Emmanuel Sanders: Antonio Brown's Injury Makes Steelers WR a Deep-League Start

Tyler ConwayFeatured ColumnistNovember 6, 2012

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 16:  Emmanuel Sanders #88 of the Pittsburgh Steelers runs with the ball during the game against the New York Jets on September 16, 2012 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
Joe Sargent/Getty Images

With Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown likely out for Sunday's game against the Kansas City Chiefs, say hello to fantasy relevancy, Emmanuel Sanders

After sustaining a sprained ankle in last week's victory over the New York Giants, Brown is listed as doubtful, according to Beaver County Times reporter Mike Bires:


Mike Tomlin says that as of today, WR Antonio Brown is doubtful for next game vs. KC. That all but means he won't play.

— Mike Bires (@mikebires) November 6, 2012


With the all-around stud Brown on the mend, someone has to be the benefactor of his touches—and that someone should be Sanders. Per Bires, Sanders will be overtaking kick-returner duties along with slotting in as the No. 2 wide receiver against the Chiefs.

Considering Brown's injury leaves Pittsburgh with just four healthy receivers, Sanders should be a solid flex or WR3—but only leagues with 12 or more teams or ones that award points for return yardage.

The reasoning behind that caveat is quite obvious: Brown wasn't all that valuable of a fantasy option himself this season.

Much to plenty of people around Pittsburgh's frustration, the 2012 Steelers employ a radically different scheme than they did under former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. His replacement, Todd Haley, has employed a far more conservative attack, based mostly on short and intermediate passes.

On the field, the results have been just fine. The Steelers rank fifth in the NFL in weighted pass efficiency according to Football Outsiders and Ben Roethlisberger is having arguably the best year of his career.  

However, for Brown and Mike Wallace, the change in offensive philosophy has led to a semi-frustrating dip in explosion and big plays.

After averaging 18.7 yards per reception for his first three seasons in the league, Wallace is down to 13.5 thus far. Brown, meanwhile, is down to 11.9 yards per catch and has a long of 27 yards this season after averaging 16.1 yards per reception in 2011.

That downtick in explosive play calling leaves Brown 44th among fantasy wide receivers in ESPN standard scoring coming into Sunday. 

A matchup against the Chiefs, perhaps the NFL's worst team, is on tap for Week 10, so it still stands to reason the Steelers will have an above-average passing game.

According to Football Outsiders' DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value over Average) metric, Kansas City ranks 28th in the NFL against the pass, giving up 21.8 percent more yardage than a replacement-level defense would against similar competition. 

What that means for Sanders as the team's No. 2 wide receiver remains to be seen. If the third-year receiver comes out and performs as Brown had in recent weeks, fantasy owners will have a difficult time finding much value. 

But if Sanders is able to take advantage of his opportunity and find holes in the Kansas City secondary, he could have a career-best game.

That uncertainty is what leaves Sanders as a must-start in deep leagues only. The matchup screams big performance. However, recent history tells us those massive fantasy days may be a thing of the past in Pittsburgh.