When the Pittsburgh Steelers resolved to part ways with wide receiver Santonio Holmes—their 2006 first-round draft pick—in the 2010 offseason, they knew that they had to restock the shelves at the position. Hines Ward was in the twilight of his career and second-year wide receiver Mike Wallace could be just a flash in the pan.
Limas Sweed was proving to be a bust heading into his third offseason, and there quite simply was not much else on the table. So by the time the 2010 NFL Draft ended, the Steelers made sure that they came away with two more wide receivers.
In the third round, Pittsburgh selected Emmanuel Sanders. Almost as an afterthought, they added a young, small school prospect who came out too early by the name of Antonio Brown in the sixth round, using a draft pick that they acquired in exchange for a trade involving the fifth-rounder they the Steelers recouped for dumping Holmes.
It soon became obvious that Wallace, Sanders, and Brown represented the future at the position in Pittsburgh, and they deemed themselves the Young Money Crew. As fate would have it, all three would go on to cash in, but the all came in different cities, and only Brown’s paychecks have a Rooney name on them.
Sanders left in free agency during the 2014 offseason, signing with the Denver Broncos, and this past Sunday was the first opportunity for he and Brown to reunite on the football field during a non-exhibition game.
It took a while for Brown to get his recognition as the runt of the litter. He was deep down on the depth chart, even though Mike Tomlin liked him enough to let him compete with the third-rounder for a helmet on game days when everybody was healthy in a two dogs, one bone mentality.
By year two, Brown had begun his push up the depth chart and finished the year with over 1000 yards receiving in addition to another 1000 returning, making his first of now four Pro Bowls. He had clearly passed Sanders on the depth chart, and after the front office failed to work out a deal with Wallace, they signed Brown to a six-year extension instead.
Wallace cashed in with Miami, and is now in Minnesota, where he has begun to fall off the radar, but Brown and Sanders have blossomed since their separation. Sanders’ development in Denver has been somewhat remarkable, really, showing things that he never really did on tape in Pittsburgh.
Despite their locations, and amidst all the success that they have had, the two draft classmates will likely share a life-long bond built during their first four years in the league.
In hindsight, it was obvious that Pittsburgh was not big enough for the both of them, considering how their production has taken off since taking different paths. Their paths finally converged again, and they took the opportunity to share a moment. Might they meet again in January?
— Emmanuel Sanders (@ESanders_10) December 23, 2015