Emmanuel Sanders Can Get Enough Volume in New Orleans to Be a Late-Round Fantasy Football Steal
We all know Michael Thomas broke an NFL record with 149 receptions last season, but New Orleans has lacked a steady number-two wideout in their offense for quite some time. The acquisition of Sanders fills that void.
Last season, Sanders was traded from Denver to San Francisco and finished the year as the WR30 in PPR and the WR32 in standard leagues. His current ADP -- per the June data on BestBall10s -- has Sanders at pick 109 (WR46).
With Sanders at 33 years old and on his third team in two seasons, is that a good price for him in 2020? Let's find out.
Sanders in 2019
Due to the timing of his trade to the Bay Area, Sanders actually played 17 games last season. On the surface, turning in a WR30 PPR campaign isn't too shabby, but once we look at points per game, it's not as hot.
Sanders was the PPR WR46 by points per game (11.2), so much of his season-long finish can be attributed to volume. And while Sanders flashed in some huge ceiling games in 2019, with three outings of at least 24 PPR points, he also had many putrid games, as well, as he posted eight games of 6.3 or fewer PPR points.
It's also worth noting that Sanders' production dropped once he was dealt to run-heavy San Fran, which isn't all that surprising. From Week 8 through Week 16, which encompasses all of Sanders' fantasy-relevant time with the Niners, he was just the PPR WR46 by points per game. From Week 1 through Week 7, he was the WR37 by points per game among wideouts who played more than three games in that span.
Fit With the Saints
Sanders is going from a Niners squad that had the second-most run-heavy offense a year ago to a Saints team that passed at the 13th-highest rate in the league.
The 49ers passed the ball 28.2 times per game (31st), compared to the Saints' clip of 36.2 (15th) pass attempts. Brees averaged 34.3 passes per game in his 11 contests last season and finished top-five in all of red zone completion percentage (fifth), true passer rating (third), pressured completion percentage (third), clean pocket percentage (second), and true completion percentage (first).
Brees is obviously an upgrade on what Sanders was working with last year in Jimmy Garoppolo and Joe Flacco. But even with those guys throwing to him, Sanders finished with a 78.1% catchable target rate on 75 targets.
The real issue is how much volume there will be for Sanders in New Orleans, as the offense has run through Thomas and Alvin Kamara for each of Kamara's three seasons.
The third-highest target share for New Orleans in 2017 and 2018 belonged to Ted Ginn Jr. (14% both seasons), per AirYards.com, and last year no player other than Thomas and Kamara had a target share north of Jared Cook's 13% clip. In 2019, all of the Saints' wide receivers outside of Thomas combined for just 92 of 581 targets (15.8%), and no Saints wideout other than Thomas played more than 58% of the snaps, which was Ginn's snap share.
Sanders should be an upgrade on the likes of Ginn and Tre'Quan Smith, so it's fair to expect him to be on the field at least as much as Ginn was last season -- maybe more. He'll likely be scrapping with Cook -- 47% snap rate last season -- for the number-three role in this offense.
Barring injury, Thomas is going to hog targets again, but there's a chance he sees fewer looks this year than he did in 2019. Not only were Thomas' 185 targets tops in the league last year, but that number was 28 more than the second-most targeted wideout. Across the three seasons prior to 2019, the average number of looks for the league's most targeted wideout was 171.3, so it makes sense that Thomas' target total could drop a smidge, which could lead to a few more looks for Sanders.
Sanders has always been quite the compliment as a No. 2 receiver, playing second fiddle to Antonio Brown, Demaryius Thomas and now Thomas. He's thrived in this type of role before and has a chance to do so again with New Orleans.
Sanders' 2020 Projection
numberFire's model projects Sanders to record 61 receptions, 95 targets, 737 yards, and 5.3 touchdowns in his first season with New Orleans. We have him getting 22 more targets than Cook and serving as the number-three option behind Thomas and Kamara. We see some regression in the target department for Thomas, projecting him for just 166 targets -- 19 fewer than his 2019 total.
Sanders is our WR43, so all in all, his price of WR46 is pretty fair.
But I'd argue there's upside for more here. We may be shortchanging him a little on targets based on what the number-two wideout has gotten in this offense in recent seasons, but the Saints haven't had a number-two wideout of Sanders' caliber. It's not out of the realm of possibilities that the Saints shift their offense a bit with Sanders in town.
And while we need to be careful here because the sample is small, Sanders has balled out in his five career dome games, averaging 84.2 yards per game, compared to 53.6 yards per game outdoors. Obviously, we don't want to pull too much from five games, but we know what Brees and company can do at home.
When drafting, Sanders isn't someone you want to count on as a weekly WR3 starter in fantasy. But he's a great bench option who has a decent floor/ceiling combination and could wind up being a good value if he sees a bigger role than what the Saints have given to their number-two wideout in recent years.