Ja’Tavion Sanders 2024 Fantasy Outlook and Dynasty Value: High-Upside Landing Spot in Panthers Offense

Ja'Tavion Sanders has a chance to make an early impact.

Longhorn Ja’Tavion Sanders is swapping his horns for claws as he steps into immediate competition with the Carolina Panthers to become their starting tight end. Despite being projected as a second-round pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, Sanders slid to the fourth round, becoming the third tight end selected overall.

Although he slid down draft boards, he landed in a spot that could give him fantasy football relevance right away, in an offense with a new coaching staff, an improved offensive line, and a talent injection across the board surrounding the former No. 1 pick at quarterback.

ELITE COLLEGIATE PROFILE AT TEXAS

Sanders went from special teams to averaging 11.4 yards per catch between his freshman and sophomore seasons at Texas. This number only increased to 15.2 YPC in his junior season, helping him amass the 13-yard-per-reception mark in his career. His in-line route running and high catch rate aided these numbers.

Sanders has the most catches as a tight end in Longhorns history. It’s something Carolina definitely took notice of after its three tight ends combined for 40 catches in 2023. Sanders’ combined 99 catches in two seasons for 1,295 is the second-most in Texas history. He also ranks in the Top 10 for receiving touchdowns (sixth) and was named All-Big 12 First Team in 2022 and 2023.

“His best games this past season came in some of the biggest moments. Sanders had a career-high 114 receiving yards on five catches in the 34-24 win over Alabama on Sept. 9,” wrote SI’s Zach Dimmitt.

PREVIOUS: Ja’Tavion Sanders Draft Profile, Scouting Report, NFL Combine Results (2024): Dynasty Fantasy Football Outlook

PANTHERS’ NEW-LOOK OFFENSE TAKING SHAPE

The Panthers opted to surround former No. 1 overall pick Bryce Young with young, explosive talent in the draft, adding Sanders in the fourth round after taking big-play wide receiver Xavier Leggette in the first and running back Jonathon Brooks in the second.

Carolina also jettisoned D.J. Chark and looks to keep the veteran security blanket Adam Thielen on the roster. Thielen led the team with 1,014 yards on 103 receptions in his first season alongside Byrce Young.

However, establishing its run game with Chuba Hubbard and Brooks, along with Thielen and former Steeler Diontae Johnson as reliable veteran pass-catchers, will help defenses remain honest and spread out their coverage—something they didn’t need to do last year.

At tight end, Sanders will have a chance to start immediately with only Tommy Tremble, Ian Thomas, and Stephen Sullivan in the tight end room. Tremble has a positive athletic profile, but has yet to put together a meaningful fantasy season, never exceeding 23 receptions or 194 receiving yards in a season.

On the flip side, Sanders consistently produced on one of the nation’s top offenses at Texas. Sanders’ reliability explains his consistent usage during his sophomore and junior seasons at Texas. He didn’t need to average many targets per game to make big plays, separating him from most other tight ends in his draft class.

“I was a receiver in high school so I’m kind of advanced as far as my receiving goes. And I feel like the tight ends in this draft class, we’re the new age tight ends,” Sanders said. ” Guys like (Travis) Kelce and (Geroge) Kittle and (T.J.) Hockinson, they’re the guys who started the new tight end age, but guys like me and Brock (Bowers), Cade (Stover) and Jared Wiley, guys like that, we’re the new age tight ends, that bring more the receiving ability to the tight end position.”

Sanders gained nearly five yards per game on TE1 Brock Bowers between 2022 and 2023 while polishing his standout route running. While Raiders rookie Bowers should, in theory, fit on any team, Sanders could see development in key areas if drafted by a team with the right scheme. I believe Carolina is one of those right schemes.

Additionally, if the Panthers wanted to feature Tremble and/or Thomas in some way, Sanders’s three-down skill set should keep him on the field in any situation.

New coach Dave Canales believes the self-proclaimed “tight end friendly” scheme he learned during 11 years with the Seattle Seahawks and made his own last year as the offensive coordinator of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers can help.

“We don’t ask our tight ends to be dominant blockers at the point of attack on runs a lot,” Canales said. “We’re looking for tight ends with versatility…if you have a smaller guy who’s more of a route runner and he’s a little bit crafty…we throw a lot of play-actions, the tight ends are involved in different ways.”

Carolina has ranked 24th or worse in scoring each of the last four seasons, but with a new-look offense and Byce Young no longer a rookie in one of the weakest NFL divisions, the Panthers, with Sanders’ help, can turn those marks around.

JA’TAVION SANDERS 2024 FANTASY OUTLOOK AND DYNASTY VALUE

Sanders’ receiving talent and skill set, and likely place atop the tight end depth chart, make him an intriguing late-round stab in both 2024 fantasy football and dynasty rookie drafts. However, he will be fighting off the likes of Thielen, Johnson, Legette, and the running backs for Bryce Young’s targets.

Sanders checks in behind Bowers and Ben Sinnott at TE3 overall on our Dynasty Rookie Rankings. Meanwhile, he sits at TE30 on The Wolf’s 2024 Fantasy Rankings, behind Noah Fant and above Mike Gesicki.

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