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2021 Detroit Lions free agent profile: Can Mohamed Sanu be a depth piece?

Sanu could be an affordable depth option, if the Lions are interested.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Lions have a serious wide receiver problem. The team seems prepared to move on from Kenny Golladay. Marvin Jones Jr. and Danny Amendola are long shots to be retained. The receivers currently signed on for 2021 had a combined total of 20 catches and 349 yards last season, and all of those were courtesy of fifth-round pick Quintez Cephus.

While the top three receivers are likely gone, there are a couple of other 2020 Lions receivers that are hitting free agency that could be invited back. A month ago, we talked about one of those players in Jamal Agnew. Today, let’s turn our attention to Mohamed Sanu.

Previous free agent profiles: Oday Aboushi, Danny Amendola, Matt Prater, Jamal Agnew, Everson Griffen, Duron Harmon, Kenny Golladay, Don Muhlbach, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Darryl Roberts, Marvin Jones Jr., Adrian Peterson, Miles Killebrew

Mohamed Sanu

Expectations heading into 2020

Sanu started the year with the New England Patriots, but—despite their limited depth at receiver—he was released before Week 1. A couple of weeks later, he was picked up by the San Francisco 49ers, but he was released again after making just one catch in three game appearances.

When he finally landed with the Lions on November 6, expectations were fairly low. The journeyman receiver clearly had his best days behind him, and although the Lions were struggling with injury, there was no guarantee Sanu would even make it beyond the practice squad.

Actual role in 2020

7 games (4 starts): 16 catches, 178 yards, 1 TD
PFF grade: 65.5

Sanu was a somewhat pleasant surprise late in the year. He caught at least two passes in each of his final six games with the Lions and quickly developed into one of Matthew Stafford’s trusted targets.

Though he never had a game with more than 40 yards receiving, he was a chain mover, and someone who was actually creating a bit of separation. In essence, he was exactly what the Lions needed: a somewhat reliable mid-season replacement for Kenny Golladay. To expect anything else, other than what the Lions got out of Sanu, would’ve been unrealistic for a player acquired in November.

Outlook for 2021

Contract status: Unrestricted free agent

Mohamed Sanu’s days as a full-time starter are likely over, as the veteran receiver will be 32 before the 2021 season starts. Even with a team like the Lions, who are in desperate need of wide receiver help, Sanu would likely only serve as a depth piece.

But would that be enough to throw him an offer to re-sign this year? Whatever the Lions do at receiver, there will likely be a need for a veteran role. Currently, the room is filled with a 22-year-old Quintez Cephus, a six-year player in Tyrell Williams, 27-year-old Geronimo Allison, and a pair of youngins on future deals.

Sanu’s nine years of experience would pair nicely with the addition of Antwaan Randle-El as the team’s new wide receivers coach.

That being said, this team is looking for speed and youth at the receiver position. They’re very likely to add another receiver or two in free agency. And they’ll be in great shape to take one of the best receivers in this year’s draft. As Brad Holmes said last week, the wide receiver position can be turned around in an instant, and I’m not so sure adding a 32-year-old receiver should be part of those plans, even for depth.