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Fantasy footballers are always looking for that hidden gem late in their fantasy drafts.  That’s where fantasy titles are won and lost.  Anyone can pick in the top 5 rounds.  It’s the owners that find breakout players in rounds 10 or later that end up winning fantasy titles.  I prefer to be that guy because I like winning fantasy titles.  I also like preventing others in my league from winning fantasy titles.  That’s just how I roll.  The time to find these late round gems is now.

One shiny little gem that’s starting to polish up and gleam with fantasy potential is Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders.  Let’s take a closer look at this kid.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are known to find talent at the wide receiver position in the middle rounds of NFL drafts.  In the 3rd rounds of drafts, to be exact.  Mike Wallace has blossomed into a fantasy star and he was selected in the 3rd round of the 2009 draft.  Hines Ward was a 3rd round pick as well.  So I’m curious – where was this Emmanuel Sanders kid selected?  Well butter my keister and call me a biscuit – Sanders was drafted in the 3rd round by these very same Pittsburgh Steelers.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking – “But Clint, first of all you’re incredibly awesome.  Second, what does being drafted in the 3rd round have to do with fantasy value?  It’s about talent, man.  It’s about numbers.”  Great point my friend, and thanks for the compliment.  Fantasy football is all about numbers.  So let’s look at Emmanuel Sanders’ numbers, shall we?

Sanders is 5’11”, 186 lbs., he recorded a 39.5 inch vertical, and ran a 4.40 40-yard dash at the 2010 NFL Combine.  Just for sake of comparison, Mike Wallace is 6’0″, 199 lbs., recorded a 40 inch vertical, and ran a 4.33 40-yard dash.  To summarize, Sanders is one inch shorter, 13 lbs. lighter, jumps a half of an inch lower, and is a fraction of a second slower than Wallace.  The two are eerily similar.  We all know Mike Wallace can fly, and so can Emmanuel Sanders.

Now you’re up to speed as to the type of player Sanders is.  He’s a small speed guy with killer after-the-catch ability.  Just like Mike Wallace, he can take a 7-yard slant and turn it into a 35-yard play before you can pause your DVR to see what the hell just happened.  In his rookie season, Sanders had 28 catches for 376 yards and two TDs in very limited playing time.  With the aging Hines Ward on the decline, Sanders will see more snaps, more targets, and thus more production.  He has secured the #3 WR spot on this Steelers offense and could easily double his 2010 numbers in 2011.

Hines Ward dropped from 95 receptions for 1,167 yards in 2009, to 59 receptions for 755 yards in 2010.  Ward will also be 35 years old when the season starts.  My point here is that Ward, although a tremendous player, is not going to produce like he did in his 2002-2005 years.  Emmanuel Sanders may not take over the #2 WR spot in Pittsburgh from Ward this year, but it’s only a matter of time before Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders are one of the most lethal WR duos in the game.  His opportunity in Pittsburgh is one of tremendous long-term fantasy appeal.  Dynasty leagues take note.

Currently Sanders is being drafted right around the 135th-145th player taken in fantasy drafts.  Or, in 12-team leagues, as a 11th or 12th round pick.  He’s a great low-risk, high-reward draft selection that could end up producing WR4 numbers for your fantasy team at a WR5 price.  And if Mike Wallace happens to get hurt, well, let’s just say Hines Ward isn’t going to pick up the slack.  Know what I’m sayin’?  It’ll be the Emmanuel Sanders show, son.  All dizay lizong.

I love Emmanuel Sanders’ opportunity in Pittsburgh not only this year, but on into 2012 and beyond.  Ben Roethlisberger is the perfect play-extending quarterback to compliment the speed and play-making ability of Emmanuel Sanders.  You see what the Roethlisberger/Mike Wallace combo has become.  I expect Sanders to only add to that explosiveness for this Pittsburgh offense.  Steelers fans should be excited about this kid, and fantasy footballers need to keep him in mind late in their 2011 fantasy drafts, and in their dynasty drafts.  Mike Wallace is a restricted free agent in 2012.  Just sayin’.

Emmanuel Sanders is a 2011 sleeper I have my eye on.

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  1. Recently drafted Sanders as my 5th WR in a 12 team, 16 round, re-draft mock in round 13. And while Ward is still there in Pittsburgh, I think it’s likely that Sanders puts up the better fantasy numbers than Ward this season. Love his upside and don’t forget about Antonio Brown. He was starting to show some things late last season and in the playoffs as well. The trio of Wallace, Sanders, and Brown could be one that proves to be fantasy relevant for years to come.

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