Fantasy: 7 super-deep sleepers for 2020 (Updated)

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In an effort to shine a light on the unnoticed or outright ignored, we’ve built a list of players who are way off the fantasy radar but could become relevant if things fall their way during the season.

Keep these players on your watch list and be ready to pounce when their opportunity arises.

Average draft position data courtesy of Fanball, since best-ball ADP tends to be ahead of the curve at this point in the year. It’s based on 12-team leagues with PPR scoring.

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Marcus Mariota, QB, Raiders

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We tipped you off last year to the sneaky potential of Ryan Tannehill as the Tennessee Titans’ backup. By midseason, he had taken over as the starter, and he posted the third-most fantasy points among quarterbacks from Week 7 on.

The man he replaced – Mariota – now finds himself on the other end of a similar situation with the Las Vegas Raiders.

Mariota signed a two-year, $17.6-million contract to work behind fellow underachiever Derek Carr. The dollar amount is worth noting because Mariota will make more than any backup has over the past two years, according to ESPN’s Paul Gutierrez.

By comparison, the only man drafted ahead of Mariota in 2015 – Jameis Winston – inked a one-year, $1.1-million deal to sit on the Saints’ bench this season. For all of Winston’s flaws, the former first overall pick has been far more productive during his NFL career and is coming off a 5,000-yard campaign.

So the Raiders clearly see something in Mariota, which isn’t surprising since general manager Mike Mayock had him above Winston in his prospect rankings five years ago.

Despite Mariota’s struggles as a pro, it’s possible his fantasy value could be rejuvenated with a new organization. Prior to 2019, the 26-year-old displayed the type of rushing ability that fantasy managers covet in their quarterbacks.

Year Carries Rush. Yds Rush. TDs
2015 34 252 2
2016 60 349 2
2017 60 312 5
2018 64 357 2

And before being replaced last season, Mariota was on pace for 54 carries and 294 yards.

Rushing stats alone won’t save Mariota’s career, but a new coaching staff and an improving supporting cast in Vegas are enough to generate hope for his outlook. If he does get thrust into the starting lineup, Mariota will be an intriguing QB2 with enough rushing upside to flirt with low-end QB1 numbers.

Deep-sleeper potential: ?????

Reggie Bonnafon, RB, Panthers

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Don’t feel bad if you’re unsure who Christian McCaffrey’s handcuff is. Bonnafon has largely been an afterthought in the fantasy community while CMC dominates snaps and touches in the Carolina Panthers’ backfield.

As an undrafted free agent in 2019, Bonnafon was limited to 67 plays and touched the ball just 22 times as a rookie. However, he stood out when McCaffrey dealt with cramps in Week 5, turning five carries into 80 yards and a touchdown, though most of that production came on a 59-yard score.

With such a microscopic sample size, we don’t know if Bonnafon is capable of carrying the load in an NFL backfield, and the 24-year-old will once again need to hold off veteran Mike Davis and fifth-round sophomore Jordan Scarlett before we can confidently view him as the second option in Carolina.

McCaffrey hasn’t missed a game since being drafted in 2017, and he has 729 touches over the last two seasons. Considering the rate at which running backs get injured, it’s unlikely McCaffrey continues to make it through each campaign unscathed. As we saw last year, any trip to the trainer’s table will result in more work for Bonnafon, who continues to go undrafted in almost every league.

Keep him in mind as an end-of-the-bench stash or an in-season waiver wire add with sky-high upside if McCaffrey goes down.

Deep-sleeper potential: ?????

Trayveon Williams, RB, Bengals

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Williams is a late-round lottery ticket worth rostering until we find out if Joe Mixon’s holdout threats are real.

As we witnessed with Le’Veon Bell and Melvin Gordon the last two years, star running backs seeking new contracts aren’t bluffing about their willingness to sit out part of or even an entire season. In those instances, James Conner and Austin Ekeler became fantasy stars.

While Williams is currently behind 28-year-old Giovani Bernard on the depth chart, the latter could be a salary-cap casualty if the coaching staff feels comfortable enough with the youngster.

“Spoke with a Bengals offensive coach, who said as much as they love Joe Mixon, dynasty leaguers shouldn’t forget about Trayveon Williams, whom they are very high on,” ESPN’s Matthew Berry wrote after the NFL combine in February.

The Bengals’ offensive line is still a work in progress, but the arrival of quarterback Joe Burrow and the return of wideout A.J. Green could kickstart Zac Taylor’s attack and take pressure off the running game.

Whether Williams sees increased volume thanks to a Mixon holdout or gets promoted later due to an injury, he’s a name you should be familiar with for 2020 and beyond.

Deep-sleeper potential: ?????

Josh Reynolds, WR, Rams

Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Following the trade that sent Brandin Cooks to the Houston Texans, most of the attention in the Los Angeles Rams’ receiving corps has been focused on Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, and tight end Tyler Higbee.

Though the team did lean more on 12 personnel late in the season, it’s unlikely to bail on three-receiver sets altogether, creating an opportunity for another wideout’s role to grow.

Without a true offseason to prepare, second-rounder Van Jefferson will face an uphill battle to earn playing time as a rookie. He also failed to top 700 yards in any of his college seasons, so it’s hard to project significant stats early in his NFL career.

Entering his fourth season with the club, Reynolds is comfortable with the offense and has flashed some promise when given the chance.

He scored five touchdowns on 29 receptions in 2018, and in the three games as a full-time player last year, Reynolds delivered stat lines of 3-73-1, 3-49-0, and 3-55-0, making him a borderline WR3 in fantasy on a per-game basis over that brief stretch.

“We would not have made the move on Brandin Cooks had it not been for the confidence we have in Josh Reynolds,” head coach Sean McVay told Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times after the draft in April.

Reynolds has averaged 48 targets per season over the last two years and will soak up a portion of the 72 targets vacated by Cooks. That should be enough to put him on the fantasy radar as a WR4 with a very high ceiling if either Woods or Kupp suffer an injury.

Deep-sleeper potential: ?????

Steven Sims, WR, Washington

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Washington’s receiving corps is wide-open behind top pass-catcher Terry McLaurin, who led the team with 93 targets in 2019.

Sims quietly finished third with 56 targets thanks to a massive uptick in volume in December. He was thrown to at least seven times in each of his last four outings, posting stat lines of 4-40-0, 5-45-1, 6-64-2, and 5-81-1 for the ninth-most fantasy points among receivers over that span.

That level of production is unsustainable, but he showed enough to deserve a longer look. Whether Sims continues to be a PPR machine will depend on the approach of the new coaching staff, the development of rookie teammate Antonio Gandy-Golden, and the progress quarterback Dwayne Haskins can make heading into his second year as a pro.

The good news for Sims is his mini breakout came late in the season when Haskins was at the helm.

Casual fantasy owners will be hesitant to get involved with Washington’s passing game outside of McLaurin, but you should set your sights on Sims as a low-cost, sneaky sleeper in 2020.

Deep-sleeper potential: ?????

Trent Taylor, WR, 49ers

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We have very little to go on when projecting Taylor’s usage, but the San Francisco 49ers’ receiving corps is an unproven group behind tight end George Kittle.

Deebo Samuel is expected to miss time after undergoing foot surgery in June. The emergence of first-rounder Brandon Aiyuk may take longer than anticipated as he recovers from core muscle surgery and deals with the fallout of reduced offseason activities. Versatile sophomore Jalen Hurd is also rehabbing from a stress fracture in his back that sidelined him his entire rookie season. Meanwhile, Kendrick Bourne and Dante Pettis have yet to earn bigger roles in the offense.

Perhaps that’s why people around the team continue to hype Taylor and his connection with Jimmy Garoppolo. It’s certainly not because of the 26-year-old wideout’s durability – he missed all of last season with a broken foot. But according to several beat writers, Taylor was Garoppolo’s go-to receiver in training camp prior to the injury.

NBC Sports Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco added to that narrative when he reported that the “49ers expect big things from Taylor,” and the receiver has returned to the field running routes and catching passes from Garoppolo.

If the rapport with his quarterback is as strong as some have claimed, a healthy Taylor could capture the 49ers’ starting slot job, thus warranting a spot on fantasy rosters in PPR leagues. For now, monitor any information coming out about San Francisco’s WR depth chart and put Taylor on your preseason watchlist.

Deep-sleeper potential: ?????

Dan Arnold, TE, Cardinals

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As you’ve surely noticed by now, one of the paths to uncovering a super-deep sleeper is following the breadcrumbs left by front offices, coaching staffs, and beat writers.

That can trickle out in the form of quotes, but sometimes you simply have to watch how a team addresses a position in the offseason.

The Arizona Cardinals got very little from their tight ends in 2019, and yet they chose not to add anyone of note in free agency or the draft.

One reason for that might be Arnold, who was claimed off waivers in December and ended the season in epic fashion with four catches, 76 yards, and a touchdown.

The team was impressed by the performance, and now “Arnold has a chance to make a real impact,” according to The Athletic.

Good Morning Football’s Peter Schrager echoed that sentiment a week later, suggesting he heard from someone within the Cardinals organization that Arnold will be a “key part” of the offense.

There are a ton of late-round tight ends with breakout appeal, so you may not need to dig deep and reach for Arnold, but the 6-foot-6 red-zone threat could end up being a difference-maker in one of the league’s most exciting young offenses.

Deep-sleeper potential: ?????

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