ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Even in a walking boot and on crutches, Emmanuel Sanders was upbeat on Monday as he discussed the Denver Broncos' future and his role moving forward.
Much of that enthusiasm is based in a belief in the Broncos' core group of players — several of whom just finished their rookie seasons.
"We're definitely going in the right direction in terms of players," Sanders said Monday. "I think they did really [well] with the draft last year. We definitely have a nucleus of guys, especially with the [defensive] line. I look at Von [Miller], and I look at [Bradley] Chubb, and I look at all of those guys. We've got playmakers. We've got Chris Harris [Jr.] in the back end. ... You look on the offensive side of the ball. [There's] me, Courtland [Sutton] [and] Phillip Lindsay. We've still got Matt Paradis if we can bring him back. These are top guys at their positions. We definitely have a nucleus of guys that can win games."
Even more of that enthusiasm is due to a belief in himself. Sanders said he has no doubt he will be ready by the 2019 season opener after suffering an Achilles injury on Dec. 5.
"I'll definitely for sure be ready for Week 1," Sanders said. "This is a six-month injury. I heal fast. I’m taking all of the necessary steps to try to get back in five months."
If Sanders' self-diagnosis proves true, he'll rejoin a receiving corps that includes promising 2018 draft picks Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton, who combined for 39 receptions for 328 yards and three touchdowns over the teams' final four games following Sanders' injury.
Sanders — who started just one game in his first two years in Pittsburgh — was impressed at how the rookies developed given the circumstances surrounding the position group following the Demaryius Thomas trade and his own injury.
"I look at Courtland and DaeSean, man, [they're] some good receivers," Sanders said. "I think back to me and [Steelers WR] Antonio Brown. If we had been starters, that would have been tough for us as well. ... They got that experience, and they'll be able to grow from it."
Being away from that duo — as well as first-year players Tim Patrick and River Cracraft — for the final four weeks was difficult for Sanders, who had taken it upon his shoulders to be the leader of the group.
"The hardest thing about getting hurt is I was leading those young guys," Sanders said. "We were getting hot and starting to make this run. My game was coming along to the point that I feel like there wasn't a [defensive back] who could touch me. I was ready to take on the whole offense. I reached that midseason, Pro Bowl-caliber-type energy that I needed in order for us to be successful to make that run."
Despite missing four games, he led the team in catches (71), yards (868) and tied for the team lead with four touchdown receptions.
But Sanders also knows that significant change could be on its way. He's no stranger to the fact that the NFL is a business: Pittsburgh opted not to bring him back after his four years with the Steelers.
In the five years since, Sanders ranks 11th among wide receivers with 374 receptions. He has one year remaining on his contract with the Broncos.
"We're going to see the direction they go and [what] they want to do, so I'm ready for whatever," Sanders said. "All I know is I'm going to be making plays for somebody next year. If you guys know me, I'm going to be able to bounce back, and I'm going to be making plays and pounding my chest and scoring touchdowns and dancing. That's just what I do and what I'm going to do."