Fantasy Football: IDENTIFYING FOUR NFC 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 NFC division that could tip you over the edge in 2020.
AFC North: Anthony Miller (ADP: 144 | WR54)
2020 Bears Breakout?
Contrary to popular perception, there is reason for optimism for Miller and the whole of the Bears offense going forward. Currently the only shining light on this team has been Allen Robinson, but this Bears offense could be seeing some changes for 2020. For one there is now a proper QB battle, Chicago brought in Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles who has a real shot at being the starter and with it comes a boost to all the receiving options.
Miller has not got off to the fastest of starts in Chicago after being drafted in the 2nd round in 2018. To date his stat line is 85 receptions, 1079 yards and 9 TDs. Not bad, but maybe not quite as hot as the Bears expected when taking the former-Memphis wideout. With Taylor Gabriel no longer on the Bears roster, Miller will be cemented as the second wide receiver option. If he can build on his late season form between weeks 11-16, where he managed to put up double digit tallies in every game except one, he can cement his place in your flex lineups.
A key note for Miller looking ahead to the 2020 season is the fact the Bears wide receivers face the easiest fantasy schedule according to FantasyPros. Chicago’s receivers open with dream matchups against the Lions (who gave up 400.38 yards per game), the Giants (377.31 yards per game) & the Falcons (355.81 yards per game) with the following two against the Colts & Buccaneers, who both ranked in the bottom half on defense.
Whether it’s Trubisky or Foles who plays the majority of the season we have to expect below average QB play but similarly to Renfrow you are acquiring Miller at his floor value and I can only see him out-performing his current ranking of a WR 4/5 in a 12-team league.
My projected stat line: 68 Rec 969 Yards 5 TDs
NFC South: Ronald Jones (ADP: 95 | RB35)
Write Rojo off at your peril.
Tom Brady has a habit of getting his running backs involved A LOT in NFL matches and with father time is slowly catching up on him there is a chance he will only look to use his backs even more. The Buccaneers turned the ball over on historical levels last season but with Brady moving into the building, they won’t always be playing catchup in games or give silly turnovers away. This could hugely benefit both Ronald Jones & Keshawn Vaughn.
Vaughn was drafted in Round 3 of the 2020 NFL Draft. Often a back drafted in the first two days of a draft is named the team’s starter but things could shake up differently here. That is especially the case given the situation of the current world we live in and the shortened preseason. Brady is also not going to let a rookie block for him who he hasn’t practised hundreds if not thousands of repetitive snaps with. Jones should open the season as the starter, and he will be given every opportunity to succeed. If he gets hot it’s not out of the question for us to see the Buccaneers first 1,000 yard-rusher since Doug Martin in 2015.
Last season, Jones was competing with Peyton Barber, who has since been moved onto Washington, freeing up Jones as the back with the most experience and most snaps on the team. A key couple of stats from the 2019 was that he managed 20 explosive plays that went for over 10 yards and six that went over 20 yards. His contact balance hugely improved during his second season and he’s riding tackles better than ever. He also caught a lot more passes than Barber last season, totalling 309 yards to Barbers tally of only 115. By all accounts, Jones has been working hard during the offseason on his pass catching ready for the link up with Brady.
The Buccaneers backs never got a fair crack in 2019 with the scrambling Jameis Winston always trying to make the hero play and hardly ever dumping it off to his backs whilst nearly always playing from behind. Since 2015, Brady has averaged nearly 150 RB targets a season, which smells of optimism and extra opportunity for Jones and Vaughn. Throw in the potential for extra carried if the Buccaneers are playing with a lead or the game is close. With Vaughn entering his rookie season, I fully expect Jones to be the guy for the first 8 games at least, with the rookie being introduced slowly into the first half of the season.
Look for Jones to build upon his 724 rushing yards in 2019 and hit nearer the 900 mark (870) with 7 TDs. Add in a slight increase on his receiving tally from 309 to 386 and 3 receiving TDs. With these numbers he has a great chance at finishes inside the RB20 position, smashing his current ADP of the RB35.
NFC East: Blake Jarwin (ADP: 173 | TE20)
The Cowboys X-Factor
The 25 year old Jarwin and the Cowboys agreed to a three year extension this offseason, cementing his place as the top TE option with Jason Witten moving on to Las Vegas. The Cowboys offense is the envy of the league with three gifted WRs in Cooper, Gallup & Lamb, star RB in Zeke Elliott & QB Dak Prescott, who just finished as the QB2 in fantasy. On the face of it you wonder how Jarwin will compete for targets, but with the departure of Witten and Randall Cobb’s a further 160 targets are available in this offense in 2019. Mix in with this the fact Witten actually led the Cowboys in Red Zone targets in 2019 for a finish of TE11 with 529 yards and 4 TDs, and there is plenty of fantasy potential open in this offense.
The 37 year old Witten was targeted a surprising 83 times last season catching 63 of them but for and older body could only manage 8.3 yards per catch. If the more explosive 25 year old caught 63 passes that would be only 1 less than Mark Andrews and 20 more than Jared Cook managed in 2019! You have to imagine the attention of defenses will firmly be on Elliott and the stud WRs, giving Jarwin plenty of opportunities over the middle for some solid yardage.
The tight end landscape is a rocky one for projecting firm stat lines, with the usual guaranteed top finishes for Kelce and Kittle. As far as breakouts go, there are a number who have the ability but perhaps none from as far back as where Jarwin is being drafted. Currently the TE20 in ADP, he could be a free pick up at the back end of the draft. Costing you nothing and allowing you to spend your important earlier picks on studs at other positions.
This Dallas offense was on fire last season and scored plenty of points, while their defense continues to struggle, forcing just 7 interceptions for an overall bottom half finish in 2019. This is a great mix for fantasy options, and if Jarwin is given the same opportunity that Witten had last season, then expect him to increase the output and finish as a borderline TE1. This would out-perform his ADP of TE20 with upside of some boom weeks thrown in that can help win you those important close matches.
My projected stat line: 66 Recs 770 Yards 6 TDs
NFC West: Cam Akers (ADP: 74 | RB29)
Bad Offensive Lines don’t faze Cam
Darrell Henderson & Malcolm Brown stand in Cam Akers way from becoming the air to the Todd Gurley fantasy throne. However, there is no reason Akers cannot break through this challenge. Gurley was the king of fantasy backs in 2017-18, but since then the Rams RB position has struggled, with a bad offensive line partly to blame. Unfortunately, it is not any better now. This is not going to faze Cam Akers who has only ever worked behind bad offensive line and still produced great RB numbers.
In 2019, in 11 games Akers amassed 1144 yards and 14 TDs on the ground as well as 30 receptions for 225 Yards and 4 further TDs. All of this came on a Florida State team with the worst ranked offensive line in college football. The Rams didn’t mess arounf in the draft, selecting Akers with their first pick in Round 2 at pick 52 overall. The fact they did this despite having holes elsewhere on the roster sends out signals that they were not happy to enter 2020 with their starting backs as Henderson & Brown. Henderson himself was a third-round selection only a year ago but landed on IR after having ankle surgery. When he was give the opportunities he was unable to beat out Malcolm Brown for the backup job behind a sub-par Gurley.
Akers has demonstrated all of the attributes required to make it as an NFL RB and this should translate immediately with the Rams when given the opportunities. He is an elite runner, elusive and hard to bring down, extends plays beyond expected yardage, a solid pass catcher and ultra-willing blocker. The three-down potential at the NFL level is there to see, and if McVay puts his trust in Akers we could see far less of a three-way split tham has been expected early on.
At the current ADP of 72 and the RB29 you are able to take stud backs ahead of Akers and then grab him as your third option with an upside of an RB2. There is some risk at this pick when you can select the likes of Kareem Hunt, Ronald Jones, Jordan Howard in a similar position, but the upside of a lead back in a Sean McVay’s offense is very hard to pass up. If he’s more than just the leader of a three-back committee then a top-15 finish is possible and a potential league winner with the right mix on your team.
My projected stat line: 190 Rush Atts 812 Yards 6 TDs 33 Recs 335 Rec Yards 3 TDs
Image credit: AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports & Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports