Week 1 is just about here, meaning everything we thought we found out over the past seven months will inevitably be turned on its metaphorical head. Week 1 of 2019 saw the likes of Sammy Watkins (9-198-3) and DeSean Jackson (8-154-2) absolutely ball out before largely not achieving anything resembling high-end fantasy production for the rest of the regular season.
Today we’ll attempt to get a mini head start on spotting potential sleepers that can be had with late-round picks or waiver wire signings. The following players each have an average draft position (ADP) outside of the top-150, but there’s reason to believe they could put together some big weeks if various factors break their way.
Without further ado: my top-10 2020 sleepers with an ADP outside of the top-150.
New York Jets TE Chris Herndon
Herndon joins Mark Andrews, Rob Gronkowski, Hunter Henry, Heath Miller, Aaron Hernandez, Noah Fant, Jordan Reed, Zach Ertz and George Kittle as the only rookie TEs to average at least 8.0 yards per target since 2000. Ryan Griffin was fine in relief of Herndon in 2019, but it's not like the Jets' talented third-year TE lost his job. Herndon was simply suspended and then injured before even having a chance to show what he could do. Last season's goose egg has left a sour taste in the mouths of Herndon's ex-fantasy investors, leading to his currently depressed ADP.
I get it, targeting anyone involved in an Adam Gase offense not led by Peyton Manning has typically been bad for fantasy football business over the years. Still, the seemingly always cranky ball coach couldn’t help but shower Herndon with praise during training camp:
“He’s our starting tight end. Chris gives us a lot of flexibility. It’s rare to have a guy with the ability to be as effective as a pass catcher and a guy that’s explosive when he gets the ball in his hands, and still be an on-the-line tight end that can block in the run game and also pass protect. Chris does give you something that you just don’t see a lot with all tight ends across the league where you can say, ‘I can leave him in protection and feel comfortable.’ If we’re running a play to his side, I’m not worried about anything because he does a really good job of using the technique he’s coached, knowing what to do and he’s physical. Chris is a guy that has rare traits in that aspect.”
Drafting for value in the late rounds to beat an ADP by a round or two is pointless; take the guy with a real chance to post top-five production at the position if he’s available. There’s a low floor for Herndon in 2020 — and he’s currently being priced at it. Don’t be afraid to scoop up one of the game’s talented young TEs who just so happens to be inside of one of the league’s most-barren passing attacks.
Tennessee Titans TE Jonnu Smith
Smith finished 2019 ranked among the league's top eight TEs in yards per target (No. 2), yards per route run (No. 8) and yards after the catch per reception (No. 2). The hurdles to a true breakout season are 1) Anthony Firkser steals snaps and targets alike, and 2) Smith is this run-first offense's No. 3 (at best) pass-game option. Smith has caught at least five passes in just four of 50 career games.
Luckily, he's being priced as a low-end TE2 at the moment. The talent here is truly outrageous.
Jonnu Smith sznpic.twitter.com/dlIWI5vHe8
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) August 2, 2020
The Titans boast three of the league’s more-beastly talents in Derrick Henry, AJB and Smith. Their YAC numbers have been called unsustainable by some, but it’s clear at this point that each of these big-bodied speedsters is a handful for any defender to get to the ground. Overall, only George Kittle has averaged more yards after the catch per reception than Smith at the position since 2010.
Waiting on the TE position during fantasy drafts is easy when there are true high-end talents like Herndon and Smith available on the cheap.
Jacksonville Jaguars QB Gardner Minshew
Minshew largely functioned as an average to above-average passer in everything other than raw completion percentage as a rookie:
- Completion rate: 60.6% (No. 29 among 32 qualified QBs)
- TD rate: 4.5% (No. 16)
- INT rate: 1.3% (No. 8)
- QB rating: 91.2 (No. 16)
- Yards per attempt: 7 (No. 18)
- Adjusted yards per attempt: 7.3 (No. 13)
- Adjusted net yards per attempt: 6.44 (No. 14)
- QB rating kept clean: 96.7 (No. 25)
- QB rating under pressure: 77.7 (No. 10)
- QB rating throwing deep: 129 (No. 1)
That's right: Minshew was the only QB rated higher than Patrick Mahomes when throwing 20-plus yards downfield on a per-attempt basis. He also flashed similar improvisation skills on a number of occasions in 2019.
Minshew has the type of YOLO-ball attitude to draw comparisons to Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has been godsend for fantasy investors in recent seasons. The main difference is Minshew actually provides an elite rushing floor: Only Lamar Jackson (1,206 rush yards), Kyler Murray (544), Josh Allen (510) and Deshaun Watson (413) had more yards on the ground than Minshew (344) last season. This isn't to say that Minshew is the same-caliber threat on the ground as those other QBs; he literally picked up all of his rush yards on scrambles. Still, it's clear he's far from a statue under center.
There’s no reason for Minshew to be anyone’s starting QB in a single-QB re-draft format, but he’s a prime late-round option to utilize as a backup or QB2 in all other league sizes. Minshew is easy to root for and might just be a pretty damn good fantasy option as well — just listen to the man himself.
Gardner Minshew wants to be your first-round pick in fantasy drafts ????pic.twitter.com/2CSODxR7Fj
— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) August 25, 2020
Indianapolis Colts WR Parris Campbell
Campbell possesses an electric blend of size (6-foot and 205-pounds) and speed (4.31-second 40-yard dash) that helped produce many explosive plays during his days at Ohio State. The Colts’ 2019 second-round pick unfortunately played fewer than 200 offensive snaps last season due to injuries, but head coach Frank Reich was certainly high on the prospect entering the year, noting, “He's making legit, NFL, I'm gonna be a stud receiver type plays.”
The Colts drafted Michael Pittman in the first round, and T.Y. Hilton will remain the offense’s No. 1 pass-game option whenever he’s healthy enough to suit up. However, Campbell possesses the sort of explosive YAC-ability to warrant a handful of designed touches per game, something that could be scary for defenses to deal with behind the Colts’ league-best offensive line.
There’s a high early-season ceiling for Campbell considering 1) Hilton (hamstring) is already banged up, and 2) The Colts have smashable early-season matchups against the Jaguars, Vikings, Jets, Bears, Browns and Bengals in Weeks 1-6. Campbell deserves to be prioritized as a late-round WR option as a true high-end playmaker inside of a relatively shallow passing game.
Carolina Panthers WR Curtis Samuel
The Buccaneers, Bills and Panthers stood out as the three weakest offenses last year in terms of consistent uncatchable targets both overall and down the field. Things were especially bleak for Samuel, who had to deal with issues under center pretty much all season. He wasn’t miscast as a field-stretching WR in 2019 as much as Kyle Allen was mistaken for a starting NFL QB.
Regardless, the decision to bring in Robby Anderson as well as Teddy Bridgewater could result in a new role of sorts for Samuel. The former Ohio State RB/WR has always been a dangerous threat with the ball in his hands, meaning a low-aDOT slot role featuring some carries could be a fun time.
PFF projects Cordarrelle Patterson (23.5 rush attempts), Deebo Samuel (20.6), Curtis (18.5), Robert Woods (15.9), Christian Kirk (12.8), Laviska Shenault (11.1), Sterling Shepard (11.1) and Tyreek Hill (10.3) as the only WRs with double-digit carries in 2020.
This offense will ultimately flow through Christian McCaffrey and D.J. Moore, but that doesn’t mean new play-callers Joe Brady and Matt Rhule can’t get Samuel five-plus designed touches per game. This year's fantasy investors still feel burned from last season’s relatively disappointing performance, but Samuel is plenty worthy of consideration in the later rounds of 2020 drafts thanks to his proven talent with the ball in his hands and potential for 100-plus touches.
Houston Texans WR Randall Cobb
Cobb put together his best season in half a decade with Dak Prescott and company, averaging a robust 10 yards per target on his way to posting a 55-828-3 receiving line. The performance was enough to earn $18 million guaranteed from the Texans. He provides a reliable underneath threat that has been missing from this offense for most of Watson's career. While Cobb was one of just four WRs to drop at least nine passes last season, he's undoubtedly an upgrade over Keke Coutee.
Many have shied away from drafting the likes of Will Fuller and Brandin Cooks due to their respective injury histories. Well, doing so should lead you to Cobb considering the opportunity that Coutee has received over the past two seasons. Overall, Coutee has received 91 targets in 16 games since 2018 (including playoffs), a total that would be Cobb’s highest single-season mark since 2017.
Cobb is a discount Jamison Crowder; you won’t feel good after drafting him and your friends might laugh at you, but you’ll likely get the last chuckle when they smash their respective ADP thanks to a plethora of uninspiring low-aDOT targets.
Washington Football Team WR Steven Sims
Sims ended the season on a 5-45-1, 6-64-2 and 5-81-1 tear as the only Washington WR not named Terry McLaurin to flash in 2019. He appears to be the favorite to earn the starting slot role and could feasibly finish as the team’s No. 2 pass-catcher. He certainly showed enough explosive and big-play ability to warrant the opportunity.
Give the ball to Steven Sims and good things happen pic.twitter.com/YE5drjHpis
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) July 14, 2020
The pecking order in Washington behind McLaurin is incredibly murky; don’t be surprised if Sims manages to see plenty of volume early in the season while the offense’s new pieces are slowly integrated. For now, he’s expected to start the season in the slot and function as the passing game’s No. 2 option. There are far worse dart throws at the WR position than “the Football Team’s” speedy second receiver.
Tennessee Titans RB Darrynton Evans
Recent discussion on Fantasy Twitter surrounding the idea that drafting your RB’s handcuff limits your team’s upside makes sense; there’s no way both Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison will each have an amazing 2020 season, so Cook investors are better off targeting other handcuffs to raise their best-case scenario ceiling. Still, there are seemingly only four locked-in handcuffs across the entire league:
The potential wild card in this equation is Evans, who NBC Sports’ Peter King noted, “Has a chance to be a poor man’s Alvin Kamara.”
Even if Evans slides right in as 2020 Dion Lewis, the idea that Derrick Henry is a game-script dependent back is a bit exaggerated. He had at least 16 touches in every single contest last season despite at times losing snaps to Lewis in negative game script situations. Ultimately, Henry played at least 60% of the offense's snaps in 13 of 18 games.
The good news is that the Titans consistently treated Lewis as a true three-down backup to Henry, meaning an injury could lead to a workhorse role in 2020. There might be more talented No. 2 RBs out there, but Evans is one of only a handful of backups that might truly just be one injury away from a true workhorse role.
Los Angeles Chargers QB Tyrod Taylor
The Chargers have repeatedly labeled the artist formerly known as TyGod as more than a bridge QB throughout the offseason. No. 6 overall pick Justin Herbert will likely find the field sooner rather than later, but at a minimum it will be Taylor under center to take on the Bengals’ flimsy (to put it nicely) defense.
Taylor is truly a special dual-threat talent:
- Taylor’s average of 0.2 missed tackles per rush attempt is the highest mark among all QBs with at least 100 carries since 2010.
- The top four offenses in team-wide yards before contact per rush since 2015 have been: 2016 Bills (2.75), 2019 Cardinals (2.66), 2019 Ravens (2.48) and 2015 Bills (2.45).
- Taylor averaged 35.8 rushing yards per game with the Bills from 2015-2017. That mark would’ve ranked behind only Lamar Jackson (80.4) among all QBs with at least five starts in 2019.
Get used to investing in Chargers talent during their soft start to the season, as they take on the Bengals, Chiefs, Panthers, Buccaneers, Saints, Jets, Dolphins, Jaguars and Raiders before their Week 10 bye. Taylor has a real chance to supply QB1 production as long as he holds off the rookie.
Seattle Seahawks RB Carlos Hyde
Why exactly did Seattle sign Hyde? Most likely, Rashaad Penny insurance. The Seahawks’ 2018 first-round pick remains on the active PUP list and is tentatively expected to miss a good chunk of early-season action.
Of course, Chris Carson is the Seahawks’ No. 1 RB, but for how long? Last season featured an alarming mix of good and bad moments.
- Career-high marks in carries (278), rushing yards (1,230), receptions (37), receiving yards (266) and receiving scores (two).
- Only Nick Chubb (79), Josh Jacobs (78) and Christian McCaffrey (75) broke more tackles than Carson (74) in 2019.
- Carson led all RBs with seven fumbles. Inconveniently for fantasy managers, Carson had two separate three-game streaks of fumbles that led to multiple in-game benchings.
The Seahawks also drafted DeeJay Dallas in the fourth round to potentially help out in the passing game.
Enter Hyde, who 1) might just have a decent Week 1 role considering Carson and Penny largely split snaps and touches when both were healthy during the second half of 2019, and 2) could be quickly thrust into a featured role if the incumbent starter’s past fumble issues persist into 2020. Hyde has played well enough in past seasons to keep the likes of Nick Chubb and Duke Johnson on the bench for extended periods of time; it wouldn’t exactly be shocking if OC Brian Schottenheimer decides to ride with whoever is most effective to start the season.
Obviously, Carson should be considered the heavy favorite to lead the way in touches, but Hyde carries a sneaky-wide range of potential outcomes in the Seahawks’ run-first/second/third offense.