ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The first thing you notice about Emmanuel Sanders is his speed, which was timed at 4.4 seconds when he ran at the NFL Scouting Combine four years ago. Straight-line speed and the ability to dart and dodge tacklers don't necessarily go hand-in-hand. But they do for Sanders, who knows how to make moves that cause defenders to miss.
According to ProFootballFocus.com, there were 15 missed tackles on Sanders' 67 receptions last year. Only three receivers forced whiffs more often, and among the 46 receivers with at least 50 receptions last year, Sanders was fourth-best on a per-catch basis, with one missed tackle of him every 4.47 receptions.
Someone like that can be particularly dangerous on the bubble screens that the Broncos love to run, and were a bread-and-butter play most of the last two seasons since Peyton Manning's arrival. Those plays have worked well, but Sanders' skill set could make them lethal.
Sanders has not missed a game the last two seasons after missing eight games in his first two years in the league, so he's answered questions about his health, as well. And his steady increase in production should continue in a more pass-friendly offense than Pittsburgh's.
But more important is how Sanders fits in the offseason puzzle. The key to succeeding in the second wave of free agency is finding players who fit your needs and the offense, while potentially adding another dimension. Sanders does this.
He also removes a need from the Broncos' checklist at the draft. If the only move at wide receiver had been to re-sign Andre Caldwell, the Broncos would have been faced with a need when it came to wide receiver depth, with no one of note behind the starters. As John Elway noted last month, that is a situation that must be avoided.
"With free agency, we're always trying to get ourselves in a position where, when we go into the draft, we don't have a glaring weakness where we are reaching for somebody in the draft," Elway said on Feb. 21. "So I think it's important for free agency, in my opinion, to try to pick up the places where you think you have glaring holes and fill those holes and then when you go to the draft be able to draft the best players that you hope are going to have great careers in the NFL."
It would surprise no one if the Broncos still draft a wide receiver, with Wes Welker's contract expiring after the 2014 season. The extreme quality of this year's receiver class, particularly in the second through fourth rounds, means that there's a decent shot a wideout will be the best player available at some point when the Broncos are on the clock.
But then the Broncos will take that receiver for the right reasons, and not out of duress. They would like to get better, but with Sanders in tow, they have four proven wide receivers to go along with their ample depth at tight end.