2020 Fantasy Football: Biggest Sleepers at Every Position

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistAugust 26, 2020

2020 Fantasy Football: Biggest Sleepers at Every Position

0 of 6

    YONG KIM/Associated Press

    Some shrug their shoulders and say it's luck, while others attribute hours of research as a means to find fantasy football sleepers on draft day. Either way, you need these players to compete with star-studded rosters. 

    We've all impatiently waited for our turn to select a player, only to see him go to another squad a pick or two before our time on the clock. Don't hit the panic button. Dig deep for the hidden gems.

    Check out the sleeper pick cheat sheet with three selections for each position below. All the players and units have an average draft position (ADP) of the 10th round or later. Some of the top defenses and kickers fall into that range, so we started outside the top five at those spots.


1 of 6

    Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Tyrod Taylor
    Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Tyrod TaylorJae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions (10.03)

    Sound off the Comeback Player of the Year alert for Matthew Stafford. Last year, before back and hip injuries ended his campaign, he was on pace for 4,998 passing yards, 38 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions while playing in his first season under offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. 

    In 2019, wideout Kenny Golladay led the league in touchdown receptions (11). Marvin Jones Jr. and Danny Amendola had 62 catches apiece as the No. 2 and slot receiving options, respectively. Now, the Lions backfield features a pair of dual-threat running backs in Kerryon Johnson and rookie second-rounder D'Andre Swift.

    If tight end T.J. Hockenson finds his way within the offense, Stafford would have a full house of offensive weapons and potentially a top-10 scoring season in fantasy points.


    Cam Newton, New England Patriots (11.01) 

    Cam Newton starts a fresh chapter with the New England Patriots, but he still has the same strengths that made him a fantasy football factor while suiting up for the Carolina Panthers. 

    Newton has rushed for at least 539 yards in six out of nine seasons. He's scored 58 touchdowns on the ground for his career.

    Aside from wideout Julian Edelman, the Patriots don't have an active pass-catcher with a 1,000-yard season. Newton may have to use his legs to move the chains, though he does have running back James White in the short passing game to boost his numbers.

    ESPN's Mike Reiss noted Jarrett Stidham is "fading" out of the quarterback competition. Assuming Newton starts, his dual-threat ability could make up for the lack of playmakers on the perimeter and give fantasy owners top-10 scores in most weeks.


    Tyrod Taylor, Los Angeles Chargers (N/A)

    Welcome Tyrod Taylor back into the fantasy football discussion. He's the probable starter over rookie first-rounder Justin Herbert. 

    As a starting signal-caller with the Buffalo Bills between the 2015 and 2017 campaigns, Taylor didn't rank lower than 16th in points, per FantasyPros. Like Newton, he's a threat on the run, logging at least 427 yards and four scores on the ground in each of his three years leading the huddle.

    Taylor's starting wide receivers, Keenan Allen and Mike Williams (when he recovers from a shoulder injury), both eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards with Philip Rivers under center last season. When you add tight end Hunter Henry and an emerging pass-catching running back in Austin Ekeler to the mix, Taylor has the playmakers to help him to put together his most productive year.

Running Backs

2 of 6

    Houston Texans running back Duke Johnson
    Houston Texans running back Duke JohnsonMichael Wyke/Associated Press

    Duke Johnson, Houston Texans (11.08)

    According to Aaron Reiss of The Athletic, the Houston Texans may use Duke and David Johnson on the field simultaneously for more "21" personnel looks (two running backs and one tight end).

    Per Sharp Football Stats, the Texans used 21 personnel on only 2 percent of their plays in 2019. Johnson played only 48 percent of the offensive snaps, so a shift in philosophy should allow him more touches.

    Despite limited opportunities behind Carlos Hyde, Duke logged 410 yards as a rusher and 410 as a receiver. With more targets potentially headed his way, he's a solid flex option who could easily eclipse 1,000 yards from scrimmage this season.


    Bryce Love, Washington Football Team (11.08) 

    Bryce Love hasn't been in the spotlight since he rushed for 2,118 yards during his junior term at Stanford. He suffered an ACL injury, which required two surgeries and sidelined him for the latter part of his senior campaign on the collegiate level and rookie season with the Washington Football Team. 

    JP Finlay of NBC Sports Washington views Love as the No. 2 running back behind Adrian Peterson, who hasn't been much of a threat in a pass-catching role. He's logged 37 receptions for 350 yards and a touchdown in two seasons with the club.

    Washington selected Antonio Gibson in the third round of April's draft, but he played wide receiver in his two years at Memphis. Naturally a running back, Love seems more equipped to split early-down carries with Peterson and see targets in the passing game on third downs.


    Justin Jackson, Los Angeles Chargers (12.04)

    Justin Jackson will have an opportunity to carve out a decent role following Melvin Gordon III's departure in free agency. According to Chris Hayre of the Los Angeles Chargers' official website, Austin Ekeler doesn't see himself in a workhorse role. 

    "Like I've been splitting 50-50. And so, I'm expecting a little bit more of that this year as well with the other guys," Ekeler said.

    Gilbert Manzano of the Orange County Register thinks Jackson has a lead on rookie fourth-rounder Joshua Kelley for the primary backup position, though the latter has tightened the gap in recent practices.

    While the Chargers may use a three-man committee, Jackson has the upper hand to solidify himself as the No. 2 back and keep that role throughout the season.

Wide Receivers

3 of 6

    Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr.
    Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr.Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings (11.03)

    At LSU, Justin Jefferson played in a pro-style offense. He's already turned heads at training camp while lining up in all three wide receiver positions, per Andrew Krammer of the Star Tribune.

    After trading Stefon Diggs, the Minnesota Vikings have enough targets to go around among the pass-catchers behind wideout Adam Thielen. Jefferson's ability to pick up the offense and immediately showcase himself as a playmaker should grab your attention. 

    Whether Jefferson starts the season on the perimeter or in the slot, the rookie first-rounder should make an early impact with a fair amount of opportunities in the passing attack.

    Last year, he racked up 111 receptions for 1,540 yards and 18 touchdowns in LSU's prolific offense, which may have been the beginning of his development into a dominant receiver. 


    DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia Eagles (11.09) 

    We only saw quarterback Carson Wentz and wide receiver DeSean Jackson together on the field for one full game last year. They connected on eight out of nine passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns. That's enough to leave fantasy managers in optimistic suspense for the 2020 campaign.

    The Philadelphia Eagles have multiple question marks at wide receiver.

    The club placed Alshon Jeffery on the physically unable to perform list as he recovers from Lisfranc surgery. The 30-year-old doesn't have a timetable for a return. Rookie first-rounder Jalen Reagor is unproven. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside will attempt to make strides after logging just 10 receptions for 169 yards and a touchdown in 2019.

    According to ESPN's Tim McManus, Jackson has maintained his speed following core-muscle surgery. He'll likely open the season in the lead role at wide receiver. If so, expect more big games from him with Wentz under center.


    Michael Pittman Jr., Indianapolis Colts (13.12) 

    Rookies come into the league with a lot of upside and little certainty—that's especially true in an atypical offseason without OTAs on the field or a preseason.

    However, first-year wideout Michael Pittman Jr. seems locked into the "X" receiver role in the starting lineup. The Indianapolis Colts need someone to complement wideout T.Y. Hilton. With Parris Campbell's collegiate experience mostly in the slot at Ohio State, the USC product can slide into three-wide receiver sets on the perimeter.

    Fortunately for Pittman, who's 6'4", 223 pounds, quarterback Philip Rivers has experience throwing to a big-bodied receiver. He played three seasons with Mike Williams (6'4", 218 lbs), who scored 10 touchdowns in 2018 and led the league in yards per catch last year (20.4). 

    Rivers can target Pittman on 50-50 balls and in the red zone.

Tight Ends

4 of 6

    Cleveland Browns tight end Austin Hooper
    Cleveland Browns tight end Austin HooperRon Schwane/Associated Press

    Austin Hooper, Cleveland Browns (12.05)

    Austin Hooper falls into the late rounds because he's going to share targets with Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, David Njoku and possibly Kareem Hunt, who's been in on wide receiver meetings since June.

    However, the Cleveland Browns signed Hooper to a four-year, $42 million deal. Based on average annual earnings, he's the fourth-highest-paid tight end, per Spotrac. The club will likely try to optimize its return on that investment. 

    Secondly, Hooper comes off consecutive 71-plus-catch Pro Bowl seasons. He may not lead the Browns in major receiving categories, but the fifth-year veteran should have a sizable role in the passing attack.


    Jonnu Smith, Tennessee Titans (13.07)

    While Delanie Walker struggled with ankle injuries over the last two seasons, Jonnu Smith flashed in stretches. He's improved his receiving numbers every year and recorded 35 catches for 439 yards and three touchdowns in 2019. 

    During the offseason, Smith worked with quarterback Ryan Tannehill and thinks their time will translate to a "great advantage" on the field, per Erik Bacharach of The Tennessean.

    Because wideout Corey Davis hasn't been able to break out in his three years with the Titans, Smith could become a secondary option to A.J. Brown in the passing attack.

    Remember, offensive coordinator Arthur Smith coached tight ends for six seasons (2013-18). If anyone knows how to involve that position in the aerial attack, he sure does.


    Chris Herndon, New York Jets (13.12)

    The New York Jets wide receiver corps isn't impressive on paper. 

    Jamison Crowder is the most established player at the position, and he's primarily a slot receiver without a 900-yard season on his resume. Rookie second-rounder Denzel Mims has missed almost two weeks of action because of a hamstring injury. Chris Hogan served in a backup role for most of his career. 

    Quarterback Sam Darnold may turn to Chris Herndon for big plays in the passing game. According to Charles McDonald of the New York Daily News, head coach Adam Gase has lofty expectations for the third-year tight end. Crowder compared the Miami product to one of his former teammates in Washington.

    "Wide receiver Jamison Crowder later gave unprompted praise to Herndon and called him the 'X-factor' of the Jets offense and compared him to former Washington Football Team star Jordan Reed," McDonald wrote.

    Herndon hauled in 39 passes for 502 yards and four touchdowns during his rookie campaign. If he's a similar pass-catcher to Reed, the 24-year-old has a high ceiling with a quarterback who's not afraid to push the ball downfield.

Defenses/Special Teams

5 of 6

    Denver Broncos edge-rushers Bradley Chubb (left) and Von Miller (right)
    Denver Broncos edge-rushers Bradley Chubb (left) and Von Miller (right)Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

    Los Angeles Chargers (12.11)

    In 2019, the Los Angeles Chargers defense finished 27th in fantasy points, per FantasyPros. The unit forced the fewest turnovers and ranked 28th in sacks (30).

    This year, the Chargers will have a healthy Derwin James, who missed 11 contests during the previous term with a stress fracture in his foot. He spoke highly of Nasir Adderley, who landed on injured reserve with a hamstring issue midway through last season. Together, they could become one of the better safety tandems in the league. 

    At Delaware, Adderley developed into a ball hawk, snagging 11 interceptions. James had an All-Pro rookie campaign.

    The front office signed defensive tackle Linval Joseph to shore up the front line and cornerback Chris Harris Jr. to tighten up the secondary. Rookie first-round linebacker Kenneth Murray is an intriguing X-factor who recorded 9.5 sacks at Oklahoma. 

    The Chargers defense ranked sixth in yards allowed last year. With their safeties healthy and three notable additions on each level of the unit, we'll see a stingier group in 2020.


    Tampa Bay Buccaneers (13.09)

    On the surface, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2019 numbers don't generate much optimism for the upcoming term. The unit gave up the fourth-most points and ranked 15th in yards allowed. 

    Yet, per FantasyProsthe Buccaneers ranked 10th in scoring. Tampa Bay were fifth in takeaways (28) and tied for seventh in sacks (47). On the edge, Shaquil Barrett led the league in the latter category (19.5).

    The Buccaneers kept their defensive line intact—a stout unit that's mostly responsible for giving up the fewest rushing yards last season.

    At cornerback, this club could see significant growth. In 2019, Carlton Davis and Jamel Dean ranked second and tied for fourth in pass breakups, respectively. Both will turn just 24 years old during the 2020 term.

    The Buccaneers have great potential on the back end to match their strong front seven. If the secondary makes some strides, this unit could move up a few spots within the top 10 among fantasy defenses.


    Denver Broncos (15.03)

    In 2019, under head coach Vic Fangio, who has a track record for fielding top-notch defenses, the Denver Broncos unit ranked top 10 in points allowed. 

    After two subpar-to-mediocre seasons under former head coach Vance Joseph, the Broncos defense took a big step forward during the previous term without its second-best pass-rusher in Bradley Chubb for most of the campaign. He tore his ACL in Week 4.

    The Broncos acquired defensive end Jurrell Casey from the Tennessee Titans. He's recorded at least five sacks in each of the last seven seasons. With him on the interior in front of Chubb and Von Miller on the edge, Denver should finish top 10 in sacks.

    The Broncos also replaced Chris Harris Jr. in the secondary, acquiring A.J. Bouye from the Jacksonville Jaguars. The front office franchise-tagged safety Justin Simmons, an ascending talent with 11 interceptions in four terms. 

    Fangio, who's one of the best defensive-minded coaches in the league, has a stacked group of pass-rushers with a solid secondary. This unit should take off in 2020.


6 of 6

    Pittsburgh Steelers kicker Chris Boswell
    Pittsburgh Steelers kicker Chris BoswellKeith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Zane Gonzalez, Arizona Cardinals (15.03)

    Following a rough stretch with the Cleveland Browns at the beginning of his career, Zane Gonzalez hit his stride after the Arizona Cardinals signed him to the practice squad in November 2018. He eventually replaced Phil Dawson and never looked back. 

    In 2019, Gonzalez converted 88.6 percent of his field-goal attempts, which ranked eighth leaguewide. He should have more opportunities to split the uprights with wideout DeAndre Hopkins involved in the passing game and running back Kenyan Drake in the backfield for a full season. 

    If quarterback Kyler Murray makes a sophomore leap, Gonzalez can tack on more extra points. He tied for 16th in attempts (35) last year.


    Chris Boswell, Pittsburgh Steelers (15.05) 

    Despite playing in one of the most inept offenses, Chris Boswell ranked 12th in fantasy scoring among kickers in 2019, per FantasyPros

    Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger suffered a season-ending elbow injury in Week 2, leaving Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges at the helm for the remainder of the term. 

    Pittsburgh struggled to cross the goal line for six points. Yet Boswell pulled through in the kicking game, converting 93.5 percent of his field-goal attempts, which ranked third across the league. He bounced back from a 65 percent rate in 2018. 

    Even if the Steelers offense isn't explosive with Roethlisberger coming off a serious injury, Boswell has proved himself as a reliable kicker, converting at an 84 percent rate in four out of five campaigns.


    Matt Gay/Elliott Fry, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (N/A)

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a kicking battle between 2019 fifth-rounder Matt Gay and Elliott Fry, whom they claimed off waivers in May. Head coach Bruce Arians said this is an "ongoing competition," per Eduardo A. Encina of the Tampa Bay Times. 

    Whoever claims the starting job should land on your roster late in the draft. In 2019, the Buccaneers fielded the No. 3 scoring offense with quarterback Jameis Winston under center. He threw 30 interceptions. Now that Tom Brady commands the huddle, expect fewer turnovers on offense, which means more opportunities to score points. 

    As a rookie, Gay converted 77.1 percent of his field-goal tries, and he tied for the second-most 50-plus-yard attempts (eight), though as the Bucs sustain more drives, their kicker(s) may have fewer long-range attempts.

    With Brady having Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, Rob Gronkowski, O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate downfield in the passing game, Gay or Fry could have a high number of field-goal attempts inside the 40-yard line and rank top five across the league in extra points.

    Average draft position (ADP) provided by Fantasy Football Calculator