The term “fantasy football sleepers” was en vogue for quite a while there. So too were IPods, 3D TVs, and flip phones. These gadgets have been replaced in recent years, but we still use the term “sleepers” quite frequently in fantasy. Truth be told, sleepers do not exist anymore. At least not in the traditional sense. News travels faster than ever nowadays, and we are all privy to the same information at lightning-quick speed. We all know who the third-string running back and fifth wide receivers on every NFL team are. If you are in any fantasy football league that is even mildly competitive, there will never be a time where you draft a player, and your league-mates look at you incredulously because they were unaware of that player’s expected role. Also, if a player is being drafted in the first two rounds, he is not a sleeper. Sorry, not sorry.
I am not including anyone as a sleeper who is currently being drafted as a starter. Still, there are plenty of players who will exceed expectations based on the draft capital assigned to them. There are players at each position who will provide excellent value to their ADP. Changes in roster configuration or scoring systems will impact the value of each player in the pool. A player’s role can also change on a dime due to injury, coaching schemes, or players opting out. We have already seen several fantasy relevant players opt out of the 2020 season for concerns over Covid-19. ADP data does not always account for these fluctuations. Call the following players draft-day values, or sleepers if you must. However, you choose to categorize them, here are some players who I expect to significantly surpass their current draft stock.
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2020 Fantasy Football Sleepers
Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions (ADP: QB13)
Matthew Stafford missed the entire second half of the 2019 season with a broken back, but he was quite productive before the injury. Stafford thrived in his first season in Darrell Bevell’s offensive system. He was the overall QB6 through eight games and finished as a weekly QB4 or better in half of those games. That is considerable upside for a player who is not even being drafted as a starter in most 12-team leagues. Detroit has plenty of weapons on the offensive side of the ball. Kenny Golladay is an emerging stud, while veterans Marvin Jones and Danny Amendola are still quite productive. Tight end T.J. Hockenson has a ton of potential, and first-round draft pick D’Andre Swift is a weapon out of the backfield. Detroit’s defense will once again be the team’s Achilles heel, which should give Stafford even more opportunities to put points on the board.
Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee Titans (ADP: QB16)
While Stafford was the first-half darling in 2019, Ryan Tannehill went from backup NFL quarterback to fantasy football league winner in the second half. Tannehill got his first start in the Music City in Week 7. From then on, he was the overall QB3. He exhibited weekly consistency, finishing as a top-10 fantasy quarterback in eight of his 10 starts. Tannehill excelled in the play-action game, as the thread of Derrick Henry bulldozing opposing defenses often let Tannehill operate in a clean pocket. He led the NFL in passer rating under those conditions, and rookie wideout A.J. Brown was Tannehill’s primary beneficiary. There will almost certainly be regression for Tennessee’s passing attack in 2020. But that is already very much baked into Tannehill’s current price. Those who miss out on the elite tier of quarterbacks can do a lot worse than to draft Tannehill significantly later.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, Miami Dolphins (ADP: QB28)
Were you surprised that Ryan Tannehill was the overall QB3 from Week 7 on? If so, you might want to sit down. Guess who was the QB2? To be fair, Ryan Fitzpatrick did not have a bye week during that timeframe. Still, he was the QB5 (QB6 if you count Stafford’s three games played) on a per-game basis. Now, I know what you are thinking. What about Tua? Miami drafted Tua Tagovailoa with the fifth overall selection in this year’s NFL Draft. Head coach Brian Flores has indicated that there will be an open competition at quarterback this season, and obviously, Tua Tagovialoa is the team’s long-term answer at quarterback. However, I do not believe the future will be a month from now.
Tagovailoa passed his physical and can practice without limitations. However, he is still trying to make the transition to NFL starter as a rookie. That can be a tough task under ideal conditions. Current conditions are anything but. In addition to rehabbing from injury, Tagovailoa will not have the benefit of playing in the preseason. Because of the pandemic, rookies may be a bit behind the curve as we head towards the regular season. Fitzpatrick also has had prior success in offensive coordinator Chan Gailey’s spread offense. Given the circumstances, I do not expect Fitzpatrick to be unseated by a rookie with no NFL experience, regardless of how talented that rookie is. Miami, like the Lions, will have to throw the ball early and often to compete in ballgames. Fitzpatrick should be targeted in Best Ball and SuperFlex formats as a quarterback with considerable weekly upside.
Tyrod Taylor, Los Angeles Chargers (ADP: QB29)
Why have just one placeholder at quarterback when you can have two? Tyrod Taylor is in a similar situation to Fitzpatrick. The Los Angeles Chargers drafted Justin Herbert with the sixth pick in this year’s draft. While he should be the quarterback of the future in Los Angeles, but Taylor is expected to begin the season as the starter. Coach Anthony Lynn stated as much last week, and that has been the company line for months now. Taylor was a solid fantasy quarterback earlier in his career, finishing inside the top 10 in points per game in both 2015 and 2016. Much of that production came via the run. If Taylor is given the green light in the running game, that would increase his fantasy value.
It feels like Taylor has been around forever, but he just turned 31 years old and should still have plenty of gas in the tank. The Chargers removed the interim tag from offensive coordinator Shane Steichen in the offseason. Steichen was the quarterbacks’ coach before the promotion. Last season, the Chargers improved in passing yards per attempt and passing yards per game after Steichen took over. He knows how to get the most out of the quarterback position. I fully expect him to maximize Taylor’s talent as both a passer and a rusher. Taylor will probably not have those spike weeks where he finishes as a top-five fantasy quarterback. However, if you are in a SuperFlex format, he should be a serviceable signal-caller for as long as he remains the starter.
Running Back Sleepers
Le’Veon Bell, New York Jets (ADP: RB22 in Standard; RB17 in PPR)
David Johnson, Houston Texans (ADP: RB19 in Standard; RB20 in PPR)
While they are still being drafted as top-20 PPR backs (or close to it), and thus perhaps going a bit early to be considered true sleepers, I am a bit higher than most on Le’Veon Bell and David Johnson this year. Both veteran running backs should produce solid results and I consider both to be potential steals at their current prices. Bell had an abysmal season and still finished as the overall RB16 in PPR leagues. This year, he is being drafted as the RB17. If he fails to live up to that billing without getting injured, I will be a very sad Jets fan. OK, sad-der.
Johnson has not shown the ability to stay healthy, which has caused his draft stock to plummet. He was a top-five PPR back through six weeks before injuries derailed his 2019 campaign. Sure, a fifth-round pick investment on a player with a history of injuries is risky. But one of the good things about fantasy football is that if a player gets hurt, you get to replace him. You do not get stuck with zeros for weeks at a clip. If you configure your roster properly, you should be able to afford the hit. Johnson’s upside as the lead back in Houston’s fantasy-friendly offense is significant. And you just know that Bill O’Brien will do everything in his power to justify trading away DeAndre Hopkins. Johnson is going to get all the work he can handle this season.
Running Back Sleepers
Derrius Guice, Washington Football Team (ADP: RB30 in Standard; RB31 in PPR)
Do I think Derrius Guice is a sleeper this year? Or did I just really want to type “Washington Football Team”? We may never know. In any event, I do think there is value to be had here. We know that Guice has played just five games in two years in the league. Perhaps his checkered injury history makes him more of a post-hype sleeper than a traditional sleeper. In any event, he started and finished three consecutive games from Weeks 11 through 13 of last year. He finished as an RB1 in that small sample size despite just 31 total touches. Yes, he scored three times, and expecting 16 touchdowns over a full season (or even expecting a full season’s worth of games out of him, period) may not be realistic. But the talent and upside are there for him to be a league winner.
Fantasy managers are currently drafting Guice as the RB30 in standard leagues and the RB31 in PPR formats. His primary competition for touches in Washington’s backfield is Adrian Peterson. All Day may be superhuman. He has logged 499 touches since his 33rd birthday and recently suggested that he can play four more years. At some point, though, he will likely start ceding work to Guice. Peterson also offers next to nothing in the passing game at this stage of his career, catching just 51 passes over his last 44 games. Based on his draft price, I think Guice is a bigger bargain in PPR formats than standard leagues, but I believe he offers quite a bit of appeal regardless of format. Just make sure you have reinforcements in tow if you draft the oft-injured back.
Matt Breida, Miami Dolphins (RB37 in Standard; RB34 in PPR)
The Miami Dolphins signed Jordan Howard and acquired Matt Breida via trade during the offseason. When members of a backfield have what look to be defined roles, we should consider the most likely outcome on a week to week basis. I stated earlier that I expect the Miami Dolphins to throw the ball quite a bit in 2020, I believe this will be in part due to negative game script. The Dolphins do not figure to be playing from ahead very often this season. That should swing the pendulum in Breida’s favor. Since 2018, Breida has caught 46 of 53 targets for 381 yards and three scored.
Howard has corralled just 30 of 41 targets for 214 yards and one score. Not only is Breida the far superior receiver, but there is plenty of evidence to suggest that he is the better runner as well.
Over the last two years, Breida has averaged 5.21 yards per carry, while Howard has plodded to a 3.96 mark. That is even though, according to Next Gen Stats, Breida has faced eight men in the box on 28 percent of his carries over that span compared to just 15 percent for Howard. Breida will not have the benefit of San Francisco’s strong offensive line this year, but he is plenty talented to lead this backfield. He is arguably the fastest man in the NFL and is versatile enough to create mismatches for opposing defenses.
Duke Johnson, Houston Texans (ADP: RB46 in Standard; RB45 in PPR)
Duke Johnson is thought of as a pure pass-catching back, but I believe he is much more than that. He posted Pro Football Focus’ seventh-best rushing grade last season, while also adding in a top-25 receiving grade. He even finished second in their run blocking metric, though I haven’t played in a league that counts run blocking yet. No matter how you slice it, Johnson has all the tools to be a quality running back in the National Football League. He just hasn’t been given the opportunity. That will probably remain the case in 2020 as well following the acquisition of David Johnson. But for all of the people who think David Johnson is broken down and won’t make it through the season, you would think Duke would be getting more shine. However, that has not been the case.
Much like Cohen, Johnson finished as a top-30 PPR back despite being considered a massive disappointment. His draft stock has plummeted much further than Cohen’s has in recent months. Fantasy managers are drafting the other DJ in Houston as the RB46 in standard leagues and the RB45 in PPR leagues. Even if David Johnson logs 300 touches, Duke Johnson will still be valuable in Best Ball and PPR formats. In the event David Johnson does indeed break down, Duke can reign supreme in that fantasy-friendly offensive system. Bill O’Brien traded for Duke too around this time last year, so many of the same intangibles that I mentioned with David apply to Duke as well, albeit on a smaller scale. I highly recommend drafting Duke Johnson in the 10th or 11th round, particularly if you took the plunge on David several rounds earlier.
Boston Scott, Philadelphia Eagles (ADP: RB49 in Standard; RB49 in PPR)
Boston Scott gained some traction towards the end of last year, yet he remains under the radar as we head towards the 2020 season. Since most fantasy leagues do not count Week 17, many may have missed Scott’s 138-yard, three-touchdown performance in the season finale. But that was not his only standout performance down the stretch. From Week 14 through Week 16, Scott finished as an RB2 in both standard and PPR leagues. Scott finished the 2019 season seventh in PFF’s receiving metric, just ahead of James White, Aaron Jones, and Kareem Hunt. Scott’s 23 catches over the final quarter of the season are a bit fluky. Philadelphia’s receiving corps was decimated towards the end of the year, which thrust Scott into a larger receiving role.
On the bright side, Scott seems to at least have the backup job behind Miles Sanders locked up. Head coach Doug Pederson has shown a willingness to use multiple running backs throughout his tenure in Philadelphia. Based on those tendencies and Scott’s expected role, he should be in line for 8-10 touches every week. Fantasy managers are drafting Boston Scott as the RB49 in both standard and PPR leagues. That feels too low considering both his potential and late-season heroics. As is the case with Duke Johnson, I prefer Scott in PPR leagues as opposed to standard leagues. However, that is not to say he does not carry value in non-PPR formats as well. Boston Scott has all the makings of a fantasy football sleeper in 2020.
PPR-Specific Running Back Sleepers
James White, New England Patriots (RB40 in Standard; RB30 in PPR)
Tarik Cohen, Chicago Bears (RB44 in Standard; RB35 in PPR)
I am putting these two backs together because nearly half of their touches result from catching passes. That should make them hot commodities in PPR leagues, but they seem to be undervalued in those leagues as well as standard leagues. James White has finished as a top-20 PPR fantasy running back in consecutive seasons. Yet he never seems to get the respect he deserves in the fantasy community. Cam Newton may represent a downgrade from an accuracy standpoint from Tom Brady, but that is not going to affect White. White will still arguably be New England’s second-best pass catcher in 2020. He has averaged 94 targets over the past four years. Even if that number takes a slight hit, he is efficient enough to provide plenty of production in the passing game. He is a likely PPR RB2 that can be had for the price of a borderline Flex play.
Tarik Cohen is the Le’Veon Bell of third-down backs, at least based on 2019 numbers. Cohen’s season was an enormous disappointment following his breakout 2018. However, he still finished as the overall RB27 using PPR scoring. This year, mangers are drafting Cohen essentially as a depth piece at RB35. Are we really expecting him to be even worse than he was last year? That almost does not seem possible considering how inefficient he was. Cohen was the RB11 overall in 2018, so there is plenty of potential value, even if he never quite makes it back to that level of production.
Antonio Gibson, Washington Football Team (RB64 in Standard; RB61 in PPR)
If you do not think Derrius Guice and/or Adrian Peterson can make it through 16 games unscathed (and I gather you would not be alone in that belief), perhaps I can interest you in Antonio Gibson. The rookie exhibited dynamic playmaking ability during his collegiate career at Memphis. He touched the ball just 77 times on offense in college but did plenty of damage. He averaged 19.0 yards per catch as a receiver, scoring a whopping 10 times in just 44 career receptions. As good as he was as a receiver, he was perhaps even better as a runner. On 33 career carries, he averaged a video game-like 11.2 yards per rush, scoring four times. Gibson also averaged 28 yards per return on kickoffs last year. Quite simply, he is a threat to score every time he touches the football.
Wide Receiver Sleepers
Michael Gallup (ADP: WR32 in Standard; WR33 in PPR)
Marvin Jones (ADP: WR37 in Standard; WR37 in PPR)
Brandin Cooks (ADP: WR38 in Standard; WR39 in PPR)
Quick – which Cowboys wide receiver had the most targets per game and standard fantasy points per game last year? WRONG! Sorry, I’m just assuming you said Amari Cooper. If you did, then you would be wrong. The answer is Michael Gallup. Does that mean he will repeat the feat in 2020? Of course not. But there is no chance I am drafting Cooper four rounds before Gallup this year. Also, consider this. Calvin Ridley is going three rounds ahead of Gallup. Gallup also outscored Ridley on a per-game basis last year. They both play in explosive passing attacks with good quarterbacks and star receivers leaving them to exploit single coverage. So again I ask – why is Ridley being drafted three rounds ahead of Gallup? If the expectation is that CeeDee Lamb will be taking food off Gallup’s plate, then shouldn’t he be going inside the top 40? (Teaser.)
In the eight games Matthew Stafford played last year, Marvin Jones finished as the overall WR14. To be fair, there was a four-touchdown performance included in that sample. That does not happen very often, though it was not Jones’ first four score game in the NFL. But Marvin Jones is still an upper-echelon wide receiver in the NFL. I think the gap between him and Kenny Golladay is wider than the one between Cooper and Gallup in Big D, but Jones can also be had five or six rounds later than his teammate. If we are looking at this purely from a draft strategy standpoint, I would much rather grab elite running backs with my first couple of picks and grab Gallup and Jones a few rounds later than draft Golladay and Cooper early and wait on running backs.
I swear I do not hate Amari Cooper, but check this out.
Amari Cooper – 5,097 receiving yards and 33 touchdowns in his first five NFL seasons. 26 years old. ADP: WR10
Brandin Cooks – 5,147 receiving yards and 32 touchdowns in his first five NFL seasons. 26 years old. ADP: WR38
I know Brandin Cooks has bounced around, and his concussion injury is scary. But before last year, he was a top-15 fantasy wide receiver for four consecutive seasons. He also lands in an environment where there are a ton of vacated targets from last season following the trade of DeAndre Hopkins, and Will Fuller is not exactly the picture of health in his own right. Brandin Cooks can easily be a WR2 in 2020. The injury risk is real, but receiver is so deep this year. Draft some reinforcements in the later rounds to cover your bases in case Cooks get injured again. If he is on the field, he has the potential to put up huge numbers this season.
Wide Receiver Sleepers
CeeDee Lamb (ADP: WR43 in Standard; WR48 in PPR)
Jerry Jeudy (ADP: WR45 in Standard; WR47 in PPR)
Justin Jefferson (ADP: WR47 in Standard; WR45 in PPR)
Seriously, can I just list every rookie wide receiver that is entering the NFL this season? I can easily add a handful of names (probably more) to the triumvirate above. The idea that rookie receivers cannot produce at an elite level is one that belongs in the scrap heap with those IPods and flip phones I mentioned earlier. Five rookie wideouts finished as top-30 fantasy wide receivers last year. That is a trend that has occurred quite frequently in recent years. Now we have a rookie class of wide receivers that may very well be the best in history when all is said and done, and yet we cannot draft any of them inside the top 40? Really? And yes, I do still think that rookies may have it a bit rougher this season given the conditions. But the upside is too great to ignore.
CeeDee Lamb a crisp route runner and excelled versus man coverage during his college career. Lamb lands in Dallas, where he will most likely man the slot. The volume may be a bit spotty as times alongside Cooper and Gallup, which is why I suspect his ADP sits where it is. But I am a firm believer that his talent will shine through. Randall Cobb had 83 targets as the Cowboys slot receiver last season. Lamb should soak up roughly that amount. If you do not think that is enough for a player of Lamb’s caliber to make an impact, you might want to check A.J. Brown’s 2019 season, where he finished as the overall WR10 in non-PPR leagues on 84 targets. By the way, Gallup also averaged more points per game last year than Brown did.
Last season, Gallup and Cooper each had an aDOT (average depth of target) over 12.0. Of the 30 receivers who had at least 100 targets last year, only 10 including Gallup and Cooper had an aDOT that high. I would expect Dallas to continue to utilize both of them down the field, which makes Lamb the perfect complement to add another dimension to their already prolific passing offense. Lamb is a menace with the ball in his hands. He averaged over nine yards after the catch last season. I expect him to do a ton of damage underneath and over the middle. I do not expect Lamb to finish as a top 10 fantasy wide receiver as Brown did a season ago. However, that is the kind of upside that is within his range of outcomes.
The Denver Broncos drafted two wide receivers in this year’s draft. The first was Jerry Jeudy out of Alabama. Jeudy is another incredibly polished route runner for such a young player. His quickness and agility are top-notch, and he should produce right away. I am a bit warier of Jeudy being on the receiving end of passes from Drew Lock as opposed to Lamb with Dak Prescott or Jefferson with Kirk Cousins. Right tackle Ja’Waun Jones’ recent decision to opt-out of the 2020 season gives me some pause regarding Denver’s passing game as well. But the talent that Jeudy possesses is undeniable. If Lock continues to develop as expected, Jeudy will be a fantasy asset from the moment he first steps onto an NFL field.
When I previewed this class of receivers before the draft, I had Justin Jefferson lower than most. However, a lot can change based on one’s landing spot. I now believe that Jefferson may have one of the highest weekly floors out of the entire class. The Minnesota Vikings drafted Jefferson in the first round of this year’s draft, and he should start right away opposite Adam Thielen. Minnesota will count on Jefferson to step in for Stefon Diggs, whom the club traded to Buffalo during the offseason. I still have concerns about Jefferson’s ability to escape bump-and-run coverage. However, the Vikings do a great job of setting up play-action passes and scheming receivers open. Jefferson excels versus zone coverage, so Minnesota feels like a good landing spot for his skill set.
In addition to these three receivers, fellow rookies Henry Ruggs, Jalen Reagor, Denzel Mims, and Brandon Aiyuk have a chance of being the best receivers on their respective clubs in Week 1. All are currently being drafted outside the top 50 receivers in both standard and PPR leagues. Ruggs and Mims may have issues with inconsistent quarterback play, which could lead to some weekly inconsistency. But they are worthy Best Ball targets at the very least. Reagor and Aiyuk stand to benefit from the potential early-season absences of Alshon Jeffery and Deebo Samuel, respectively. All four rookies in this grouping have a great opportunity to establish themselves early and gain some momentum throughout their rookie campaigns.
Preston Williams (ADP: WR51 in Standard; WR53 in PPR)
I have already expressed my belief that Miami will throw the ball a lot during the upcoming season. They have also already had two receivers opt out of the 2020 season. Albert Wilson and Allen Hurns combined for 109 targets last season. Most of that volume figures to get soaked up by Davante Parker and Preston Williams. While fantasy managers are treating Parker as a top-20 receiver, Williams is going largely ignored. Many seem to forget how close the numbers between the two were during the season’s first half. Through eight games, Parker was the overall WR36 in PPR leagues. Williams was just one spot behind. Parker was more efficient than Williams in standard leagues, but Williams is a much bigger part of Miami’s offense than he is currently being given credit for.
Williams was well on his way to establishing himself as a fantasy force before a torn ACL ended his rookie year in Week 9. His status for Week 1 of the 2020 season is still up in the air, which may explain his current draft price. Even if he were to miss the first couple of games of the season, there is plenty to like from a fantasy standpoint. This is a receiver who could easily exceed 100 targets if he is, in fact, ready for the season opener. As I mentioned earlier, only 30 receivers reached that threshold in 2019. Fantasy football is all about opportunity, and Preston Williams should have plenty of it. He has a lot of appeal for me as a player who is readily available in the middle rounds of fantasy drafts.
PPR Deeper Sleepers
Mohamed Sanu (ADP: WR80 in PPR leagues)
Danny Amendola (ADP: WR88 in PPR leagues)
There are few things fantasy players hate more than boring veterans. Everyone wants to chase upside and tout themselves as having “discovered” the next great fantasy community. Meanwhile, established vets like Mohamed Sanu and Danny Amendola continue to produce and continue to be undervalued. Last season, Amendola finished 49th among all wide receivers in PPR leagues. Sanu finished 58th despite being traded halfway through the season. Neither player is going to pop off for a 30-point game, which is why most fantasy players want nothing to do with them. But both should get plenty of looks as safety valves in the passing game. If you are in a deep league and need a player who will give you a ho-hum 8-10 point game, consider these wily veterans at the end of your draft.
Tight End Sleepers
Hayden Hurst (ADP: TE18 in Standard; TE18 in PPR)
The Baltimore Ravens drafted Hayden Hurst two years ago, and he had a modicum of success in purple and black. However, he was quickly surpassed by Mark Andrews, who established himself as one of the game’s elite pass-catching tight ends. Hurst will have a chance to re-establish his value as a receiving threat in 2020, and he could not have asked for a better landing spot to do so. The Atlanta Falcons acquired Hurst to fill the void left by the absence of Austin Hooper, so he is now a bird of a different feather. Atlanta let Hooper walk in free agency, where he signed with the Cleveland Browns. Hooper finished as the overall TE6 in PPR leagues and TE7 in standard last year despite missing three games. Hooper had 97 targets, averaging more looks per game than Andrews and Darren Waller, among others.
I am not expecting Hayden Hurst to produce at the level that Hooper did a season ago. It would be unrealistic to expect anything approaching 120 targets, which was Hooper’s 2019 pace. Even 97 targets seem like a stretch. But Hurst does not need to see that much volume to be a sleeper this year. Last season’s TE18 scored 109.4 PPR points and just 68.8 standard points. The bar is set pretty low for Hurst to outproduce his draft capital. Hurst produced 76.9 PPR points and 46.9 standard points on just 39 targets a season ago. At that pace, he would need just 60 targets to exceed those benchmarks. That does not seem like too big of a stretch. Hurst should finish the year as a top-15 fantasy tight end and he has the potential to sneak into the top 10.
Eric Ebron (ADP: TE19 in Standard; TE19 in PPR)
There may be one thing fantasy managers loathe more than boring veterans. That would be players who disappoint after a career year. Enter Eric Ebron. Ebron had established himself as a solid if unspectacular, fantasy tight end during his time in Detroit. He finished as a top 15 tight end for three straight years, yet never finished inside the top 12. The Lions moved on, and Ebron wound up in Indianapolis. Everything clicked for Ebron in his first season as a Colt in 2018. He set career-highs across the board and scored more touchdowns in one year (13) than he had during his four-year tenure in Detroit (11). Ebron finished that season as the TE4, and it seemed like he was finally fulfilling his destiny of being an elite fantasy tight end. Then 2019 happened.
Ebron underwent offseason groin surgery, and just never got into a rhythm once the season began. He showed flashes but could not regain the form he had shown the year before. He expressed frustration over his role in the offense at times and was hampered by ankle injuries. In November, the Colts placed Ebron in Injured Reserve, ending his season. As bad as the season felt, Ebron still finished as a top-15 tight end through Week 12. Essentially, he regressed to his previous career norms. This year, he is being drafted even lower, as he now has a new home in Pittsburgh. Ben Roethlisberger has a history of utilizing his tight ends, so Ebron could see consistent targets. A return to his 2018 level of production does not seem possible, but his career baseline should make him a draft day value in all formats.
Gerald Everett (ADP: TE32 in Standard; TE34 in PPR)
Remember that time when I talked about the tight end who had a career year and then disappointed fantasy managers by reverting to his pre-breakout levels? You should. It was one paragraph ago. Now go look up Tyler Higbee’s career stats. Higbee had more receptions and yards in 2019 than he had in his three previous seasons combined. Over his last five games, he totaled 43 catches for 522 yards and two touchdowns. Those numbers alone were more than he had in any prior season. Higbee finished as a top 10 fantasy tight end in both PPR and non-PPR leagues. Many will point to Higbee’s white-hot finish and assume that he will carry that momentum into the 2020 season. However, I see things a bit differently.
Higbee’s breakout was the perfect storm. Over that incredible five-game stretch, he faced Arizona twice, Seattle, and Dallas. Last season, three teams in the entire NFL allowed at least 1,000 receiving yards to opposing tight ends. Want to guess which three teams? Sure, Higbee inflicted some of that damage himself, and he deserves credit for doing so. He also balled out against the 49ers, who had the league’s stingiest defense against tight ends last year. Higbee caught nine balls for 104 yards against the eventual NFC Champions. Again, kudos to him. Job well done. However, he enjoyed highly favorable matchups in four of the five contests, which should not be blindly ignored. Second, and perhaps even more importantly, he benefited greatly from the absence of one Gerald Everett.
Our story begins last November. Everett was dealing with injuries to both his wrist and ankle which put his status for Week 11 in jeopardy. He played just 14 snaps in that game and caught one pass for 20 yards. The next week, he played just 17 snaps and caught two passes. In that Week 12 game, he hyperextended his knee. That caused him to miss Week 13, which (checks notes) just so happens to be exactly when the great Higbee breakout of 2019 began. Go figure. Everett played just four more snaps the rest of the season. Through Week 12, Everett was the overall TE12 in PPR leagues and TE15 standard leagues. Higbee ranked outside the top 30 in both formats before Everett’s missing time.
Would Everett have enjoyed the same success that Higbee did had he not gotten hurt? We will never know. What we do know is that Everett was the more productive tight end in Los Angeles before his injuries. Higbee’s outstanding performance may leave Everett “Pipped”, but I still think Everett can re-establish himself as a relevant fantasy tight end. Sean McVay has already mentioned that he would like to utilize Everett more this season. Take coachspeak for what it’s worth, but it is telling that he still thinks Everett can have a role. There will not be 30-plus tight ends drafted in most leagues, so there is no need to draft Everett in shallow leagues. However, if you are in a deeper format or a Best Ball league, Gerald Everett could be well worth a late-round flier.
For more great analysis check out our 2020 Fantasy Football Draft Kit.
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