'Sleepers' to Target in Your Fantasy Football Drafts
Football is fast approaching. And that means fantasy football is as well.
Generally, a lot of attention is paid to the top few rounds of fantasy drafts, where the bidding for the NFL's premier players (on the field and fantasy-wise) are sought after. Setting yourself up with top-class performers is certainly important as they will be doing much of the heavy lifting in the points department during the fantasy season.
However, making sure your fantasy squad is balanced and rounded out with quality depth options is just as important. If you get hit with the injury bug to your best players or have a few brutal weeks with players having bye weeks, someone other than the players you took in the first couple of rounds must step up.
Plus, even if Aaron Jones and Mike Evans are combining for 50 points on average most weeks, where are the other points coming from? Typically, 120 or so points is considered an above-average total in most standard leagues.
To help answer that question, here are a few "sleepers" who could turn out to be absolute bargains for their average draft positions. They may not be consensus top-100 fantasy options or drafted in the first nine or 10 rounds, but these players should benefit from favorable situations with their teams and use their talented skill sets to provide a jolt to your 2020 fantasy team.
For simplicity, we will assume 12-team leagues with PPR scoring will be the norm. Kicking things off is a player many Colts fans will enjoy seeing on a fantasy sleeper list.
TE Jack Doyle, Indianapolis Colts
Doyle, one of the only Colts players left from the Ryan Grigson regime, is known as Mr. Reliable by the team and fans. Doyle is a tough player who is crafty about finding openings in the defense and catches mostly everything that comes his way.
Doyle should benefit from two moves that the Colts made this off-season. First, new quarterback Philip Rivers loves targeting his tight ends. Whether it was Antonio Gates or Hunter Henry, Rivers always made sure to get his tight ends involved and enjoyed using them as security blankets in the middle of the field.
Second, tight end Eric Ebron left the Colts for the Steelers as an unrestricted free agent. Doyle and Ebron were pretty much 1A and 1B atop the tight ends depth chart for Indy, so there should be more opportunity for Doyle to both get on the field and receive more targets.
Free agent tight end Trey Burton was signed by the Colts and veteran Mo Alie-Cox is expected to contribute more in the passing game this season, but Doyle still stands to benefit from increased opportunities.
With Doyle being ranked outside the top 10 tight ends on most boards, there is some serious value in selecting Doyle in the late rounds.
WR Van Jefferson, Los Angeles Rams
A rookie second-round pick out of Florida, Jefferson projects to play a huge role in the Rams offense this season.
Typically, it takes rookie wide receivers a little while to get acclimated to the NFL level and more-complicated offenses. However, Jefferson was one of the most-polished receiver prospects in the 2020 NFL Draft.
While his explosiveness and athleticism don't pop off the tape, his combination of hands and route-running is what made him a second-round pick and one of the safer picks at the top of the draft.
The departure of Brandin Cooks allows Jefferson to slide in right next to Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods on the wide receiver depth chart with a prime opportunity for plenty of snaps in Sean McVay's preferred 11-personnel offense (one running back, one tight end).
With the ability to work on the outside and in the slot, that versatility should serve Jefferson well during his rookie season. Fantasy owners should be able to scoop him up with no problem in the latter rounds.
RB David Johnson, Houston Texans
Classifying Johnson as a sleeper may be a loose use of the term, but Johnson could turn some heads and make some fantasy owners pretty happy in 2020.
After all, there aren't high expectations for the veteran back. Johnson suffered from tough injury luck while with the Arizona Cardinals in recent seasons and fell out of favor with first-year head coach Kliff Kingsbury last season, but Johnson has shown the unique talent he possesses when healthy and given the opportunity.
Maybe a change of scenery with a head coach that believes in his skills is all Johnson needs to turn back the clock. Johnson has unfortunately been a part of a lot of mocking by football analysts and fans because he was a part of the DeAndre Hopkins trade that the Cardinals seemingly got the better end of.
However, Johnson could be a real force as a runner and a pass-catcher in the Texans offense. Duke Johnson is still in the fold as a viable option, but he is mostly used in the slot and on third downs. Johnson can replace the production of Carlos Hyde and become a key contributor for head coach Bill O'Brien.
RB Tony Pollard, Dallas Cowboys
As the backup running back to Ezekiel Elliott, that definitely makes you a sleeper in the fantasy world.
Pollard will be entering his second season in the league as a mid-round draft pick out of Memphis with hopes of becoming a bigger contributor on the Cowboys offense.
Pollard flashed tons of potential during training camp and the preseason last year and was considered a fantasy sleeper heading into the regular season. As it turned out, Pollard wasn't heavily used in the offense with Elliott garnering most of the opportunities throughout the season.
However, Pollard averaged a league-best 5.3 yards per carry on the 86 rushing attempts he was given. That provided enough evidence that Pollard can be a real solid player in this league as long as he has the opportunity.
The Cowboys' new coaching staff may decide to save Elliott's legs as the season progresses and give Pollard more reps. Pollard also proved during his time at Memphis that he is sufficient at catching the ball out of the backfield and should catch more of quarterback Dak Prescott's eye as a more-experienced player.
The Cowboys offense projects to be plenty explosive in 2020 and Pollard could play a key role in that. Even with Elliott locked into the starting running back position, Pollard is clearly the No. 2 guy on the depth chart and should benefit from the opposition not focusing on him in game plans.
WR Golden Tate, New York Giants
Tate has been a fantasy angel in plenty of seasons, mostly due to exceeding modest expectations set forth by fantasy experts and with the large number of receptions he attains most years. In PPR leagues, everyone loves a nice reception.
Tate will be slated to be the third-best receiver on the Giants' depth chart at least on the fantasy level, behind Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton. Both of those guys are coming off solid seasons last year and could make the more-seasoned Tate a forgotten man on fantasy boards.
It likely didn't help that Tate was suspended the first four weeks of last season, but looking past Tate as a potential mid-round option would be a mistake. He has been a consistent performer since he entered the league in 2010, and entering his 10th season, he is still in peak physical shape.
All Tate needs is enough volume in the targets department and your squad will reap the benefits. After he returned from suspension last year, he was ranked as WR28 by fantasy metrics. That means at the worst he was an undisputed starter at the FLEX spot. Snagging a proven fantasy-performer like Tate in the later rounds should prove to be an absolute bargain.
TE T.J. Hockenson, Detroit Lions
Pegged as the most-similar tight end prospect to Rob Gronkowski coming out of Iowa, Hockenson had high expectations entering the NFL as a rookie in 2019.
When he became a top-10 selection by the Lions, they clearly were confident in the abilities he had. Hockenson started off his rookie season with a bang as he had nine catches for 131 yards and a touchdown in his first career game.
After that, he totaled more than 50 yards only one more time and also missed four weeks due to injury. It was a frustrating season for fantasy owners and Lions waiting for him to break out. But he still flashed the potential.
In his second season, now may be that time for the talented youngster to truly emerge. Having a healthy Matthew Stafford as his quarterback should help the cause as well as being more comfortable in the offense.
Hockenson possesses ideal size for the position and has plenty of athleticism to boot. He has what many around the league consider above-average hands, but he certainly had his struggles with drops. If some of those drops start turning to catches, watch out.
If you aren't looking to draft a tight end early. but still want to come out of the draft with a high-potential performer, Hockenson could be your man. Jesse James being in the fold at tight end could bring up some volume concerns, but this is a top-10 pick we are talking about.
QB Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns
This could be a controversial take, but Mayfield should benefit from some pretty low expectations this season.
After a subpar second season with the likes of Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry to throw to, the criticisms of Mayfield were non-stop and warranted. He took a step back from his promising rookie season and disappointed plenty of his believers.
Now, Mayfield could be one season away from looking for work elsewhere. Or that is at least what the media is saying. His performance last season combined with the way people now view Mayfield as a quarterback doesn't bode well for his fantasy outlook.
He certainly won't be a starter on fantasy teams and there is a chance he won't be considered a strong backup. However, if Mayfield can revert back to the play he displayed during his rookie season and make further improvements as a young and talented quarterback should, he can rebound easily.
Plus, with the addition of Austin Hooper at tight end, an improved offensive line, and studs at wide receiver and running back, he has plenty to work with.
Mayfield is a guy who likes to sling it and that can result in a lot of big numbers. As long as he works on his turnover concerns, Mayfield could be poised for a huge season and quiet his critics. Because of his current fantasy stature, he is worthy of a late-round flier.