By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — To say that Emmanuel Sanders is fast just doesn’t cut it.
Sanders, a 5-foot-11, 180-pound slot receiver from SMU, certainly is a speedster with a 4.41-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. He also can dunk a basketball and was the Pittsburgh Steelers’ third-round pick Friday night.
Sanders’ speed, however, is what initially caught the eye of first-year Steelers receivers coach Scottie Montgomery.
“He has the ability to catch the ball and get it north and south, and that’s something that I value quite a bit,” Montgomery said. “Those 2-3 (extra) yards can win you a football game at this level or at any level for that matter. But he’s a guy that I really feel good about his quickness with the ball in his hands and in finishing the ball quickly. He plays big.
“And he never gets dwarfed with the ball in his hands. So, he plays with a large catch radius, and I like that more than having a 6-foot-5 body with a small catch radius. I like guys who can extend and catch the football. … He’s a young man who’s quick to the tuck, and what I mean by that is that he can finish the football. So, we’re extremely happy and excited to get to work with him.”
Sanders was extremely productive for June Jones at SMU last season. Jones runs the high-powered run-and-shoot offensive, and Sanders primarily was a slot receiver. He had 98 catches for 1,339 yards and seven touchdowns. He also returned 20 punts for 275 yards (13.7 average) and one score. Sanders tallied 235 career receptions for 3,791 yards and 34 touchdowns.
With veteran starter Hines Ward and second-year pro Mike Wallace holding down the top two spots, Antwaan Randle El returning, along with third-year player Limas Sweed and new acquisition Arnaz Battle, among others battling for roster spots, Sanders has his work cut out for him.
“I think he’s coming into a great situation because he’ll be around one of the great wide receiver of all time in Hines,” Montgomery said. “So, when I don’t have time to spend with him, then … Hines can really help him get through the things rookie receivers have trouble trying to get through.”
Sanders believed he was a great fit for the Steelers, and he relished the chance to learn from a player like Ward.
“I feel that I can fit in pretty well,” Sanders said. “I’m so excited about Pittsburgh. They have a good quarterback and a good receiving corps, so I think I can come in and learn from them. … I’m very elusive.
“And I’m very quick coming off the ball. Some guys are more quick than fast, but I really feel like I’m both of those things. My straight-line speed was fast, 4.41 at the Combine, but I feel that I’m very quick, too.”
Notes: Sanders said his fastest 40 time was 4.36 seconds. … He was suspended for two games in 2008, because he was late for study hall twice for 15 minutes and five-minutes late for a practice. That makes three strikes, which warranted the two-game suspension. … The Steelers did not believe there was a problem with his character despite that.
The 75th annual NFL Draft concludes Saturday with rounds four through seven. The Steelers have one fourth-round pick, four fifths, a sixth and a seventh.