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Injury analysis: Buffalo Bills WR Emmanuel Sanders

What are the injury concerns for Sanders coming to Buffalo?

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

After retaining all the necessary in-house pieces prior to free agency, Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane struck Tuesday night signing veteran wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. Sanders brings a steady veteran presence to the team following the release of WR John Brown. He also brings with him extensive postseason experience and several injuries that do lead to some questions regarding his remaining availability.

Below is a season-by-season publicly known injury breakdown of Sanders and how it could impact his performance in Buffalo:

Injury History

2010 Pittsburgh Steelers

Missed three games; suffered Week 1 injury due to a quadricep bruise. Sanders also suffered a right foot fracture in the Super Bowl, which required surgery followed by a left foot fracture also requiring surgery in the offseason.

2011 Steelers

Following the surgery on the left foot, he developed a stress fracture in the left foot, ultimately missing three preseason games. Missed five total games—Weeks 9-10 due to arthroscopic knee surgery due to a meniscus tear, followed by Weeks 14-16 due to inflammation in his right foot.

2012 Steelers

Missed no games, dealt with several injuries including a knee injury in Week 2, shoulder injury Week 13, rib injuries in Week 14, and a cracked rib in Week 15.

2013 Steelers

Missed no games, dealt with several injuries including a foot injury Week 10, another foot injury Week 14, and a knee injury—specifically a knee sprain in Week 16.

2014 Denver Broncos

Missed no games, dealt with several injuries including a right hamstring strain in the preseason. Suffered a concussion Week 11, hip injury Week 16.

2015 Broncos

Suffered a right hamstring strain, missed the entire preseason. Missed one game total but dealt with a left AC Joint sprain in Week 6. Suffered a left high ankle sprain in Week 10 and a finger injury in Week 11.

2016 Broncos

Missed no games, and did not appear on the injury report.

2017 Broncos

Missed four total games, Grade 2 right ankle sprain in Week 6, was questionable in Weeks 12 and 14, suffered a bone bruise in his right ankle Week 15—missed two games.

2018 Broncos

Missed four total games due to a torn left Achilles suffered in practice prior to Week 14. Required tightrope procedure on the right ankle in the offseason to address 2017 ankle injuries.

2019 Broncos/San Francisco 49ers

Missed no games while with Broncos; traded to 49ers, made his first appearance in Week 8. Missed no games with 49ers, did suffer rib cartilage damage in Week 10.

2020 New Orleans Saints

Missed two games due to COVID-19, Weeks 7-8

Bills impact

Sanders has been in the league a long time and, as a result, has suffered a moderate amount of injuries. It would be impossible to have the career he’s had and not suffer any issues, but he has had several foot/ankle injuries that do lead to questions regarding his availability heading into the 2021 season.

His early career struggles with his foot fracture followed by the stress fracture appear to be behind him and appeared to be more related to the original injury followed by what appeared to be a rushed return back to the field causing the stress fracture. The meniscus tear is something else to note—however, he has avoided a recurrence of this issue over the past several years, which is a good sign.

The recent ankle injuries including the high ankle sprains with resulting tightrope procedure is an injury to highlight, but this was nearly three years ago. Once the ankle is structurally stable, there appears to be a decreased recurrence of high ankle sprains from my observations.

Upon seeing that Sanders was signed, my immediate thoughts went to his Achilles tear. While the rehab and outcomes have improved recently following this type of injury, there is research indicating that performance dips the year following the repair and then returns to normal after that.

However, Sanders did not appear to suffer any decrease in production, posting 66 receptions for 869 yards and five TDs. The 869 yards was the fourth-highest total of his career coming off an injury that typically robs players of production upon returning. Considering this injury was in 2018, Sanders is well outside the window to possibly suffer a re-rupture and affecting his performance.

While not all injuries can be predicted, the past injuries Sanders has suffered do not appear to foretell any future concerns. Even if he does miss a game here or there, the Bills’ offense has proven that it can adapt.

Had the Bills made this a multi-year contract or signed him right after he tore his Achilles, I’d be singing a different tune. Overall, injury-wise this is a fair signing in my book and has the potential to pan out for the Bills. This may also allow Sanders to grab a second Super Bowl ring and ride off into the sunset.