Emmanuel Sanders Start/Sit Week 12: It’s hard to trust the 34-year-old on Thanksgiving

Five weeks ago, we warned fantasy managers to sell high on Emmanuel Sanders. Here's why he's a boom-bust starter on Thanksgiving in Week 12.

Can fantasy football managers trust Emmanuel Sanders in the Buffalo Bills’ Week 12 Thanksgiving game against the New Orleans Saints? When considering whether to start or sit a player with such a high ceiling and low floor, we need to examine several factors. Here’s my analysis and recommendation.

Emmanuel Sanders’ statistical history

The 34-year-old Sanders’ career appeared to be on the downswing two years ago after a fantastic five-plus seasons in Denver. He had been a perennial must-start WR before moving to San Francisco in 2019, where he didn’t enjoy the same consistent production playing alongside George Kittle and rookie Deebo Samuel. He achieved notoriety by playing in 17 games (thanks to the well-timed midseason trade), but he finished the year as the WR30 after being accustomed to WR1/WR2 campaigns.

Last year, he was shipped off again, this time to New Orleans, where he had as many games with 13+ targets (two) as he did with 1. Inconsistent usage made him merely a WR4, despite enjoying one of the best catch rates (74.4%) of any starting WR.

An up-and-down 2021 campaign

I was skeptical about Sanders’ arrival in Buffalo this past offseason. Yes, I’ll admit it. I could not imagine Sanders carving out a meaningful fantasy role in the Bills’ deep offense. Maybe he’d be a WR4 again, but his best days were certainly behind him.

How wrong I was — at least in the opening weeks. In his first five games, Sanders had 322 receiving yards and 4 TDs. He was suddenly once again a must-start WR2. Normally, we would expect the fantasy universe to jump on the bandwagon: “Well, he’s doing well, so that must mean he’ll keep producing.”

Ah, but that’s not how fantasy works. We needed to look deeper. So on October 18, I wrote an article on PFN explaining that Sanders’ early-season tear happened “despite averaging only 3.8 receptions on 6.2 targets. Folks, that is not sustainable. Neither are his 4 touchdowns in only five games. Sanders is the quintessential sell-high candidate — a boom-bust receiver who’s produced too many booms.”

And that’s what happened. Since Week 6, Sanders has averaged 42 scoreless yards on 2.8 receptions and 5.4 targets. Most of this drought occurred while Dawson Knox was sidelined. In other words, the now-healthy Bills are loaded on offense, and Sanders is merely one of nine players who could realistically score any given week.

Should fantasy managers start Sanders on Thanksgiving in Week 12?

I’d sooner bet on someone like T.J. Hockenson than Sanders. Why? Because I invest in players who are offensive centerpieces. Sanders is a role player who happened to strike it big in September and early October. While he might have another one or two good performances this year, he is too unreliable to trust as a “safe” WR3+.

If you want a relatively safe 8+ points, Sanders is still useful. If you want boom-bust, he fits the bill. But low volume makes breakouts unlikely. Busts are more probable. And at this stage of the season, most fantasy managers need more.

BJ Rudell is the Fantasy Football Director for Pro Football Network. You can read all of BJ’s work here, listen to him on PFN’s Fantasy Football podcast, and check out his contributions in PFN’s free fantasy newsletter. Give him a follow on Twitter: @BJRudell.