News & Analysis

Fantasy football rookie sleepers to watch for in the 2020 NFL Draft

This year’s NFL Draft is going to be one for the ages given the unique circumstances in the world. Despite all of the audibles in format, the draft will have a massive impact on the fantasy football landscape, like it always does. A lot of the fantasy difference makers will come off the board on the first two days of the draft, but it’s worth keeping an eye on some of the deeper names in this year’s class as well. So let’s break down some of my favorite deep fantasy football sleepers among the 2020 rookies. 

Before we dive into this list, don’t forget that you can always check out our fully updated 2020 fantasy football rankings and our 2020 fantasy football projections, both of which we’ll be updating as the players come off the board during the draft. We also have the brand new Rookie Fantasy Scouting Report and our NFL Draft Guide to get you up to speed on all of this year’s prospects. And if you’re really into the draft, it’s worth checking out our NFL Mock Draft Simulator where you can run your own NFL mock drafts and see how the results compare to our 2020 NFL Draft Big Board.

Javon Leake, RB Maryland

While he hasn’t drawn as much attention as college teammate Anthony McFarland Jr., Leake is a sneaky name to know among the deeper running backs. Lightly used at the college level, Leake saw just 145 carries over the last three years. However, it should be noted that in addition to McFarland, the Terps also boasted current Lions RB Ty Johnson. So don’t read too much into Leake’s lack of volume. When he did touch the ball, Leake was electric, averaging 7.9 yards per carry and scoring on a massive 11.6% of his carries.

Anthony Gordon, QB Washington State

Not only did Gordon follow in Gardner Minshew’s footsteps at Washington State, but he’s also the most likely candidate to do so as a late-round selection who could surprise at the quarterback position. Any evaluation of Gordon’s stats has to factor in Mike Leach’s system, but there’s a lot more to the story than just the numbers. Like Minshew, Gordon isn’t the most physically imposing player, but he’s also aggressive with his throws. Don’t get me wrong, there are certainly flaws to his game, but we could have said the same thing about Minshew last year.

James Robinson, RB Illinois State

Seemingly every year there are a number of small school players like Robinson who surface as fantasy sleepers. These types of players present a challenge from an evaluation standpoint because we really can’t judge them by the numbers they put up. However, what we can say is that Robinson showed he can carry a full load, racking up 382 touches last season. He also stood out at the East-West Shrine Bowl with 80 rushing yards on seven carries to go along with two catches for 56 yards. Robinson also showed explosive potential at the Combine with a 40-inch vertical jump.

Omar Bayless, WR Arkansas State

One-year wonders often don’t translate well to the NFL, but it’s tough to ignore the numbers Bayless was able to put up last season. Bayless ranked second in the nation in receiving yards (1,654) and also scored 17 touchdowns. From a rate stat standpoint, his numbers comp very similarly to Preston Williams. Of course, it isn’t all roses with Bayless, as he did struggle against good competition, especially in Arkansas State’s lost to Georgie. Bayless also posted a lackluster 4.62 40-time at the Combine.

Cole McDonald, QB Hawaii

Playing in the run-and-shoot offense certainly helped McDonald put up over 8,000 passing yards and 69 scores over the last two seasons, but it wasn’t just the system that produced these stats. McDonald flashed a big arm and solid accuracy (63.8% completion rate in 2019) at the college level. Better yet, he also has decent mobility as a runner with 194 rushing attempts for 1,066 yards and 11 scores in 2018 and 2019 combined. McDonald doesn’t figure to be anything more than a Day 3 pick, but, like Gordon, he’s a late-round guy with enough upside to potentially surface on the fantasy radar.

John Hightower, WR Boise State

He isn’t necessarily a physical specimen, but Hightower can get downfield in a hurry. His 17.7 average depth of target was one of the deepest in this year’s class, which certainly gives him appeal as a big-play threat. We saw plenty of that at Boise State last year, as Hightower averaged a massive 18.3 yards per catch and posted eight scores on just 51 catches. While his speed and big-play ability are appealing, Hightower’s limited resume will likely cause him to fly under the radar in fantasy circles.

C.J. O’Grady, TE Arkansas

Off-field issues have clouded O’Grady’s evaluation, as he was suspended three times during his college career and was ultimately dismissed from the team in 2019. However, he was impressive on the field. Despite missing time and not playing a full slate of games, O’Grady still managed to score more touchdowns in his career than fellow Razorback Hunter Henry. We obviously need to factor in the off-field stuff, but O’Grady has as much to offer as the top four tight ends in this year’s class. He’ll come at a nice discount in dynasty rookie drafts.

Isaiah Coulter, WR Rhode Island

Initially, I was more interested in Coulter’s teammate and cousin, Aaron Parker. But things have flip-flopped following Coulter’s much more impressive showing at the Combine. Of course, testing numbers and on-field play are two different things. Coulter is coming off an impressive season at Rhode Island. While most of the year was against FCS-level competition, he did pop against Virginia Tech with nine catches for 152 yards in mid-October. The challenge with Coulter is whether or not he’ll be able to handle the physicality of NFL coverage. 

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