Emmanuel Sanders Perfect "Real" and "Fantasy" Fit with Saints - Roto Street Journal
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Emmanuel Sanders Perfect “Real” and “Fantasy” Fit with Saints

Emmanuel Sanders joining the Saints was among the last major moves of 2020 NFL Free Agency. It may also go down as one of the most important, especially for fantasy football owners.

Despite interest from the Cowboys and Packers, Sanders chose the Saints for two main reasons, the same which fuel our fantasy enthusiasm:

Sean Payton and Drew Brees.

“To play with Drew Brees, one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time. How could I pass up that opportunity and to play in a Sean Payton system.

It’s crazy, every time I’ve played in New Orleans’ stadium, it’s always big-time, it’s always a good vibe and I just love the indoor environment, the black, the entire environment. I would be looking around and (thinking) ‘this is cool’.

I’m excited about putting up a lot of points.

Sanders isn’t wrong about performing “big-time” in New Orleans.

His last time at the Superdome, the 33-year old vet posted a 7-157-1 TD receiving line, in addition to chucking a 35 yard passing TD. This ultimately netted 34.1 fantasy points, making Sanders the WR1 for Week 14. He was a major catalyst for the 49ers winning that 48-46 thriller and securing homefield advantage.

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Clearly, the Saints liked what they saw. Longtime beat Nick Underhill points out the Saints don’t typically spend big at the WR position. This only emphasized how Sanders was the “one player who fit the Saints’ one need better than anyone else.”

Indeed, the fit couldn’t be more perfect. Sanders is known for his route-running and versatility. He can run every route, and has plenty of slot experience. Brees prioritizes ball-control and accuracy, carving up teams in the short and midrange areas. The wily Sanders works these areas as well as any, finding open windows against zone coverage, and setting up man defenders with excellent first step fakes. With 4.41 wheels, Sanders can also still blaze deep for the timely deep shot, and averaged a field-stretching 13.9 YPC with the 49ers.

The need was also incredibly great. In 2019, elite No.1 WR Michael Thomas had 119 more catches and 1298 yards than Ted Ginn, their next-closest WR with 30 catches for 421 yards. The year prior, Tre’Quan Smith ranked second with a paltry 28 catches and 427 yards.

Sure, plenty of the slack was picked up by Alvin Kamara and Jared Cook. Still, the Saints have desperately lacked a quality WR tandem since 2016, when Thomas and Brandin Cooks both hit 1,000 yards.

Think of Lance Moore and Willie Snead style usage, but on steroids. Both of those lesser talents were viable fantasy WR3s, and even WR2s, in Payton’s high-powered attack.

In fact, this 2020 Thomas, Sanders, Cook, and Kamara ensemble is highly reminiscent of the Saints’ 2012 weapons cabinet: Marques Colston (83 – 1154 -10), Lance Moore (65-1041-6), Jimmy Graham (85-982-9), and Darren Sproles (911 YFS, 8 TDs in 13 GP).

Brees lobbed an NFL-best 5177 yards and 43 TDs that year, and similar, if not better, outputs for all the involved weapons can’t be ruled out.

Granted, this hasn’t been quite the same Saints’ pass-happy bonanza the past three seasons.

Until 2017, the Saints had ranked in the top-five in pass attempts in 10/11 seasons of Payton-Brees, including a Top-2 ranking eight times. The past three years, they’ve ranked 19th, 15th, and 13th, emulating the balance of their 2009 Super Bowl team.

Still, they’ve also lacked the receiving weaponry to justify the same Aerial Bonanza. And sure, Brees may not be quite the same QB. He still completed a career-high 74% of passes and ranked 5th in passing TDs (27) despite missing essentially six contests in 2019.

With Sanders now in the holster, don’t be shocked if Payton and the  2020 Saints revert back to a Top-5 aerial show. Sanders likened the team’s upside to the record-setting 2014 Broncos:

 “I have a great chance at winning another Super Bowl with the New Orleans Saints. I’ve been in a pass-happy offense with Peyton and with Roethlisberger. To be back in a pass-happy offense and spreading the ball around with a Hall of Fame quarterback again is wide receiver heaven for me.”

Both in real life, and in fantasy, Sanders fit in New Orleans could not be more perfect. He explodes up to my Top-30 WRs, alongside high-upside sophomores like Deebo Samuel and Terry McLaurin.

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