Emmanuel Sanders Fantasy Football Outlook & Value

 

After five and a half very successful years in Denver, Emmanuel Sanders was traded to the 49ers in the middle of last season. While his numbers didn’t live up to the hype, he was a valuable member of the NFC Championship-winning squad. During the offseason, Sanders signed a 2-year contract with the Saints worth $16 million guaranteed and up to $19 million in bonuses. The veteran receiver is now 33 years old, and it’s unclear if he can still be a valuable member of an NFL offense. However, that level of guaranteed money over multiple years from New Orleans suggests that the organization thinks so. Will that translate to fantasy football value?

2019 Recap

RECREC YDSREC TDSFPTSFPPG
668695190.311.2

Emmanuel Sanders got on the field for 17 games last season, more than any other receiver. He earned significant playing time for both the Broncos and 49ers, finishing with a 45.8% snap count on the season between both teams. The previous two years, Sanders missed a handful of games, so it was good to see him stay healthy. He hasn’t eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards in a season since 2016, his age-29 campaign. Sanders finished as the WR30 on the season last year.

2020 Projections

RECREC YDSREC TDSFPTSFPPG
71.2875.85188.811.8

Sanders was decently productive for the 49ers last season despite not having a chance to learn the playbook and develop strong chemistry with Jimmy Garoppolo. Now in New Orleans, he’ll have a full season to integrate himself into the offense and an elite level of quarterback play, which he hasn’t enjoyed since Peyton Manning retired. Drew Brees is the most accurate quarterback in football, and his game will undoubtedly benefit Sanders. The Saints had a clear need for a robust wide receiver alongside All-Pro Michael Thomas, and Sanders has an excellent opportunity to keep the wheels turning with a productive season – I have him down as my WR36 currently.

ADP/Auction Value

ADP: 113.6, WR44

Auction Value: $2

Emmanuel Sanders is currently being drafted well into the double-digit rounds, a range where I’m intrigued. As a player with guaranteed targets in what was the 3rd highest-scoring offense in football last season, there’s a strong chance the veteran wideout exceeds the draft capital fantasy owners will need to spend on him. Sanders is currently being drafted behind players like Mecole Hardman, John Brown, Sterling Shepard, Mike Williams, and Will Fuller, all of whom I have him ranked ahead of.

Floor

I believe the baseline for Emmanuel Sanders this season is substantial – if he stays on the field for 16 games, I don’t see how he finishes outside of at least WR3 range. Ted Ginn Jr. is no longer on the roster – he leaves behind 56 targets – and the WR2 role on the team is Sanders’ for the taking. The level of investment the Saints made in the veteran receiver suggests to me that they expect him to be highly involved. I believe somewhere in the realm of 80-90 targets is the minimum Sanders will earn if he plays 16 games. With a career 61.2% catch rate, which should be boosted with Drew Brees under center, his baseline is likely around 55 receptions. That would get him to at least 700 yards, and, with a handful of touchdowns, he would get to at least 150 fantasy points. That’s not great production, but in the late rounds, you’re looking for upside, which Sanders certainly has.

Ceiling

Playing across from Michael Thomas certainly has its perks as the All-Pro wideout demands a double-team at almost all times. The downside, however, is that he is an absolute target machine – he has gone over 140 targets in each of the past three seasons and had an astronomical 185 targets last year. The Saints would almost certainly like to see that number decreased, however, hence their investment in Sanders. Depending on how much pressure the team would like to take off of Thomas’s shoulders, Sanders could likely exceed 100 targets. Drew Brees was on pace for 40 touchdowns last year – he only played in 11 games – and if he sets that same pace again this season, Sanders could be due for 8+ touchdowns. Sanders’s career-high in touchdown receptions was nine back in 2014. If Sanders surpasses 100 targets and reaches 8+ scores, he could enter top-24 production at his position this season.

New Orleans’ Saints Offense

New Orleans Saints

Drew Brees was the most accurate quarterback in the NFL last season, putting up a monstrous 74.3 completion percentage – only two other QBs were over 70%. That may seem statistically improbable to repeat, but Brees led the league in completion percentage each of the past three seasons as well, going over 74% in two of them. Michael Thomas is arguably the best receiver in the NFL at the moment, and he’s a near-lock to see around 150 targets this season. The trio of Ty Montgomery, Deontae Harris, and Tre’Quan Smith are relatively unproven, although all are expected to fill a role in the passing game as are tight ends, Jared Cook and Josh Hill, who combined for 68 receptions and 931 yards last season. Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray are arguably the best running back duo in the NFL heading into 2020, and both will be heavily involved in the passing game as well. The Saints ranked 3rd in scoring and 9th in yardage last season, and are expected to be one of the best offenses in football again this season.

Strength of Schedule

The NFC South was one of the worst divisions in football last season in terms of fantasy points allowed to wide receivers. Emmanuel Sanders will benefit from playing against the Falcons (17th), Panthers (24th), and Buccaneers (32nd), who were all in the bottom half of the league in receiving defense. In the AFC, the Saints will take on the AFC West, home to a few elite defenses in terms of fantasy points allowed to WRs. The Chiefs (2nd), Chargers (3rd), and Broncos (10th) were all in the top-10 in that regard, although the Raiders (18th) should be much more friendly of a matchup. The Saints also play the NFC North, which is home to the Bears (4th) and Packers (8th), two top-10 defenses against WRs in fantasy, although the Vikings (26th) and Lions (30th) will be much friendlier matchups. Rounding out the Saints’ schedule are the 49ers (12th) and Eagles (29th), who were outside the top-10 defenses against wide receivers last year. The Saints did play 6 of the top 12 defenses against WRs for fantasy last season, but the rest of their schedule presents some great production opportunities.

Bottom Line

Emmanuel Sanders is 32 years old and had mixed success last year, so it makes sense that fantasy owners may be reluctant to draft him heading into this season. However, catching passes from Drew Brees and playing alongside Michael Thomas could afford him the friendly confines he needs to get back to fantasy relevance. The Saints made a hefty investment in Sanders with both the level of guaranteed money and multiple years under contract. That makes me believe he’s going to be heavily utilized in what should be one of the best offenses in football. Sanders presents some compelling fantasy value and has WR2 upside this season.

2020 Fantasy Football Player Outlooks
I've been writing about sports for Lineups since the beginning of 2020 and on my own website since 2018. In May 2021, I graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in sport management. I've been playing fantasy football for as long as I can remember and am now in far more leagues than any person should take part in. There are few things that give me as much joy and excitement as fantasy football, and I'm excited to share my input with you in your journey towards a championship.

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