The start of a sports season also signals the beginning of its fantasy counterpart. After decades of existence, however, fantasy football reigns supreme among the bunch.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are a ton of questions surrounding the 2020 NFL season and the 2020 fantasy football season, specifically whether or not they will both reach completion, and who to have on your roster if they do.
NFL teams are trying to build a roster with no preseason games to work off of, and fantasy football owners are attempting to make similar decisions without having any basis of what rookies and players on new teams are capable of.
All of those factors will turn this into an incredibly unique fantasy football season, and an almost-impossible one to nail as far as drafting is concerned. But, to help you out as you prepare for your draft, here are three sleeper picks at each position to consider before the start of the 2020 NFL season.
- Broncos QB Drew Lock
Denver Broncos QB Drew Lock is one of the lowest-ranked quarterbacks from both a fantasy perspective and in real life, clocking in as the 26th-ranked starter in the league in Pro Football Focus’ preseason rankings.
But, plenty of football fans across the country are all aboard the Drew Lock hype train, excited to see what the Missouri alum can pull off in his first full year under center in Denver.
He’s got a solid wide receiving corps in Courtland Sutton and rookie Jerry Jeudy, along with an up-and-coming tight end in Noah Fant. He showed out in his first five NFL starts, going 4-1 with a 64-percent completion rate, and, according to Sutton, he has a “swagger” heading into his sophomore season.
Will Lock be your QB1 right off the bat? No. But, it would be smart to pick him up as a backup like many fantasy owners did with Patrick Mahomes in 2018, and hope for even two-thirds of the production that the Chiefs QB put up. The potential is there, and now it’s time for Lock to execute.
- Patriots QB Cam Newton
It may seem crazy to call a former league MVP and NFC champion a “sleeper,” but given the circumstances heading into Cam Newton’s first season with the New England Patriots, the title seems to make sense.
Despite a long recovery from lingering injuries, Newton beat out fellow Patriots quarterbacks Jarrett Stidham, Brian Hoyer and Brian Lewerke for the team’s starting job, just a few months after signing with the team late in the offseason.
Newton hasn’t played since Week 2 of the 2019 season, and only started two games for the Carolina Panthers before being placed on the Injured Reserve before Week 10 that year. So, many fans are skeptical about what the Auburn alum can do on the field at the moment.
But, if you look at things a bit closer, you see a dream scenario. You see a quarterback looking to prove himself on a one-year deal, returning to the field after a long hiatus that likely brought him back to his 2015 form. That version of Newton won him MVP honors.
Newton’s fantasy potential is off the charts, with tough receivers in Julian Edelman and N’Keal Harry to work with by air, and plenty of speed and physicality to work with on his own in the running game. He’ll be a goal-line stud in the Patriots offense, and has Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels to coach him up for success in any scenario.
Being named the Patriots starter may increase his draft stock and take him out of sleeper status, but it’s definitely worth it to jump on Newton and potentially start him as your QB1 in Week 1.
- Rams QB Jared Goff
Jared Goff caught a lot of flack in 2019 as the hangover seemingly kicked in following the Los Angeles Rams’ appearance in Super Bowl LIII. But, he’s poised for a bounce-back year in 2020, both in the NFC West and fantasy football divisions.
Sure, the Rams lost Brandin Cooks, who was a target on plenty of Goff’s deep balls in recent years. But, they gained rookie Van Jefferson, who has been a shining star throughout training camp out in California.
Yeah, the Rams lost Todd Gurley, who was a star and cornerstone in the Rams’ offense for a long time. But, they have second-year running back Darrell Henderson, rookie running back Cam Akers and veteran Malcolm Brown for some depth in the backfield.
Trusted wideouts like Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods are still around, and Goff has worked with a stout Rams defense in practice to build up “calluses” of sorts and limit mistakes as best as he can.
The talent seems to be there, and “Hard Knocks: Los Angeles” seems to show a determined Goff who wants to make an impact in a tough division in 2020. All of that combined makes Goff a fascinating fantasy football pick, and a great sleeper option in late rounds as you fill out your bench.
- Ravens RB J.K. Dobbins
J.K. Dobbins was a star at Ohio State University, and he’s joining the perfect offense as he heads to Baltimore to play for the Ravens in his rookie season.
The Ravens are a run-heavy offense, with quarterback Lamar Jackson’s wheels earning him MVP honors last season as a sophomore. Jackson put up Michael Vick-esque numbers on the field, but one of his better qualities is actually his ability to take pressure off of the players around him.
As a result of that, veteran running back Mark Ingram had a resurgence in his first season with the team, a good sign for a player like Dobbins. The need for fresh legs will always give Dobbins the potential to shine in big moments, and head coach John Harbaugh’s recent indication of a “significant role” in the offense bodes well for Dobbins.
If he can get out on the right foot after a strong training camp, he could become a touchdown machine in the Ravens backfield for Jackson to pitch the ball to in the red zone. It’s worth the late-round pick you’ll spend on him, and he’ll be a nice player to have stashed away on your bench until the time is right.
- Cardinals RB Chase Edmonds
At the rate at which the NFC West operates, the Arizona Cardinals are due for a big year in 2020, especially considering the man they have under center: quarterback Kyler Murray.
Murray has all sorts of weapons around him for his sophomore season, with the recent addition of wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins standing out among the rest. Another player with potential in the offense? Running back Chase Edmonds.
Kenyan Drake will likely get a lot of the reps in the backfield behind Murray, but Edmonds will surely be in the rotation. Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury views Edmonds as a “starting running back,” and could create a dynamic duo or 1-2 punch for Murray to work with in the offense as a result.
If Drake were to get hurt, which isn’t out of the realm of possibilities given his history, Edmonds would jump into a high-powered offense with a ton of reps. That, as fantasy owners know, is the perfect formula for a potential fantasy football stud,
- Packers RB AJ Dillon
Another rookie running back on the list, Green Bay Packers RB AJ Dillon has loads of potential in his first year, even if it’s as a “vulture” at the very least.
The Packers, much like the Patriots, tend to be an awkward situation to deal with when it comes to running backs. There always seems to be a flavor of the week or month in the offense, and Green Bay isn’t a team that will force the ball to someone if they’re on a hot streak.
Aaron Jones is the team’s starting running back with the most fantasy potential, but Dillon represents a different breed at the position, one that fantasy football owners live for. With such a massive frame and an insane amount of power in his legs, Dillon has the potential to be the perfect goal-line back behind quarterback Aaron Rodgers, powering into the end zone on a majority of his carries.
If he even lives up to that role, he’s worth a late-round pick to keep him on your bench. If he gets even more reps than that, he could turn into an easy RB2 or RB3 candidate by the middle of the year.
- Cowboys WR CeeDee Lamb
Dallas Cowboys wide receivers haven’t been the easiest players to rely on in recent years, but CeeDee Lamb’s potential is tough to ignore heading into the 2020 season.
The Oklahoma alum will benefit big-time by the presence of quarterback Dak Prescott in Dallas’ offense, along with running back Ezekiel Elliott, as well.
Prescott has the arm and confidence, and he’s looking to prove himself in an epic fashion as he continues his search for a new contract with the team. Meanwhile, Elliott is working his way back to the production he had in his rookie year in 2016, furthering his status as a thorn in any defense’s side.
With Prescott’s ability and the attention that will always be put on Elliott, Lamb could break out and find himself wide open deep down field more often than not in 2020. Combine that with the fact that Amari Cooper is battling an injury, and Lamb could become a hot commodity sooner rather than later.
- Broncos WR Jerry Jeudy
One of two players who will benefit from the first sleeper on this entire list, new Broncos wide receiver Jerry Jeudy may turn into a WR1 by the end of the year if quarterback Drew Lock successfully handles the hype in 2020.
The 21-year-old Alabama product has been highly-touted heading into his rookie year, even being deemed by ESPN’s Todd McShay as the top rookie WR in the league. Standing at 6-foot-1 and 193 pounds with both speed and exceptional route running, Jeudy could be the perfect playmaker in the new-look Broncos’ offense.
Teammate Courtland Sutton labeled him as a “special” player, and cornerback AJ Bouye compared him to Amari Cooper. If he, like Lock, can live up to the expectations that others have set for him, he could turn into a fantasy football superstar in no time.
- Patriots WR N’Keal Harry
His rookie year was considered a disappointment by both reporters and fans, but New England Patriots WR N’Keal Harry is looking to turn his sophomore season into the opposite of a slump as he looks to build up a relationship with new Patriots starter Cam Newton.
He played in just five games as a rookie, tallying just 12 receptions on 24 targets for a total of 105 yards and two touchdowns. His lack of aggressiveness in his routes led to some bullying from defensive backs on the field, and some began to wonder if all hope was lost for Harry.
But, he put in the work during the offseason. He was one of the first to build a connection with Newton before training camp began, and impressed head coach Bill Belichick, who said Harry has a “much better understanding this year.”
If Belichick’s decision to cut WR Mohamed Sanu is any indication, the team seems to have a lot of faith in Harry heading into 2020. If that’s the case, he could be the perfect foil for opposing defenses this season, and could turn into both a red zone target and fantasy football flex option as a result.
- Broncos TE Noah Fant
Tight end Noah Fant is another Broncos target gearing up for a potentially great year in 2020, and his production may depend on how his teammates play, rather than how he does himself.
Drew Lock will be the most important piece of the Broncos puzzle, similar to Baker Mayfield in the Browns’ offense during his sophomore season. Any struggles under center will hinder the rest of the team, especially players like Fant and Jerry Jeudy.
But, if everybody does their job offensively and puts up the numbers that Broncos fans expect them to, the entire team could turn into the average fantasy football player’s dream.
The 6-foot-4, 249-pound tight end didn’t find the end zone much in his rookie year, with just three touchdowns on 40 catches in his 16 total games. But, he told The Denver Post recently that he’s been ‘moving around a lot’ in the team’s offense, which could signal a shift in his role and an increase in production as a result.
If he’s telling the truth and spanning the field on a variety of plays, Fant could turn into a tough, tall touchdown target for Lock to take advantage of, and could be a sneaky tight end for fantasy owners to consider in the long run.
- Buccaneers TE O.J. Howard
Yeah, yeah, yeah, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have Rob Gronkowski as their starting tight end. Yes, that Rob Gronkowski. But, while many believe it could take away reps from tight end O.J. Howard, some think it could be a blessing in disguise for the fourth-year Alabama alum.
New Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady has famously done well in systems with two tight ends, evident by the Patriots’ offense from 2010 through 2018. Gronkowski paired with a tight end with good hands was a formula for success in Foxborough, and it appears as if Bucs head coach Bruce Arians may be looking to bring that down to Tampa in 2020.
With star wide receivers like Mike Evans and Chris Godwin already on the team, combined with a who’s who in the backfield of Ronald Jones II, Leonard Fournette and LeSean McCoy, it’ll be impossible for opposing defenses to cover everybody.
Howard will be able to operate under the most space on the field in his entire career, and could excel in the process. If he does that, he’ll regain the trust of fantasy owners who have banked on him for years since he came into the league.
- Lions TE T.J. Hockenson
Many football fans feel as if Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford could be a top-tier fantasy football quarterback in 2020, despite playing just eight games in the 2019 season. If Stafford can match those expectations, expect a big year from tight end TJ Hockenson.
The second-year Iowa product played in just 12 of the team’s 16 games in 2019, compiling 32 receptions for 367 yards and two touchdowns. Similar to Noah Fant, however, he’s getting a lot of praise for his work during the offseason, with excitement building because of his increased upper-body strength and “domination” during training camp.
When Stafford is on, he turns into a nearly-unstoppable quarterback in the Lions backfield. If he is at his peak in 2020 after full recovering from a series of fractures in his back, then Hockenson should rise as a star in Detroit’s offense accordingly. If that happens, watch out for the 23-year-old when it comes to your fantasy football league.