Why Emmanuel Sanders could have a fantasy rebound in 2016

The Denver wide receiver's numbers fell off as his quarterbacks struggled, but even without top-flight passers now, he should climb back up.

| 12 months ago
(Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

(Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Why Emmanuel Sanders could have a fantasy rebound in 2016

(Editor’s note: Every day, we’re offering our Crazy Fantasy Stat of the Day, something that catches our eye and helps us learn something for fantasy for 2016.)

Last season was kind of a disaster for the Denver Broncos offense. After averaging 523 points a year (never fewer than 481) from 2012 to 2014, the team scored only 355 points in 2015. The problems started at quarterback, with Peyton Manning showing his age and Brock Osweiler not doing much to inspire confidence as Manning’s backup.

Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are teammates and wide receivers who were on that Denver team and remain for 2016, but while their team and position are the same, their skill sets and performance needs are wildly different.

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Case in point, today’s Fantasy Stat of the Day: In 2014, Demaryius Thomas had a catch percentage of 62, while Emmanuel Sanders’ was 72. In 2015, Thomas stayed at 62. Sanders? His 2015 catch percentage was 58. Basically, as far as catches per target is concerned, Thomas was the same player from one year to the next, while Sanders fell off a cliff. And the reason for that is the deep ball.

Sanders had 28 percent of his 2015 targets go 20 or more yards downfield, while Thomas had 12 percent. Meanwhile, Manning and Osweiler were two of the worst deep-ball passers in the entire league last year. Manning’s adjusted completion percentage (completions plus drops per attempt) on balls 20-plus yards downfield was 28.6; Osweiler’s was 26.7 The only regular quarterback below those two in the rankings for 2015 was Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota, at 20.4 percent. As a result, Sanders went from the No. 16 wide receiver on deep passes in 2014 to No. 51 in 2015.

There is concern about the Denver quarterback situation for 2016, of course. The team is choosing among Mark Sanchez, Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch, which is not exactly vintage Peyton Manning. That said, all three have shown more than last year’s uninspiring duo, at least when it comes to deep passing. Sanchez has a career mark in the mid-30s, and has never put up an adjusted completion percentage on deep balls below 33 when he’s had more than five attempts. Lynch, meanwhile, hovered near 50 percent the last two years in college at Memphis. Even Siemian, considered a long shot to win the job but still a candidate, notched a 36.8 percent rate on deep balls in 2014 at Northwestern.

Entering 2016 drafts, our rankers have Thomas ranked 17th among wide receivers, while Sanders is 31st. That Thomas is higher is probably fine, but Sanders — who finished 18th at the position in fantasy scoring last year after a seventh-place finish in 2014 — is a prime candidate to rebound from a deep-ball perspective, and if he does that, his overall fantasy performance should improve as well.

Draft Guide 2016

| Fantasy Editor

Daniel Kelley is the fantasy editor for Pro Football Focus. He has previously appeared at SB Nation.

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