Fantasy Football 2020: Ranking Diontae Johnson, Top Breakout Sleeper Candidates

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistAugust 15, 2020

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson (18) celebrates a touchdown in the first half of an NFL football game against the New York Jets, Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Seth Wenig/Associated Press

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson flashed plenty of promise as a rookie last season, catching 59 passes for 680 yards and five touchdowns despite playing with the lackluster quarterback tandem of Devlin Hodges and Mason Rudolph.

Johnson should be in store for a big second-year leap in 2020 for a couple of reasons.

The first is that Ben Roethlisberger is expected to be healthy and back under center this season. The six-time Pro Bowler is a major upgrade over Hodges and Rudolph and one of the NFL's most prolific passers when at 100 percent.

Two years ago, Big Ben racked up 5,129 passing yards with 34 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.

Johnson has also worked hard to physically prepare himself for his second pro season, even though he's had to do it through arguably the most unusual offseason in NFL history.

"I believe you guys will see a significant physical difference in Diontae Johnson,” head coach Mike Tomlin said Thursday, per Allison Koehler of Steelers Wire.

Johnson could be in store for a major statistical jump, similar to the one JuJu Smith-Schuster made with the Steelers a couple of seasons ago—his production increased by more than 500 yards between 2017 and 2018.

With an average draft position (ADP) of just 112—according to FantasyPros—Johnson could be a legitimate steal in fantasy.

But is Johnson the top breakout sleeper candidate for 2020? Here, we'll rank him alongside nine other NFL veterans who have the best sleeper potential for the coming season and dig into the top options at two other key positions.


2020 Fantasy Breakout Candidates, ADP (via FantasyPros)

1. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Carolina Panthers (162)

2. Diontae Johnson, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers (112)

3. Allen Lazard, WR, Green Bay Packers (191)

4. Duke Johnson Jr., RB, Houston Texans (138)

5. Robby Anderson, WR, Carolina Panthers (141)

6. Anthony Miller, WR, Chicago Bears (149)

7. Justin Jackson, RB, Los Angeles Chargers (167)

8. Noah Fant, TE, Denver Broncos (104)

9. N'Keal Harry, WR, New England Patriots (145)

10. Ryan Tannehill, QB, Tennessee Titans (120)


Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Carolina Panthers

Butch Dill/Associated Press

New Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow is coming off perhaps the most prolific season by a quarterback in college football history—one in which he threw for 5,671 yards, 60 touchdowns and just six interceptions.

And while it's worth noting that Burrow was on one of the most talented rosters in the nation, he also benefited hugely from the presence of passing game coordinator Joe Brady.

The year before Brady arrived, Burrow passed for just 2,894 yards with 16 touchdown and five picks. Not to discount Burrow's ability, but Brady was a big piece of the equation, and he's a big reason why Carolina Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater could be in store for a breakout season.

In five starts last season, Bridgewater amassed 1,205 passing yards with nine touchdowns and two interceptions. Prorated over a 16-game season, that would make for a campaign of roughly 3,856 yards with 29 touchdowns and six interceptions. If Brady can further unlock Bridgewater's potential, his numbers could be even better.

With talented weapons in Christian McCaffrey, Robby Anderson and D.J. Moore at his disposal, Bridgewater could easily top 4,000 yards and 30 touchdown passes this season.


Duke Johnson Jr., RB, Houston Texans

Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

The Houston Texans traded away star wideout DeAndre Hopkins early this offseason and got running back David Johnson as part of the return package. While the former Arizona Cardinals star is a capable runner and receiver—he logged more than 2,000 combined yards in 2016—he's been average at best even when healthy the past three seasons.

The Texans are clearly high on Johnson, but there's no guarantee that he'll be an upgrade over the departed Carlos Hyde.

This only adds to the already sneaky strong value of receiving back Duke Johnson Jr.—one of the most prolific pass-catching back in the NFL.

In five pro seasons with the Texans and the Cleveland Browns, Johnson has amassed an impressive 279 receptions and 4,276 scrimmage yards. This means he has averaged roughly 855 scrimmage yards and 56 catches per season, fine numbers for a player likely to be available after the 10th round.

Johnson is also a capable runner, having averaged 4.4 yards per carry for his career. There's a very real chance that he emerges as Houston's go-to option if David Johnson struggles as he has in recent years.