May 23, 2012; Lake Forest, IL, USA; Chicago Bears receiver Dane Sanzenbacher (18) juggles a pass while defended by defensive back Donovan Warren during organized team activities at Halas Hall. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-US PRESSWIRE
I kind of understood the affection for the little undrated free agent that could last year. In 2011 the Chicago Bears, historically thin at wide out, signed Roy Williams to be the de facto number one receiver. He didn't impress in camp, nor in preseason, nor when the games mattered. But this little #18 fella, with the hard to spell last name seemed to be forming a rapport with Jay Cutler. He was sold as being smart, with great hands, a savvy route runner, and I believe the word 'gritty' may have been thrown around.
With a Chicago receiving group still struggling to find their way, the former Ohio State Buckeye named Dane Sanzenbacher, gave many fans a great "hope". He could be a better version of Mike Haas. He may be the next Tommy Waddle. He could be our Wes Welker!
Then the little fella made the opening day roster and actually saw the field. He stepped in through the year when Roy Williams, Earl Bennett, Devin Hester, and Johnny Knox had some injuries. He played in all 16 games and even picked up 1 start along the way. His rookie stats of 27 receptions for 276 yards and 3 touchdowns were a solid debut, and something for his supporters to point to when talking about his potential. Unfortunately for those supporters, his detractors had some memorable drops throughout the season that they could point to as well. Seven of them, according to Pro Football Focus.
In fact of the 30 players that had 7 or more drops, only one player was targeted fewer than Sanzenbacher's 53, and that was Tampa Bay's Arrelious Benn with 50. And not one of those 30 players had fewer than his 27 receptions. Maybe his rookie year wasn't as good as we thought.
But still, an undrafted rookie thrown into the fire is expected to make some mistakes, and all in all I thought Dane played good enough to be counted on to take a bigger role with the 2012 Chicago Bears. That was until G.M. Phil Emery made it a point to bolster the receiving corps.
Emery traded for Brandon Marshall to be the #1 wide out the Bears desperately needed. He traded up to draft Alshon Jeffery in the 2nd round. A player with far better credentials and a much higher ceiling than Sanzenbacher. He signed Eric Weems, a bottom of the depth chart WR that brings Pro Bowl kick return ability as well as the skills to replace the kick coverage that Corey Graham brought to the Bears.
These three new players added to the two others that are above Sanzenbacher on the depth chart, Bennett and Hester, and suddenly he's a bubble player hoping the Bears keep 6 receivers. How many opportunities would he even have to see the field baring a couple injuries? Does anyone really think he would bring more value to the 2012 Chicago Bears than any of the above 5 football players?
Some would even argue that the returning Rashied Davis would be more valuable to this team than Sanzenbacher. If Chicago wanted to keep one guy around that has a reputation for dropping the ball, why not make it the guy with the better nickname (Dropopotamus)? But seriously, Rashied is a proven special teams player, while Dane is not. The Bears are giving him some special teams opportunities to raise his worth, but he may get caught up in a numbers crunch regardless.
There's a good chance the Bears will let him go on final cut down day, and it's likely he is snatched up by another team. I suppose he could have a productive '12 season where ever he lands. And that will be OK. I, like many football fans, root for the underdog, and I'd like to see his NFL story continue. It just may not continue in Chicago.