Fresh off of his 33rd birthday, free-agent wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders has agreed to terms with the New Orleans Saints, and fantasy footballers should be guardedly optimistic. In the last two years, Sanders has rebounded impressively from a torn Achilles tendon and entered what likely will be his last meaningful shot at free agency.
The San Francisco 49ers traded for Sanders after Week 7 and he made an immediate impact, scoring in his first two games. He would play 17 games thanks to being traded before Denver’s and after San Fran’s bye week. The final eight games with the Niners would result in just one touchdown scored, however.
Sanders still looked fresh by the end of the year, even into the Super Bowl. We could be talking about a different team hoisting the Lombardi Trophy if Jimmy Garoppolo made a better throw, but that’s irrelevant beyond illustrating how much a precise difference in timing can wipe six points off of the board and out of the old fantasy box score. Either way, Sanders still was motoring into February.
Sanders going to the Saints creates a whiff of uncertainty for his fantasy football value. The main reason is the greater potential for erratic play or inconsistent success. There are so many mouths to feed in this passing game, plus the Saints will remain committed to running the ball. Michael Thomas, Jared Cook and Alvin Kamara all can and often will come ahead of Sanders in the pecking order of a randomly chosen play. Toss in Tre’Quan Smith and even touches lost to Taysom Hill … This is a crowded offense if anyone is expecting volume from Sanders.
No one wants to think the worst about someone as remarkable as Drew Brees, but the conclusion of the runway is nearing, and who is to say 2020 won’t end poorly for the 41-year-old? Last year, he missed five games with a thumb injury, albeit kind of freaky in nature. The point being, don’t lose sight of Brees being old, and Father Time being undefeated.
Thomas is going to feast as he does, and Sanders will have to do more with less — which isn’t too much different than his time in San Fran. The offense worked within the confines of a run-heavy, three-headed backfield that passed when the situation called for it. There was an ascending rookie in Deebo Samuel taking touches as the year progressed, and a dominant tight end in George Kittle rarely far from the football. Quarterback drop-off aside, the 49ers also limited Sanders’ looks but for different reasons.
So where does that leave us? Sanders averaged eight targets a game in 2019 over two rosters. That was a fraction less than his 12-game average for 2018 while exclusively in Denver (8.12/game). Sanders saw only 4.7 targets per contest in his entire time with the 49ers. Averaging five looks a week in New Orleans is going to be done with plenty of peaks and valleys along the way.
Some game plans will call for Thomas to take over the show, and Kamara will do this thing in others. The best hope for Sanders is a renewed penchant for finding the end zone, like he has done just one lonely time in his NFL career. He caught nine TDs in 2014, but it took 101 total catches on nearly nine targets an outing. This time, he’ll need to be insanely efficient, and we just haven’t see it in his career.
Fantasy football outlook
Sanders is a flex option in PPR leagues, and gamers looking to invest in standard scoring can treat him as a backup or borderline flex, but only if three other wideouts are required starters.
Due to a lack of consistently reliable involvement, a history of being allergic-adjacent to the end zone, and the reality that he is a 33-year-old receiver barely two years removed from a devastating injury, just how much mediocre does one fantasy football option need to be before gamers draft him accordingly. There’s a strong probability Sanders will get overvalued by someone in your league, and there’s an even better chance he will not return worthwhile fantasy stats for such an investment. Understand the pitfalls before committing too much draft capital.