Mohamed Sanu used a productive junior season at Rutgers, with 115 receptions for 1,206 yards and seven touchdowns, to put himself into the upper tier of wide receiver prospects in the 2012 NFL Draft. But he ran just a 4.67 second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, and ultimately did not come off the board until the Cincinnati Bengals selected him in the third round (83rd overall).
With the departure of Jerome Simpson via free agency, the Bengals have an opening in the starting lineup at wide receiver opposite A.J. Green. Sanu, along with fellow rookie Marvin Jones and 2010 third round pick Jordan Shipley, are in the mix for the job and whoever earns the role should benefit from the attention Green draws from opposing defenses. Shipley suffered a torn ACL in his left knee early in 2011 and has recently been cleared for full participation in OTAs, and he had a solid rookie season in 2010 with 52 receptions for 600 yards and three touchdowns. In a best case scenario for Cincinnati, Shipley would fit as a slot receiver while the two rookies battle to be the No. 2 wide receiver.
Whoever wins the starting job, assuming one guy definitively does prior to Week 1, will land on the radar of fantasy football owners virtually immediately on draft day.
Let's look at what Sanu brings to the table if he becomes a rookie starter.
The Skinny On Sanu
Sanu has NFL-caliber size (6'2", 211 lbs.), catches the ball confidently with his hands and has a wide catch radius while also showing good body control and awareness. He is also an excellent route runner, with good initial burst, which stands to make him well-suited to working inside the numbers at the next level, since he does not have outstanding timed speed. He was used at a variety of positions in college, on the inside and outside, and the Bengals reportedly tried him at multiple positions during rookie camp. That versatility should work to his advantage and perhaps give him the upper hand in the competition for the starting job over Jones.
Sanu's lack of straight-line speed is a concern, as is the fact he averaged just 10.5 yards per catch in 2011. He compares favorably to former Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, and could serve as a similarly tough, reliable target for quarterback Andy Dalton like Houshmandzadeh was for former Bengals' quarterback Carson Palmer.
Sanu's fantasy value as a rookie in 2012 is tied to his ability to earn the No. 2 wide receiver spot, though he could play a lot even if he is not named the starter immediately. He is not draftable outside of keeper leagues at this point in time, but if he becomes a starter he may be worth a late flier in deep league drafts and auctions. Sanu's value is greatest in PPR leagues, as he is unlikely to add a lot in terms of yardage and touchdowns without a nice catch total.