Just a little more than week ago, Wes Welker suffered his third concussion in a 10 month span, putting his status moving forward very much up in the air, both for Week 1 and for the remainder of his career. Well, he and the Denver medical staff will now have five weeks to unscramble the inside of his head, as the chain-moving WR extraordinaire was suspended for four games after a drug test taken in early May came back positive for a banned amphetamine.
Disappointment aside, this is huge news in the Fantasy community. Owners knew they were taking a risk when drafting Welker, but this adds another layer and further clouds his future with the team and in the NFL. Emmanuel Sanders came into this season with plenty of hype after a career year in Pittsburgh and is ranked as a Top 30 receiver in all formats, but this news, coupled with the instant success of Welker after joining Manning (career high 10 touchdowns despite 13 fewer receptions than his worst season in New England), has Sanders’ stock as high as it has ever been. I think the 27-year-old is a very talented player and more than capable of producing a solid season in Denver … but this is the time to sell him.
You heard me: sell Emmanuel Sanders.
Someone in your league is going to look at the numbers of the 2013 Broncos, do some quick math, and project Sanders as a fringe WR1. Don’t believe me? Here’s an example:
Eric Decker is gone (137 targets). Welker is out (110 targets). Montee Ball fills the void of Knowshon Moreno, thus replacing his 74 targets but leaving his own 27 targets vacated. Julius Thomas may see one more target per game than last season, while Demaryius Thomas will continue to see his 8-9 targets per game, a number that has stayed consistent in his two seasons with Peyton Manning at the helm. Andre Caldwell and Cody Latimer are interesting options that will see increased playing time, but they have never done anything at this level that would suggest a significant workload. Let’s pencil them in for 3-4 targets each per game. Based on the numbers from last season, and with an increased emphasis on defensive penalties, that might be low-balling the passing workload on Manning this year, which would position Sanders to be targeted with 11 passes per game. That would equate to 176 targets (according to Pro Football Focus, matching the league high total of Andre Johnson in 2013) over a 16 game season, and at his career yardage and touchdown rates … Emmanuel Sanders is projected for 102 catches, 1,285 yards and seven touchdowns!
But wait, a receiver with 102 catches in that Denver offense last season would have been projected for 12.5 touchdowns. Split the difference and Sanders is a lock for 1,285 yards and 10 touchdowns! A little bit of number crunching and I just made Sanders a clone of 2013 Eric Decker, and thus, a WR1 in PPR formats.
Sell him if you can get anywhere near that price.
There are obviously a number of flaws with that math, but when did reason ever get in the way of the casual Fantasy owner? The first issue is that despite the concussion and suspension, Welker is likely going to play this season. One cannot assume that this will cost him the entire season, thus making it unwise to upgrade Sanders too much. But the return of Welker is only one of many factors that make Sanders a player you need to deal before the season opens.
Andre Caldwell, my personal favorite when it comes to a player to pick up as a result of this suspension, will be in his third season with Peyton Manning, and while he hasn’t been involved much, he figures to have a grasp of “The Manning Way.” Communication is vital in this system and Caldwell should be comfortable enough to assume a substantial role. In the first of three games without Welker last season, Caldwell was the immediate fill in, catching six passes on 11 targets for 59 yards and two scores. After that big game, Caldwell’s production dropped a bit, but he still managed 11 catches in the three games Welker missed, none of which went for more than 19 yards. In other words, he was being asked to fill the vacated role, something I expect him to do once again this season.
Cody Latimer is also going to be more involved and probably more than you think. I like Caldwell and his familiarity, but one can’t help but connect the dots with the Latimer draft pick. Timeline: Welker goes to the Kentucky Derby, days later he fails a drug test, just a few more days later and Denver uses a second round pick on Latimer, a receiver with a “NFL reserve” grade. Hmmmm.
Montee Ball recorded 40 percent of his receptions last season in two games that Welker was sidelined and is a player the Broncos clearly want to develop. Knowshon Moreno was never considered to have the pass catching upside of Ball prior to last season, making it reasonable to think that Ball could see 5-6 targets per game.
Demaryius and Julius Thomas were elite pass catchers last season and, even though they have tremendous size, both thrived within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. Manning’s willingness to distribute the ball quickly makes both of these massive targets reasonable replacements for the underneath and quick hitting routes that Welker has made a career of. Demaryius specifically stepped up his game without Welker last season, as he recorded 14 catches for 236 yards and three scores in the final two regular season games of 2013.
Emmanuel Sanders is a nice player, but he does not project as an elite slot receiver like Welker. His career aDOT is over 12 yards, a significant skill set difference from the player most assume he is replacing (7.8 aDOT last season). In his breakout season, 55.2 percent of Sanders’ catches went for first downs, a rate that doesn’t hold a candle to Welker’s 67.1 percent. They are simply not the same player.
Peyton Manning isn’t going to repeat his record-breaking campaign of 2013. Some regression is to be expected after any historic season and the future Hall of Famer is no exception. He attempted 102 more passes and turned a higher percentage of those attempts into completions (plus 3.1 percentage points) last season as compared to his career averages. Those are big changes for a player who was already in the process of rewriting the QB record books and are statistically unlikely to be repeated at the age 38.
Oo yea, and the Broncos face three strong defenses and four ten win teams during the Welker suspension. I like Sanders, I really do, but based on what Twitter is telling me, I like him far less than the rest of the Fantasy community. Can you sell him for Randall Cobb? If so, please do. I’ve got a funny feeling that unsexy names like Roddy White, Victor Cruz, Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson, and Vincent Jackson could be moved in deals featuring Sanders in the coming few days … now is the time to pounce. Heck, I still like Marques Colston over Sanders, an opinion I’m guessing isn’t very popular. If you’ve got a trade question, with or without Sanders, I’m here to help and give insight. I always take questions and the best ones will be answered in paragraph form as part of my weekly article posted at RotoExperts on Wednesday’s all football season long.