2020 Fantasy Football All-Sleeper Team: Top breakouts, undervalued players in rankings
This would take too much time, but you have to wonder how many members of our fantasy All-Sleeper Team have at one point, either to the media or on social media, said something to the effect of “Don’t sleep on me,” or “I’ve been slept on.” Phrases like those have become popular as athletes try to find self-motivation by embracing an underdog mentality. Maybe we should tell them they’re being underdrafted based on Average Draft Position (ADP) and let them know we think they’ll be draft-day steals. It can’t hurt to give our fantasy breakout picks one more piece of bulletin-board material, right?
Regardless of whether Daniel Jones, Cam Akers, Allen Lazard, and the rest of these players care, they’ve made our 2020 All-Sleeper Team. Maybe we should give them T-shirts. Now all that’s left is for them to deliver on our belief in them.
DOMINATE YOUR DRAFT: Ultimate 2020 cheat sheet
The players below, for whatever the reason, are being drafted later than we think they should be. They’re all draftable players with the potential to start for fantasy teams, yet they’re far from being treated as such. You’ll find that we embraced the “every-rookie-RB-is-a-sleeper” strategy, as well as going for a few second-year receivers ready to break out. We even have honorable mention spots so you have more names to consider in the late rounds.
The best victory a fantasy owner can feel (besides winning his or her league) is to nail a correct sleeper pick, so without further ado, we present the 2020 Sporting News All-Sleeper Team.
2020 STANDARD FANTASY RANKINGS:
Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | D/ST | Kicker | Superflex | Top 200
Fantasy Sleepers: Quarterback
Daniel Jones, Giants
My first request: Let’s come up with a better nickname than “Danny Dimes.” Besides that sounding kind of silly, it’s not even that accurate a description of Jones’ game. Now that we’ve got that out of the way: Jones has a chance to make a huge leap in his second NFL season.
A year ago, despite some turnover issues, Jones ranked tied for 16th in fantasy points per game among QBs. The player he was tied with? Some guy named Tom Brady. Jones is being drafted 16th among QBs based on this year’s ADP data, but fantasy owners should be expecting improvement, not a player stuck in neutral.
When Jones returned from a multi-week absence to play Weeks 16 and 17 last year, he already looked like an improved quarterback. He threw for 352 yards and five touchdowns in Week 16, then followed it up with 301 yards and another score in the season’s final week. Add in the rushing ability that always makes a quarterback more appealing in fantasy (Jones averaged 6.2 yards per rushing attempt last year), and you have a player ready to break out.
Jones should also feel comfortable now with a pretty solid group of weapons in Saquon Barkley, Evan Engram, Darius Slayton, Golden Tate, and Sterling Shepard. To acquire Jones, you just have to take him as your backup QB. All it’ll take is a few less interceptions and a few more weeks like his end-of-season 2019 to make a Josh Allen-like leap into an every-week fantasy starter.
Honorable mention: Drew Lock, Broncos; Gardner Minshew, Jaguars; Tyrod Taylor, Chargers
2020 FANTASY SLEEPERS:
6 QBs | 16 RBs | 14 WRs | 10 TEs | 5 D/STs | One from each team
Fantasy Sleepers: Running back
Cam Akers, Rams
The departure of Todd Gurley from Los Angeles leaves behind 223 carries and 49 targets from a year ago. There’s always the chance Darrell Henderson wins the battle for those touches, but there’s plenty to believe in with Akers, a rookie from Florida State.
A huge freshman season for Akers at FSU was followed up by a disappointing sophomore year. He bounced back as a junior, averaging 5.0 yards per carry and rushing for over 1,000 yards and 14 touchdowns. He also improved all of his receiving numbers each year in college.
Some rookie running backs capture extreme helium on draft day — we saw that with David Montgomery last year. While Akers is the second rookie back coming off boards according to ADP, it’s not until the sixth round because of fears of a comittee in LA. By that point, you can grab him as a flex player with some serious upside.
2020 PPR RANKINGS:
Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | Superflex | Top 200
Antonio Gibson, Washington
If you prefer to take your rookie running backs much later in the draft, Gibson is going off the board more than 100 picks after Akers. And whenever we talk about Gibson this season, it’s likely we’re using the term “running back” loosely.
At Memphis, Gibson was a wide receiver. The 6-foot sparkplug caught 38 passes for 735 yards (19.3 ypc) and eight touchdowns during his senior year. He also rushed 33 times for 369 yards, an absurd 11.2 yards per carry. The Tigers moved him around and used him as a talented, athletic football player.
While the Washington Football Team has referred to Gibson as a RB since drafting him, it’s also given him reps during training camp at wide receiver. He’s likely to be the player who lines up in different spots from one play to the next all year long. That provides him ample upside because if the Washington offense gets clicking and he plays well, he’ll barely come off the field. Of course, if he’s moved around too much to ever get comfortable, he could become obsolete as a rookie.
There’s no risk in taking Gibson in the late portions of your draft. In PPR leagues, he could prove extremely useful in the RB spot. Even in standard leagues, if the explosive Gibson can find 10 touches a week, he can play in your flex spot, especially if some of those passes are downfield. Washington could also choose to really unleash its younger players in the second half of the season if its veteran backs don’t lead to much winning early on.
Honorable mention: JK Dobbins, Ravens; Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Buccaneers; Duke Johnson, Texans; Boston Scott, Eagles
FANTASY DRAFT STRATEGIES:
Snake draft | Auction | Best ball | IDP
Fantasy Sleepers: Wide receiver
Allen Lazard, Packers
No one was quite sure whether to believe in Lazard for most of last season. He came out of nowhere in Week 6 with a clutch touchdown catch for the Packers, then proceeded to average 4.7 targets per game the rest of the way. His Weeks 16 and 17 were especially promising with 17 combined targets. He looked the part, at 6-5 with good hands, but had gone undrafted the year before and was essentially unknown when he first burst onto the scene.
Based on drafts so far, people still aren’t sure what to think of Lazard. Geronimo Allison left Green Bay, and new signee Devin Funchess opted out, leaving Lazard and Marquez Valdes-Scantling competing for snaps opposite Davante Adams. MVS seems like no more than a situational deep threat at this point, leaving Lazard the favorite to be Aaron Rodgers’ No. 2 receiver (and there’s really no great tight end in Green Bay, so No. 2 really means No. 2 in this case).
Adams soaks up a lot of targets, but Rodgers is still a future Hall-of-Famer who will be called on to pass plenty. There’s no reason to think Lazard won’t average something like the eight or nine targets he saw in last season’s final two weeks. Even at an inefficient rate, he could catch five passes for 60 yards with those looks. Because he’s a bigger, slower wideout, Lazard might not possess massive week-to-week upside that some big-play threats do, but he’ll make a mark in the red zone, and as long as he has Rodgers’ trust, he’ll be at least a flex option most weeks.
Darius Slayton, Giants
While everyone was busy dissecting Daniel Jones’ performance last season, it was a rookie pass-catcher who might have formed the strongest connection with him. Slayton was just a fifth-round pick out of Auburn, but early injuries across New York’s offense put him in a leading role sooner than expected.
Because Slayton had to push his way into a prominent role in the offense, we can look at his stats from Week 9 onward to see what his median outcome this season might be. Slayton averaged 7.1 targets for an average of four catches and 59 yards per game. Across those final eight games, he caught five of his eight touchdowns.
Slayton, like Lazard, had an underwhelming draft pedigree and didn’t explode to the extent that would capture everyone’s attention. So, yet again, he’s flying under the radar despite possessing potential to be Jones’ favorite target in 2020. We’re betting on Jones to take a leap forward this season, so someone around him surely will take that leap, too, and we’re believing in Slayton to do just that.
Preston Williams, Dolphins
We were all over Williams a year ago, but injuries kept him from fully breaking out. He was a rookie who some believed had first-round talent coming out of Colorado State, but he went undrafted due to character concerns. At 6-5 and with good speed, he showed flashes of a player that could dominate games when he reaches his potential.
Williams played a handy number of games last season, suiting up for half the season before tearing an ACL. It’s not usually as simple as just doubling numbers, but with Albert Wilson and Allen Hurns opting out, the opportunity is there for Williams to double up on the stats he put up a year ago, so let’s try it. Williams’ 2019 season extrapolated for 16 games would feature 120 targets, 64 catches, 856 yards and six touchdowns. In a non-PPR format, that would’ve ranked as the 34th-best WR last season, and there’s reason to believe his catch percentage will be higher with an offseason under his belt and some potential work with Tua Tagovailoa in the season’s second half.
According to ADP, Williams is going among names like Golden Tate and Alshon Jeffery in fantasy drafts. By the time you’re picking your fourth or fifth wideout, why not bet on upside? Williams has that in droves.
Honorable mention: Anthony Miller, Bears; Justin Jefferson, Vikings; Breshad Perriman, Jets
Fantasy Sleepers: Tight end
Jonnu Smith, Titans
Smith was a frequent favorite last season in our weekly look at snap counts. By midseason, he had made the presence of Delanie Walker (and Anthony Firkser and MyCole Pruitt) irrelevant — Smith was the obvious top TE in Tennessee. He also averaged 12.5 yards per catch while also catching 79 percent of his targets. The problem in the Titans’ offense, as has been the case for years with Corey Davis, is there just doesn’t seem to be enough targets.
So, why believe in Smith now? Tennessee has committed a lot to Ryan Tannehill, which means it won’t be shy about passing. If anything, Derrick Henry’s workload needs a slight reduction to keep him in top form. And as Walker had shown in the past, Tennessee tight ends can have success as a complement to a strong running game. Being a back-end fantasy starter at tight end wouldn’t really take much improvement on Smith’s numbers from a year ago, and you don’t have to draft Smith as a starter. Many folks only draft one TE, meaning Smith could even start your season on the waiver wire.
Some tight ends had their best seasons ever a year ago: Austin Hooper, Tyler Higbee, and Mike Gesicki come to mind. Why can’t that be Smith in 2020?
Honorable mention: Jack Doyle, Colts; Blake Jarwin, Cowboys
Fantasy Sleepers: Defense
The first thing we look at for sleeper defenses is schedule, specifically early-season schedule. After a couple weeks, it’s normally easy to stream defenses if you keep one eye on the week ahead. In Weeks 1 and 2, the Titans face the Broncos and Jaguars, which both feature turnover-prone second-year quarterbacks. While turnovers can be fluky, back-to-back matchups with Drew Lock and Gardner Minshew are a couple of the safer bets that your D/ST will get at least one takeaway.
Beyond schedule, the best you can do with a defense is betting on top-end talent winning out. Kevin Byard is an all-world safety and Adoree’ Jackson and Malcolm Butler make a strong CB pairing, with Kenny Vaccaro polishing off a strong secondary. On the defensive line, Jeffery Simmons could be one of the most improved players in his second year after already looking effective as a rookie following a quick recovery from a serious knee injury.
It can’t hurt to have a defensive-minded head coach like Mike Vrabel working getting another year under his belt with many of the same players he was in charge of year ago. Our main D/ST strategy doesn’t feature us latching onto one unit for the whole season, but Tennessee should at least get you off to a good start.
Honorable mention: Los Angeles Chargers; Seattle Seahawks; Jacksonville Jaguars; Cleveland Browns
Fantasy Sleepers: Kicker
Michael Badgley, Chargers
Badgley was ranked as a top-end kicker last preseason before suffering a groin injury that kept him on the shelf for the first eight games. By the time he came back, it seemed like no one wanted to rank him in their top-10 even though nothing had changed in Badgley’s ability. He’s going undrafted in standard leagues this season, which is silly.
Badgley plays for a warm-weather team with a talented offense, both of which are green checkmarks next to a kicker’s name. He’s yet to miss inside 40 yards in his NFL career, so he’s not costing you easy points. And he has a 59-yard make under his belt, too, which shows he has a big leg. If anything, he’ll take a step up now that he’s back to full health in 2020, and since you’re waiting until the last round to grab a kicker, Badgley is a perfect pick.
Honorable mention: Younghoe Koo, Falcons; Joey Slye, Panthers
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