Have watched the better part of four games each from DT Tommy Kelly and WR Emmanuel Sanders (including the 2011 Steelers-Patriots game), and I have a few thoughts on the possible impact for both as Patriots (if the Steelers don’t match Sanders’ offer):
DT Tommy Kelly
- Probably the best role for Kelly with the Patriots will be as a situational pass rusher from the inside. That’s where his strength is at this point in his career, but that’s limited. He really needs to be singled up, and against weaker opponents. Kelly is pretty much a one move and then he’s done kind of guy. He gives his best shot and if there’s an opening, he pursues aggressively. If not, Kelly plays read and react. He does play to the whistle but his want-to depends on if he thinks he has an opening.
- Kelly will likely be this year’s version of Gerard Warren — the guy they had in 2010; he lost a bit of a step in ’11.
- Was surprised by his average play against the run. For such a big man (6-6, 325 pounds), Kelly is easily moved because he plays very high two steps into a play. Right now, pending any improvement from coaching, Kelly lags well behind Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick against the run. Kelly doesn’t shed blocks as well as Love, though he’s close with Deaderick.
- The biggest challenge to Kelly getting more time on first and second downs will be his ability to sit in his gap. He didn’t do that very well last season for the Raiders, although it was tough to tell if that was because of scheme or talent. On film, Kelly likes to freelance a bit against the run. He won’t play much if he does that with the Patriots. They want their interior linemen to hog space and let the linebackers and edge players make plays.
- Kelly’s better than both Love and Deaderick in pass rush. The latter has more potential but hasn’t realized it to this point.
- Kelly has a lot of interior versatility. For the Raiders, he played everywhere from zero (head up against the center) to four-i technique (inside shoulder of the tackle). The Raiders preferred Kelly in the three technique (outside shoulder of the guard) in pass rushing situations.
- Kelly seemed to get a lot more attention from opponents than Richard Seymour last season. It’s either an indication of how good Kelly is, or a reflection that Seymour is far from the player he once was.
WR Emmanuel Sanders
- Watched the better part of five games of Sanders, including the 2011 game against the Patriots (to see if he did something to catch their eye — nothing stood out);
- Puzzling why the Steelers, knowing they were going to lose Mike Wallace in free agency and had no other young receivers, didn’t at least pony up the extra $700,000 that would have made Sanders a second-round draft pick tender;
- Plays all the receiver positions in Steelers offense — even lined up in the backfield on occasion — which would indicate he has a high comprehension level. The less a team asks a player to do, the less they think he can retain.
- Sanders’ Wonderlic score of 18 is on the low end for the receivers they’ve drafted (David Givens at 19, Taylor Price at 18). This is important because the Patriots’ scheme is so complicated after the snap. Physical attributes are almost useless for the Patriots because if the receiver can’t gain the trust of Tom Brady, it doesn’t matter. Deion Branch led at 26;
- On film, Sanders’ on-field intelligence is average. Sometimes he does well to recognize coverages, other times he and the quarterbacks are not on the same page. Sanders tends to stay vertical instead of crossing the field when presented high safety looks. This could be the reason why the quarterbacks don’t show a ton of confidence in him — he’s well down the read list for all of the QBs (Ben Roethlisberger, Byron Leftwich, Charlie Batch) who threw to him last season, despite being the inside receiver. This will be something to watch if Sanders does join the Patriots.
- New England doesn’t have any inside knowledge on Sanders as far as his football IQ, like previous experience with a Patriots assistant coach. This is significant because after the failed 2011 acquisitions (Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco, Shaun Ellis), the Patriots vowed to have someone who could vouch for the player’s mind and/or heart. It served them well last season.
- The Patriots have their college evaluation of Sanders, pro tape and his free agency visit, where you would assume they put him on the whiteboard and quizzed him extensively to see if he was a fit for their system.
- The facet of Sanders’ game that stands out the most is his blocking. He’s excellent in that regard and is often used as the lead blocker on receiver screens.
- This is likely why Sanders basically took over Hines Ward’s role in the Steelers’ system — including a lot of motion — when he was injured/retired.
- Does a good job of beating press man coverage with his feet and hands.
- Has 4.4 speed. It shows up at times on the field, but it’s inconsistent. He does not have the type of speed that will make defensive coordinators pay him extra attention, but you have to respect his ability down the field. He can get behind you if you’re not paying attention.
- Basically, Sanders is a good, solid all-around receiver who is above average in most categories. He runs decent routes, has decent hands (had some key drops, and an open-field fumble vs. Ravens last year). Best receiving attribute is his ability to find soft spots in the zones.
- Tough player. Doesn’t back down in rivalry games.
- Last season, in multiple games, he showed issues with right shoulder and back injuries that removed him for some plays.
- Overall, while Sanders was an inside player for the Steelers, his skill set would indicate an outside “x” receiver role for the Patriots. He can do a lot of things Brandon Lloyd did, but better and faster. With Wallace and Antonio Brown on the outside — both are more explosive than Sanders — there wasn’t a need for him outside. But for the Patriots, he could fill that role. That being said, Sanders’ immense versatility could allow him to play anywhere — even Aaron Hernandez’s role as a hybrid TE/WR in case of injury.