Every year during the fantasy football season, a player comes out of nowhere and becomes a superstar. Known as a “sleeper” during the draft process, these players can be identified in various ways. In 2018, any avid fan could have seen how George Kittle primed himself to become the best tight end in the NFL. So who had a semi-breakout season that earned them a spot as 2020 sleeper candidate? Keep reading to find out!
Jonnu Smith – Titans, TE
One of the hottest sleeper names on the fantasy market this year is Jonnu Smith of the Tennessee Titans. He’s 25-years-old and coming off a 439-yard season. Most importantly, he became a security blanket for QB Ryan Tannehill down the stretch.
With Tannehill returning in Tennessee, expect to see Smith get more targets. If he can prove to be a red zone threat and finish the season with 750 or more receiving yards, he will be worth the late-round value he has on most draft boards.
Ryan Tannehill – Titans, QB
If we’re going to mention Jonnu Smith, we might as well label Ryan Tannehill a sleeper candidate, too. Burdened by injuries during the early part of his career with Miami, Tannehill was traded to Tennessee and by midseason was named the starter over Marcus Mariota.
In 10 games as the starter, Tannehill averaged over 2 TDs a game and completed 70 percent of his passes. Now primed to start a full 16 game season, he’s a huge candidate for a breakout year that very few people will see coming.
Darius Slayton – Giants, WR
Darius Slayton was a rookie wide receiver for the New York Giants in 2019. He was taken in the fifth round of the draft and was a surprise breakout player at the end of the year. With his chemistry now established with QB Daniel Jones, we expect his budding star to blossom in 2020.
The young receiver finished his rookie season with 740 receiving yards. If he is one of Jones’ favorite targets again, we should top 1,000 yards without a problem.
Chase Edmonds – Cardinals, RB
Yes, we know that Chase Edmonds is second on the Cardinals’ depth chart to Kenyan Drake, but there are still plenty of reasons to be optimistic about his 2020 output. The first and foremost is that in 2019, he averaged 5.1 yards-per-carry.
Second, and most important, lead back Kenyan Drake has never proven he can carry a full season’s load. If Drake falters or gets injured, Edmonds will be in line to take over. He’s worth stashing on your bench if you have room for him.
Anthony Miller – Bears, WR
At the end of his second year in Chicago, wide receiver Anthony Miller began to unlock his potential. His coach credited his late-season success on finding his ideal workout regimen. Miller finished the season with 656 yards.
In the first week of the 2020 season, Miller caught four passes for 76 yards and one touchdown. If Mitchell Trubisky can re-find the magic he lost from 2018, Miller should have no problem reaching 1,000 yards in the season.
Nyheim Hines – Colts, RB
With all the focus in Indianapolis on Philip Rivers and Marlon Mack, it can be easy to forget Nyheim Hines is even on the roster. Still, in the first week of the 2020 season, Hines rushed seven times and scored a touchdown.
In comparison, Mack only rushed the ball four times. Will the split of carries stay in Hines’ favor? Will he continue to be the team’s touchdown back? If his play stays consistent, then we believe he should and is a great bench stash in case he breaks out big down the stretch.
Josh Allen – Bills, QB
Josh Allen was a surprisingly good QB for the Buffalo Bills in 2019. He has a huge arm and can run all over the field. Like Lamar Jackson last year, we believe an offseason of development will only make Allen a bigger threat.
If Allen can throw for 20 plays touchdowns with 3,500 passing yards while being a threat for 600 yards on the ground then he’ll establish his fantasy value. And if last year is any indication, he will do just that.
Tyler Higbee – Rams, TE
When a QB is struggling, oftentimes they will turn to their tight end as a security blanket. That’s exactly what happened down the stretch in 2019 when Jared Goff began throwing more and more to Tyler Higbee.
Higbee finished the season with more than 700 receiving yards and should continue to be a favorite target of Goff as Los Angeles looks to bounce back from its underwhelming 2019. If the Higbee connection is the real deal, he’ll be one of the top tight ends in the NFL.
Cam Newton – Patriots, QB
It is very odd to consider Cam Newton a sleeper candidate, but that’s exactly what he is in 2020. Let go by the Panthers in the offseason several years removed from winning the league MVP award, Newton found himself taking a one year “prove it” deal with the New England Patriots.
In his first game in New England, Newton showed up big time, rushing for a touchdown while completing 79 percent of his passes. As the coaching staff gains more trust in him, his fantasy value could skyrocket.
Mike Gesicki – Dolphins, TE
Tight End can be one of the hardest positions in fantasy football to predict. In recent years, the position has become filled with versatile pass catchers. Still, production can vary wildly from week to week unless you have a player like Travis Kelce or George Kittle.
Enter Mike Gesicki. The Dolphins’ tight end had a strong finish to his 2019 season and should get plenty of opportunities to prosper this year. If he falls low in your draft, or you can grab him in free agency, go for it.
Dalton Schultz – Cowboys, TE
Another tight end to keep an eye on is Dalton Schultz. After starting the 2020 season as the backup to Blake Jarwin, Schultz is now the starter. Jarwin is expected to have ACL surgery after he went down in the season opener on a non-contact injury.
After the injury, Schultz came in and saw plenty of targets. He should continue to see balls come his way as the Cowboys navigate the 2020 season with a new head coach for the first time in a decade.
Diontae Johnson – Steelers, WR
If we learned one thing about the Steelers’ wide receivers in 2019, it was that the loss of Ben Roethlisberger to season-ending surgery was devastating. Now healthy and looking to bounce back, look for his receivers, especially Diontae Johnson, to have stand-out years.
Johnson was a rookie in 2019, and even with bad QB play was able to finish the season with 680 yards. We’ll be disappointed if he doesn’t break the 1,000-yard barrier this season.
Justin Jefferson – Vikings, WR
With Stefon Diggs out in Minnesota, someone has to step up and take his place, and that someone should be Justin Jefferson. The wide receiver will lineup in the slot, and should become a popular target for QB Kirk Cousins.
Cousins needs another threat to compliment elite wide receiver Adam Thielen, and Jefferson looks to get the first chance. If you can draft him late or grab him in free agency, the risk could be worth the reward.
Allen Lazard – Packers, WR
The Green Bay Packers did nothing in the offseason to address the wide receiver position, which was good news for Allen Lazard. Penciled in as Aaron Rodgers’s number two threat in 2020, Lazard responded in week one with 63 yards and a touchdown.
Lazard should continue to see plenty of targets this season, especially after Marques Valdez-Scantling failed to catch several easy passes from Rodgers. If you take Lazard, you should enjoy his production as long as he stays healthy.
Brandon Aiyuk – 49ers, WR
The 49ers moved up in the draft to grab rookie wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, and the team expects him to contribute as soon as he steps onto the field. Known for his ability to move after the catch, he could be a monster in PPR leagues if the Niners managed to strike… gold.
While it’s hard to put a rookie wideout on this list, because of injuries to other players, Aiyuk will be thrown into the fire and be given every opportunity to succeed.
Benny Snell – Steelers, RB
In the 2020 season opener for the Steelers, Benny Snell Jr. rushed for 113 yards on 19 attempts. The bulk of his carries came after lead back James Conner left the game with a sprained ankle.
Depending on how long Conner’s ankle injury lasts, Snell now has a chance to show the team that he should be getting the bulk of the carries. Starting the season off with a 5.9 yard-per-carry average could be just the beginning!
Breshad Perriman – Jets, WR
Breshad Perriman didn’t have the best introduction in week one as the Jets’ top wide receiver. Going against the Bills’ defense didn’t help, either. Perriman hauled in three passes for 17 yards, but we don’t think you should give up on him yet.
The Jets won’t play top-ranked defenses all season, and he is easily the most talented pass-catcher in New York. After his week one performance, you’ll probably find him in free agency, and he’ll be worth the pickup for when the Jets’ season gets a little easier.
Parris Campbell – Colts, WR
Parris Campbell, according to experts, is primed for a breakout season. While we believe that may be a bit of overstatement, we do think he has sneaky value as a sleeper in PPR leagues. When he was healthy in 2019, Campbell was targeted multiple times a game.
With a QB under center who loves to throw the ball, we expect those targets to increase as long as Campbell stays healthy. Injuries were a problem for the young player in 2019.
Gardner Minshew – Jaguars, QB
No one expected Gardner Minshew to have the rookie season he did in 2019. After Nick Foles got injured, the late-round draft pick showed surprisingly high NFL IQ. In the offseason, the Jags officially made Minshew the starter and traded Foles to the Bears.
Questions surrounding Minshew were aplenty heading into week one of the 2020 season, but he appears to have answered them with a stellar performance. Grab him while you can, because his sleeper label won’t last long.
Malcolm Brown – Rams, RB
Cam Akers was supposed to be the bruising running back that took over the reins from Todd Gurley in Los Angeles. Instead, Malcolm Brown seized the opportunity in week one and should continue to get a chance to shine as the “hot hand.”
Brown touched the ball 21 times in the season opener for a total of 110 yards. Head coach Sean McVay may try and convince you that he’s going to play RB by committee, but we expect Brown to force the issue after his breakout performance.