At age 33, in decline, and a year removed from suffering a fully torn Achilles tendon, Emmanuel Sanders could be fantasy-relevant in New Orleans, but he’s probably not a player to target on draft day.
Deebo Samuel seems locked into more volume as San Francisco’s likely WR1. San Francisco may still add some competition via the draft, but following a remarkable rookie season, he’s an attractive fantasy asset and a likely breakout candidate.
After starting last season in Denver and ending it in the Super Bowl with San Francisco, Emmanuel Sanders now finds himself in New Orleans with the Saints. The two-year contract worth $16 million makes him the 35th-highest-paid wide receiver in the league and will keep him in New Orleans through his age 34 season.
In 2018, Denver finished the season ranking sixth-worst in team passer rating (81.2), but that didn’t slow Sanders down, who, for the fourth time in five seasons, was on pace for over 1,000 yards. Unfortunately, his season ended early and in tragic fashion, rupturing his Achilles tendon in a December practice. Although initially left for dead by fantasy drafters – and rightfully so, as this is an injury that’s proven extremely tough to come back from at any age – Sanders finished the 2019 season ranking 30th in total fantasy points.
Though Sanders’ numbers look fine across the full season, he was at an advantage, having played in 17 games. By fantasy points per game, he ranked just 44th (11.2). He started off the season hot, eclipsing 85 yards in three of his first four games, but he would average just 38.4 yards per game across his remaining 17 games (postseason included). Over this span, he was held to 15 or fewer yards six times and exceeded 65 yards only twice.
Perhaps we should discount this a bit, as he did change teams halfway through the season. It can be hard to adjust to a new quarterback and a new playbook midseason. Further, he was never given a bye week, playing seven games with Denver and 10 (or 13 if including postseason) with San Francisco. But, more than likely, Sanders, at age 33 and a year removed from Achilles surgery, is in the decline phase of his career. A similar fringe-relevancy finish and late-season decline seems likeliest for Sanders again this year. Rather than being a draft-day target, he’s a strong DFS target, but only early in the season before the season starts to wear him down.
Yes, even after factoring in the upgrade in scenery, now catching passes from a hyper-accurate Drew Brees in a pass-heavy Sean Payton-led offense, Sanders isn’t a player to get too excited about for fantasy. What’s more, his arrival could have a slightly negative effect on Michael Thomas. Thomas was due for a massive regression anyway, after scoring 374.6 fantasy points in 2019, or the ninth-most by any wide receiver all-time. He led the league and saw 185 targets in 2019, even though a Payton-coached WR1 had never reached 150 targets prior to last season. Sanders is a better receiver than a 34-year-old Ted Ginn, and will see more volume than Ginn saw last year (56 targets in 16 games) but not dramatically more. That fact will have a slightly positive impact on Brees and a slightly negative one on Thomas, who, of course, should still be the first wide receiver drafted in all leagues.
The bigger impact will be to Deebo Samuel, San Francisco’s clear WR1 with Sanders no longer in the picture. Or, maybe Samuel had already established himself as the team’s WR1 even while Sanders was there. From Week 10 until the end of the regular season, Samuel ranked 14th among all wide receivers in fantasy points per game (16.1), 40 spots ahead of Sanders (9.1). Including the postseason, Samuel out-targeted Sanders in each of their final five games, and 67 to 47 since Week 10. San Francisco is likely to add another wide receiver in the draft, but given Samuel’s productive and historically efficient rookie season, he’s the heavy favorite to remain the team’s WR1 and a likely breakout candidate.