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Why the Patriots are interested in Emmanuel Sanders

03.19.13 at 9:00 pm ET

With the Patriots and their wide receivers and defensive backs, straight-line speed is nice — and they’€™ve gone after burners like Bethel Johnson and Brandon Tate in the past — they seek out players who are nimble, agile and display great footwork. That’€™s why you can trace so many of their picks at the position the last few seasons to guys who do well in the agility drills as collegians, particularly the 3-cone. Julian Edelman, Wes Welker, Deion Branch, Nate Ebner and Devin McCourty all displayed great agility by posting excellent 3-cone times as collegians. For more on their times — as well as New England‘€™s occasional 3-cone obsession as it relates to some members of the current draft class — click on my story here.

(While it’€™s not the end all and be all when it comes to evaluation, it can sometimes put a prospect over the top in the eyes of the Patriots — that may have been the case behind the infamous selection of wide receiver Chad Jackson in the second round of the 2006 draft.)

That brings us to Emmanuel Sanders. The Patriots have kicked the tires on the restricted free agent, and while there’s no offer sheet as of yet, it’s easy to see why the Patriots would be interested in the 5-foot-11, 180-pounder. While it’€™s one thing to consider his surface numbers (in his three-year career with the Steelers, Sanders has 94 receptions for 1,290 yards and five touchdowns), one of the things that fairly jumps off the page is his overall agility numbers he posted while at SMU. As a collegian at SMU, Sanders not only displayed the requisite straight-line speed — he had a 4.4 40-yard dash — but also flashed great agility, posting a 6.6 time in the 3-cone drill, the second-best time that year among the receivers. (By way of comparison, that would have placed him third overall at this year’€™s combine.) There was also his 4.1 time in the 20-yard shuttle (third-best among wide receivers), another drill that measures footwork and agility.

(For what it’€™s worth, new acquisition Danny Amendola also tested as a collegian when it came to the agility drills. Before going undrafted in 2009, the Texas Tech product posted a 6.81 in the 3-cone drill time and a 4.25 when in the 20-yard shuttle, both considered excellent times.)

It’€™s realistic to think that the Patriots at least had Sanders on their radar screen when they came to the third round of the 2010 draft — the SMU product went 82nd overall to Pittsburgh, while New England went with Taylor Price eight picks later at No. 90. (For what it’€™s worth, Price — who was cut midway through the 2011 season — had a 3-cone time of 6.82 as a collegian at Ohio.) With another chance to get after Sanders — who would come at the expense of a third-round pick because of the tender placed on the receiver by the Steelers — the Patriots should seize the opportunity to find another conehead.

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