On Friday we kicked off the series that counts down the players who we feel are primed to make an impact for the Bengals in 2014. At No.10 we had linebacker Sean Porter, whose place on the list was given to him because of college tape, draft position and overall potential. The next guy at No.9 is on here for some different reasons.
What is it about the orange and black No.11 that makes for an immediate fan favorite player? In 2010-2011, Jordan Shipley donned the number, and now another smaller slot receiver is looking to become a long-term solution to the void left by both Shipley's injury-riddled career and the recently-departed Andrew Hawkins to Cleveland. To help fill the void for a shifty slot man comes a local favorite with a fun name to say out loud.
Dane Sanzenbacher shined in the 2013 preseason and was active for ten games with the Bengals during the regular season. He only had six catches last season, so that may beg the question as to why he is on this list for some. The answer? It's a simple match of skill set and open opportunities with a roster shakeup this season.
Where He Fits In:
Sanzenbacher can take advantage of opportunities that could be opened in different areas, thanks to the aforementioned roster shakeup. First, there is the aspect of the offense. Sanzenbacher will likely be a backup slot player and could occasionally be placed on the outside. He'll likely be a No.4 or No.5 wideout on the team, but that doesn't mean he won't get time. With Hawkins now gone, Sanzenbacher will likely be filling some of his old duties, though he isn't as athletic.
The other area is where I think Sanzenbacher will truly shine. The Bengals' special teams unit needs a boost in 2014, from a couple of different spots. Though Hawkins was feast or famine on offense, his contributions as a gunner on punt returns was invaluable. Someone will have to carry that torch and most would look at No.11 to do so.
And then there is the return game. It seems as if the much-maligned (at least by fans) Brandon Tate has a little more heat on him this year, as a variety of different guys are getting looks as return men in practices. Though Sanzenbacher wasn't one of the mentioned names early on, we expect to see him get his chances as he last preseason.
What It All Means:
Though it sounds odd to say after the Hawkins departure, Sanzenbacher's route to the final roster initially could be via special teams. There are players who have stuck around in Cincinnati for years (Cedric Peerman, cough, cough) because of their contributions there and it has worked out well.
Still, Sanzenbacher signed a very lucrative restricted free agent contract for a guy that had just six catches last season. Perhaps it was a little bit of desperation on the team's part because Hawkins jetted to the Browns, but the gut feeling has to be that No.11 is primed for an impact on offense. It would be good to have a rotation in the slot, going from the bigger, tougher Mohamed Sanu to the shifty, sure-handed Sanzenbacher and then even mix in a big tight end.
When our own Mickey Mentzer interviewed him for Inside the Jungle at The Taste of the NFL, Sanzenbacher candidly said that he didn't know what to expect for himself this coming season. We are expecting more than inactive games and six catches from the former Buckeye in 2014.