What do Jerome Pathon (‘00), Brandon Stokley (‘04), Anthony Gonzalez (‘08) and Austin Collie (‘09) all have in common? All had career years while being no better than the 3rd receiving option in a Peyton Manning led offense. In 2013 Eric Decker also had a career year being Manning’s 3rd option on a receptions per game basis behind Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker. After finishing last season as the #8 fantasy WR (87 rec., 1,288 yards, 11 TDs) Decker left Denver to become a member of the Gangrene, where he will be padding his wallet a lot more than his stats. This leaves the door wide open for the next great 3rd WR option. Enter the newly signed Emmanuel Sanders. Sanders experienced his best year as a pro last season hauling in 67 rec., 740 yards and six TDs while playing in Pittsburgh's #12 ranked passing offense. He is now a member of Denver’s #1 ranked passing offense and there is no reason to think he will not improve on last season’s numbers.
Decker used his 6’3" 214lb frame to muscle his way to the best numbers of his career while the smaller Sanders, 5’11" 180lb, utilized his speed and explosiveness. Those two attributes are what made Sanders so attractive to Denver and are what add a new element to their offense. Denver’s GM, John Elway, believes Sanders can "play anywhere," stating that "He can play inside, he can play outside. He’s explosive. Great separation skills. He can do it all." Manning echoed those sentiments saying, "He’s explosive," and "You can’t hold the ball very long when he is running a route," emphasizing that he thinks Sanders will be a legitimate threat for them. Denver runs a lot of bubble screens and involving Sanders will only make this more apparent. Sanders forced 15 missed tackles last year, one every 4.47 receptions ranking fourth best in the NFL, which will be menacing in Denver’s high powered offense.
Sanders, once considered an injury risk, has not missed a game in the last two seasons. With those injury concerns behind him, Sanders offers owners with one of the best low risk high reward options at a discounted draft price. Sanders’ ADP is currently in the early 90s which means you only have to spend a late 7th or early 8th round pick (12 team leagues) to acquire him. Other position players being drafted around Sanders are low end RBs such as Darren McFadden, Danny Woodhead, Darren Sproles and DeAngelo Williams and uninspiring TEs such as Jordan Reed, Kyle Rudolph and Martellus Bennett. He is ranked around the 35th WR with the likes of Dwayne Bowe, Cecil Shorts, Anquan Boldin and Rueben Randle, none of which offer the immense upside of Sanders.
While I do not believe Sanders will match Decker’s output from last season, it is easy to see him ending the season with around 75 rec. 1,000 yards and 8 TDs which would have ranked him as the 16th overall WR in standard scoring leagues last season. Using these projections and 2013’s Value Based Drafting numbers Sanders would end the season as the 46th best overall draft pick. Bargains like Sanders are the type of draft picks that can get you dancing in the street come championship week. You can draft Sanders as your WR3 but he should produce at worst as a low end WR2 with the potential of being a low end WR1. Finding such great WR value in the middling rounds will allow you to focus on drafting other positions with far less depth, specifically RBs, in earlier rounds.