These are ten fantasy football sleepers for the upcoming season that will absolutely disgrace their average draft position with huge performances. Their Ceiling is the highest Position Rank I think they can achieve, and their Floor is the lowest provided they stay healthy. All the standings are based on ESPN PPR rankings.
1. Kenny Golladay (WR8)(22)
Kenny Golladay has just scratched the surface of his potential with the Lions. As a former Golladay owner who watched almost every Lions game last year, I know just how good Golladay is as a receiver. His quarterback situation last season was just pitiful. Most of Golladay’s catches were only possible because he contorted his body in ways a 6’4” 214 lb man should not be able to. Only 74.1% of his targets from last season were catchable, and he still managed to finish as WR9. Now, he’s got his QB back, the Lions finally have a decent run game, and most importantly, the Lions have the easiest overall cornerback schedule and the easiest cornerback schedule for WR 1’s in the entire league. It is hard to see a scenario where Golladay doesn’t finish as a top-6 receiver.
2. RB Todd Gurley, ATL (RB17)(35)
Mr. Arthritis is primed for a huge year in Atlanta’s backfield. The glory that once surrounded the name “Todd Gurley” has vanished due to Gurley’s knee issues. Those question marks haven’t gone away, but I think that there is more to the story of Gurley’s downfall. There have been whispers of a rift between Gurley and Rams Head Coach Sean McVay; a rift that may have been a factor in Gurley’s volume decrease. Obviously, the knee issues are a concern, but think of it this way: The Falcons play in a division with tough front sevens and they are handing Gurley a feature back role with very little competition for touches.
Unless the virtually useless Brian Hill and Ito Smith take a significant role in the offense, Gurley will be getting 18+ touches a game. Why would the Falcons do that if they thought Gurley’s knee couldn’t handle that volume? Atlanta could have signed another back to split the load because they have leftover cap space, but they didn’t. If Gurley stays healthy, he will be getting a volume increase from last season and will still get a ton of goal-line work because the Falcons love to run in the red zone. Gurley is a boom or bust pick for sure, but he will definitely have the chance to be a top-10 back this season.
3. WR A.J. Brown, TEN (WR16)(40)
A.J. Brown is clearly the number one pass-catcher in the Titans offense after his breakout rookie campaign, during which he took 16.4% of his touches to the house. Brown was a human highlight real last season and he’s about to pop the tape back in and run it back. Brown is ranked 40th overall and is the 16th-ranked WR right now; the next pass-catcher on the Titans is Corey Davis who ranks 160th overall and is WR 70. Other than Derrick Henry, A.J. Brown is the only playmaker the Titans have. His volume is almost sure to increase this year after having only 84 targets a season ago and racking up over 1,111 scrimmage yards and nine total touchdowns.
The one thing I worry about with Brown is the Titans offensive line. The Titans had the worst adjusted sack rate in the league last season at 11.2%, which definitely isn’t good for a deep threat like Brown. However, Mike Vrabel knows what he has in Brown and will find more creative, lower-risk ways to get him the ball this year. Brown’s success revolves around Vrabel’s ability to adjust to their offensive line struggles and get the ball to his star players in space, and I trust that will happen. A.J. Brown is the real deal and he has the potential to be a top receiver in the league within the next few years.
4. Keenan Allen (WR21)(46)
The Keenan Allen pick has way more to do with the quarterback than with the player himself. Keenan Allen is the ultimate safety blanket for any subpar quarterback, and the Chargers have plenty to choose from: Veteran Tyrod Taylor, sixth overall pick Justin Herbert, and 2019 fifth-rounder Easton Stick are the three not-so-appealing options for the Chargers next season. None of these quarterbacks are particularly good, but more importantly, none of them can throw the ball deep particularly well at the NFL level.
Tyrod Taylor will most likely start for the entire season, so it only makes sense to focus mainly on his skill set. Taylor’s arm strength is actively poor. What kept him going as the starter for the Bills for so long was his decision-making. Here are his three main options to choose from: the big deep threat, Mike Williams, the check down running back, Austin Ekeler, or the best route runner in the league, Keenan Allen. Taylor can’t throw deep and Ekeler can’t handle a huge passing load on top of RB1 duties. Allen on the other hand is Taylor-made for Tyrod. Allen’s Yards Before Catch Per Reception (YBC/R) in the past two seasons have been 8.2 and 7.9 yards downfield. Taylor’s Average Intended Air Yards Per Attempt (AIAY/A) in his only playoff season with the Bills? 8.3 yards. It’s like they were made for each other. The Tyrod to Keenan connection is going to keep the Chargers offense alive this season. If one of them goes down, wildcard hopes will shoot right out the window, and so will the other’s fantasy value.
5. T.Y. Hilton (WR22)(47)
T.Y. Hilton is going to be the centerpiece of the Colts offense this year. Don’t take it from me though, take it from his head coach. “You just want to get [T.Y. Hilton] the ball more. I said it yesterday if we’re going to fulfill our vision and win the games that we want to win he has to be at the center of it,” Colts Head Coach Frank Reich said. Hilton is one of the best deep threats in the game and next season he’ll be paired with one of the best deep passers in the game in Phillip Rivers. Rivers may not have the cannon that he once had in his San Diego days, but he can still get plenty of zip on the ball in year 17. Rivers has led the league in Yards per Attempt 3 times in his career and with the weapons in this Colts offense, he has a chance to do it again next season. If T.Y. can stay healthy, and that’s a big if, he can return to being the consistent, top-15 fantasy receiver he once was.
6. Darren Waller, LAV (TE5)(62)
Darren Waller surpassed everyone’s wildest expectations last year, finishing as TE3 in PPR scoring in a season where he only scored three touchdowns. Waller scored over 200 fantasy points on receptions and yards alone. So, why is Waller expected to regress this year? If anything, the additions of Henry Ruggs III, Lynn Bowden, and Nelson Agholor will help Darren Waller. All of those guys have tremendous speed and Ruggs and Bowden will serve as deep threats. They will stretch the field and open up space in mid-underneath zones, which is exactly where Waller does the most damage.
Well, won’t those acquisitions take away targets from Waller? Actually, not by much. Derek Carr can’t throw the deep ball well at all, so having an abundance of speedy deep threats won’t be super appealing to a quarterback who can’t hit those passes. If Gruden chooses not to adapt the offense to his receivers’ strengths because he has mistrust in Carr’s deep passing ability, then those guys may take away a good chunk of targets from Waller. However, Waller will make up for it with touchdowns. It is extremely unlikely that Waller will have another season of under 5 TDs, especially with all of their small receivers. I am expecting Waller to have about the same amount of points as he did last year, if not slightly more, but he will get there through different means.
7. RB James White, NE (RB36)(82)
Every year James White is ranked as a bench player before the season and every year he does better than he’s projected. If you want a consistent flex option late in the draft then look no further. White only had three games with less than ten points last year and he scored 9.6 in one of them. He will be the best and most used running back in the Patriots backfield; everyone seems to forget how much Bill Belichick uses him. White finished as PR18 last season in PPR and I think he could exceed that this season.
First off, the Patriots have the fourth-toughest overall cornerback schedule this season, and their receivers aren’t very good, to begin with. Belichick and McDaniels know this and will give a lot of work to the backs because of it. Secondly, Jarrett Stidham is a young quarterback who is extremely unpolished and doesn’t read defenses well down the field, so he will rely on his check downs just like Brady did. And if Cam takes over, well, that really isn’t much of an improvement. Finally, the Patriots, for the first time in my life, aren’t going to be good. That feels really good to see in writing. Nevertheless, that means they will be coming from behind more this season, hence, James White will be in the game more to catch passes. White is the only Patriots player you can count on in fantasy this upcoming season.
8. WR Diontae Johnson, PIT (WR39)(95)
If Diontae Johnson doesn’t have a breakout year then the Steelers offense won’t be good. I truly think the two will go hand in hand because their run blocking is awful and Johnson is their most talented receiver. Johnson created an average of 3.6 yards of separation on targeted passes last season. That is the best of any qualified receiver in the league. If you ask any scout or coach, “what is the most important thing to look for in a receiver?” I bet most of them would say “separation.” With Big Ben back, Johnson has a quarterback who can get him the ball in an offense that will be throwing the ball about 60% of the time. I think Johnson could sneak his way into the top-25 this season provided he and Big Ben stay healthy.
9. QB Carson Wentz, PHI (QB9)(110)
Please bear in mind that these predictions are based on the notion that these players remain healthy… that might be a bargain with this one. The Eagles had two huge problems last season: their secondary and their receivers. In 2019 their secondary could have been scraped together from the nearest PeeWee league and the result would have been the same. Now, Darius Slay and Nickell Robey-Coleman are on that squad, so the issue is all but taken care of. The receivers were the bigger issue for Wentz. They couldn’t catch Corona from a Florida house party last season, but now, Jalen Reagor and Desean Jackson are in the building. Both of them can stretch the field extremely well, Alshon Jeffrey is a phenomenal red zone target, and the best tight end duo in the league is still going strong.
Wentz had very few weapons last season and his defense couldn’t stay on the field long enough for him to catch a break in between his receivers’ dropped passes. Now, the defense is completely revitalized, his offensive weaponry is improved, and Wentz is fully healthy. I see the Eagles as a playoff lock and Wentz as an MVP candidate once again. I have very high expectations for this group and it all starts with Wentz.
10. WR Justin Jefferson, MIN (WR54)(119)
Justin Jefferson will be a candidate for offensive rookie of the year when it’s all said and done. He may not win, but he’ll definitely be up there. For the people who don’t watch college football, you will get to know the name “Justin Jefferson” very quickly. Last season at LSU, Jefferson racked up 111 catches for 1,540 yards and 18 touchdowns in 15 games. He’s a play-maker if I’ve ever seen one. Jefferson being ranked as WR54 is a crime. He is almost a lock for the second wideout position, he is opposite a very injury prone WR1 in Adam Thielen, and his skill set fits with the Vikings offense. The Vikings lost Stefon Diggs, a speedy route runner who is great after the catch, and Justin Jefferson has a very similar skill set.
Now for the kicker: Justin Jefferson ran 81% of his routes out of the slot for LSU. The Vikings have the second-easiest cornerback schedule for slot receivers and the seventh-easiest overall cornerback schedule. Now, the Vikings chose not to utilize a slot receiver on a good percentage of their plays last year. However, they wouldn’t have drafted Jefferson without a plan for how to use him. I think they will integrate a lot more spread packages into the offense to exploit the matchups they want, and those matchups have Jefferson on the receiving end. Jefferson should be drafted in every league this year because he might just be a top-30 receiver this season.