There’s a plethora of fantasy-relevant stats worth studying to prepare for your upcoming drafts, but sometimes focusing on the basics can provide the biggest impact. Volume―both in touches and targets―will always be king in fantasy, and identifying players with opportunities to earn greatly expanded roles could help you pick this year’s breakout fantasy stars.
Teams with established hierarchies at the receiver, tight end, or running back spots aren’t likely to provide much fantasy opportunity to their up-and-coming players or new additions. But the handful of teams that experienced turnover at key spots during the offseason have vacated targets and touches up for grabs. For these eight units, offseason changes could open the door for less established or newly arrived playmakers to step into bigger roles―and make an impact for your fantasy squad.
Falcons’ Passing Game
- TE Austin Hooper (97 targets, 75 receptions, 787 yards, 6 TD)
- WR Mohamed Sanu (42 targets, 33 receptions, 313 yards, 1 TD)
- WR Justin Hardy (26 targets, 19 receptions, 195 yards)
- RB Devonta Freeman (70 targets, 59 catches, 410 yards, 4 TD)
- TE Hayden Hurst
- RB Todd Gurley
- WR Laquon Treadwell
The Falcons may not be the first team that comes to mind when it comes to newly available fantasy opportunities, considering the team already boasts a pair of well-established fantasy stars in Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley (both of whom could finish as WR1s this season). But Atlanta’s prolific air attack―which paced the NFL last season with 684 pass attempts―should still bring ample upside at both the third receiver and tight end spots in 2020. Hooper, Sanu, Hardy, and Freeman collectively vacated 235 targets, 186 catches, 1,705 yards, and 11 touchdowns from the team’s 2019 offense, leaving plenty of volume to go around for Falcons skill players not named Jones or Ridley.
Hayden Hurst is perhaps the biggest beneficiary of Atlanta’s offseason tinkering. Acquired from the Ravens for a second-round pick (and some change), the 26-year-old former first-rounder is the clear favorite to inherit Hooper’s workload as the team’s top tight end. The position is typically a strong focal point in Dirk Koetter’s offense, a scheme that helped Hooper (who signed with the Browns in March) finish 2019 as the TE3 in PPR points per game (14.8). Hurst was mostly the third tight end in Baltimore last year but has the athleticism and talent to emerge as not just a go-to guy for Matt Ryan, but as one of the biggest breakouts at the position this season. He’s one of my favorite midtier tight end targets and brings high-end upside at the position.
Elsewhere, third-year pro Russell Gage looks like the favorite for the team’s potentially important third receiver role. Gage finished 2019 on a strong note, catching 32 of 48 targets for 289 yards and a touchdown over the team’s final six games, making him a viable flex starter in that stretch. It’s worth keeping Gage in mind as a potential last-round pick in your upcoming drafts.
And finally, while Gurley is certainly no sleeper heading into this season, the former Rams back could see the type of passing game boost that could push him back into RB1 territory. Freeman garnered 70 targets in 14 games for the Falcons last year, and his 59 catches was nearly double what Gurley finished with for the Rams (31). Gurley’s pass-catching prowess has been a huge factor in his fantasy dominance over the years, and it wouldn’t be a big surprise if the Falcons get him heavily involved in that part of the game again in 2020 and make him a value at his current ADP of RB15.
Rams’ Run Game
- RB Todd Gurley (223 rushes, 857 yards, 12 TD)
- RB Cam Akers
The Rams’ decision to move on from Gurley leaves a highly lucrative fantasy role up for grabs. Rookie second-rounder Cam Akers heads into 2020 as the favorite for a lead-back role―he brings size, a well-rounded skill set, and top-tier athleticism to the team―and second-year pro Darrell Henderson (a third-rounder in 2019) should challenge for snaps in a complementary role, as well. Veteran grinder Malcolm Brown is still in the mix and could earn goal line and short-yardage duty, and backup John Kelly could also see some looks.
Head coach and play-caller Sean McVay has hinted at a committee approach similar to the one the 49ers utilized last season, but I’d expect that Akers and Henderson share the majority of touches. Exactly how the team divvies up carries and touches has yet to be seen, but I’m banking on something around a 65-35 split in favor of Akers, making him the clear target in this backfield. With 223 vacated touches to go around (plus the 49 targets Gurley saw in the passing game) though, both young backs bring intriguing fantasy upside in 2020. I’ll also be stashing Henderson as often as possible in case things don’t go as expected for Akers.
Washington’s Passing Game
- WR Paul Richardson (42 targets, 28 receptions, 245 yards, 2 TD)
- TE Vernon Davis (19 targets, 10 receptions, 123 yards, 1 TD)
- RB Chris Thompson (58 targets, 42 catches, 378 yards)
- RB Antonio Gibson
- WR Antonio Gandy-Golden
- TE Richard Rodgers
- TE Thaddeus Moss
The team’s free agency departures, combined with Kelvin Harmon’s season-ending ACL injury, vacates 163 targets, 110 catches, 1,111 yards, and three touchdowns from last year’s passing game totals. And past the team’s up-and-coming go-to guy in Terry McLaurin, Washington’s offensive skill-player depth charts are anything but settled.
With so much potential volume for Washington to reallocate, Steven Sims is far and away one of my favorite late-round sleepers this year. The second-year pro flashed late last season and seems to have the inside track to the team’s slot receiver duties. Rookie Antonio Gandy-Golden is another intriguing late-round flier, and could step into what likely would’ve been Harmon’s role on the outside opposite McLaurin. Guys like Trey Quinn, Dontrelle Inman, and Cam Sims are worth monitoring early in the year, too, in case they earn bigger-than-expected roles.
Rookie running back Antonio Gibson is another very high upside sleeper to target in your drafts. He’s going to shoot up fantasy draft boards over the next few weeks following the team’s decision to release Derrius Guice, a move that could put Gibson in line for a major carries out of the backfield. The former Memphis playmaker has been cross-training with the team’s receiver corps as well, giving him potential to be featured in the passing game, too.
Chiefs’ Run Game
- Damien Williams (111 rushes, 498 yards, 5 TD)
- LeSean McCoy (101 rushes, 465 yards, 4 TD)
- Spencer Ware (17 rushes, 51 yards)
- RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire
- RB DeAndre Washington
Damien Williams’s decision to opt out of the 2020 season came with major fantasy implications, cementing Clyde Edwards-Helaire as the team’s unquestioned starter while pushing the rookie back up from the second- and third-round range and into the first round in some recent drafts. That might be a bit too rich for some, considering Edwards-Helaire has yet to play in an NFL game, hasn’t had a normal offseason to learn the intricacies of the Chiefs offense, and will have to compete for scoring opportunities with the likes of Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. For me, though, it’s a risky but exciting upside play: It’s just hard for me to put a cap on what Edwards could do both on the ground and through the air as a focal point in what should be one of the best, most explosive offenses in the league. Especially considering no other offense vacated a higher percentage of carries from last year’s offense than Kansas City (61.3 percent).
If you’re not willing to spend big on CEH, though, you may consider grabbing Washington with the last pick in your draft. The former Raider has experience playing alongside Patrick Mahomes from their time together at Texas Tech, and with Williams out of the picture he may be able to carve out a fantasy-relevant role in a committee with Edwards-Helaire. In either case, I’m just trying to get as many pieces of this Chiefs offense as I can.
Texans’ Run Game
- RB Carlos Hyde (245 rushes, 1,070 yards, 6 TD)
- RB David Johnson
Texans head coach Bill O’Brien rescued David Johnson from a path toward a backup job (and fantasy irrelevance) over the offseason, trading superstar receiver DeAndre Hopkins (and a 2020 fourth-rounder) to the Cardinals in exchange for a package including the versatile back. Johnson didn’t look like himself last year, and his underwhelming performance (and subsequent benching) in Arizona doesn’t exactly inspire confidence for what he’ll do in 2020. But it’s tough to ignore the pure volume he’s in line to receive: With Carlos Hyde and his 245 vacated rushes now in Seattle, Johnson seems to have a real shot at finishing somewhere in the top 10 in total carries this season. That typically adds up to big-time fantasy points.
Johnson’s still a bit too pricey for my taste with an ADP somewhere in the late third round or early fourth, so if you doubt the former fantasy god can get back to his early-career form, backfield mate Duke Johnson could be a savvy bet. The Texans spent a third-round pick to acquire the 26-year-old running back prior to the 2019 season and could still have a plan for him in mind. If Duke somehow wins the starting job over David, getting him at his current ADP (RB47) could end up being one of the biggest steals of the season.
Jets’ Passing Game
- WR Robby Anderson (96 targets, 52 catches, 779 yards, 5 TD)
- WR Demaryius Thomas (58 targets, 36 catches, 433 yards, 1 TD)
- RB Ty Montgomery (17 targets, 13 catches, 90 yards)
- WR Breshad Perriman
- WR Denzel Mims
The Jets’ decision to let Robby Anderson sign with the Panthers creates a major opportunity for the team’s two new pass-catching weapons. Perriman (WR60 in ADP) and the rookie Mims (WR68) both head into 2020 as intriguing sleeper targets.
Perriman has experience on his side, and the former first-round bust for the Ravens came on strong to end last season with the Buccaneers. Over the last four weeks of the season, Perriman caught 20 passes for 419 yards and five touchdowns, ranking as the WR3 in that stretch. Of course, he won’t be playing with Hero Ball Jameis Winston in New York, but if he can cement himself as the team’s go-to guy, fantasy points will follow. I love him at his current ADP of “basically free.”
Mims, however, faces a steep learning curve coming into the league during the COVID-affected offseason. He may need a few weeks to work himself up to speed in the Jets offense, but if his dominant performance at the Senior Bowl is any indication of the type of player he’ll be in the pros, he’s definitely worth a last-round flier in deeper leagues.
Vikings’ Passing Game
- Stefon Diggs (94 targets, 63 receptions, 1130 yards, 6 TD)
- Laquon Treadwell (16 targets, 9 catches, 184 yards, 1 TD)
- WR Justin Jefferson
Jefferson is another rookie with the chance to make a big impact in Year 1. With Diggs now in Buffalo, the Vikings’ pass-catching corps is looking for a new playmaker to pair with Adam Thielen―and all signs point to Jefferson being that guy. The former LSU star will have to prove he can function on the outside doing most of his damage from the slot in 2019, and he’ll have to develop chemistry with Kirk Cousins on the fly. But because of Jefferson’s Keenan Allen–like quickness as a route runner and incredible focus at the catch point, I won’t be surprised if he finishes the year as the most heavily targeted rookie receiver. I’m grabbing him late in drafts whenever I can.
Another clear beneficiary to Diggs’s departure is second-year tight end Irv Smith Jr. The former Crimson Tide star flashed as a rookie, catching 36 passes for 311 yards and two touchdowns. He is a strong candidate for a second-year breakout, possessing above-average athleticism and route-running skills and the opportunity to carve out a major role in an offense that needs some players to step up.
Chargers’ Run Game
- RB Melvin Gordon (162 rushes, 612 yards, 8 TD)
- RB Joshua Kelley
Austin Ekeler is obviously still the guy to own in the Chargers backfield, but Gordon’s departure opens the door for Kelley or Justin Jackson to step into the team’s early-down and complementary role. Jackson likely has the leg up based on his experience in the offense, and the former Northwestern star impressed in his limited opportunities in 2019 (rushing for 200 yards on 29 attempts, a 6.9 yards per carry average). Jackson is well worth a flier at his ADP of RB52, especially if he inherits goal line and red zone work for the team.
Kelley’s an intriguing late-round upside pick, too, with a current ADP of the RB62. The former UCLA Bruins standout brings the type of size (5-foot-11, 212 pounds) and pop that his backfield mates in Ekeler and Jackson (both 200 pounds) simply can’t―a variable that could earn him early-down and goal-line opportunities.