The New Orleans Saints got a record-setting performance from wide receiver Michael Thomas in 2019, but not much else from their wide receivers. The prolific offense made a big move late Friday, agreeing to terms on a two-year contract with free agent wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders.
We’ll take a look at the Saints roster for the 2020 season, and how this signing will shake up their fantasy football options.
Sanders split his time between the Broncos and 49ers last season, traded by Denver to San Francisco a week before the trade deadline. He, Deebo Samuel, and George Kittle went back and forth as the team’s top receiver in a given week, but Sanders proved to be a key spark to the offense as a whole.
He finished the season as the 30th ranked fantasy wide receiver. He had a solid first two games with the 49ers after the trade, scoring 8.5 and 17.2 points in standard leagues and 12.5 and 24.2 points in PPR leagues. He was a solid PPR option most of the rest of the season, catching at least four passes in every game except one.
He joins a Saints squad that badly needs a legit No. 2 option. Per ESPN’s Field Yates, the 2019 Saints had the largest gap between a team’s top two receivers in NFL history (119 catches). Sanders finished last season with 66 receptions for 869 yards and five touchdowns. He is one of five wide receivers with 500+ receiving yards in 8 straight seasons.
He should see an improvement in his numbers, but he also can expect to see a serious competition for Drew Brees’ pass attempts. Here’s a potential starting offense following the addition of Sanders.
Here is the Saints’ potential starting offense after signing Emmanuel Sanders:— Robert Mays (@robertmays) March 21, 2020
QB: Drew Brees
RB: Alvin Kamara
WR1: Michael Thomas
WR2: 24th overall pick
TE: Jared Cook
LT: Terron Armstead
LG: Andrus Peat
C: Erik McCoy
RG: Larry Warford
RT: Ryan Ramczyk
Here’s a look at last year’s pass catchers
Michael Thomas: 149 rec, 1,725 yards, 9 TDs
Jared Cook: 43 rec, 705 yards, 9 TDs
Alvin Kamara: 81 rec, 533 yards, 1 TD
Ted Ginn Jr.: 30 rec, 421 yards, 2 TDs
Latavius Murray: 34 rec, 235 yards, 1 TD
Taysom Hill: 19 rec, 234 yards, 6 TDs
Tre’Quan Smith: 18 rec, 234 yards, 5 TDs
Josh Hill: 25 rec, 226 yards, 3 TDs
Thomas dominated last season, but he also was several cuts ahead of the rest of the receiver group. Double coverage was not really a concern given the depth beyond wide receiver, and just how good Thomas is. In PPR leagues, he finished 98 points ahead of the second best receiver, Chris Godwin, and 100 points ahead of the third best receiver, Julio Jones. In standard leagues, Thomas finished 35 points up on No. 2 Godwin and 42 points up on No. 3 Kenny Golladay. His numbers likely take a hit with the addition of Sanders, but he’s still a WR1, and a decent investment still as the top wide receiver.
Ginn is a free agent, but even if he returns he would be behind Thomas and Sanders. This year’s draft class is incredibly deep at wide receiver and given Sanders’ age, it seems a decent bet the Saints invest in the position. Tre’Quan Smith remains a deep, deep sleeper, but if the Saints invest a significant draft pick in a receiver, he drops off the board.
Hill is a wild card in this group. The team used a first round tender on the restricted free agent, so he is not going anywhere. He could be the quarterback of the future, but with Brees back for another year, he’ll remain the team’s trick play specialist, and general jack-of-all-trades option. His fantasy value is hard to decipher at this point, but if you’re in a deeper league, he’s an intriguing dark horse.
Cook ranked seventh among tight ends in PPR leagues and sixth in standard leagues, thanks to his nine touchdowns. He missed two games due to injury, but when playing was a high value option. He had six touchdowns the year prior in Oakland, so it’s hard to describe him as a red zone flash in the pan. That being said, high touchdown totals are not always easy to replicate, so adjust value accordingly. He likely remains a solid red zone target, but Sanders will probably eat into some of his numbers to some degree.
Brees is a huge beneficiary, with a strong No. 2 wide receiver now behind Thomas. Sanders and Brees are both getting up there in age, so expectations should be adjusted accordingly, but until they prove they have hit the wall, there’s value there. Brees missed five games with a thumb injury, but finished the year ranked seventh among quarterbacks in traditional and DraftKings fantasy points per game. Even as he gets older, he’s still got it.
He remains a QB1, but the question is how high up he’s worth grabbing. The addition of Sanders and potentially a rookie WR could offer up a little more value that moves him into the top five.