Don’t Sleep on These Future Fantasy Football Studs
A breakdown of fantasy football sleepers at each position entering the 2020
Reading Time: 6 minutes
Lamar Jackson, Chris Godwin, D.J. Chark, Miles Sanders, Kyler Murray: the list of surprise fantasy breakout stars grows every year, prompting fantasy gurus and self-proclaimed fantasy “experts” to comb through stats, trends, and trades to try to pinpoint the next diamond in the rough. While these students of the game occasionally find gems, many predictions fall flat on their faces, leading to the creation of another list: the busts. Think of Baker Mayfield, an incredibly hyped sleeper pick when Odell Beckham Jr. found a home in Cleveland but ended up as the 19th best fantasy quarterback, or Juju Smith-Schuster, who was touted as the new face of the Steelers after the departure of Antonio Brown and ended up with the 64th highest wide receiver score in the league. While it’s very difficult to randomly pick someone to have a breakout season, there are clear patterns across seasons that can help educate your choices before you are on the clock to help you win a championship.
As draft day quickly approaches, here is a position-by-position breakdown of players flying under the radar that no one should sleep on for the 2020 fantasy football season.
Last year, Lamar Jackson was being drafted in the late rounds as a QB2 or even QB3. By the end of the season, he had shattered NFL records and led all quarterbacks in fantasy scoring in a landslide. If Jackson’s fantasy performance last year can teach us anything, it’s that in the modern era of NFL quarterbacks, it’s unwise to overlook quarterbacks’ rushing ability (or lack thereof).
That being said, one young quarterback is poised to be fantasy owners’ savior this year. Just as Lamar Jackson was last year, he is entering his second season as an NFL starter after replacing a franchise stalwart; he isn’t being touted as a starting fantasy quarterback; and though not to the same extent, he is a threat in the ground game as well. That man is Daniel Jones.
The Giants’ signal-caller showed promise as a rookie once he took the reins from legendary QB Eli Manning in Week 4. He dished the ball and ran for two touchdowns in his debut, leading the G-men to their first win of the season. For the rest of the season, he had a turnover problem, leading the league in fumbles, but continued to show glimpses of stardom with several high scoring fantasy point totals. Jones arguably has better offensive weapons than Lamar Jackson did last year and has a weaker defense, meaning he will get a significant amount of garbage time late in games, which is great for fantasy points.
In the offseason, the Giants hired Joe Judge as head coach and gave Jason Garrett, who groomed Dak Prescott into a top NFL quarterback in Dallas, the offensive coordinator job. Jones also bulked up in muscle significantly, which should improve his ball security, which was a problem last year as he led the NFL in fumbles with 18. The conditions are right for Danny Dimes to take a star turn in his sophomore season. For now, he is being drafted as a QB2 but could easily make his way into the top seven quarterback scorers in 2020. Take him if you have the chance once the top 10 quarterbacks are off the board.
The Titans’ Ryan Tannehill deserves an honorable mention in this category as well. Currently being drafted as the QB 18, Tannehill has been overlooked on a run-heavy offense. Casual NFL fans will say Derrick Henry runs the team, but they missed the Titans’ run to the playoffs, in which Ryan Tannehill won AFC Player of the Week honors and established an electric connection with then-rookie A.J. Brown.
Todd Gurley moved to Atlanta after leaving the Rams in the offseason. This transfer gives him a chance to start over after an injury-riddled last couple of years on the Rams after his star turn. If you decide to take your chances with Gurley, be sure to take Smith as a viable last round option with significant upside as a backup.
Gurley’s departure also opens up the Rams’ backfield for rookie Cam Akers to produce at high levels. He is being drafted as the RB29, mainly accounting for the risk of whether he’ll be the top back ahead of Darrell Henderson. However, Henderson is dealing with a nagging injury, so Akers should get a heavy workload, if only for the beginning of the season.
Along with Akers, Clyde Edwards-Helaire is a trendy rookie “sleeper,” and with reason, as he will be leading the pack for a high octane Kansas City offense. The Chiefs’ GM went so far as to say that Helaire has the top job in Kansas City, so he should be drafted in round one of fantasy football leagues. Should he fall to you in the second round, he’s definitely worth your consideration as an RB1, though riskier than other high-floor second-round options like Nick Chubb.
This could also potentially be the year of the comeback for aging running backs like David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell, so though it may be contentious whether to classify them as sleepers, it’s important to note that there is still gas left in the tank.
Year in and year out, young wide receivers entering their sophomore year in the league have had breakout seasons. Last year, D.J. Moore, Cortland Sutton, and D.J. Chark emerged; Kenny Golladay, Chris Godwin, and Juju Smith-Schuster emerged in ‘18. Do not expect this year to be the exception to the rule, with a breadth of rookie talent entering their second year in the league.
D.K. Metcalf already is a strong fantasy football choice—hardly a sleeper, however, as he helped lead the Seahawks into yet another Super Bowl quest last year. Life is good in Seattle for Metcalf, who has a future HOF quarterback in Russell Wilson tossing him dimes and a good corps around him so he doesn’t receive too much attention from defenses.
A.J. Brown is a strong breakout candidate, having emerged as Ryan Tannehill’s favorite target late in the season. After Derrick Henry’s overpowering playoff performances, it is understandable to sleep on the Titans’ passing game, but their potent air attack to go with Henry’s power will give them another shot at a deep playoff run into 2021.
One more second year receiver to watch is Deebo Samuel. On an NFC-champion 49er team, Samuel will have acclimated to NFL defenses and could rise to the occasion in 2020.
It’s also vital not to sleep on rookie receivers, most notably the Vikings’ draft pick Justin Jefferson. Coming off a National Championship with the LSU Tigers and entering a Viking team that is now without Stefon Diggs, the conditions are set for Jefferson to be the D.K. Metcalf of 2020. While Jefferson acclimates in the early portion of the season, the stage is also set for veteran Bisi Johnson to emerge. He should get a larger role across Adam Thielen as the WR2 until Jefferson inevitably takes the position later in the season. With limited training camp, Jefferson may not be a day one fantasy starter, but he is a crucial mid-round acquisition that can help immensely when playoff season rolls around.
This year, two tight ends with initials HH will be leading the charge as sleeper picks. The first is Hunter Henry, who, in a 2019 season shortened from injury, showed flashes of brilliance. Henry will be playing on a Chargers team now without franchise stalwart Philip Rivers under center, so there is some risk associated with a new QB taking the reins. Regardless, Henry is a strong choice as a mid-range TE1 in 2020.
After departing from the Ravens, Hayden Hurst will get the opportunity to replace Austin Hooper in Atlanta. In Baltimore, Hurst split catches with Mark Andrews but still put up respectable game scores. Atlanta now has a big power vacuum for targets after one of the league’s top tight ends in Hooper left, so Hurst will put up TE1 numbers. Currently being drafted as a TE2, he is a steal relatively late in the draft.
Conclusion *DON'T LABEL*
To all the Fantasy Football fanatics out there: take a deep breath, gather your notes, put up your draft boards, tighten your championship belt, and let the draft begin!