Emmanuel Sanders hasn’t been shy about his ambitions since inking a one-year deal with the Buffalo Bills this spring.
He wants to set the tone both on and off the field. He wants to help his teammates be the best versions of themselves.
He wants to help Buffalo capture its first Super Bowl title.
He’s brought up his desire to bring the Lombardi Trophy to western New York on more than a few occasions. During his introductory press conference, Sanders said that it was “one of [his] dreams” to win a Super Bowl in Buffalo. Shortly after signing, he told his teammates that he signed with the Bills to win a championship.
He even reiterated this goal yet again this week, saying that he came to Buffalo to win a Super Bowl in an Instagram video.
Sanders is not alone in this ambition. Every player on the Bills’ roster would tell you that they want to win a Super Bowl.
But Sanders is the only person in Buffalo’s locker room who knows what that feeling is like, who has experienced holding the Lombardi Trophy in his hands. The 32-year-old, who has played in three Super Bowls and won one as a member of the Denver Broncos, is the only player on the Bills’ roster with a Super Bowl ring.
It’s Sanders’ championship pedigree and desire to reach the proverbial mountaintop again that, in addition to his on-field prowess, make him such a significant addition to Buffalo’s offense, according to head coach Sean McDermott.
“What he provides our team is another veteran that’s been around it,” McDermott said while speaking to reporters Wednesday morning. “He’s been to [three] and won a Super Bowl in his career. That brings something to our locker room, it brings something to our team. On the field, with respect to the wide receiver position, I think it just gives Josh another option of a guy that can get vertical but can also work the underneath and intermediate game, as well.
“Time will tell. We’re going to get a feel for him, he’s going to get a better feel for us and, in particular, Josh and him, being on the same page, that takes time. That’s some of the work that we have to do here.”
Sanders has already started to build a rapport with his new quarterback, who he pointed to as a major factor in his decision to sign with the Bills earlier this summer. During his media availability following Wednesday’s practice, Josh Allen spoke about his budding relationship with Sanders, saying that the veteran has already served as an inspiration on the field and in the locker room.
“You see why he’s been in the league for so long,” Allen said. “Just the attention to detail he has, even in the conditioning test, he busted his tail. He was number one every time we crossed the line. To see that with a guy that’s been in the league for, I think 12 years now, it’s fun to watch. It really motivates the younger guys and it sets a great precedent for the team. They feel his energy, they feel his excitement to be here. We’re lucky to have him. He’s got a lot of knowledge, he’s been in a lot of systems.
“Obviously teammates with Cole Beasley in college. The way that they mesh and gel together and are able to talk and communicate through some of our concepts, it’s fun to hear, it’s fun to be a part of. But when we’re on the field, it’s asking questions, ‘hey, what do you want me to do in this situation?’ Being able to have those conversations where it’s, ‘I’m thinking this thing, you’re thinking that, how do we meet in the middle?’ He’s going to be good.”
Though he’s not the primary weapon in Buffalo’s offense, one can expect Allen to rely on Sanders quite heavily in the 2021 season. Even in his early-30s, Sanders is still incredibly productive, as he was one of the NFL’s most efficient receivers against zone coverage last season, per Cover 1’s Rob Quinn. His 10.2 yards-per-target against zone defense (per Sports Info Solutions) was good for eighth amongst receivers.
Sanders also possesses some positional versatility, as he’s played on both the outside and in the slot throughout his NFL career. Where he primarily lines up depends heavily on the team he’s playing for: for example, with New Orleans in 2020, Sanders lined up on the outside for 374 snaps and in the slot for 184, per Pro Football Focus. In Denver in 2018, Sanders was primarily a slot receiver, taking 360 snaps from the slot as opposed to 287 from out wide, per PFF.
Sanders will likely play on the outside in Buffalo, filling the void left by the release of John Brown while also allowing Cole Beasley, his former teammate at SMU, to remain in the slot.
It’ll be a change of pace for Beasley, who knows just how difficult it can be to steal snaps from Sanders.
“I played two years with Emmanuel at SMU, and there, he was actually only a slot guy,” Beasley told reporters Wednesday. “His last year there, he asked [SMU coach] June [Jones] to move him to outside to get some film, but that’s really where he reigned supreme was in the slot.
“Separation guy, anytime you can get away from DBs, you’re going to be pretty good at wideout. He brings a lot of juice and energy to this team, and I’m excited to get to play with him once again.”
Though he’s only taken the field with his new teammates on a handful of occasions, Sanders is already proving to be a valuable addition to Buffalo’s culture. He’s pushing them to work harder on the field, to think ambitiously, to have their minds set on and eyes glued to the ultimate prize:
the Lombardi Trophy.
He already has his old college teammate thinking about it, and the duo has a bit of a knack for breaking championship droughts.
“It’d be the coolest thing ever if we could kind of put this thing together and get a Super Bowl together,” Beasley said. “I think it was the first bowl game we won in 25 years at SMU and we did that together. I think it’d be really awesome to kind of add something to that in the NFL.”