So much for any hopes that Mohamed Sanu would stay for his senior season in order to rewrite every school record book. Ultimately, as it was for Ray Rice, Kenny Britt, and Anthony Davis, Sanu simply could not keep the pro ranks on hold any longer. He had nothing left to prove on the college level, and will now try his craft in the NFL. As a tough possession receiver with great hands, Sanu has quite a bit in common with Hakeem Nicks of the New York Giants, or maybe Muhsin Muhammad if you want to go back a few years. In college, he was the king of the ten yard out and WR screen. If you need a first down, a tough catch, a jaw-dropping highlight catch, or broken tackles, Sanu was your man. To think we are less than a year removed from thousands of Rutgers fans wanting to move him back to safety.
Like with Nicks, a perceived lack of big play ability may lower his stock to the lower first round range, although there's little doubt that he will be an enormously productive player in the NFL. As far as going higher goes, he will need to run well at the Combine and/or the Rutgers Pro Day, and prove that he was only running the routes in college that the coaches asked. If you think about it, Tim Brown was the other starter as a freshman, and then it was other big play guys like Mark Harrison and Brandon Coleman. Sanu was also more than a trooper about putting his body on the line in the Wild Cat formation - overuse in 2010 is likely a significant contributor to his early departure. He is also an overage player.
Where could Sanu end up in the NFL? Given the Rutgers and Greg Schiano ties to Bill Belichick, and their lack of a receiver not named Wes Welker, the Patriots are certainly an intriguing option. You'd think they would want more of a burner to replace Chad Ochocinco though, and are content with a veteran like Deion Branch is another outside starter. The Pats regularly use two TEs, so drafting another WR high is far from a given. Two picks certainly help, but Belichick usually trades those for a zillion twos and threes. Some other potential fits:
- The New York Jets - Plaxico Burress is getting up there in age, Santonio Holmes hates Mark Sanchez's guts, and they don't exactly have a possession guy to begin with. Look at how adding possession WRs like Hakeem Nicks and Steve Smith helped Eli Manning. The Jets probably have bigger needs on the lines, but could conceivably trade up or down if Sanu's stock stays in the late first.
- San Diego Chargers - Vincent Jackson is a free agent who may not return. They could keep Malcom Floyd, and add Sanu as more of a traditional #2 receiver.
- Cleveland Browns - They could certainly use him given how quickly Brian Robiskie busted. You hope to heck they stay far, far away though. (Crazy stat of the year: Darrius Heyward-Bey is almost a 1000-yard receiver! Really!)
- Baltimore Ravens - Now that's more like it. Anquan Boldin is on the downside of his career, and Mohamed Sanu would be a perfect stylistic replacement for Boldin, and complement to Torrey Smith. (This presumes that my crazy "Giants sign Ray Rice to a huge offer sheet" plan doesn't work out.)
- San Francisco 49ers - Needs a receiver, but already has a similar player in Michael Crabtree. Probably would want more of a burner like the pats.
- Indianapolis Colts - Are about to embark on a total rebuild, and Andrew Luck will need weapons. Austin Collie is more of a slot receiver, and Anthony Gonzalez fell into the Springfield Memory Hole.
- St. Louis Rams - Would be about as bad as the Browns. Firing Spags was dumb, dumb, dumb. Do not want.
- Minnesota Vikings - It's pretty much just Percy Harvin at this point. A possible strong fit.
- Washington Redskins - He could be their new Art Monk! (A really good receiver who has no business making the Hall of Fame.) This would be awful though considering their ownership and quarterback situations.
As far as the direct impact to Rutgers football in 2012, it is certainly a blow, although wide receiver is still one of the deepest positions on the team - with quite a bit of talent returning at receiver. The question remains though as to whether RU can find the right mix. Coleman and Harrison are vertical threats, who haven't always shown the best hands (it has to be said though, that Sanu made a ton of drops his first two seasons.) If you start both of them, it could sort of be like 2007 and 2008, where Rutgers could bomb it out downfield, but didn't really have a dependable, Sanu or Tres Moses type that could make the tough catches for first downs. Ideally, one will start next to more of a possession guy. Tim Wright has kinda moved into that role after returning from his knee injury, and Quron Pratt showed very reliable hands this year as well. This could also open things up for J.T. Tartacoff as sort of a poor man's Wes Welker type in the slot. There's also Miles Shuler if you want to turn the field into a track meet.
Goodbye, Mohamed. You were a fantastic player who left everything on the field, a great representative for the athletic department and university off of it, and will be missed immeasurably. (There will be some more material on Sanu here in the near future.) From the moment Sanu dominated the former Governor's Bowl several years back, Rutgers fans knew instantly that their coaching staff had unearthed a diamond in the rough under the noses of every recruiting service. It just goes to show the value of playing in an offense that throws the ball downfield. Where's Justin Brown now at Penn State? If he's lucky, he follows the Derrick Williams career path of barely sneaking into the third round at some point. Meanwhile, Rutgers will just regroup, reload, and watch its next great receiver (Coleman) travel the path towards stardom.