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Emmanuel Sanders: Breakout Round 8 WR (2018 Fantasy Football)

Emmanuel Sanders (pictured) has huge potential as Case Keenum’s slot receiver

Fantasy folks, we are just days away from NFL Kickoff. Whether your done drafting or have another squeezed into these final days, I have one last fantasy bargain to throw in. Outside of only Christian McCaffrey (RB – CAR), this player was the biggest, most important preseason riser in our Fantasy Football Draft Day Guide Update.

Note – In case this is your first time, I’ve been scouring the Fantasy Stock Market all offseason for 2018’s top fantasy football bargains (QB, RB, WR, TE + TE bonus). In my eyes, these players will drastically outperform the price you pay, and thus become season-winners.

This wideout has gone from a draft day afterthought to the ideal WR3 this preseason, thanks to a newfound role that comes with a target bath.

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Emmanuel Sanders (WR – DEN)
ADP: 81, WR33
ECR: 68, WR31
My Rank: 48 (+33, +20), WR19 (+14, +12)

Though Landry won my award for “Best Bargain WR,” Sanders is a very close second following his phenomenal preseason. This is mainly because of his newfound slot usage, and new QB Case Keenum’s love for targeting this position.

After manning the slot for most of his Steelers tenure, Sanders became mainly an outside weapon with the Broncos. This was especially true during his hideous, injury-marred 2017 in which Sanders played the slot a career-low 28% of the time. However, based on this preseason, Sanders is about to return to his natural spot, as he logged 64% of his total snaps from the slot, including 74% in the Week 3 dress rehearsal.

This is HUGE. Case Keenum loved peppering Adam Thielen out of the slot last year, with Thielen’s 25% slot target share leading the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. This was especially so on third-downs, where Thielen trailed only Keenan Allen and tied DeAndre Hopkins with 32% of his team’s targets. This preseason, Sanders accounted for six of Keenum’s 10 third-down targets (60%), as well as 15 of 34 total throws (44%) – both rates well ahead of any other first-team WR in the league over this span. 

He rode this to seven catches and 88 yards, while also adding a tackle-destroying 27-yard TD run. Considering Thielen’s massive 91-catch, 1,276-yard breakout, Sanders’ upside is enormous. He has just as much route-running savvy and more natural athleticism, and could easily approach that stat line in 2018.

In general, Sanders is an underrated “individual talented” who’s being grossly overlooked because an ankle-injury sapped him last year. He’s incredibly shifty and is a route-running technician who can feast upon weaker coverage he draws in the slot. Nevermind the “surrounding talent” upgrade, not only is Keenum a slot-lover, he’s just a much better overall QB than anything the Broncos trotted out last year. Keenum’s QB rating on throws to wide receivers was 95.4 (11th best of 36). Trevor Siemian’s was 59.2 (second-worst).

Between the newfound slot role, the increased usage that’ll come from this, and the enormous QB gain, Sanders could genuinely blowup in 2018. Don’t forget — he’s an injury and Siemian-plagued season away from three-straight 1,000-yard seasons. The preseason should’ve awoken everyone to this sleeping giant, yet considering Sanders’ a seventh-eighth RD price tag, he remains wholly underappreciated. If you haven’t drafted, or can sneak him via trade, make sure to target Sanders before it’s too late. 

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Nicholas Traicoff is a correspondent at FantasyPros. For more from Nicholas, check out his archive and site Roto Street Journal or follow him @RotoStreetWolf.

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