Editor’s note: This is a guess post from Justin Becker of FantasyFootballOverdose.com. You can follow the Fantasy Football Overdose Google+ Page, and for more Fantasy Football Rankings and Projections visit Fantasy Football Overdose – a fantasy football blog.
The Denver Broncos knew they might lose some offensive star power before the 2014 NFL season rolled around again. Running back Knowshon Moreno and wide receiver Eric Decker both hit the open market when free agency started, and now just a couple of weeks later, Decker is a member of the New York Jets. Denver doesn’t seem too worried about losing Moreno with second-year back Montee Ball waiting to rise up, but they jumped all over former Pittsburgh Steelers burner Emmanuel Sanders to protect them from losing Decker.
On paper, Sanders should slide right into Decker’s old role and be perfectly fine as a third or fourth option in Denver’s already potent passing offense. And just like Decker, he’ll have a shot at putting up quality numbers in his first season with the Broncos.
The real question, though, is can fantasy football owners trust Sanders like Decker? With that in mind, let’s break down both wide receivers so we can better assess Sanders’ fantasy value for the 2014 season:
The Speed Game
Decker has solid speed and even could be a factor in the return game, but Sanders absolutely beats him in this department. Ironically, though, Sanders’ speed hasn’t always translated consistently to the NFL, as he posted just 11 yards per catch in 2013 and has never topped 14.2 yards per catch in his career. Decker topped Sanders’ best in 2013 (14.8).
With that being said, Sanders is the better athlete and is more explosive off the snap, meaning hypothetically he should be able to make bigger plays than Decker could in Denver.
Decker was a beast in the red-zone, using his size and excellent ball skills to score eight or more touchdowns in each of the last three seasons, including 24 over his last two with Manning slinging him darts. Decker obviously has benefited immensely from who is throwing him passes and how his system has been constructed, but we can’t look past his own personal physical attributes, as well as his actual skill-set. Decker uses his body correctly and has a solid catch radius, allowing him to haul in difficult passes and go up over the defender to make plays.
It’s going to be a little difficult for Sanders to come in and match Decker’s touchdown production. For one, he has nowhere near Decker’s size. Decker stands in at 6’3” and consistently uses his size to his advantage, while Sanders is under six feet and typically plays small. This should keep Sanders (who has never scored more than six touchdowns in a season) from suddenly turning into a red-zone monster just because he’s in a new system. Instead, Sanders coming into town is much more likely to open things up for guys like Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas to use their good size to get more short scores.
That being said, the tiny Wes Welker put up a career high in touchdowns in this offense last year, so it’s completely reasonable to expect Sanders to match his career high in scores in his first season as a Bronco – if not exceed them by a wide margin.
How They’re Used
It’s all about space for Sanders, a thought that apparently already has Denver GM John Elway giddy over all of the possibilities. When recently asked how Sanders might be used, Elway gushed over his new addition, saying, “He can play anywhere. He can play inside, he can be outside. He’s explosive…great separation skills. He can do it all.”
Demaryius Thomas is used on the outside mostly, with Welker operating almost exclusively out of the slot. Naturally, that should put Sanders on the outside on the other side of Thomas, at the “Z” spot. That means Sanders should in fact be used on deep routes, screens, and put in positions where he can use his speed and explosiveness in space.
Here’s the real kicker for fantasy owners: where do you draft Sanders? Almost as important, between Sanders and Decker, who do you draft first? I still think for now you have to take Decker first. He’s headed to New York and their quarterback situation is a little fuzzy, but he’s the more complete receiver, has been very productive and is now a legit number one target on his new team. With that said, Sanders is currently seeing a ninth round ADP (Average Draft Position), which is about three rounds past Decker (sixth round) and a few picks behind the likes of Anquan Boldin, Golden Tate and Hakeem Nicks. Taking him after Decker makes sense at this point, but Sanders is a high upside pick that needs to be taken before safer selections like these other guys that are being taken before him. In fact, before August rolls around, don’t be shocked if Sanders slowly climbs to the seventh round, just one round after the guy he’s replacing in Denver.
Decker was a better natural wide receiver than Sanders. He never had any issues with injury, didn’t take plays off, and other than some random mental lapses in the form of drops, he really had a complete game and consistently made big plays. Sanders can absolutely come in and be an upgrade, though. He’ll need to stay healthy, however, and put his speed on full display. He can’t beat defenses the way Decker did, and while that gives the Broncos a small hit in the red-zone department, he can kill the opposition in other ways that Decker simply couldn’t.