In a special Thursday Night Football edition of Featured Falcon Friday, we take a look at the Falcons’ latest clutch performer, Mohamed Sanu.
The Atlanta Falcons brought in Mohamed Sanu to replace their all-time leading receiver, Roddy White. On Sunday, he also had to shoulder the load of the heir apparent to Roddy’s throne, Julio Jones.
With Julio gimpy for most of the contest, Sanu became Matt Ryan’s favorite target. No point in the game was that more evident than on the team’s final possession. Ryan connected with Sanu five times on the drive for 50 yards, including the game-winning 11-yard touchdown reception.
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Mohamed finished with nine catches for 84 yards, both personal bests for him as a member of the Falcons. The timing could not have been better for Atlanta’s $32.5 million dollar man to deliver his best performance.
Rumblings began to surface last week that the prized free agent was nearing bust-level status. Coming into the game with the Packers, Sanu had a mere 23 catches on 40 targets for a total of 258 yards and two touchdowns. These are not the kind of numbers Falcon fans had hoped for following Sanu’s hefty signing.
But maybe we, the fans, were wrong in setting our expectations for Atlanta’s new number two receiver. After all, the 2016 version of Kyle Shanahan’s offense is predicated on ball distribution.
Sure, Julio Jones will always be the focal point of the game plan, but beyond him the touches have been dealt out quite evenly this year. Eight players have double digit receptions, with each of them recording at least one touchdown.
That has been the recipe for success for this offense. Last year, and even this year against San Diego, demonstrated just how important it is to spread the ball around to more than one or two targets.
Coach Dan Quinn constantly preaches to his players about having the “next man up” attitude. In the games where the Falcons ace receiver Jones has been less than 100 percent or has been taken out of the game plan by opposing defenses, Mohamed Sanu has stepped up.
And even when Julio is going off in typical Julio fashion, Mo is contributing in other ways. The block he had in the Panther game to spring “Jet” for the game-sealing touchdown goes unappreciated by the masses.
Matt Ryan doesn't eclipse 500 yds passing & Julio Jones doesn't get 300 yds receiving w/o Mohamed Sanu's block. Maybe best play of game, IMO pic.twitter.com/9VvzpxRgWV
But to his coaches and teammates, this is the kind of play that earns their respect and trust. Considering the Falcons brought Sanu in to replace a player who’s quoted as saying “I’m not out here to just block (expletive) people all day,” effort like this is a breath of fresh air.
So while Sanu may not always light up a boxscore, he has produced when the opportunity presented itself. But that has been Mo’s biggest struggle—getting the opportunity.
In Cincinnati, he had to contend for touches with the likes of AJ Green, Tyler Eifert, Marvin Jones, and the list goes on. However, the pursuit of opportunity stems even further back than his days with the Bengals.
Growing up in rugged New Brunswick, New Jersey, Sanu and his family could only afford to rent a bedroom and living room of a house that they shared with two other guys. This meant Mohamed had to share a pullout couch with his brother and a bathroom with two strangers.
Opportunities did not come easy for the Sanu family, who were supported by his mother and her three jobs. As a result, luxuries such as playing peewee football were denied to Mo due to the $300 signup fee.
But not long after signup day, Mo would catch his first big break. While throwing the football around with his friends, a strange man approached Sanu and company.
The man turned out to be Vinny Jackson, head coach of the South River Knights peewee team. After watching Mohamed dazzle in the pickup game that day, Jackson offered the group an opportunity to play on his team and sent them all home with applications.
He would later explain to the parents that the fee that initially held their kids back would be waived. And that was the start to Mohamed Sanu’s very promising football career.
Sep 11, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Mohamed Sanu (12) celebrates with quarterback Matt Ryan (2) after a touchdown pass in the first quarter against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
Fast forward to Mo’s freshman year of high school and the recruiting letters already began to trickle in. The first school that really made Sanu a priority was the one right in his backyard, Rutgers University.
It was then that Sanu began to slack off in class, thinking he had the scholarship in the bag. News of Mo’s failing grades soon got back to Sanu’s lead recruiter at Rutgers, Joe Susan.
Susan informed him that the school would be pulling their offer if Mo didn’t improve his grades. Seeing this opportunity start to slip away, Sanu answered the bell, earning all A’s and B’s from there on out.
He would go on to enroll at Rutgers six months early and become one step closer to the ultimate opportunity of playing in the NFL.
Mohamed Sanu got the call on day one of the 2012 NFL draft that he would be selected by the Cincinnati Bengals. Only problem was the call came from an illegitimate source.
Sanu had been the victim of a prank call and the wait to hear his name called would be prolonged for another day. Coincidentally enough, the Bengals did eventually call him and officially made him their third round pick.
This inauspicious start to his pro career personifies Mohamed Sanu to the core. The opportunities have never come easy for the New Brunswick native. So that’s why when the moments do present themselves, Sanu takes full advantage.
We saw our first glimpse of that on Sunday. Keep calling his number, Kyle, and watch Sanu make good on yet another opportunity.