How are the Bengals going to replace the production of Mohamed Sanu? He was rarely relied upon as a No. 1 option, but he still put up 152 receptions, 1,793 yards, and 11 touchdowns during his four year career with the team. As much as the Bengals would like to be optimistic going forward, those just aren't numbers that you tend to see out of the third wide receiver option.
The last No. 3 receiver who hit Sanu's heights for the Bengals was none other than Chris Henry. Sanu averaged more yards per season (448.25) than Henry (363), although Henry averaged more touchdowns per season (4.2) than Sanu (2.75).
Sanu and Henry have another thing in common. They both played the slot role very effectively when asked to do so. Over the years, Sanu emerged as the Bengals' top option at the slot receiver position following the departure of Andrew Hawkins.
However, one thing that Henry and Sanu didn't have in common was Sanu's versatility. That's to say that Sanu's ability to run the ball out of the backfield and even throw a touchdown pass from time to time were very unique things that he brought to the table for the Bengals' offense to feed off of.
Due to playing on the same team as Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry in college, James Wright struggled to find much starting experience. As a result, the Bengals were able to wait until the seventh round to draft him in 2014.
In college, Wright was named LSU's special team's captain in his senior season. It might not mean much to his NFL career, but the fact that he's got that strong special team's experience is likely to demand the coaching staff's attention as a player who can not only be a handful in the slot, but can also contribute as an effective special teams player.
When he got the ball in his hands in his rookie season (2014) he averaged an incredible 18.2 yards per catch. That number will likely shrink when his role with the team is increased and he gets more catches, but it's still a number comparable to Sanu's 11.8 yards per catch.
Replacing Sanu with Wright
Although he was hurt for the entire 2015 season and hasn't had much of an opportunity to make plays being buried on the depth chart, Wright is another slot-type receiver who can likely be effective in Sanu's role. He's only caught five passes in his career with the Bengals so far, but he used his Sanu-like size and quickness to make the most of each catch.
At 6'2 and 203 pounds, Wright has the frame to play virtually every role that the 6'2" and 210 pound Sanu did. He might not be throwing many touchdown passes, but his size is close to ideal for a speedy slot receiver who can also shift to the backfield for a gadget run play if necessary.
He's also got the kind of deceptive speed that scouts loved both going into college and the draft. He hasn't had much of an opportunity to show greatness in his short career with the Bengals, but he's had a few plays where he's shown his ability to get open at crucial moments. Need I remind you of the time he "won" the game for the Bengals in 2014 against the Panthers?
Of course, as we know now, Mike Nugent missed the winning field goal and the Bengals ended up tying the Panthers. However, Wright did everything he could to put the Bengals in position to win on that play. On the same end, I know you remember plays like this from Sanu:
That play for Sanu happened in the third quarter when the Bengals were already ahead 10-3, but it was an important play that gave the Bengals momentum following a missed field goal by Nugent on the previous drive. It put them up by two scores. Jeremy Hill ended up contributing a third touchdown that game, but Sanu's catch was the cushion the team needed to take a lot of the pressure off in that game.
Wright is probably not going to hit the heights of his college teammates Beckham or Landry. But, he has a good chance to put together a strong slot campaign for the Bengals behind star weapons like A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, Hill, and Bernard.
Providing the Bengals pick up a strong No. 2 receiver in the draft, Wright could end up being that wild-card player who teams forget about purely because of the number of weapons that this offense has.