BATSBY Sports has identified 13 ideal sleeper candidates for the 2020 fantasy season (PPR scoring), with each player likely lasting until the beginning of Round 9 (or pick 85 in 12-team leagues).
For the sake of uniformity, we’ll work exclusively off Fantasy Football Calculator’s Average Draft Position chart with PPR leagues.
It’s also worth noting: This column will solely be devoted to veteran assets; and if you’re looking for a rookie player to cover in the mid-to-late rounds … the line starts with Broncos wideout Jerry Jeudy, who should be a top-25 draftee this time next year.
WR DIONTAE JOHNSON, STEELERS
FANTASY FOOTBALL CALCULATOR ADP: 90th overall (Round 8)
BATSBY SPORTS RANKING: No. 42 wide receiver
2019 STATS: 59 catches, 92 targets, 680 yards, 5 TDs
REASONS TO SNAG JOHNSON IN THE MIDDLE ROUNDS
a) Of the five games in which Johnson found the end zone last year, the rookie stealthily averaged 5.6 catches, 7.2 targets, 71 yards and one touchdown.
b) It’s worth noting: None of the five strong outings (listed above) included Ben Roethlisberger as the Steelers’ starting quarterback.
c) Johnson collected six-plus targets 10 different times last season.
d) Regarding their respective Year 2 seasons with the Steelers (2011 and 2018), Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster owned stellar averages of 90 catches, 1,272 yards and 4.5 touchdowns.
e) From 2014-18, Roethlisberger averaged 4,418 yards passing and 30 total touchdowns. With his new and improved elbow (via surgery), Ben Ben might have another two or three seasons of high-level passing in the Steelers’ aggressive offense.
RB PHILLIP LINDSAY, BRONCOS
FANTASY FOOTBALL CALCULATOR ADP: 88th overall (Round 8)
BATSBY SPORTS RANKING: No. 32 tailback
2019 STATS: 1,207 total yards (1,011 rushing), 7 TDs
REASONS TO GRAB LINDSAY
a) Charting his two pro seasons, Lindsay eclipsed the marks of 1,200 total yards and seven touchdowns each time.
b) An undrafted free agent coming out of college, Lindsay should have zero difficulty adjusting to the time-share situation with Melvin Gordon. The Colorado alum essentially had been splitting time with Royce Freeman the last two campaigns.
c) Of the 14 times Lindsay has tallied 100 total yards and/or one touchdown, the Broncos speedster registered 20 or more touches only four times.
d) Lindsay represents one of the five best handcuff situations among fantasy backs. In other words, if you grab Gordon sometime in Round 4 or 5 … please invest in Lindsay four or five rounds after that.
TE TYLER HIGBEE, RAMS
FANTASY FOOTBALL CALCULATOR ADP: 92nd overall (Round 8)
BATSBY SPORTS RANKING: No. 42 wide receiver
2019 STATS: 69 catches, 89 targets, 734 yards, 3 TDs
REASONS TO PRIORITIZE HIGBEE AS A TE1
a) It’s smart to ignore Higbee’s so-so numbers listed above; the 27-year-old warrants mid-round attention for the following reason … and it’s a big one:
For Weeks 13-17 last year, Higbee dominated all comers, posting two touchdowns, four outings of double-digit targets, four 100-yard efforts and five games of seven-plus catches during this incredible stretch.
Forget about tight ends. This five-game spurt easily represents the best finishing kick of any pass-catcher last season.
And yet, Rob Gronkowski will likely go higher in most PPR drafts this summer. Go figure.
b) According to Pro Football Focus, Rams QB Jared Goff (two-year averages: 4,663 yards passing, 29 TDs) was the top-ranked play-action passer last season — a stat which certainly benefits the downfield-running talents of Higbee.
c) Of the NFL’s eight worst defenses against tight ends last year, in terms of touchdowns surrendered, Higbee and the Rams will encounter six of the clubs in 2020 (Dolphins, Redskins, Buccaneers, Giants, Cardinals twice).
WR MARVIN JONES, LIONS
FANTASY FOOTBALL CALCULATOR ADP: 96th overall (Round 8)
BATSBY SPORTS RANKING: No. 30 wide receiver
2019 STATS: 62 catches, 91 targets, 779 yards, 9 TDs
REASONS TO CORRAL JONES BEFORE ROUND 10
a) Jones enjoyed top-40 tallies with catches, targets, receiving yards and touchdowns last season — despite logging only 13 games.
In fact, when extrapolating Jones’ numbers to a full 16-game campaign, it shakes out to 77 catches, 112 targets, 958 yards and 11 touchdowns.
b) Here’s something consistent: In his final 12 games last year, Jones tallied at least five targets each time.
Here’s something dominant: Jones carried fantasy teams three times last season — vs. the Vikings (10 catches, 93 yards, 4 TDs), at the Raiders (8 catches, 126 yards, 1 TD) and vs. the Cowboys (4 catches, 43 yards, 2 TDs).
QB JOSH ALLEN, BILLS
FANTASY FOOTBALL CALCULATOR ADP: 103rd overall (Round 9)
BATSBY SPORTS RANKING: No. 8 quarterback
2019 STATS: 3,599 total yards (3,089 passing), 29 total TDs
WR JOHN BROWN, BILLS
FANTASY FOOTBALL CALCULATOR ADP: 155th overall (Round 13)
BATSBY SPORTS RANKING: No. 44 wide receiver
2019 STATS: 72 catches, 115 targets, 1,060 yards, 6 TDs
REASONS TO PATIENTLY WAIT ON ALLEN AND BROWN
a) Ignore the lightning-fast Brown at your own peril in the middle rounds, even with the additional presence of Stefon Diggs (traded from the Vikings).
Last year, Brown was one of only 20 wideouts to post eight games of eight-plus targets … and seven outings of seven catches, 95 yards and/or one touchdown.
b) Allen established himself as an annual candidate for 3,000 yards passing, 500 yards rushing and 27-plus touchdowns last season; and factoring in his yearly average of 8.5 rushing touchdowns, the Wyoming product warrants a higher draft grade than high-end quarterbacks with largely passing prowess.
c) Dare we say it: By year’s end, Allen might give Lamar Jackson a run for his statistical money, in terms of passing yards, rushing yards, rushing touchdowns and total TDs. He’s that good!
And yet, Allen should be available after the second wave of drafted quarterbacks.
d) Last year, Allen notched 12 outings of multiple touchdowns; and against the AFC East (complete games only), the Bills quarterback enjoyed fruitful averages of 255 total yards and 2.2 TDs.
THE ANNUAL PPR SPECTACULAR
PRESSURE PACKED: Results of three simultaneous mocks (No. 8 slot)
HURRY UP AND PICK! Results of three simultaneous mocks (No. 4 slot)
SLEEPER CELLS: 13 mid-to-late round targets to covet with PPR leagues
FANTASY: 4 ways to invoke the risky ‘Bye Week’ draft strategy
FANTASY: How to fake your way through an uncomfortably early draft
DEEP DIVE: Fun Facts-style breakdown of the 2020 schedule
TWO OF EVERYTHING: Cool results from our ‘Noah’s Ark’ mock draft
FREE MONEY: Our second crack at NFL ‘Survivor Pool’ picks for 2020
READY, SET, GO: The NFL’s 30 most anticipated matchups of the season
MOCK DRAFT SIMULATION: # 11 slot
MOCK DRAFT SIMULATION: #4 slot
QB MATTHEW STAFFORD, LIONS
FANTASY FOOTBALL CALCULATOR ADP: 115th overall (Round 10)
BATSBY SPORTS RANKING: No. 6 quarterback
2019 STATS: 2,499 yards passing, 19 TDs, 5 INTs (8 games)
REASONS TO COVET STAFFORD AS A QB1
a) Last year, Stafford was on pace for 4,998 yards passing and 38 touchdowns … before going down with a serious-but-not-surgery-worthy back ailment.
b) The Lions are blessed with high-upside playmakers at the tailback (D’Andre Swift, Kerryon Johnson), receiver (Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones) and tight end slots (T.J. Hockenson). Plus, Stafford has quickly bought into the aggressive schemes of offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell.
c) The schedule-makers have apparently been very kind, with Detroit drawing the vulnerable pass defenses from the AFC South (Texans, Colts, Jaguars) and NFC South (Bucs, Falcons, Saints).
d) Last year, Stafford posted the third-highest average of fantasy points among quarterbacks (25.9 per game).
The two passers ranked ahead of Stafford? Lamar Jackson and Jameis Winston — currently Brees’ backup in New Orleans.
RB SONY MICHEL, PATRIOTS
FANTASY FOOTBALL CALCULATOR ADP: 113th overall (Round 10)
BATSBY SPORTS RANKING: No. 44 tailback
2019 STATS: 1,006 total yards (912 rushing), 7 TDs
REASONS TO MONITOR MICHEL THIS SUMMER
a) Michel (foot injury) has been on the PUP list since the beginning of training camp. Otherwise, the University of Georgia product would have been a strong candidate for Rounds 5-7. (Take advantage of this opportunity.)
b) For his brief time in the NFL, Michel has quickly emerged as a reasonable lock for 975 total yards and seven touchdowns; and don’t forget, he found the end zone six times during the Patriots’ championship run in the 2018 playoffs.
c) Check this out: Charting his 14 career outings of 18-plus touches, Michel has cracked the threshold of 100 total yards and/or one touchdown 11 times; and for these targeted outings, the third-year back enjoyed rock-solid averages of 97 total yards and 0.8 TDs.
d) There isn’t much fear of Damien Harris or Rex Burkhead supplanting a healthy Michel in the Patriots’ lineup.
Just like we’re not worried about James White (primarily a pass-catching threat) cutting into Michel’s touches.
Put it all together, and it makes perfect sense to take a Round 14 flier on Michel — as either a RB5 or RB6.
QB DANIEL JONES, GIANTS
FANTASY FOOTBALL CALCULATOR ADP: 129th overall (Round 11)
BATSBY SPORTS RANKING: No. 14 quarterback
2019 STATS: 3,027 yards passing, 26 total TDs, 12 INTS (13 games)
WR STERLING SHEPARD, GIANTS
FANTASY FOOTBALL CALCULATOR ADP: 132nd overall (Round 11)
BATSBY SPORTS RANKING: No. 28 wide receiver
2019 STATS: 57 catches, 83 targets, 576 yards, 3 TDs (10 games)
REASONS TO PAIR JONES WITH SHEPARD
a) Of his 10 games last season, Shepard collected seven-plus targets eight times and five-plus catches eight times.
What’s more, the Oklahoma product posted five different outings of seven catches, 95 yards and/or one touchdown.
b) Charting his 12 rookie starts, the QB Jones accounted for 300 yards passing and/or multiple touchdown six times; and citing his four greatest games from last season, Jones owned otherworldly averages of 348 total yards and 4.3 TDs.
c) Go ahead and pencil in Giants tailback Saquon Barkley (two-year average: 1,735 total yards, 12 TDs) for 85 receptions this season.
WR BRESHAD PERRIMAN, JETS
FANTASY FOOTBALL CALCULATOR ADP: 159th overall (Round 13)
BATSBY SPORTS RANKING: No. 41 wide receiver
2019 STATS: 36 catches, 69 targets, 645 yards, 6 TDs
REASONS TO PRIORITIZE PERRIMAN LATE IN THE PROCESS
a) Perriman likely carried a number of fantasy teams to the semifinal and championship rounds last season, thanks to a spectacular finishing kick which yielded per-game averages of five catches, 7.4 targets, 121 yards and one touchdown (Weeks 13-17).
Did it help that Mike Evans had been sidelined to injury, and that quarterback Jameis Winston was riding a notorious hot streak? Sure.
But we also believe in Perriman’s physical talents, along with his mental acuity in handling the high-profile market move from Tampa Bay to New York/New Jersey.
b) Training camp reports can be deceiving. That said, Jets QB Sam Darnold has already developed a good rapport with Perriman, praising the fifth-year pro for his route-running ability and general explosion off the line of scrimmage.
TE MIKE GESICKI, DOLPHINS
FANTASY FOOTBALL CALCULATOR ADP: 153rd overall (Round 13)
BATSBY SPORTS RANKING: No. 11 tight end
2019 STATS: 51 catches, 89 targets, 570 yards, 5 TDs
REASONS TO SELECT GESICKI AS A TE2
a) Gesicki enjoyed a marvelous finishing kick to last season, tallying five touchdowns from Weeks 12-17.
The great flurry came under the direction of Ryan Fitzpatrick, who will likely remain the Dolphins’ starting quarterback for September and October.
b) For his final nine games last year, Gesicki collected six or more targets eight times.
QB TEDDY BRIDGEWATER, PANTHERS
FANTASY FOOTBALL CALCULATOR ADP: 180th overall (Round 14)
BATSBY SPORTS RANKING: No. 22 quarterback
2019 STATS: 1,384 yards passing, 9 TDs (5-0 as the Saints’ starter)
REASONS TO GRAB BRIDGEWATER LATE IN THE DRAFT
a) The Panthers boast a fantastic front four of tailback Christian McCaffrey (NFL single-season record 116 catches last year), receiver DJ Moore (87 catches, 1,175 yards, 4 TDs), Robby Anderson and Curtis Samuel (underrated targets machine).
Translation: Good luck finding a bottom-third quarterback with similarly stellar playmakers in the final rounds.
b) Joe Brady, who led LSU’s offense to the most prolific numbers in college football history last season (coinciding with a national championship), takes over the play-calling reins in Carolina; and as luck would have it, Bridgewater already has experience with Brady’s relentless vertical thinking — since they were both with the Saints in 2018.