SleepersOctober 18, 2010

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Sleeper Watch

By Josh Shepardson

With six weeks of football just about in the books, players roles have begun to become more clear, and unearthing hidden gems will become a tougher task.  This week’s column features just one sleeper, but he’s an explosive rookie wide receiver that I believe could be a game changer for fantasy owners.

Emmanuel Sanders | WR |Pittsburgh | 0 percent Yahoo! ownership

Last year, the Steelers had 536 pass attempts to 428 rushes.  While Ben Roethlisberger served a four-game suspension to open the season, the team reverted back to classic Steeler smash-mouth football, running the ball 123 times and throwing it 81 times.  Now that the team is upgrading signal callers to Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh should tilt back to throwing it more.  With Rashard Mendenhall running the ball well, I don’t anticipate as heavy a pass distribution this year as last, but a 50-50 split seems promising.  One should deduce that with more pass attempts comes more targets for Steelers’ wide receivers.  The 2009 Steelers were able to produce three useful wide receivers in Santonio Holmes, Hines Ward and Mike Wallace, as well as tight end Heath Miller.  I see no reason that the 2010 Steelers can’t do the same, and with Holmes having moved on, that leaves one spot open for wide receiver production.  The player that will likely be given every opportunity to step forward and succeed as the number three wideout is Emmanuel Sanders

Sanders is a 5-11, 180-pound third-round selection.  He played his college football for SMU, where head coach June Jones employed a run-and-shoot offense, throwing the ball a staggering amount.  For that reason, Sanders’ college numbers need to be taken with a grain of salt.  Looking beyond his stats, it isn’t hard to see what the Steelers like about Sanders.  At the NFL Combine, he ran a 4.41 forty-yard dash with a near 40-inch vertical leap and stood out to Steelers scouts at the East-West game.  While his forty-yard dash wasn’t as fast as Mike Wallace’s 4.31, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Sanders have a similar big-play threat impact as a rookie to Wallace’s 2009 rookie campaign.  The Steelers’ schedule features some soft pass defenses, namely the Saints in Week 8, the Patriots in Week 10, and back-to-back dream matchups in Week 11 and Week 12 with the Raiders and Bills.  A modest two-catch, 37-yard performance means he’ll almost certainly slide through waivers, awarding owners another week to see how he performs with Roethlisberger under center.  However, those in desperate need of help at wide receiver in deep leagues should consider adding him now, just in case he puts up a big performance next week to catapault himself into waiver claim territory.

Josh Shepardson is one of a growing number of fantasy experts who write for the Cafe. You can catch up with Josh in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of B-Chad.
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