Elise Amendola/Associated Press
When it comes to drafting in fantasy football, successful managers don’t just win the early rounds. While getting the prolific NFL players at the top of the draft is important, finding depth and value in all rounds of the draft is what it takes to build a championship team.
We’re talking, of course, about sleepers. More than just a buzzword for late-round players who outperform expectations, they are the players worth gambling on late in drafts because they have the potential to emerge as weekly fantasy starters.
Of course, identifying such players can be tricky—which is precisely why some folks will sleep on them. It generally takes a combination of opportunity and talent for a sleeper to become a viable fantasy option. The hard part is discovering where these two factors will be ahead of fantasy drafts, though hints can often be gained from following the offseason.
Last year, for example, New York Giants rookie wideout Darius Slayton missed much of training camp with a hamstring injury. However, he also flashed his potential in minicamps and when he was healthy enough to practice.
“I haven’t seen a guy as a receiver come in like that in a long time,” fellow wideout Bennie Fowler said, per Matt Lombardo of NJ.com. “His potential is through the roof. It’s crazy, and you can see it.”
With Slayton turning heads and Golden Tate set to begin the year on suspension, the stage was set for the 23-year-old to emerge as a sleeper. While he didn’t play in the first two weeks, he went on to finish the year with 48 catches, 740 yards and eight touchdowns.
Here, you’ll find a look at some potential 2020 sleepers who could follow in Slayton’s fantasy footsteps. They’ll be worth following closely in camp because, well, that’s about the only offseason action we’re getting this year—and because camp battles could determine their levels of opportunity this year.
First, though, an updated look at points-per-reception (PPR) rankings.
2020 Fantasy Football Rankings, PPR
1. Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers
2. Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints
3. Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants
4. Davante Adams, WR, Green Bay Packers
5. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys
6. Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons
7. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Arizona Cardinals
8. Alvin Kamara, RB, New Orleans Saints
9. Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans
10. Nick Chubb, RB, Cleveland Browns
11. Chris Godwin, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
12. Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs
13. Tyreek Hill, WR, Kansas City Chiefs
14. Joe Mixon, RB, Cincinnati Bengals
15. Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota Vikings
16. Josh Jacobs, RB, Las Vegas Raiders
17. Austin Ekeler, RB, Los Angeles Chargers
18. George Kittle, TE, San Francisco 49ers
19. Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
20. Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs
21. Kenny Golladay, WR, Detroit Lions
22. Amari Cooper, WR, Dallas Cowboys
23. DJ Moore, WR, Carolina Panthers
24. Kenyan Drake, RB, Arizona Cardinals
25. Jarvis Landry, WR, Cleveland Browns
26. Zach Ertz, TE, Philadelphia Eagles
27. Lamar Jackson, QB, Baltimore Ravens
28. Aaron Jones, RB, Green Bay Packers
29. Leonard Fournette, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars
30. Miles Sanders, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
31. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, Cleveland Browns
32. Todd Gurley, RB, Atlanta Falcons
33. DeVante Parker, WR, Miami Dolphins
34. A.J. Brown, WR, Tennessee Titans
35. JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
36. Adam Thielen, WR, Minnesota Vikings
37. Cooper Kupp, WR, Los Angeles Rams
38. Chris Carson, RB, Seattle Seahawks
39. Courtland Sutton, WR, Denver Broncos
40. Stefon Diggs, WR, Buffalo Bills
41. Mark Andrews, TE, Baltimore Ravens
42. D.J. Chark, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars
43. Tyler Boyd, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
44. DK Metcalf, WR, Seattle Seahawks
45. Darren Waller, TE, Las Vegas Raiders
46. Allen Robinson, WR, Chicago Bears
47. Cam Akers, RB, Los Angeles Rams
48. Tyler Lockett, WR, Seattle Seahawks
49. David Montgomery, RB, Chicago Bears
50. Henry Ruggs III, WR, Las Vegas Raiders
N’Keal Harry, WR, New England Patriots
As a rookie last season, New England Patriots receiver N’Keal Harry produced just 12 receptions for 105 yards and two touchdowns in seven games. That is not premier fantasy production. However, the first-year pass-catcher out of Arizona State might have been held back a bit by quarterback Tom Brady—and yes, that does sound silly.
However, at least one analyst does believe the 22-year-old was a non-factor because of the NFL icon.
“He wasn’t willing to adapt,” former Patriot Christian Fauria said of Brady in an interview with WEEI (h/t Mollie Walker of the New York Post. “There’s the difference. He wasn’t willing to let N’Keal Harry grow.”
Now, the idea that Brady didn’t let Harry grow may be a bit far fetched, but the quarterback is notoriously demanding of his teammates. It’s not outlandish to think that a young receiver still learning the timing and the nuances of a pro offense might not get many Brady balls thrown his way.
However, the Patriots did believe Harry was talented enough to be a first-round pick in 2019, and there’s a chance he explodes in Year 2 without Brady. He’ll be worth watching in camp for two big reasons. His own development in the offense will be important, of course, but so will the looming quarterback battle between Cam Newton and Jarrett Stidham.
If it appears Harry is developing clear chemistry with New England’s next starter in camp, he’ll be worth pursuing higher than his average draft position (ADP) of 144 with FantasyPros.
Michael Pittman Jr., WR, Indianapolis Colts
Michael Conroy/Associated Press
Unlike Harry, Indianapolis Colts wideout Michael Pittman Jr. should know who his quarterback is going to be in 2020. The Colts signed eight-time Pro Bowler Philip Rivers this offseason and should start him, barring something completely unforeseen.
What Pittman doesn’t know is what his role will be. The second-round rookie joins a receiving corps that also features T.Y. Hilton, Zach Pascal, Marcus Johnson and second-year man Parris Campbell. Only Hilton, the team’s No. 1 receiver, has a clearly defined role heading into training camp.
Pittman will have a shot at earning the No. 2 receiver role opposite Hilton if he can stave off the likes of Pascal and Campbell. That would potentially give him a lot of fantasy value, assuming Rivers’ production doesn’t significantly fall off.
In 2019, Rivers passed for 4,615 yards. His No. 2 wideout, Mike Williams, caught 49 passes for 1,001 yards and two touchdowns.
Indianapolis appears to believe heavily in Pittman, so if he does earn that No. 2 role, he should be given every opportunity to flourish in Nick Sirianni’s offense.
“Michael Pittman as a player is a big, strong athletic player who can go up, get the ball, play above the rim, kind of beat up on littler guys,” Colts scout Chris McGaha said, per the team’s official website. “He’s fast, athletic—he’s different than I think maybe some of the wideouts we’ve had.”
Pittman’s current ADP, per FantasyPros, is just 178. That’s far too low if he does win the No. 2 job but perhaps fairly reasonable if a guy like Campbell beats him out.
Justin Jackson, RB, Los Angeles Chargers
Rivers’ old team is likely to start the season with journeyman quarterback Tyrod Taylor under center.
The Chargers drafted Oregon’s Justin Herbert sixth overall, but given the shortened offseason and a playoff-capable roster, the Chargers will probably see how things pan out early with Taylor.
This could lead the Chargers to utilize a very run-oriented offense in 2020. When Taylor took the Buffalo Bills to the playoffs in 2017, it was as a dual-threat game-manager leading the league’s sixth-ranked rushing attack.
If the Chargers do employ a run-heavy offense, it could greatly benefit backup running back Justin Jackson.
With Melvin Gordon out, Austin Ekeler will be the lead back in L.A. However, the Chargers like to utilize multiple backs—as evidenced by Ekeler topping 1,500 combined rushing and receiving yards and Gordon still topping 900 last season.
Jackson has done remarkably well as a runner in limited action for the Chargers, averaging 5.1 yards per carry over two seasons. He’ll be worth following in camp to see which way the team is leaning on offense and what sort of role is in store for the Northwestern product.
With an ADP of just 167, per FantasyPros, Jackson could be a steal if he approaches the 900 yards and nine touchdowns Gordon had in 2019.