The Broncos burst through the free agency gates in 2014, signing T.J. Ward, Aqib Talib and DeMarcus Ware in quick succession. After the signing of those three, the team had a hole at wide receiver left by the departure of Eric Decker.
As free agency progressed, it seemed as though the team would fail to find an adequate replacement, settling on Bubba Caldwell, whom they re-signed just prior to the beginning of free agency. The team watched potential targets such as Hakeem Nicks, Jeremy Maclin and Brandon LaFell sign elsewhere. Another blow was to be dealt when it was reported that Emmanuel Sanders had signed with the AFC West rival Kansas City Chiefs.
But in the 11th hour, the Broncos jumped into the Sanders pursuit, ending with him signing with the Broncos the next day. So the team replaced Decker, the 87th pick in the 2010 draft, with Sanders, the 82nd pick in the same draft.
Decker's departure burned a hole in the hearts of many in Broncos Country. But it's a hole which Sanders has filled in short order. Since his arrival, Sanders has been the most interactive Bronco on Twitter, doing weekly giveaways and communicating with fans regularly. It's not often that a player can come to a new city and become a fan favorite before donning the team's jersey, but Sanders did just that.
Following his signing, there was a lot of buzz on how the undersized speedster would fit in with Denver's record-setting offense. During his time in Pittsburgh, Sanders was clearly underutilized, with a career best of 67 receptions, 740 yards and 6 TDs.
While Sanders may never be a guy who puts up huge TD numbers as the man he replaced did, he will always be a crisp route runner, as well as a lethal deep threat. Thus far into his career with the Broncos, Sanders is well on his way to shattering his career marks with 38 receptions for 514 yards already. As Sanders continues to build on his chemistry with Peyton Manning, his production will only improve.
Sanders, for all that he has accomplished so far this year, has yet to have his coming out party. Bronco receivers have enjoyed breakout games that always seem to include a high number of receptions, a ton of yards and multiple touchdowns during the Peyton Manning era.
It is widely believed that Decker was a limited wide receiver, an assessment I disagree with, yet he was able to grab 4 receiving touchdowns in one game with Manning tossing the pigskin. If there is a week for Sanders to break out, it is at home against the San Diego Chargers.
The Chargers come into a Thursday night matchup with the Broncos a little banged up in the secondary. The team may be without one or both of their top two corners in Brandon Flowers and Jason Verrett. Whether the Chargers secondary is full strength, or not, Sanders poses a matchup problem for any team, and Manning can beat even the best coverage regularly.
In short, it's Emmanuel Sanders' time to turn in a huge performance for the Denver Broncos. If you own him in your fantasy league, you must start him tomorrow night.