On June 5th, 2017, Mark Schoennagel wrote that Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders was worthy of selection in fantasy drafts much closer to his teammate Demaryius Thomas than was actually happening.
Mark stated that
“Drafting Emmanuel Sanders at his ADP outside of WR24 should provide a nice return on investment in 2017 for a player who hasn’t finished outside the position’s top 24 since 2013, before joining the Broncos.”
As luck would have it, Sanders endured his worst season as a Bronco and finished a long way out of the top 24 in PPR leagues. Once again, in 2018, Sanders is being dismissed as a player not really worth having on your roster, according to his current ADP. But once again, we are here to tell you that landing him at his current spot offers exceptional value. Let me tell you why.
Mark pointed out last year that Sanders had been a consistent performer since moving from the Steelers prior to the 2014 season. Indeed, his production as a Bronco in his first three seasons was on a par with some WRs of a distinctly higher profile.
Sanders was able to produce these numbers, all the while coexisting with Thomas. The image below shows the comparison between the two as teammates, with Thomas clearly seeing more opportunities than Sanders.
However, while Thomas has enjoyed more opportunities, the case can be made that Sanders made more of his. Sanders has higher marks in yards per reception and yards per target. He also scores his touchdowns at a slightly higher rate.
Thomas still seems to hold a special place in the hearts of fantasy players, despite being less efficient than Sanders. Using the RotoViz MFL10 ADP app, we can see that once again Thomas is being taken considerably earlier than Sanders.
As well as lingering name value, drafters may be considering the cold hard figures both players posted in a mediocre 2017 campaign. Thomas did outperform Sanders last season, mainly due to higher opportunity share. The image below from the Air Yard screener shows Thomas’ dominance in terms of his share of team air yards. Both were below the average for the top-24 WRs, however.
Emmanuel Sanders enjoyed his poorest season as Bronco in 2017. He played just 12 games and failed to reach 1,000 yards for the first time. But he was hampered by his own health and the shocking play of the Broncos quarterbacks. Ankle injuries robbed him of four games. The ineptitude of Trevor Siemian, Paxton Lynch and Brock Osweiler robbed him of high-quality service.
Since Peyton Manning left the NFL, both players have seen their per game numbers fall. But as the following images show, the drop off is much greater for Thomas than it is for Sanders.
So if both players are pretty much giving you 12-14 PPR points per game, why would you feel the need to take Thomas in the 4th round of drafts? Especially when you can wait until the 7th round (and the back end of the 7th, no less) to take Sanders?
The Broncos took steps to improve their quarterback situation this offseason, bringing in former Viking Case Keenum. Keenum, though no doubt aided by the play of Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen last season, posted a nice 69.8 QBR. The highest mark achieved by any of the Broncos signal callers was 47.1 by Osweiler. Keenum has shown he can be effective when distributing the ball to his pass catchers.
The case could be made that the difference in what Thomas and Sanders will provide is so small to be almost negligible. But it is this very fact that makes Sanders the better value than Thomas. Thomas has shown very little to suggest that his production was not almost solely due to having Peyton Manning as his QB. Sanders play has suffered too, I cannot deny. But given that the two players’ ceilings after Peyton would appear to be similar, you’d be crazy to spend an early pick on one when the other will be sitting there waiting for you many rounds later.
The likelihood of either of these players emerging as a WR1 in fantasy in 2018 is low. But if you can get a solid WR3 option in the mid to late rounds, you should take advantage of the situation. That is why, once again, Emmanuel Sanders is the Broncos wide receiver to own in the coming season.