TOP 5 NFL FANTASY SLEEPERS FOR 2020
Fantasy Hall of Famer Scott Engel highlights five sleepers you can find late in your 2020 NFL Fantasy Sleepers for your football drafts.
Finding undervalued sleepers in your Fantasy football drafts can be the difference between winning your league or going home with nothing. So before you make any Fantasy football draft decisions, you’ll want to see what SportsLine’s Scott Engel has to say.
Engel is an inaugural member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association’s Hall of Fame and has been a premier analyst and Fantasy personality for nearly 25 years. He is a four-time FSWA Award Winner and nine-time nominee.
In addition to being the Fantasy writer for the Seattle Seahawks’ official site since 2012, Engel’s work has appeared on ESPN.com, NFL.com, Yahoo Sports, SI.com, the New York Post, USA Today and, of course, CBSSports.com. In 2019, Engel three-peated as champion in a famed New York City Fantasy football league featuring top Fantasy experts and high-stakes players.
Now, Engel has released his top-five Fantasy football sleepers for 2020 — exclusively to SportsLine members. We can tell you Engel loves Steelers wideout Diontae Johnson, saying the speedster could “see a significant boost in production working with Ben Roethlisberger after showing flashes of promise in his first season.”
“He led all rookies in receptions with 59 and caught five TD passes despite the Steelers not being able to effectively replace Roethlisberger,” Engel noted. “He also led all WRs in average separation per target (3.6 yards) according to Next Gen Stats.”
Engel is all over four other sleepers, including a tight end set to explode in a pass-first, tight end-friendly offense. You NEED to see his Top 5 sleepers before you draft.
These are the five prime value selections that could make you look like a savvy fantasy football owner in 2020. The five players spotlighted here are the top candidates to give you the best returns for later fantasy draft choices this season.
Diontae Johnson, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers have shown a propensity to move on from featured and top wideouts in the past. They have effectively replaced Hines Ward, Plaxico Burress, Santonio Holmes, Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders, and showed they were more than willing to get rid of Antonio Brown. JuJu Smith-Schuster should be the next to shed the black and gold, as he is already in a contract year. The Steelers want to groom their next wave of WRs to play prominent roles. Last year, they drafted Johnson in the third round, and this season, they took Chase Claypool in the second. In 2018, they also picked James Washington in round two, so they have been looking to the future at the position for awhile.
Washington is a speed burner who has averaged 15.9 yards per reception so far, but he is not a dependable target, further evidenced by his 55 percent catch rate last season. Claypool cannot be expected to make a major immediate impact as a rookie. Johnson is ticketed to be the starting “X” receiver for the Steelers as Ben Roethlisberger returns to the starting QB post. While he missed most of last season after undergoing elbow surgery, the last time we saw Roethlisberger in 2018, he had a career season, throwing for 5,129 yards and 34 TDs.
Johnson could see a significant boost in production working with Roethlisberger after showing flashes of promise in his first season. He led all rookies in receptions with 59 and caught five TD passes despite the Steelers not being able to effectively replace Roethlisberger. In Weeks 3 and 4 he totaled nine receptions for 129 yards and two TDs. He logged a 5-84-1 line in Week 8, 4-64 in Week 10 and then finished the season showing more potential, catching 21 balls for 257 yards and two TDs in his final four games. He also led all WRs in average separation per target (3.6 yards) according to Next Gen Stats.
Johnson underwent sports hernia surgery in February but there are no indicators about the procedure holding him back this season. With a returning Roethlisberger, a clear starting spot and an eye on a prolific future, possibly as the team’s WR1, there is a lot of upside for Johnson in 2020. He is a terrific value as the 39th WR off the board in NFFC drafts.
Hayden Hurst, TE, Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons tried to reportedly snag Hurst with the 26th overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft, but the Ravens took him as the first TE off the board at 25. According to ESPN, Atlanta GM Thomas Dimitroff considered taking Hurst even though Austin Hooper was already on the roster. Two years later, the Falcons have their man now ready to replace the departed Hooper after trading for Hurst in March.
Hurst was surpassed by Mark Andrews, drafted in the third round in the same year, and eventually became buried on the Baltimore depth chart. Now he gets to start over on a much more prolific passing offense with no one ahead of him on the depth chart. He has moved from the team with the lowest pass/run ratio to the highest. The Ravens threw the ball 42.5 percent of the time last season, which was the lowest mark in the NFL. The Falcons passed 65.4 percent of the time, which led the league. Adding Todd Gurley could reduce that number slightly, but expect the Falcons to remain a pass-first team for sure. Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter puts a high emphasis on the air attack.
The Falcons throw to the tight end frequently when playing from behind, as Hooper caught 54 of his 75 passes and five of his six TDs when Atlanta was trailing on the scoreboard. He was also a frequent scoring target, as all of his TD receptions came inside the opposing red zone, with four TD catches from 10 yards or less. Hurst is similarly built to Hooper, as both TEs are listed at 6-4, and Hurst checks in at six pounds heavier at 260. Their Workout Metrics were also very similar for Hurst and Hooper coming out of college were very similar, according to playerprofiler.com. Among other similarities, Hooper had a 77 percent catch rate last year, Hurst was at 75. Hurst averaged 8.7 yards per target last season, Hooper averaged 8.1.
Hurst only had 43 receptions and three TDs in his first two pro seasons. But the Falcons have been eyeing him since 2018 and have now pinpointed Hurst as the ideal candidate to replace Hooper, who was the top TE in fantasy football after 10 weeks and still finished as TE6 despite missing three games. Hurst has a great opportunity to assume a good chunk of Hooper’s 2019 production and is an outstanding value as the 19th TE being selected in drafts.
Duke Johnson, RB, Houston Texans
The Texans have continued to make questionable player moves, and their recent history of acquiring running backs to shore up the position has certainly not been impressive. They have never effectively replaced Arian Foster, and we have seen the likes of Lamar Miller and D’Onta Foreman stir fantasy buzz and fizzle out.
Now the Texans are taking a chance on former Cardinal David Johnson, who was acquired in a March trade that sent DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona. It was a deal that drew much deserved criticism. Houston is hoping Johnson can stay healthy and recapture his better form from the seasons of 2016 and 2018. Johnson soared over the 2,100 combined yardage from scrimmage mark in ’16 and was well over 1,300 in ’18. But he missed 15 games in 2017 and three last year while losing his starting job to Kenyan Drake. David Johnson averaged just 3.7 yards per carry last year and averaged 49.6 rushing yards per game in the first six games he started last year before an ankle injury began his downward spiral that cost him his starting job.
Now David Johnson is coming to a team that already has a viable pass-catching back in Duke Johnson. The Texans will likely be careful in making sure they do not want to overwork David Johnson while keeping Duke Johnson involved in the offensive flow. Plus, after jettisoning Hopkins, Houston has an unreliable pass-catching corps. Will Fuller has missed 14 games in the past two seasons. Brandin Cooks has five documented concussions (two last year). Randall Cobb has not played a full season since 2015.
The Texans also have no quality RB depth behind David Johnson other than Duke Johnson. The latter may be pressed into more rushing duty at some point, and he certainly may have to be utilized as a pass-catcher very often for Deshaun Watson. Duke Johnson has proven he can step forward as a receiver in a dire offensive situation, as he caught 74 passes for Cleveland. He may be needed to operate as a RB1 and prime receiving option for the Texans at some points this season. Duke Johnson is well worth the flier as the 47th RB selected, according to NFFC ADPs.
Allen Lazard, WR, Green Bay Packers
The Packers were expected to address an apparent glaring need in the NFL Draft, as they were lacking a proven or highly promising WR opposite Davante Adams. But the draft came and went, and Green Bay did not add a single wideout. Their overall draft execution has been roundly criticized with the lack of attention to WR as the most outstanding sore point.
Adams led the Packers with 83 catches last year, and RB Aaron Jones was second with 49. The only “notable” move Green Bay made at WR this offseason was to sign free agent Devin
Funchess. But he opted out of the 2020 season and now Lazard has a clear path to sewing up the No. 2 WR job.
Lazard did not make his 2019 season debut until Week 6. He put himself on the map right away with four catches for 65 yards and a TD. He flashed promise again in Week 12 with 103 yards and a TD, and caught four passes for 67 yards in the season finale. The glimpses of potential were inconsistent, but as the Packer Report pointed out, Rodgers was 11-16 for 140 yards and a TD when targeting Lazard on third downs. Lazard also was on the field for more than 75 percent of the snaps in the final three games of the regular season.
Now Lazard does not have anyone to overcome to seize a starting WR job this year, as it’s apparent Marquez Valdes-Scantling will never make a significant impact in the Green Bay passing game. The opportunity is clearly there for Lazard to build on his intriguing snippets of potential from last season. You can certainly get him with a flier in the final rounds, as he is currently the 70th WR off the board, which is much too low for a possible starting NFL WR working with Rodgers.
Joshua Kelley, RB, Los Angeles Chargers
When Melvin Gordon left the Chargers this offseason as expected, many assumed Austin Ekeler would take over the featured runner role in addition to continuing to be a prime pass-catcher. Ekeler finished as fantasy RB4 in PPR formats last year, and with an expanded running workload, we saw some fantasy analysts start to hail Ekeler as a RB1 candidate for 2020.
But Ekeler has not shown he can be a dependable featured runner over an extended period yet. Last season, when Gordon did not play in the first four games, Ekeler averaged 55 rushing yards per outing as the lead RB. Plus, after his superb season as a pass-catcher (his 92 receptions led AFC RBs), Los Angeles will want to continue to utilize him heavily in a similar role. So the door remained open for another RB to take over the old Gordon spot, and the Chargers filled it ideally when they picked UCLA RB Joshua Kelley in the fourth round.
Kelley fits the mold of the runner Los Angeles was seeking to take over for Gordon. He is a tenacious power back who welcomes contact. His 4.49 40-yard dash time showed he has respectable speed as well. He should quickly become a preferred goal-line runner for the Chargers, and some scouts believe he has the abilities to be a featured ball carrier at the NFL level.
It would not be surprising to see Kelley vault quickly past Justin Jackson on the Chargers depth chart and carve out a significant role on offense as a rookie, complementing Ekeler as the inside and power RB. He has the upside to fully take over the No. 1 ball carrier job at some point while Ekeler continues to excel as a pass-catcher. The Chargers may have gotten a bargain in the fourth round, and as the 70th RB being drafted, you can get a great payoff if you tab Kelley with one of your final picks. He should at least emerge as a fantasy flex option in his rookie year.