Sleepers win you championships! Whether it was Darren Waller coming out of nowhere last season or George Kittle in 2018, players drafted in the last few rounds are the ones that can take your team to the next level. Here are the ten players I think people are sleeping on, but can make a possible impact on your team this season.
Irv Smith Jr., TE MIN
With the loss of Stefon Diggs, the Vikings figure to not replace his production with one player but rather a few, including Irv Smith, Jr. While listed as TE2 on the Vikings depth chart behind Kyle Rudolph, Gary Kubiak’s offense is predicated on multiple tight end sets. In his 20+ season of calling plays, tight ends have made up for 23% of targets. This is in large part due to play-action, something that Kirk Cousins does very well. He had the most touchdowns thrown off of play-action and finished 7th in completion percentage. Another encouraging sign is that Smith Jr. makes the most of his targets, hauling in 76% of the balls thrown his way. With Rudolph now on the wrong side of 30, it’s obvious that Smith Jr. is the future at tight end in Minnesota. He’s a great dynasty option, but I think a 500/600 yard season isn’t out of the question.
Ian Thomas, TE CAR
With the departure of long-time tight end Greg Olsen, Ian Thomas by default becomes TE1 for the Panthers. While he might be, at best, the fourth option in the passing game for the Panthers, I think Thomas does provide a safety blanket for new quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Bridgewater last season had the lowest fewest air yards per attempt in the league at 6.2 which makes sense as he isn’t known for his strong arm, rather being accurate. New offensive coordinator has never been a play-caller at the NFL level, but looking at this past season at LSU as the passing game coordinator, we do see him like to use tight ends in a variety of ways. Thomas was one of the most athletic tight ends in his draft class at the combine, essentially in the top five in every category. While his drop rate (7.5%) is concerning, Thomas being a non-priority to the opposing team’s defenses will allow him to face loose coverage. Couple that with Bridgewater’s more precision-based skill and Thomas should fill in nicely for Olsen and hopefully see similar production.
Ryquell Armstead, RB JAC
This one might be my biggest stretch, but hear me out. Leonard Fournette is soundly the top running back on the Jaguars roster. However, between trade speculation and the team not picking up his fifth-year option, I feel quite confident in saying that he won’t end the season as a Jaguar. Even if he does, he has yet to play all 16 games in a season. If Fournette were to not play, the snaps would be split between veteran Chris Thompson and Armstead. Thompson has never rushed for more than 356 yards in a season and is a receiving back, making Armstead the one in line to get the carries. Armstead did prove to not be useless in the passing game and ended up with more receiving yards on the season than rushing yards. He is dependent on a Fournette-less team, but he’s somebody to take note of if something were to happen and he was thrust into a prominent role.
Ito Smith, RB ATL
I’m a firm believer that Todd Gurley’s knees are as stable as an elephant on a tightrope, they’re going to snap at any moment. You just simply can’t trust him as a viable fantasy option, but you can look at his backup Ito Smith. Unfortunately, Smith has been banged up early in his career and the concussion injury from a season ago is very worrisome. When he does play, however he has shown signs of explosiveness and pass-catching ability that would make him useless in most leagues. Last season in limited time, he averaged 4.1 yards per carry but when you eliminate carries in the red zone, it rose to 6.2 yards per carry. It is troublesome that he does so bad in the red zone but at 5-9, 195 lbs you should expect that. As a pass-catcher, Smith is at his most valuable. He had about two catches per game as a rookie and only had one drop and in 2019 had eleven catches in seven games. He played only 29% of the team’s snaps as a rookie yet finished sixth on the team in targets. With the loss of Mohamed Sanu and Austin Hooper and then Todd Gurley’s questionable health, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Smith finish in the top 4 or 5 in targets coming in at around 60 on the season which based on past results is right around 48 catches.
Dare Ogunbowale, RB TB
As I wrote about two weeks ago, no quarterback throws more to his running backs than Brady. I know that Bruce Arians’ offense wants to push the ball down the field, but Brady doesn’t have the arm strength for that. Don’t believe me? Brady finished in the bottom ten in yards per attempt in 2019. Instead, they’ll focus more on intermediate routes and dump-offs to the running backs. This benefits Ogunbowale more than anyone as he has more career catches than carries out of the backfield. The Buccaneers do have more weapons than the Patriots had this past season (which isn’t saying much), so Ogunbowale might not get the volume of targets that James White got, but he’s going to see an increase in catches assuming that Ke’Shawn Vaughn doesn’t take the pass-catching lead role. He is solely an option in PPR leagues and with the opposing defenses focused on stopping the likes of Evans, Godwin, and Gronkowski, the short throws will be open for the Bucs to take advantage of.
Alexander Mattison, RB MIN
Mattison had himself a nice, quiet rookie season and set himself up to be a larger part of the Vikings offense in 2020. Dalvin Cook is the undisputed RB1, but has yet to play a full 16 game season and the team has to be concerned that he is not the long-term answer. If Cook were to get hurt again or be ineffective, Mattison would become a must-start. In 2019 he averaged 4.6 yards per carry, despite seeing an average of 7.6 men in the box (highest in the league). This was largely because he wasn’t used in the passing game much but did have 60 career catches in college proving he has the chance to be a well-rounded back. The Vikings finished fourth in team rushing attempts in 2019 and with Gary Kubiak calling the plays, I would expect to see a similar total. This means that Mattison if he stays healthy, should see a minimum of 130 carries (100 from a season ago in 13 games). At the rate he played a season ago, that’s a floor of 600 yards that will likely rise based on Cook’s injury history.
Jared Stidham, QB NE
This is obviously a tough one to predict. Stidham only has four career pass attempts and takes over for possibly the greatest quarterback of all time. We do know that last preseason, taking it for what it’s worth, Stidham looked very impressive. Also, in college, he threw for only 13 interceptions in 848 attempts (1.5%). This will arguably be the most important season of Josh McDaniel’s career as a Patriots play-caller and I think he doesn’t change the offense too much with possibly the addition of more deep shots to open things up. The offense seemed stagnant in 2019 but that was in large part due to injuries at wide receivers. The team also added tight ends Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene in the third round, so the supporting cast around Stidham should be improved. ESPN has his projected stats at 3,554 yards, 19 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. I think they are shortchanging him as I don’t believe Belichick and McDaniels would trot out a quarterback they didn’t think could have a good season. Stidham had a passer rating over 125 in his final season of college on throws deeper than 20 yards, fifth-best in the country. This will be useful in bootleg plays where he will have time to set his feet and drive the ball. Of course, the Patriots offense will be a lot of quick throws and easy reads which plays into Stidham’s quick release. I think he gets close to 25 touchdowns and roves around 10 interceptions in an offense where they won’t ask him to do too much.
Paris Campbell, WR IND
Campbell’s rookie season was more like a game of operation than anything else which effectively made him a redshirt as a second-round pick. Now under the assumption that he’s healthy, head coach Frank Reich envisions him as the team’s main slot receiver. This is on par with what they had in plan for him last year as he saw about half of his snaps in the slot. Campbell is a legit speedster, running the fastest time at the 2019 combine with a 4.31 40. As Hilton loses a step or two, Campbell can be the receiver they use in a variety of ways. In his limited production, Campbell averaged 6 yards after the catch which puts him in the top 15%. At this point in his career, his quarterback Phillip Rivers has a very average arm, so I’d expect the Colts to run a lot of screens which will benefit Campbell. As you can see with Rivers, he does his damage in intermediate routes where he can rely on his accuracy rather than arm strength. Looking at the Colts offense from a season ago without Andrew Luck, Jacoby Brissett had the second-lowest completed air yards per reception at 5.3. Meaning, the offense didn’t take many shots down the field and wants to get the ball in their plamaker’s hands as soon as possible. Campbell I think has a good chance to finish second in targets and yards, with the possibility of leading the team if Hilton takes a step back.
Diontae Johnson, WR PIT
Of all the players on this list, I expect Johnson to have the best statistical season. Even with arguably the worst quarterback play in the league last year, Johnson had 680 yards and led all receivers in gaining separation on routes at 2.4 yards. This means that you can run Johnson on deep routes and he’ll be able to break away from the cornerbacks. Oh and by the way, he sustained a groin injury week 2 and played the whole season with that ailment. Also now that Ben Roethilisberger is back, I believe that the Steelers will try to stretch the field more often. Big Ben is historically one of the best quarterbacks in the league at the deep ball and even if that elbow injury weakens his arm, he should still be able to have enough arm to try and stretch the field. The Steelers have a strong trio of receivers and are known to be the best organization at developing talent at that position. JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington each saw their target total double in their second season with the Steelers. I would be surprised if Johnson’s targets doubled (92 a season ago), but if he can even see a 25-35% increase then he has a chance to get close to 1,000 yards. Now with someone competent at throwing a football accurately and in his second year of development, Johnson can be a top 30 receiver.
Hunter Renfrow, WR LVR
Death. Taxes. Hunter Renfrow open on third down. All of Renfrow’s touchdowns and 35% of his receptions came on third down. That 35% conversion was the 17th best in the league, showing that while Waller might be the best receiving option, Renfrow is the safety valve. He also had 81% of his yards in the second half of the season, showing that Derek Carr was getting comfortable with the rookie wideout as the season went on. The Raiders did draft Henry Ruggs III in the first round, but he’s going to be the one to take the top off of defenses meaning that Renfrow, who is a slot receiver mostly, can work underneath in single coverage. Also, Renfrow dropped one pass last year and as long as Carr is the one taking snaps, I think Renfrow is going to be one of his top targets. He’s a must-add in your fantasy and is a draftable player with the upside to be your WR3/Flex by year end.
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