Late Friday evening,reports began to surface that free agent wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders was signing an agreement to join the New Orleans Saints. These reports were later confirmed as it was announced Sanders he had signed a 2 year, $16 million contract to join the reigning NFC South Champions. Entering his age 33 campaign, his eleventh as a professional, is there an opportunity for Sanders to earn a steady weekly fantasy-relevant role in The Big Easy?
A quick look at the Saints offense the past few seasons shows they are no longer as reliant on the passing game as they once were. In 2016, the Saints were second in the NFL in passing attempts per game with 42.1. That number has dipped since then to 33.9 in 2017 (18th) 33.7 in 2018 (21st) and then 35 in 2019 (15th), as the Saints no longer rely on simply outscoring their opponent. Instead, coach Sean Payton has tweaked his offensive approach to feature a more balanced run/pass strategy while a rapidly improving defense has allowed veteran quarterback Drew Brees to throw the ball with less frequency. Part of this philosophy has come from the fact the Saints deploy a solid one-two punch in the backfield in Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray. Another factor has been the lack of a clear-cut secondary receiver threat. Back in 2016 when the Saints were averaging 42+ passes per game, they also featured three 100+ target receivers, Michael Thomas, Brandin Cooks, and Willie Snead. Following Cooks’ departure in 2017, only Thomas has drawn more than 70 targets in a season. Ted Ginn Jr. has been the de-facto number two and has produced targets of 70, 44, and 30 in each of the past three seasons. 2018 third round pick Tre’Quan Smith was supposedly drafted to handle some of this workload but has managed only 44 and 25 targets in his first two seasons. Yes, Micheal Thomas is an absolute stud and arguably the top dynasty asset at his position at the moment, but the Saints need to diversify their target share at some point if they hope to advance farther into the postseason.
Enter Emmanuel Sanders, fresh off a trip to the Super Bowl with the San Francisco 49ers in 2019. Sanders began the season with the Denver Broncos before moving to the 49ers at the trade deadline for a fifth round draft pick. Sanders made an immediate impact with his new team, scoring a touchdown in his first game with San Francisco, followed by hauling in 112 yards and a touchdown just nine days after joining the team. Sanders went on to finish the season catching 66 of 97 targets for 869 yards and 5 touchdowns between Denver and San Francisco. Though his days of being a 1,000 yard receiver are likely in the rearview mirror, Sanders is still a savvy reliable pass catcher who is able to get open and gain yardage when called upon. He should immediately slot in as the second receiving option on the Saints and will for the first time in the past five seasons be catching passes from a truly elite quarterback. Sanders has managed to find statistical success in recent years catching balls from guys like Trevor Siemian, Joe Flacco, Case Keenum, and Brock Osweiler while still remaining a viable WR3 in fantasy leagues. The move to New Orleans, combined with the coverage drawn by Thomas should provide Sanders with the opportunity to continue delivering weekly WR3/Flex appeal with the ability to do even more. Dynasty players concerned with his advanced age should note the later-career successes of players such as Derrick Mason, Steve Smith Sr., Terrell Owens, Anquan Boldin, or even Larry Fitzgerald as proof that older wideouts are still able to contribute. Sanders is an excellent asset for a dynasty team in a ‘win now’ window as roster depth for a long season. Take advantage of the age bias people tend to employ during the fantasy offseason and make a pitch for Emmanuel Sanders.