches
2014: 52.9 percent of snaps, 31 of 56 catches
2013: 49.3 percent of snaps, 24 of 47 catches
2012: 53.9 percent of snaps, 12 of 16 catches
The Patriots’ offense values versatility, so expect Sanu to line up in multiple spots around the formation. But his skill set is best suited for slot work.
Sanu isn’t a deep threat. Posts, fades, corners, deep outs and the like don’t feature prominently in his repertoire. His wheelhouse is the area within 10 to 12 yards of the line of scrimmage, where he succeeds by finding gaps in opposing zone defenses.
Sanu also has the route-running prowess necessary to beat man coverage. Check out the 3:45 mark of this video:
… and the 6:01 mark of this one:
… and this clip:
Per NFL Next Gen Stats, Sanu has averaged 3.7 yards of separation per target this season — fifth-best among all wide receivers with at least 20 targets — while operating almost exclusively in the short and intermediate zones.
These skills will make Sanu a valuable third-down asset for Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Matt Ryan was 7-for-8 with four first downs when targeting Sanu on third down this season, including three conversions of 8-plus yards.
There’s a lot of Julian Edelman in Sanu’s game, although he isn’t the yards-after-catch machine that Edelman is. He also reminds us of a sturdier, far more seasoned version of Patriots rookie Jakobi Meyers, an undrafted slot tactician who’s shown great potential of late.
Ever since the 15-drop season he had for the Bengals in 2014, Sanu’s pass-catching ability has not been an issue. His drop rates over the last five seasons, per PFF:
2015: one on 34 catchable targets
2016: two on 61
2017: five on 72
2018: one on 67
2019: two on 35
Sanu, who finished his Falcons tenure as the team’s No. 3 receiver behind Jones and ascending second-year pro Calvin Ridley, has a 78.6 percent catch rate this season (33 of 42), good for fifth-best among qualified wideouts. His big frame and willingness to take and initiate contact help in this regard.
In the immortal words of Boobie Miles’ uncle: “And he can pass!”
Sanu, a former high school quarterback, has been incredibly successful on trick plays during his NFL career, completing 7 of 8 passes for 233 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions and a perfect passer rating of 158.3.
The Falcons also frequently used Sanu as a Wildcat quarterback. He took 24 snaps in that role over the last three seasons, per PFF, including six this season.
You can bet with near certainty that Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will utilize these talents at some point this season.