Sports Illustrated’s Big Sleeper List
Perhaps the most popular albeit overused term in fantasy football is “sleeper.” Yet identifying a sleeper for your fantasy football drafts is crucial to a team’s success. Since the dawn of the internet, round the clock news cycle, and the countless twitter updates from every team’s group of beat reporters has diluted the phrase sleeper so much, it no longer holds the same definition it once had during the days before social media.
So what does sleeper mean in 2020?
Well for starters, it means a player you want to draft that not only has upside but has statistical projections that suggest an outperformance of his current cost (Average Draft Position). That player could be anything from a rookie, a seasoned veteran, a player that was traded, or signed with a new team.
More than a dozen analysts and fantasy players that represent the best fantasy football players in the world make up the fantastic fantasy team at Sports Illustrated. Every year, each analyst and nationally ranked fantasy player identifies a group of players for our Preseason Pro series, which is a list of players that fit into several categories; Sleepers, Busts, Breakout, Comeback, Stash and Cash.
Here is the list of sleepers from our analysts’ Preseason Pro articles, all in one place, for your reading and learning pleasure. Enjoy!
Michael Fabiano’s Sleeper: QB Daniel Jones, Giants
I have maybe what could be considered an unhealthy fantasy man-crush on Giants’ second-year quarterback Daniel Jones. This dude has fantasy sleeper written all over him!
Jones wasn’t the most consistent signal-caller in the league as a rookie, scoring fewer than 15 fantasy points in eight of his 12 starts. But when he was good, he was spectacular. Danny Dimes scored 28-plus fantasy points in his other four games, including three games with over 30 points. The only other rookie quarterbacks to score 28-plus fantasy points in NFL history are Cam Newton (2011) and Robert Griffin III (2012). Jones’s 24 touchdown passes against just 12 interceptions were solid for a rookie field general, but he faltered most in protecting the football. Jones fumbled 18 times (the fifth-highest total in NFL history) and averaged one fumble for every 45.3 snaps. The good news is that Jones has been working with his former college coach from Duke, David Cutcliffe, during the offseason to cut down on his fumblitis. Fumbling has been a problem for plenty of NFL players in the past, but it’s certainly a correctable issue.
Another positive for Jones is the fact that while he had his ups and downs as a rookie (most first-year players do), he gained valuable experience in his 12 NFL starts. That experience will no doubt help him take his game to the next level as a sophomore.
Jim Cramer’s Sleeper: WR Jerry Jeudy, Broncos
Where is this guy from? Bama. Do you know who is also from the Crimson Tide? Julio Jones. It’s a thing with JJs. Jeudy depends on a quarterback who must look beyond the tight end to check down and Courtland Sutton. But Jeudy is a phenomenal route runner and Denver looks like they have a great offense in the making. If he can get the targets, this could be our guy.
Dr. Roto’s Sleeper: RB Cam Akers, Rams
Cam Akers was the number one running back in the nation coming out of high school and had a successful career at Florida State. However, there will be some people who think that his performance in college was underwhelming. Let me clear this up for you right now: Akers’ performance in college was exceptional. Florida State struggled all year offensively and even fired their head coach in the middle of Akers’ senior season. Akers was the reason the team did as well as they did, and he showed flashes of potential greatness at the pro level.
Akers is a compact runner who changes direction easily. He rarely goes down on first contact (a trait that all great NFL running backs possess), and he was one of the most effective screen pass receivers in college football. He also shows great patience and vision and sees running lanes before they open.
With Akers in the fold, the Rams have three players who can run the football. I can guarantee you that Akers is the best runner in this committee and will see most of the touches. I am expecting about 12 rushes and 4-5 receptions per game from Akers at a minimum. The only downside is that he will most likely be removed at the goal line, so his value is lower in standard formats than in PPR leagues. Regardless, Sean McVay will have fun using Akers in multiple ways, and he should provide many terrific highlights for Rams fans.
Ben Heisler’s Sleeper: WR Jalen Reagor, Eagles
Carson Wentz should have gotten fantasy MVP consideration for putting up a top-10 scoring season based on the wide receivers available at his disposal.
Eagles wide receivers averaged 24 fantasy points-per-game in PPR leagues a season ago. The average NFL team averaged 34 a game. Even worse? In the last five weeks of the season with championships in play, the Eagles’ WR average dropped to 22.7 PPG, a -31.4% difference to the rest of the NFL. Even crazier? Wentz led the Eagles to a 4-1 record, averaging 300 yards and two TDs per contest while still getting nothing from his wide receiving corps.
Enter Jalen Reagor (WR57, Advanced ADP 125), a first-round rookie burner with 4.47 speed who was drafted ahead of other standout wide receivers in Justin Jefferson (Vikings), Tee Higgins (Bengals) and Michael Pittman Jr (Colts). Alshon Jeffrey is starting training camp on the PUP list. Marquise Goodwin has already opted out of the season, which means Reagor only has to beat out 33-year old DeSean Jackson, who finished last season with nine catches in three games played due to injury.
Reagor should step in immediately and contribute to an offense that ranked 29th in WR catches, 31st in WR yards, and 28th in WR TDs from a season ago.
Corey Parson’s Sleeper: QB Dwayne Haskins, Washington
“The Fantasy Executive is off his rocker!”
“How can he talk up Dwayne Haskins?!”
Well, everyone in D.C. is talking about Haskins, and they all seem very excited to turn the franchise over to the second-year signal-caller. The majority of last season went poorly for Haskins. Still, much of that can be attributed to Jay Gruden and the coaching staff in place at the time.
New head coach Ron Rivera will give Haskins every opportunity to win the job and be the team’s starting quarterback. Washington brought in former Panthers QB Kyle Allen to compete with Haskins, but it is telling that Rivera didn’t bring in Cam Newton, who won an MVP with Rivera back in Carolina.
That was the first sign that Haskins would be their guy this season. Once the coaching change was made, you could immediately see that Haskins was a more comfortable player. In Haskins’ last three starts, he threw five touchdown passes. Washington executive director of player personnel Doug Williams said Haskins was having the game of his career before getting injured. All the offseason news surrounding Haskins has been positive as well.
Washington Football Team insider Alan Lepore had this to say: “There certainly is belief starting to come about, after film evaluation that Dwayne is certainly someone that does not make the same mistake twice and as recently as this morning has been, by Kevin Sheehan, comped to Matt Ryan as his ceiling.”
Matt Bayley and Ian Ritchie’s Sleeper: WR Darius Slayton, Giants
At 6’2″ and 194 lbs, Darius Slayton provides more size than either Sterling Shepard or Golden Tate. While his teammates operate in the intermediate portion of the field and eat into each other’s target share, Slayton brings deep speed to win downfield. His role as a deep threat should only improve in 2020 because the Giants invested further in their offensive line, and Daniel Jones will start his second season at quarterback, a time when most players at his position make their largest leap. Lastly, while the Giants continue to improve on defense, that unit remains a liability in 2020, which means more passing volume towards Slayton.
Kimra Schleicher’s Sleeper: WR Diontae Johnson, Steelers
In his career, Ben Roethlisberger has produced some excellent seasons for his wide receivers. Last year, Johnson only saw the field for 52 plays over the first two weeks with Big Ben behind center. The rookie blossomed after Week 2 while playing with two weak quarterbacks. Johnson’s ceiling is much higher than James Washington, and having JuJu Smith-Schuster playing well as Pittsburgh’s top wide receiver should open up the other side of the field and lead an exceptional sophomore season.
Mark Deming’s Sleeper: QB Tom Brady, Bucs
Combine the savvy veteran QB, with Bruce Arians risk it or no biscuit philosophy, an amazing cast of skill position players, and a defense that will have its moments and struggle. Tom Brady is poised for a monster fantasy year. In 2019 Jameis Winston blew the field away with 113 deep ball attempts and was second in TD passes with 33. Brady enters an aggressive system with downfield passing that encourages calculated risk-taking. Two of Brady’s best attributes are his deep ball throws and touch passes. Winston also threw 30 interceptions in 2019 and the Bucs defense allowed 28.1 PPG to opponents. Please do the math, Brady won’t throw 30 picks, and the Bucs aren’t going to have the luxury of running out the clock with their defense. All these numbers lead to a monster year from Brady. Brady’s ADP is 142, don’t be surprised that he has fantasy QB1 potential.
Darren Summer’s Sleeper: QB Drew Lock, Broncos
If you like waiting on taking a quarterback, Drew Lock will be a guy for you to target late in fantasy drafts this season. Lock started games 12-16 for the Denver Broncos last season and built some good chemistry with Noah Fant and Courtland Sutton. The Broncos have added players like Melvin Gordon in the offseason and drafted more firepower for Lock in first-round wide receiver Jerry Jeudy, second-round K.J. Hamler, and Lock’s college teammate Albert Okwuegbunam in the fourth-round. Broncos management has put the pieces in place for Lock to not only succeed but put points on the board against high scoring divisional rivals KC Chiefs and Las Vegas Raiders.
Shawn Childs’ Sleeper: RB Damien Harris, Patriots
Heading into 2020, the Patriots have the stigma of being one of the worst offenses in the NFL after losing quarterback Tom Brady. Despite their offseason questions, they remain co-favorites in the AFC East with a proven 20-year history of success.
Last year I viewed Harris as the top running back in the draft, but he finished with only four catches for 12 yards while battling a couple of injuries.
Sony Michel lost his college explosiveness in his sophomore season in the NFL. He gained only 3.7 yards per carry with only three of his 247 runs gaining over 20 yards.
Harris showed big-play ability over his last three years at Alabama (6.8 yards per rush) while adding growth in the passing game (22/204) in 2018.
Only a late-round dart or a waiver wire follow, with a good chance to emerge as New England’s top rusher over the second half of the year.
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