As part of the premium content package, we’re not only releasing exclusive team capsules (complete with commentary), but also focusing on one sleeper from all 32 teams in the NFL.
These sleepers all have varying levels of “sleeperness,” but all merit a little more talking about than we had room for in the dynasty capsules for each team. Some of these players are deep dynasty sleepers who could merit a spot on your bench in a deep league, while others are players who may contribute a little faster than the deep prospects, but deserve more attention than they may be getting. By definition, a sleeper could mean something a little different to everyone, but we’re simply doing the best job we can to unearth one player from each team who fits the category in some way, shape or form.
We’ll just never insult you with a comprehensive list of “sleepers” that includes such names as Demaryius Thomas, Ryan Mathews or even someone like Stevan Ridley. You’re all too good for that.
While many of these players will undoubtedly fizzle, we figure there’s value in looking more closely at these deeper prospects and players. We invite you to keep an open mind and even re-assess your value on those who may be rostered in your league. You may even consider adding a few of these deeper prospects we focus on this Summer who are free agents in your league – after all, some are destined to pan out, too.
Emmanuel Sanders, WR PIT
Age: 25 (3/17/87)
When people think of the Pittsburgh Steelers, they think of dominant defense and running the ball. While the defense is still true, lots of people don’t realize that the Steelers haven’t been a running team for a few years now. They have turned into a top ten passing offense while being just an average rushing team. The coaches have talked about switching back to a running focus, but their personnel, especially with the knee injury to Rashard Mendenhall, is still very much that of a passing team. If they want to win games, they will need to play to the strengths of their roster and pass the ball yet again in the short term.
That brings us to the key players in that passing offense. There has been an awful lot of press over the last few weeks about the holdout of Mike Wallace and the contract extension that Antonio Brown received. Hines Ward also made some news earlier in the off-season when he retired with the Steelers, opening up the way for someone to step up. The only member of the wide receiver group who hasn’t been getting much press this offseason is our sleeper choice, Emmanuel Sanders.
Sanders was drafted in the third round of the 2010 NFL draft as a potential successor to Ward and was expected to provide a down the field threat in their vertical passing scheme. He is on the smaller side for wide receivers measuring in at 5’11” and 186 pounds, but he is very explosive with great hands. At the combine, he showed very good top end speed and acceleration in the drills with a 4.41 40 yard dash as well as excellent lower body explosion with 39.5” vertical and 126” broad jump. He has the physical tools, but so far he has struggled a little bit with injuries. He played just 13 games his rookies season and only 11 last season due to nagging ailments.
Assuming he stays healthy, this could very well be the year that he cashes in on his potential. There is a perfect storm of events that seem to be lining up just right for Sanders. The first is the retirement of Ward. This bumps Sanders up into the third wide receiver role. The more significant event is the holdout of Wallace. The Steelers are moving towards a new offensive game plan and scheme which Wallace is missing out on. In his absence, Sanders has been getting full time reps with the first team offense and building up more of a connection with the rest of the unit. The longer the holdout continues for Wallace, or if he is eventually traded, the better things are going to look for Sanders. As it stands right now, he is in line for the third wide receiver role, and if Wallace misses time, Sanders will be on the field for pretty much all of the snaps.
What happens if Wallace were to come back and start practicing today and stay healthy through the whole season? In that case, Sanders acts as the third receiver and could approach numbers like 50 catches, 750 yards, and a few touchdowns. Then it all comes down to what happens next year. Given that they just wrote a large check to Brown and that they don’t have a lot of cap space in the future, the chances of Wallace being around next year are looking pretty slim, promoting Sanders into the starting lineup for the 2013 season. In Sanders, you are getting a minimum of a bye week fill in for this year with the upside of a high end WR2 within a year, making him a very attractive pickup in the middle rounds of a startup or as a trade target before his value could explode.