Fantasy Football: Identifying Four AFC Sleepers for 2020
There are many elements that go into success in fantasy football. You need to hit on early-round picks who do not left you down, then you need to also find some players later in the draft who will offer plenty of value on their average draft position. Therefore, identifying sleepers in the mid and late rounds is a crucial part of any fantasy football draft strategy. In this article, we will attempt to identify one sleeper from each AFC division that could tip you over the edge in 2020.
AFC North: James Conner (ADP: 47 | RB21)
High Risk - High Reward
Which version of James Conner are we going to see in 2020?
The 2018 Pro Bowl version of Conner that burst onto the scene and finished as the RB6 with 12 rushing TDs, nearly 1000 yards as well as 55 receptions, or the 2019 Conner who’s body broke down numerous times and only managed half the stats from the previous season?
That is where the high risk, high reward comes into it and fantasy players willing to stake it all could get the pay off their gamble deserves, let’s take a look at why this could be the case:
Conner knows all too well what it’s like to make a dramatic come back. In 2015 Conner was diagnosed with Stage-2 Hodgkin’s lymphoma, whilst rehabbing his torn MCL he went to the doctor regarding his poor sleeping habit. He found out he had lumps around his neck and upper chest area, Conner was informed he could be dead within weeks if it wasn’t treated. The University of Pittsburgh RB made the most dramatic comeback. With regular chemotherapy, within 6 months he was free of cancer and cleared to come back to football. In his first season back, Conner rushed for 1092 yards and 20 TDs on his way to being awarded First Team All-ACC.
A come back in 2020 won’t rate anywhere near to his victory over cancer but it’s another come back I’m predicting he makes as the Pittsburgh offense comes back together with Ben Roethlisberger at the helm. 2019 was a struggle for the offense once Roethlisberger went down with a season ending elbow injury in Week 2. Neither Rudolph nor Hodges could support an offense loaded with talent, as the Steelers relied on a stout defense to grind out games.
Fast forward to this offseason and James Conner entering a contract year has been working non-stop over the football break with JuJu Smith-Schuster, who also is looking to secure that all important second contract. Conner has been quoted as saying that his body has healed and he’s been concentrating on putting on muscle to be able to withstand another full season of contact in 2020. The X-Factor in the comeback is Roethlisberger. With Roethlisberger back on the field the offense should open up, and the WRs and RBs will all benefit.
The Steleers did draft Anthony McFarland in the 4th round of the 2020 NFL Draft, but Mike Tomlin is known for having one feature back on his teams. As it stands, he has said the starter job is Conner’s to open the season. Therefore, a fully healthy Conner can return to a RB1 in 2020.
My projected stat line: 204 Attempts, 875 Yards, 8 TDs, 49 Rec, 362 Yards, 2 ReTds
AFC South: Philip Rivers (ADP: 147 | QB26)
New Team, Old Faces
Philip Rivers looked rather washed up in 2019, throwing 20 interceptions as apposed to only 23 TDs. Entering his 17th season as a pro, Rivers joins up with Frank Reich, whom he played under back in 2014-15, looking for Super Bowl success in the twilight of his career. The eight time Pro Bowler now finds himself behind one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. Additionally, he has a talented WR crop featuring a returning TY Hilton, second-year option Parris Campbell, rookie Michael Pittman as well as a solid TE in Jack Doyle and a set of three RBs who can all catch the football.
The AFC South provides Rivers and the Colts with a very realistic opportunity to win the division and make the playoffs given one of the easiest schedules in 2020. Rivers likely won’t be a reliable week-in-week-out starter for your fantasy team, but he will have big weeks and collectively over the season should have a chance to finish as a top-16 QB.
Rivers has not missed a game since 2006 meaning that you should not worry about whether he will be active or not week-to-week. Currently, you can draft Rivers as a solid QB2 with the upside of a borderline QB1 if he hits it off with his receivers right off the bat. Rivers is well known for heavily favouring his main TE target and Jack Doyle with an ADP of 159 (TE19) can benefit hugely with upside of a fringe TE1.
For a QB that just loves to dump the ball off to his RB, Rivers is spoiled for choice in 2020. Marlon Mack is the established option, Jonathon Taylor could be the star fantasy rookie RB, and the pass catching specialist Nyheim Hines, who Reich has stated he wants to get involved more in 2020.
This opportunity presents Rivers with his best opportunity to win a Super Bowl in the past few years. He will be playing with a chip on his shoulder, as he has widely been criticised last season and has a point to prove. While he finished as the QB17 in his worst statistical season ever, he was QB10 in 2018 and QB7 in 2017. The ceiling is high for a man who is used to top-10 finishes on a team with lofty ambitions.
My projected stat line: 4580 Yards, 28 TDs, 14 Ints
AFC East: Jordan Howard (ADP: 98 | RB39)
Dolphinately Deserves Higher Praise
Jordan Howard has always had his critics who have had doubts about him ever developing into anything special. However, one stat silences these doubters; Since 2016 Jordan Howard has rushed for the 3rd most yards out of ALL RBs. A fifth-round pick by Chicago four years ago, Howard immediately out-performed his ADP with an impressive 1313 yards and 6 TDs, proving to be one of the Bears best draft picks of the last few years. Howard‘s move to the Eagles never really got going and his subsequent move to Miami gives the 25 year old another opportunity to be the RB1 of a team and have another crack behind an improving offensive line.
The Dolphins spent early picks in the draft on addressing their atrocious 32nd ranked offensive line from 2019. They also traded for Matt Breida, who will act as a change of pace, providing the speedier back option to the bruising Howard. The two will form a solid 1-2 punch for Miami who are hoping to improve on their 32nd ranked rushing attack from last season. Breida is not known for being a workhorse back, so Howard will get the majority of the 1st & 2nd down plays. It didn’t work out for Howard in Philadelphia but he still managed four top-20 weeks and six top-30 weeks in a seven-game stretch.
Howard was signed on a 2-year $10 million within the first few days of free agency opening, signalling Miami’s intent to secure Howard’s services for the next 2 seasons. Howard should get the majority of the goal line snaps, as with his big frame he’s punched in 6 TDs in 2016, 9 TDs in 2017, 9 again in 2018 and 6 in just 10 games for the Eagles in 2019.
The Dolphins made several key defensive acquisitions to the football team in free agency with names such as Byron Jones, Kyle Van Noy, Emmanual Ogbah and Shaq Lawson. This should help Miami be more competitive in 2020. Therefore, with Miami playing with either a lead or keeping games close will only help the opportunities for both Howard & Breida.
I’m predicting a finish around RB22-24 with a stat line of 223 Atts, 962 Yards, 7 TDs, 19 Rec, 130 ReYds
AFC West: Hunter Renfrow (ADP: 185 | WR70)
Quietly The NFL’s Perfect Slot Guy
Hunter Renfrow doesn’t scream household name, but for the Raiders he’s quietly becoming the go to slot man for QB Derek Carr and he’s thriving. Renfrow ended his rookie season with back-to-back weeks as a WR6 and while this production certainly won’t be maintained, he is at least in line to out-produce his current ADP of WR70. His finish of WR53 in 2019 is something that Renfrow should be able to build upon, as he should remain as the primary slot guy in Las Vegas.
The Raiders added heavily to their WR corp in the draft but the majority are expected to line up outside alongside Tyrell Williams. If Renfrow is the primary slot man then expect him to soak up a ton of targets from Carr, who just posted the highest completion percentage of his career so far.
Renfrow’s rookie campaign started off slow, but from Week 8 on he ranked 37th among fantasy wide receivers in PPR formats with 490 yards and 4 TDs. What makes that more impressive is that he only played in 7 of those 10 games but was targeted 45 times with 35 receptions (45th & 35th in the league respectively).
At Renfrow’s current cost you are not having to spend top 50 WR money to acquire him but he has top-40 upside. We are not talking about a WR1, WR2 or even WR3 maybe but the trend of an increase in targets as the season went on is a hugely positive one. The fact he came back from injury in Weeks 16 and 17 and ended up as a WR1 demonstrates his upside, and his position is key on a team led by Carr, who loves himself a safety blanket.
Renfrow, entering his sophomore season, can be viewed as being at the very least that plug in guy who can fill in for bye weeks/injuries. However he also has the upside of being a guy who can be in your flex spots and won’t disappoint you. In fantasy leagues, you need depth but you also want upside and Renfrow is all of this in one package.
My stat line: 81 Recs, 882 Yards, 5 TDs
Image credit: AP Photo/Don Wright, Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports, Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports