Bills Mafia may have to wait one more week to see the debut of their new, two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver, as Emmanuel Sanders was listed as questionable on Friday’s injury report. Sanders signed a one-year, $6 million contract with the Bills on March 19, 2021 and is lined up to start opposite All-Pro Stefon Diggs.
Sanders has been battling a toe injury and has been getting in limited sessions this week.
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The Bills and Pittsburgh Steelers are scheduled to kick off at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday in Buffalo. The 34-year-old Sanders was selected in the third round of the 2010 NFL draft by Pittsburgh and played his first four seasons with the franchise, before heading to the Denver Broncos for the next five-and-a-half seasons.
The Super Bowl 50 champion was traded from the Broncos to the San Francisco 49ers midway through the 2019 season and played 14 games with the New Orleans Saints in 2020. Sanders’ two Pro Bowl campaigns came during his days with Peyton Manning and the Broncos, in 2014 and 2016.
The wideout has played with current and future Hall of Fame quarterbacks through much of his career, ranging from Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Drew Brees. Sanders best season was in 2014, when he posted career-highs in pass targets (141), receptions (101), receiving yards (1,404) and receiving touchdowns (nine).
Who Needs to Step up if Sanders Doesn’t Play?
If Sanders is unable to go, quarterback Josh Allen should still have plenty of wide receiver weapons at his disposal.
Though Steelers two-time first-team All-Pro cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick could be providing shadow coverage to Stefon Diggs, Buffalo can rely on their stud wideout, barring injury. Sanders is projected as the No. 2 receiver in the offense, so the other names to watch out for are Cole Beasley and Gabriel Davis.
Beasley, as controversial as he’s been all summer long, was as reliable as they came last season for the Bills, posting career-highs in receptions (82), receiving yards (967), targets (107), yards per reception (11.8) and first downs receiving (53). Diggs will likely command double-digit targets per game, but Beasley is an excellent security blanket for Allen on shorter routes.
Davis is still an up-and-comer, but showed great promise in 2020 as a rookie. Primarily used as the fourth receiver behind Diggs, Beasley and current free agent John Brown, the 22-year-old collected 35 receptions on 62 targets for 599 yards and seven touchdowns.
With guys like Fitzpatrick threatening Allen’s field vision in the secondary, it’ll be important for Buffalo’s main running backs – Devin Singletary and Zack Moss – to get some chunk yardage plays on the ground. Pittsburgh boasts one of the best linebackers in the game in T.J. Watt though, so Singletary and Moss may have trouble getting the running game established.
Veteran Pass Rusher Ruled out With Calf Injury
While Sanders will be a name to watch on Sunday morning, one guy who has already been ruled out is defensive tackle Star Lotulelei. The news comes as a bit of a surprise, as even though the 2013 first round has been struggling with a nagging calf ailment, Bills head coach Sean McDermott had said as recently as Tuesday that the pass rusher was “trending in the right direction”.
Lotulelei was hoping to make his return to the field for a regular season game for the first time since 2019, as he opted out of the 2020 campaign due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
With Lotulelei inactive, Buffalo will look to guys like Ed Oliver and 2021 first round pick Greg Rousseau to stop Steelers rookie running back Najee Harris in his NFL debut.