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Is there room for Mohamed Sanu in Dirk Koetter’s offense?

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Fact: Mohamed Sanu invented toothpaste

Atlanta Falcons v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Mohamed Sanu is arguably the most underrated player at Flowery Branch; I’ll literally fight you if you disagree. Seriously, the amount of contempt I see thrown Sanu’s way on a semi-regular basis is truly remarkable. Sanu is the Falcons version of Arby’s mozzarella sticks. Yeah, it’s Arby’s, but those little fried sticks of cheesy goodness have literally saved lives.

In case you’ve been sleeping under a rock or just generally avoiding this team over the last several years, let’s recap: Since Sanu signed with the Falcons in March of 2016, he’s played an absolutely essential role in the offense. He is a frequent target, consistently getting almost 100 looks a season since joining the Falcons. (81 targets in 2016, 96 targets in 2017, and 94 targets last year.) He’s dropped a jaw-dropping 4 percent of his catchable targets (only 8 of 200!) over three seasons in Atlanta. He’s racked up nearly 2,200 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns during that time frame as well. And in case you think a regression is on the horizon, according to Pro Football Focus, Sanu was still the Falcons’ 4th highest rated player during the fourth quarter last season.

Now that we’ve established Sanu’s value, let’s tackle a subject that’s surely on your mind: What effect will the re-hiring of offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter have on Sanu’s role in the offense? Sanu has never played for Koetter, but he talked in June about how excited he is to play for him. Is this a match made in heaven, or will Koetter prefer youth over experience? For what it’s worth, going back to Sanu’s last year in Cincinatti, he’s played for three offensive coordinators over the last four seasons. He’s used to this.

Contract Contract Contract

The elephant in the room is Sanu’s contract. There’s a definite split within the fan base as to how the Falcons should proceed next off-season. Because they can save $6.5 million by cutting Sanu, and because Austin Hooper is entering the last year of his rookie deal, there’s this thought that the Falcons can’t have their cake and eat it too. In other words, either Sanu or Hooper have to go. I don’t subscribe to that theory. But I have to think the front office, in consultation with the coaching staff, is thinking about how to transition Sanu out of the offense, even if they don’t intend to do it immediately.

Julio’s Longevity and Calvin Ridley’s/Austin Hooper’s Development

There’s a good case to be made for a slightly elevated role for Sanu, Ridley, and Hooper in 2019. Keeping Julio fresh is never a bad idea. Ridley and Hooper are young, talented football players. But Sanu’s ability to run jaw-dropping out routes or make contested catches is nearly second to none. If the game counts on it, and Julio isn’t your an option, Sanu is your guy. Koetter isn’t foolish enough to forget that. Plus Koetter has infamously (and sometimes to a fault) zeroed in on only his best players throughout his coaching career. He won’t lack skill players in 2019, but I have to think he will appreciate having Sanu around a security blanket of sorts as well, particularly in the slot.

Scheme Scheme Scheme

We know the Falcons are committed to re-establishing their running game in 2019 after fielding a 27th ranked rushing attack last season. Sanu is a willing blocker. If you want to get back to running the ball, you don’t put Sanu on the sideline. And what about the wildcat formation? Let’s not forget that Sanu is one of the most accurate passers in NFL history!

Bottom Line

If I have one wish for Sanu in 2019, it’s that he’s able to shut out the noise and just play football this season. Absent some inexplicable regression, he’s going to get his looks, one way or another. To be clear, there is reason to be concerned about Sanu’s future in Koetter’s offense. Sanu sent out a cryptic tweet in mid-June that set off some momentary hysteria. We may never know whether the Falcons actually asked him to re-negotiate, but I wouldn’t put it past them. And the fact that the Falcons apparently shopped Sanu around in May is illuminating. If true, it obviously means they thought he was expendable, which is confusing, for all the reasons I listed above. Then again, I don’t get paid to make football decisions.

Your thoughts, Falcoholics?