Updated fantasy football draft sleepers, busts, breakouts for 2020

As we enter into the heart of fantasy football draft season, we circled back with our ESPN Fantasy Football experts to bring you their latest sleepers, busts and breakout players for the 2020 campaign, as defined here:

  • Sleeper: A player who will far surpass his average draft position (ADP) in standard ESPN leagues for the 2020 season.

  • Bust: A player who is expected to be a solid starter in standard ESPN leagues but will fail to live up to those expectations this season.

  • Breakout: A player who will leap into or close to the upper echelon of players at his position for the first time because of a dramatic increase in production compared with his previous seasons (or a rookie who will burst onto the scene).

Our panel is composed of the following ESPN Fantasy writers and editors: Stephania Bell, Matthew Berry, Matt Bowen, Tom Carpenter, Mike Clay, Tristan H. Cockcroft, Daniel Dopp, Eric Karabell, Keith Lipscomb, Jim McCormick and Field Yates.

Each analyst named a sleeper and a bust for each of the major offensive positions, as well as one breakout candidate. You can find their picks below, and then analysis and insight on a selection of players they felt most passionate about in each category.

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Quarterback sleepers

Stephania Bell: Cam Newton, New England Patriots
Matthew Berry: Gardner Minshew II, Jacksonville Jaguars
Matt Bowen: Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
Tom Carpenter: Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals
Mike Clay: Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tristan H. Cockcroft: Drew Lock, Denver Broncos
Daniel Dopp: Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals
Eric Karabell: Gardner Minshew II, Jacksonville Jaguars
Keith Lipscomb: Daniel Jones, New York Giants
Jim McCormick: Gardner Minshew II, Jacksonville Jaguars
Field Yates: Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns

Quarterback busts

Stephania Bell: Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills
Matthew Berry: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
Matt Bowen: Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills
Tom Carpenter: Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills
Mike Clay: Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills
Tristan H. Cockcroft: Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills
Daniel Dopp: Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Eric Karabell: Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills
Keith Lipscomb: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
Jim McCormick: Daniel Jones, New York Giants
Field Yates: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

Running back sleepers

Stephania Bell: Antonio Gibson, Washington
Matthew Berry: Antonio Gibson, Washington
Matt Bowen: J.K. Dobbins, Baltimore Ravens
Tom Carpenter: Cam Akers, Los Angeles Rams
Mike Clay: Darrell Henderson Jr., Los Angeles Rams
Tristan H. Cockcroft: Damien Harris, New England Patriots
Daniel Dopp: Kareem Hunt, Cleveland Browns
Eric Karabell: Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts
Keith Lipscomb: Cam Akers, Los Angeles Rams
Jim McCormick: Matt Breida, Miami Dolphins
Field Yates: James Conner, Pittsburgh Steelers

Running back busts

Stephania Bell: Le’Veon Bell, New York Jets
Matthew Berry: Le’Veon Bell, New York Jets
Matt Bowen: Todd Gurley II, Atlanta Falcons
Tom Carpenter: Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns
Mike Clay: J.K. Dobbins, Baltimore Ravens
Tristan H. Cockcroft: Todd Gurley II, Atlanta Falcons
Daniel Dopp: Todd Gurley II, Atlanta Falcons
Eric Karabell: David Johnson, Houston Texans
Keith Lipscomb: Todd Gurley II, Atlanta Falcons
Jim McCormick: Todd Gurley II, Atlanta Falcons
Field Yates: Le’Veon Bell, New York Jets

Wide receiver sleepers

Stephania Bell: Diontae Johnson, Pittsburgh Steelers
Matthew Berry: Anthony Miller, Chicago Bears
Matt Bowen: Diontae Johnson, Pittsburgh Steelers
Tom Carpenter: DK Metcalf, Seattle Seahawks
Mike Clay: Preston Williams, Miami Dolphins
Tristan H. Cockcroft: CeeDee Lamb, Dallas Cowboys
Daniel Dopp: DK Metcalf, Seattle Seahawks
Eric Karabell: Hunter Renfrow, Las Vegas Raiders
Keith Lipscomb: Michael Gallup, Dallas Cowboys
Jim McCormick: Mecole Hardman, Kansas City Chiefs
Field Yates: Julian Edelman, New England Patriots

Wide receiver busts

Stephania Bell: Keenan Allen, Las Angeles Chargers
Matthew Berry: Courtland Sutton, Denver Broncos
Matt Bowen: Stefon Diggs, Buffalo Bills
Tom Carpenter: Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers
Mike Clay: Stefon Diggs, Buffalo Bills
Tristan H. Cockcroft: Stefon Diggs, Buffalo Bills
Daniel Dopp: A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals
Eric Karabell: A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals
Keith Lipscomb: Amari Cooper, Dallas Cowboys
Jim McCormick: Julian Edelman, New England Patriots
Field Yates: Tyler Lockett, Seattle Seahawks

Tight end sleepers

Stephania Bell: Blake Jarwin, Dallas Cowboys
Matthew Berry: Mike Gesicki, Miami Dolphins
Matt Bowen: Jonnu Smith, Tennessee Titans
Tom Carpenter: O.J. Howard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Mike Clay: Noah Fant, Denver Broncos
Tristan H. Cockcroft: Hayden Hurst, Atlanta Falcons
Daniel Dopp: Mike Gesicki, Miami Dolphins
Eric Karabell: Adam Trautman, New Orleans Saints
Keith Lipscomb: Hayden Hurst, Atlanta Falcons
Jim McCormick: T.J. Hockenson, Detroit Lions
Field Yates: Chris Herndon, New York Jets

Tight end busts

Stephania Bell: Hunter Henry, Los Angeles Chargers
Matthew Berry: Jared Cook, New Orleans Saints
Matt Bowen: Rob Gronkowski, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tom Carpenter: Rob Gronkowski, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Mike Clay: Austin Hooper, Cleveland Browns
Tristan H. Cockcroft: Rob Gronkowski, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Daniel Dopp: Hunter Henry, Los Angeles Chargers
Eric Karabell: Rob Gronkowski, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Keith Lipscomb: Rob Gronkowski, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jim McCormick: Jared Cook, New Orleans Saints
Field Yates: Jared Cook, New Orleans Saints

2020 breakout player

Stephania Bell: Drew Lock, Denver Broncos
Matthew Berry: Daniel Jones, New York Giants
Matt Bowen: Noah Fant, Denver Broncos
Tom Carpenter: Calvin Ridley, Atlanta Falcons
Mike Clay: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City Chiefs
Tristan H. Cockcroft: Devin Singletary, Buffalo Bills
Daniel Dopp: Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns
Eric Karabell: Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals
Keith Lipscomb: Diontae Johnson, Pittsburgh Steelers
Jim McCormick: Mecole Hardman, Kansas City Chiefs
Field Yates: Calvin Ridley, Atlanta Falcons

Sleepers

These are players our panel believes will exceed their 2020 average draft position and provide value for those who take a chance on them.

Gardner Minshew II, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars: Minshew is more than just a fine moustache. A surprising QB2 when active as a rookie, Minshew not only has plenty of tools to succeed and overcome pre-draft concerns as a passer, he emerged as an underrated thrower of the deep pass, and only four quarterbacks rushed for more yards last season. The Jaguars seemed a bit indifferent to building a contending team for 2020, and the quarterback competition is over with Nick Foles gone, so expect Minshew to throw and run to his heart’s content — and pile on enough fantasy points to matter. — Eric Karabell

Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit Lions: Stafford played in only eight games last season, missing action for the first time since the 2010 season. However, through Week 9, Stafford ranked second in touchdown passes with 19 and fourth in passing yards at 2,499. Plus, he averaged 10.7 air yards per attempt last season, a 40.7% boost from his career average. Remember, Stafford has all the high-end traits of a volume thrower — arm talent, movement skills, second-reaction ability. And playing in a Detroit with a leaky defense, Stafford could once again be forced to play “hero ball.” Drop back and take your shots. If you draft quarterbacks late — which I do — then Stafford should be one of your top targets. He has QB1 upside at a current ADP of QB13. — Matt Bowen

Hunter Renfrow, WR, Las Vegas Raiders: It took awhile for the Raiders to rely on him, but Renfrow started breaking out midway through his rookie campaign, and closed strongly with a pair of 100-yard receiving games, each featuring a touchdown catch. Those playing in PPR formats need to be aware of an emerging slot option that gets the job done with quickness and route-running over blinding speed. A 75-catch, 1,000-yard season is hardly out of the question, and hardly matches up with his draft-day value. — Eric Karabell

Drew Lock, QB, Denver Broncos: He wasn’t nearly as raw a prospect in a five-game, season-ending stint as you might think. His 64.1% completion and 19.1% off-target passing rates, as well as his 2.3 TD-to-interception ratio, were all within range of the league’s averages. The Broncos then loaded up at wide receiver in the draft, adding Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler to a group that already included Courtland Sutton and Noah Fant. Lock now has one of the most intriguing up-and-coming groups of receivers in the league with which to work, so he at least should be a viable matchups play in 2020. — Tristan H. Cockcroft

Antonio Gibson, RB, Washington: Before you call me a homer, hear me out. Washington lacks any reliable playmakers outside of Terry McLaurin, and Gibson is a versatile offensive weapon (last season he was the only FBS player to have more than 700 receiving yards and more than 300 rushing yards). Yes, it was a limited sample, but Gibson averaged more than 14 yards per offensive touch. Coach Ron Rivera recently said Gibson has “a skill set like Christian McCaffrey.” Not saying he will be CMC or even used as much as him, but OC Scott Turner knows he will have to be creative on offense, and Gibson’s versatility will allow him to create mismatches all over the field. — Matthew Berry

Matt Breida, RB, Miami Dolphins: The pitch for Breida isn’t that he’ll suddenly become a 20-touch feature back in Miami, as Jordan Howard seems likely to consume a sizable early-down role. Rather, I trust that Breida will command a valuable change-of-pace role with the Fins. He is a superior speedster who had the fifth-fastest average speed among NFL tailbacks while crossing the line of scrimmage with the ball last season, and who finished fifth among backs with 5.07 YPC. In Chan Gailey’s last three seasons at the helm of an NFL offense, his backfields earned at least a 21% share of the team’s total targets. With Howard a nonfactor as a receiver and Breida’s big-play ability ideal for such usage, I think a high-end flex performance in PPR formats is entirely within the range of outcomes. — Jim McCormick

Julian Edelman, WR, New England Patriots: There’s a tendency to undercut the merits of slot receivers at times; heck, just look at how they are paid relative to perimeter receivers! But let’s not overthink this: Edelman is an ankle-breaking, yards-after-catch machine. We don’t know a ton of what life without Tom Brady looks like for Edelman, but I’m betting on him to remain a star. When Jimmy Garoppolo stepped into a starting role for two full games to start 2016, Edelman posted seven catches in each game. Cam Newton-to-Julian Edelman has lethal potency. — Field Yates

Jonnu Smith, TE, Tennessee Titans: With Delanie Walker now out of the mix in Tennessee, Smith is one of my favorite late-round targets. In the 10 games with quarterback Ryan Tannehill as the starter in Tennessee, Smith caught 29 of 35 targets for 342 yards, including all three of his touchdown grabs. And while Tennessee’s run-heavy game script does lower the floor a bit for Smith, the traits jump here. Smith has matchup ability and movement skills to produce in the open field. Look for the Titans to scheme opportunities for Smith here off play-action or when flexed from the formation. Don’t be surprised if Smith posts lower-tier TE1 numbers this season. — Matt Bowen

Preston Williams, WR, Miami Dolphins: Despite going undrafted, Williams averaged a healthy 7.4 targets (21% share) during a 2019 rookie season that was shortened by a Week 9 ACL tear. DeVante Parker ended up with the breakout campaign, but Parker actually trailed Williams in targets (50 to 59) and air yards (692 to 843) prior to the injury. Williams’ recovery will need to be monitored, but the 23-year-old appears to be a steal and is positioned as an every-down player in Gailey’s WR-friendly scheme. — Mike Clay

James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers: The case for Conner is pretty simple: I believe he’s going to be the guy in the Steelers’ backfield, despite a host of talented other backs, including Benny Snell, Jaylen Samuels and Anthony McFarland Jr. This isn’t about coach-speak or offseason soundbites — I just believe enough in the talent of Conner to think he’ll prove to be the workhorse that we saw in 2018. And when Conner gets chances, he dominates. To wit: Conner has a total of 10 games in his career with at least 18 touches, scoring an incredible 28.3 fantasy points per game in those 10 contests. — Field Yates

T.J. Hockenson, TE, Detroit Lions: Given the blend of complex blocking and receiving duties at the position, there isn’t a strong history of rookie NFL tight ends performing at a high statistical level. Hockenson looked to buck this trend in producing 131 yards in his professional debut in Week 1 last fall, but he gained just 367 yards over 12 games before hitting injured reserve. An historically good prospect coming into the league last year with the potential to demand a strong target share from a capable veteran quarterback in 2020, Hockenson’s potential to breakout as a sophomore is quite viable. — Jim McCormick

Hayden Hurst, TE, Atlanta Falcons: After two seasons largely stuck behind Mark Andrews and Nick Boyle on the Ravens’ depth chart, Hurst was thrust into a golden opportunity in Atlanta this offseason. There, he’ll absorb many of the targets that went in Austin Hooper’s direction. Hooper had an 18.6% target share in his 13 healthy games in 2019 and was sixth best among tight ends in the category for the season when including his missed time. Hurst brings more speed to the table with similar size, so a top-eight positional season is possible. — Tristan H. Cockcroft

Busts

Who is destined to fall short of draft-day expectations? Our panel suggests you stay away from these players, who are sure to disappoint.

Rob Gronkowski, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: I get the connection here with quarterback Tom Brady, along with the expectation that the Bucs will use more two-tight-end personnel. Throw seams and crossers. That fits the profile for Gronk, who caught 71.1% of his targets from Brady on passes thrown less than 15 yards with the Patriots from 2014 to 2018. However, Gronk’s current ADP of 67.0 — TE6 — is simply too rich for me. He hasn’t played a full season since 2011, and expecting Gronk to return as a consistent, high-end fantasy option is a bit of stretch here. Gronk should be targeted as a lower-tier TE1 in 2019. — Matt Bowen

Josh Allen, QB, Buffalo Bills: Don’t mistake his rushing success for an all-around breakthrough. Allen scored 35% (101.0 of 288.6) of his fantasy points rushing, but his passing left plenty to be desired, as he finished last among qualified quarterbacks with 58.8% completion and 23.0% off-target passing rates. Yes, Stefon Diggs’ addition bolsters Allen’s receiving corps, but a so-so passer is a so-so passer. Prepare for regression: Of the previous 10 quarterbacks to score at least nine rushing touchdowns in a season, the group saw a 66% decline in the category for an average loss of 7.1 scores. — Tristan H. Cockcroft

J.K. Dobbins, RB, Baltimore Ravens: I see three pretty significant roadblocks to fantasy success for Dobbins during his rookie season: history, scheme and competition. History: Over the past decade, only six of 23 backs drafted in the second round finished better than RB28 as a rookie. Scheme: Greg Roman’s RB units usually rank high in rushes but have an average finish of 28.2 in targets and 17.3 in fantasy PPG during his six seasons as a playcaller. Competition: Dobbins will have a hard time finding enough snaps with starter Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards (NFL YPC leader over the past two seasons) in the fold. That’s too many roadblocks for a player going in the sixth round. — Mike Clay

Courtland Sutton, WR, Denver Broncos: Sutton is a talented player who has managed to produce despite shaky QB play in each of the past two seasons, but consider this: In 2019, Sutton led all players in air-yard target share and was sixth among WRs in end zone targets per game. Yet even with all that opportunity, he was WR27 on a PPG basis and had just three games all season with more than five catches. Sure, the hope is a full season of Drew Lock will help that efficiency, but the Broncos spent their first two draft picks on Jeudy and Hamler, signed a capable pass-catching back in Melvin Gordon, and will presumably give sophomore TE Fant a larger role. It’s going to be hard to turn a profit on Sutton at his current ESPN ADP of WR15. — Matthew Berry

Tom Brady, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: I am in awe of Brady. I want that to be clear. He’s the greatest QB of my generation. That’s why this is so hard for me. Brady’s turning 43 this August, and while he’s still playing at a high level, he’s still human. So consider me concerned about the oldest QB in the NFL, who’s learning a new offense, with new teammates, during a pandemic, while his body works overtime to be a full-time professional athlete. This is about minimizing risk, and I’d rather be a year too early than be a year too late. Brady is my QB12. — Daniel Dopp

Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers: While Rodgers is still a great real-life QB, for fantasy purposes, he no longer has the same upside or consistency as in years past. Last season, Rodgers produced fewer than 15 fantasy points in 10 of his 16 starts, and from Week 9 on, he averaged just 1.3 passing TDs and 209.8 passing yards per game. And this run-heavy approach worked, as Green Bay went to the NFC Championship Game last year. Given the team used a second-round pick on 250-pound RB AJ Dillon and did little in the way of adding additional pass-catching, help it seems likely this offense is even more run-heavy this season. I have Rodgers comfortably outside my top-12 QBs for 2020. — Matthew Berry

Stefon Diggs, WR, Buffalo Bills: Diggs forced his way out of a low-volume, highly efficient Minnesota offense but is arguably in worse conditions in a Buffalo pass offense that has been low-volume, low-scoring and inefficient during the Josh Allen era. Diggs finished 2019 as the No. 24 scoring fantasy receiver, despite finishing second among receivers in YPT and with Adam Thielen missing half the season. Durability is also a concern, as Diggs has never played a full 16-game season. Consider Diggs as midrange WR3, at best. — Mike Clay

Breakouts

Who will join the ranks of the elite and help you win your league this season? Here are our experts’ picks for 2020’s breakout stars and how they imagine it will take place.

Drew Lock, QB, Denver Broncos: We caught only a glimpse of Lock in 2019 (an early thumb injury ensured he would not see the field before December), but during his short time under center, he led his team to a 4-1 record. He inspired the Broncos to surround him this offseason with offensive playmakers and protectors to complement veterans like Courtland Sutton and Phillip Lindsay already in place. Add to the mix a new offensive coordinator in Pat Shurmur, who is likely to advance Lock’s downfield playmaking, and he has all the ingredients at his fingertips for a breakout season. — Stephania Bell

Daniel Jones, QB, New York Giants: The fifth-best QB in fantasy over the second half of last season, Jones flashed massive upside as a rookie, delivering four games with 28-plus fantasy points. And he was able to do that with Saquon Barkley, Sterling Shepard, Golden Tate, Darius Slayton and Evan Engram playing zero snaps together. With a deep group of offensive playmakers, plus mobility (Jones averaged more than 21 rushing yards per game in 2019), and a defense that will force him to throw plenty, Danny Dimes is in perfect position for a breakout season in 2020. — Matthew Berry

Noah Fant, TE, Denver Broncos: With the ability to stretch the seams and run after the catch, Fant is a prime breakout candidate in an upgraded Broncos pass game. As a rookie last season, Fant caught 40 of 63 targets for 562 yards. And the explosive play juice is there too, as Fant produced 10 receptions of 20 yards or more. Plus, with Denver adding more speed and playmaking talent to the wide receiver position, Fant will have some room to work underneath, where the former Iowa Hawkeye averaged 7.5 air yards per target from Lock last season. There’s good value here, with Fant carrying a current ADP of 119.8 (TE11). — Matt Bowen

Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB, Kansas City Chiefs: The first running back ever selected in the first round by an Andy Reid team, Edwards-Helaire will immediately be positioned for a significant role in arguably the league’s best offense. The LSU product is a terrific prospect, overcoming underwhelming size and speed with elite tackle-breaking, elusiveness, and receiving ability. Reid’s offenses don’t offer much volume for RBs but make up for it with efficiency and a ton of touchdowns. Edwards-Helaire’s second-round ADP could be a red flag since he’s a rookie, but there’s no doubt he has upside. — Mike Clay

Devin Singletary, RB, Buffalo Bills: Things were looking up for Singletary during the second half of an otherwise forgettable 2019, as he averaged 16.4 carries per game and 4.6 yards per carry with 30 total targets in his final eight regular-season contests, then managed 134 yards from scrimmage in the wild-card round. With Frank Gore gone, Singletary should see easily at least that much usage and arguably more; and with Allen unlikely to repeat his 2019 rushing success, the Bills should really shift more of their rushing focus to the second-year back. Zack Moss does loom as a potential goal-line vulture, but Singletary should put forth high-end RB2 value for an RB3’s price. — Tristan H. Cockcroft

Baker Mayfield, QB, Cleveland Browns: Do you remember Mayfield’s rookie season, when he threw for 3,725 passing yards, 27 TDs and 14 INTs? Compare that to last season’s 3,827 passing yards, 22 TDs and 21 INTs, and it’s obvious he took a step backward. Luckily for Mayfield, the Browns addressed their poor offensive line, signed Austin Hooper and will bring back Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt and (for now) David Njoku. That’s a lot of playmakers for a quarterback who should right the ship in 2020. Baker is my QB11. — Daniel Dopp

Joe Burrow, QB, Cincinnati Bengals: Rookie quarterbacks are generally far too risky to depend on, especially with so much depth at the position, but Burrow is hardly a normal rookie. His Heisman Trophy-winning numbers at LSU were historic and ridiculous, and the Bengals have surrounded him with ample talent at running back and wide receiver, and perhaps — fingers crossed — a competent offensive line. Burrow is so talented, he would make it work anyway. Stop wasting time on Kirk Cousins or Jared Goff types as your No. 2 QB; Burrow’s fantasy upside is far more immense. — Eric Karabell

Mecole Hardman, WR, Kansas City Chiefs: With 20.7 yards per catch as a professional freshman for the champs last season — a rate that would have led the league, had he qualified, with four more receptions — Hardman’s field-stretching speed and vertical potential with Patrick Mahomes create a rousing blend of upside. The floor is undoubtedly low for a big-play weapon unlikely to thrive on volume in an established offense, but his unique profile reminds me of a young DeSean Jackson, who happened to turn in roughly 1,300 scrimmage yards and 10 total touchdowns back in his second year in Andy Reid’s offense with Philadelphia. — Jim McCormick

Calvin Ridley, WR, Atlanta Falcons: There was a 10-week stretch last season when one Atlanta Falcon receiver averaged 16.5 fantasy points per game on 13.2 air yards per target, while his counterpart averaged 14.4 fantasy points per game on 13.1 air yards per target. The former is Calvin Ridley, the latter Julio Jones. But this is more than just a connecting of dots based on previous production, this is a calculated bet on Ridley’s route-running ability, his nose for the end zone and playing in a division where keeping up is going to involve throwing it a ton. Ridley checks the boxes of a player ready to explode. — Field Yates

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