Fantasy Football 2020: League-Winning Sleepers You Need to Know
Fantasy football draft season is in full swing and features more mystery than usual, as restrictions stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic mean drafters have little to work with from the 2020 offseason.
A lack of reports related to on-field progress and practice-field exploits could make it harder to identify sleepers, just as a lack of preseason action and a reduction in practice time could make it harder for sleepers to emerge.
Still, we hit up average draft position charts from Fantasy Pros and the latest big board from Bleacher Report's Gary Davenport to identify a dozen players from the four primary offensive fantasy positions who could dramatically outperform their draft slots and help win you your league this year.
Below are nine quarterbacks, wide receivers and tight ends regularly selected outside the top 100 and three running backs regularly taken outside the top 50 who should be on your sleeper radar entering draft day.
Drew Lock, Denver Broncos
Davenport listed 24 quarterbacks above Lock, and the 23-year-old's average draft position at Fantasy Pros ranks lower than that of 22 signal-callers. That likely means you can secure him late in deep drafts or on the waiver wire in others. Regardless, there's tremendous value there.
The 2019 second-round pick didn't put up big yardage numbers in his five starts down the stretch, but he has the arm and weapons to change that as a sophomore, with intriguing rookies Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler joining Pro Bowler Courtland Sutton and 2019 first-round tight end Noah Fant, who established oodles of chemistry with Lock late last year.
Look for new Broncos offensive coaches Pat Shurmur and Mike Shula to open up the offense and push Lock to move the ball down the field a lot more often in 2020, which should result in a steady influx of fantasy points.
The Missouri product has a lot to prove, but he could become a fantasy QB1 in 2020.
Sam Darnold, New York Jets
It's totally cool if you're done giving Darnold the benefit of the doubt, but the Jets quarterback's value stems from the notion that most of your competitors will feel the same way. And in the USC product's defense, he's never received much support in two NFL seasons.
Could that be different in 2020? The Jets have at least addressed a bad offensive line, running back Le'Veon Bell appears to be rejuvenated and the late-blooming Breshad Perriman could become an upgrade over departed overachiever Robby Anderson. The 2015 first-round pick exploded with 419 yards and five touchdowns in the final four weeks last year in Tampa.
Despite having the start of his season thwarted by a bout with mononucleosis, Darnold bolstered his rate-based statistics across the board in comparison to his rookie season but is going off the board as QB 28.
With more support, a better familiarity with Adam Gase's offense in their second year together and better luck from a health perspective, he could do some serious damage in Year 3.
Dwayne Haskins, Washington Football Team
Haskins is a deep sleeper, but his ceiling remains so high that he should be on your radar after he completed 72.1 percent of his passes and threw four touchdowns and zero interceptions for a 131.1 rating in his final two starts as a rookie.
The fact that Washington head coach Ron Rivera has suggested Haskins could have to fight Alex Smith for the starting job should only push the 2019 first-round pick further down rankings. Davenport lists him behind potential backup Nick Foles, while he ranks below Gardner Minshew II and right above Justin Herbert at Fantasy Pros.
But let's not forget that Haskins was a one-year starter at Ohio State. He was always going to need some time, and the chemistry he exhibited with college teammate Terry McLaurin last year was hard to ignore.
We've become accustomed to disregarding members of the untrustworthy Washington Football Team in the fantasy world, but Haskins should at least be on your watch list.
Ronald Jones II, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Per Fantasy Pros, 30 or more running backs are routinely coming off the board before Jones, and Tampa Bay's recent acquisition of veteran LeSean McCoy didn't help the third-year back's draft stock.
But that might only give you better positional value for a talented young player who started his career slowly but racked up 225 scrimmage yards while averaging 7.3 yards per carry in the final two games of his sophomore campaign.
And despite the McCoy signing, Bucs head coach Bruce Arians recently reiterated Jones remains the "main guy" in the team's backfield. That could be pretty fruitful in an offense run by the legendary Tom Brady, especially if every opposing defense is more focused on star receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.
Watch for Jones to be a top-15 back if it all comes together.
Cam Akers, Los Angeles Rams
There's a lot of uncertainty surrounding the Rams backfield following Todd Gurley's departure, and there's a good chance we see a committee in that spot. Rams head coach Sean McVay has already suggested as much. But somebody is likely to emerge as the top option, and that somebody is most likely to be Akers.
The Florida State product is a complete-package back who should be ready to make an immediate impact after carrying the ball 586 times in the ACC. He scored 18 touchdowns in 2019 before going to L.A. in the second round of April's draft and is coming off fantasy boards after 25 other backs.
Akers has a much higher ceiling than Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown, both of whom averaged 3.8 or fewer yards per carry in support of Gurley last year. Don't be surprised if that enables him to pull away and earn at least RB2 fantasy consideration in September.
Anthony McFarland Jr., Pittsburgh Steelers
Your roster is a work of art, and it's the final round. Even if you didn't select James Conner, Jaylen Samuels or Benny Snell Jr. earlier, it might be worth taking a flier on McFarland.
The exciting fourth-round pick likely would have been drafted a lot higher if he hadn't been limited by an ankle injury in 2019. One before that at Maryland, the 5'8", 193-pound home run hitter averaged 7.9 yards per carry.
He joins an offensive backfield that is wide open after Conner, Samuels and Snell all averaged 4.0 or fewer yards per carry last season. Remember Tarik Cohen's shocking impact early in 2017? This feels like it could be a lot like that.
Diontae Johnson, Pittsburgh Steelers
Several Steelers receivers could be underrated this year because of the damage done by quarterbacks Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges in place of an injured Ben Roethlisberger last season. But Big Ben is back, and while more eyes might be on JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington in the Pittsburgh receiving corps, don't overlook the fact that Johnson easily topped those two with a 64.1 percent catch rate and five touchdown grabs as a rookie in 2019.
The 24-year-old Toledo product underwent offseason sports-hernia surgery, which could also hurt his stock a tad. But he says he's 100 percent healthy, and Big Ben appears to be on track as well after he missed most of the 2019 campaign because of an elbow injury.
With Smith-Schuster often in the slot, Johnson will get a lot of work opposite Washington out wide. But Washington didn't click too well with Roethlisberger in 2018 and lacked consistency as a sophomore. There's an opportunity for Johnson, who sports an ADP of 112, to emerge quickly as a starting-caliber fantasy option.
Breshad Perriman, New York Jets
When Perriman put up 506 yards and five touchdowns in the final five games of his 2019 campaign with the Buccaneers, late-bloomer alerts should have gone off in the heads of fantasy aficionados.
The 2015 first-round pick is still only 26 years old, and nobody will question his talent. He wasn't consistent, reliable or durable early in his career, but he hasn't dropped any of the last 94 passes thrown his way, and that late-2019 progress can't be ignored as he becomes a focal point in the Jets offense.
Perriman is the only remotely established outside receiving option on the Jets roster, and he should benefit if Darnold and Bell simply have better injury luck in 2020. He shouldn't be drafted below guys like N'Keal Harry and Michael Pittman Jr., but here we are.
Preston Williams, Miami Dolphins
Recent COVID-19 opt-outs from Albert Wilson and Allen Hurns could turn Williams into less of a sleeper, but he'll still likely be overlooked based on the fact that he's a Dolphin with just 32 career catches who is coming off a torn ACL.
But the undrafted 23-year-old compiled more than 400 yards in a seven-game stretch before suffering that injury last year, and Barry Jackson and Adam Beasley of the Miami Herald report that the team is "cautiously optimistic" he'll be ready for Week 1. It looks as though he'll again have a chance to flash that chemistry with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Williams is being drafted like a fifth or sixth receiver, but he showed last season that he's got the big-play ability to become a WR3 or maybe even a WR2 in the fantasy world.
Hayden Hurst, Atlanta Falcons
This isn't a deep reach, but Hurst is still outside the top 12 tight ends in terms of Fantasy Pros ADP. He fares better as Davenport's No. 10 tight end, but the fact is, he'll be up for grabs beyond the 10th round in a lot of drafts.
And that'll make the 2018 first-round pick a steal as a potential late bloomer who was overshadowed by Mark Andrews but quietly averaged a strong 8.9 yards per target while catching 76.9 percent of the passes thrown his way last year with the Baltimore Ravens.
He joins another loaded offense, but one that is more pass-oriented, and he's replacing a player (Austin Hooper) who put up strong fantasy numbers as a Pro Bowler in 2018 and 2019. He could become a top-five tight end overnight in Atlanta.
Noah Fant, Denver Broncos
Fant's ADP puts him in Hurst's range, but his potential is even more mouth-watering.
The 2019 first-round pick compiled 377 receiving yards in the second half of the 2019 season, and his ridiculous 18.9 yards-per-reception average during that stretch ranked sixth among qualified players. He and Lock became a dynamic duo, and they should be expected to take off together as sophomores.
Don't be fooled into drafting a worn-down Rob Gronkowski or an unreliable alternative like Tyler Higbee or Evan Engram. Fant is where the value's at in the middle rounds.
Jace Sternberger, Green Bay Packers
The Packers moved on from Jimmy Graham, Marcedes Lewis is like 100 years old and no other tight end on the Green Bay roster caught more than 10 passes in 2019. That indicates they believe in Sternberger, who was a third-round selection in 2019.
It's not ideal that he started camp on the reserve/COVID-19 list, or that he'll be limited because of 2020 camp conditions, but there aren't a lot of other options for Aaron Rodgers in that passing game. The Texas A&M product had a big final year in the SEC in 2018, and he could be in the right place at the right time in that offense.
Don't draft him as a starter, but consider a late-round flier (ADP: 224) and don't be shocked if he becomes a lower-end TE1 by midseason.