Emmanuel Sanders’ influence continues to be felt by 49ers WRs, Shanahan originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area
Emmanuel Sanders spent less than a full NFL season in the 49ers’ locker room, but his impact is still felt to this day.
In the aftermath of the 49ers’ season-opening victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, All-Pro tight end George Kittle brought up Sanders’ name when discussing the blocking ability of San Francisco’s wide receiver group.
On Friday, Sanders’ influence was mentioned to Kyle Shanahan, and the 49ers coach praised his former wide receiver.
“Emmanuel is one of my favorite receivers of all time,” Shanahan told reporters after the 49ers practice. “I think he’s one of the most underrated receivers. Emmanuel was great – how good he was in Denver, how good he was in Pittsburgh before we got him towards the end. But when he came in, he was still at that time, he was our best separator. He was that good. He helped those guys a lot.
“Not only because he was our best referee, but also because of his condition, he never took a play-off. It looked like he was dead. It looked like he couldn’t play again, but once that ball broke , he was at full speed. I think he showed a huge standard for that.”
Sanders’ stamp can be seen on Kittle and 49ers star receiver Deebo Samuel, who was a rookie in 2019, and they set the example for the rest of San Francisco’s passing unit.
The Week 1 play that Sanders epitomized was Christian McCaffrey’s 65-yard touchdown run, which was aided by huge downfield blocks from 49ers receivers Brandon Aiyuk and Ray-Ray McCloud. They aren’t the biggest wideouts, but they didn’t hesitate to do some heavy lifting.
“Emmanuel Sanders when he came in and listened to Kyle [Shanahan] and he blocked the way he wanted to,” Kittle told reporters after practice Thursday. “Emmanuel is a big man, but he’s not the biggest man in the room. You saw his effort on every play – runs when he wasn’t getting the ball to get other guys open, the back end of runs digging out safeties – it kind of showed our young guys what it’s supposed to look like.
Shanahan reflected on how Sanders set the standard for what would come out of the 49ers’ receiving group.
“He was one of the smaller guys compared to the others, just weight-wise he didn’t turn anything down and he always had good technique and everything,” Shanahan said Friday. “That’s all you need for me as a receiver. Good technique and the mentality to do it, combined with everything we do. And it was one of our toughest decisions not to keep Emmanuel. It was just the age with Kendrick Bourne and things and how he was doing. So we had to make that decision. But we loved Emmanuel.”
The 49ers acquired Sanders from the Denver Broncos in October 2019, along with a 2020 fifth-round draft pick, a 2020 third-round draft pick and a 2020 fourth-round draft pick.
In nine regular season games with the 49ers, Sanders had 36 receptions for 502 yards, with three touchdown catches. He almost won Super Bowl LIV with San Francisco, but they blew a fourth-quarter lead and lost to the Kansas City Chiefs in Miami Gardens.
That was Sanders’ only season with the 49ers, but it’s clear Samuel and Kittle were watching and listening. Now they keep that example alive as part of San Francisco’s strong culture.
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