The Pittsburgh Steelers selected wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders No. 82 overall in the 2010 NFL Draft. He played out the entirety of his rookie contract in Pittsburgh, before signing with the Denver Broncos as a 2014 free agent.
The move paid off, as Sanders eclipsed the 100-catch and 1,000-yard marks on his way to his first Pro Bowl selection. For the first time since leaving the Steel City, Sanders is returning to the team who drafted him and the team who frankly under-utilized him.
“I'm looking forward to it," Sanders said Wednesday. "It's going to be fun. It's going to be different. I spent four years over there. It was definitely a blessing. [Steelers Head] Coach [Mike] Tomlin and the Rooneys, they gave me my opportunity in the National Football League, so I'm forever thankful for that.”
After a huge Week 12 performance vs. the New England Patriots, where Sanders caught six passes for 113 yards, he's only managed five receptions for 36 yards in the two games since.
He's due for a big game in his Pittsburgh homecoming and you can believe that Brock Osweiler and his teammates want to help facilitate it. But Sanders knows it isn't easy winning at Heinz Field and he'll be playing there for the first time as a visitor.
“It's unique," Sanders said. "The whole stadium is yellow. You have people waving those terrible towels everywhere. They love their team. They love their city. It's a unique environment. If you haven't played there before, I know a lot of those guys in this locker room haven't, it feels like you're in the National Football League. For the first time, I'm going to be on the visitor's side, so it's going to be different.”
After the Broncos disappointing loss to the sub-.500 Oakland Raiders, they know they have to get back on track. It's December football. The playoff picture is crystalizing and the Broncos want to be a part of it. Sanders knows what's at stake and in the big-money moments, he usally shines.
“Every game down the stretch is going to be a big game," Sanders said. "We all know it. It's playoff football right now. We have to handle business. Obviously, we dropped an egg versus Oakland and we had an opportunity to be first place in the AFC. We dropped an egg, like I said, so what can we do about it? We can't do anything. We can't carry that luggage. We can only move forward. It's on to Pittsburgh.”
Look for Emmanuel Sanders to have a big day at Heinz Field. Hopefully, Brock Osweiler can target him early and often. Sanders is a matchup problem any time, but going against Pittsburgh's No. 31 ranked passing defense, there will be a lot of opportunities to feed him the ball.
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Chad Jensen is the Publisher of Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @ChadNJensen.