Fantasy Football Sleepers 2021
Every season, there are players selected in the later rounds who are league-winning assets for fantasy football managers. Last season, players like Antonio Gibson, Marvin Jones, Tom Brady, Justin Jefferson, and Nyheim Hines went in the eighth round or later. They were critical starters for championship-winning teams as they vastly out-performed ADP. The following are some of the players I think the general public is sleeping on this season should be getting more consideration.
ADP: Round 13, Pick 11 (#170 overall, QB20)
2021 Projections: 4,6339.5 passing yards, 27 passing touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 193.5 rushing yards, 1 rushing touchdown, QB18
One of the most consistently under-appreciated quarterbacks in fantasy football, Fitzpatrick is one of my favorite late-round sleepers at the position. In 2019, after taking over as the full-time starter in Week 7, Fitzpatrick scored 241 fantasy points – only Lamar Jackson scored more. In 2020, Fitzpatrick performed admirably as well. Over 18 starts with the Dolphins, Fitzpatrick had 12 top-12 QB finishes and 4 top-3 finishes. Fitzpatrick will play as the unquestioned starter in a better system and with more weapons such as Terry McLaurin, Antonio Gibson, Curtis Samuel, and Logan Thomas. Sure, Fitzpatrick is 39 years old and could fizzle out as he nears the end of his career. However, he’s a clear value in drafts right now and is a high-upside late-round quarterback.
ADP: Round 14, Pick 7 (#187 overall, QB22)
2021 Projections: 4,447.8 passing yards, 34 passing touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 36.4 rushing yards, 1 rushing touchdown, QB15
I don’t quite understand why the football world has universally decided Ben Roethlisberger is going to fall off a cliff this season. After a season-ending elbow injury in 2019, Roethlisberger came back to the field and threw for 33 touchdowns to 10 interceptions to finish as the QB14 in fantasy points. In the draft, Pittsburgh added Najee Harris, a stud running back, which should only create more opportunities for Roethlisberger to air it out against a defense being kept honest by a non-awful run game. Everyone seems to love Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, and even JuJu Smith-Schuster, but Roethlisberger is being drafted outside of the top-20 quarterbacks, leaving him as a major sleeper this season.
ADP: Round 7, Pick 8 (#83 overall, RB36)
2021 Projections: 203 carries for 913.5 yards and 5 touchdowns, 19.5 catches for 167.9 yards and 1 touchdown, RB36
I wasn’t terribly high on Michael Carter as a draft prospect as I have concerns about his size at 5’10”, 199 lbs. However, Carter plays with great vision and patience and is a perfect fit for offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur’s offense which features outside zone runs, jet sweeps, and screens, all driven by a ton of pre-snap motion. Carter is a very capable pass-catcher, which could be critical for rookie quarterback Zach Wilson. Also, there’s not a lot of talent that will get in the way of Carter being a three-down back in this offense as Tevin Coleman, La’Mical Perine, Ty Johnson, and Josh Adams leave a lot to be desired. Carter has the upside to see a massive workload in New York this season in an offense that fits his skill set, and he’s a high-upside pick in the later rounds.
ADP: Round 6, Pick 2 (#65 overall, RB30)
2021 Projections: 219 carries for 1,116.9 yards and 8 touchdowns, 8.3 catches for 84.7 yards, RB30
Running backs with the potential to see 250 carries aren’t supposed to be drafted in the seventh round, but that’s exactly where Damien Harris is available in most drafts right now. There are concerns about Patriots running backs, but Harris is clearly the most talented back on the roster. Harris impressed last season with 137 carries for 691 yards and 2 touchdowns in 10 games, but he has another level of untapped potential he could hit this season. There are concerns about Cam Newton’s tendency to vulture touchdowns at the goal line, but Mac Jones could start sooner rather than later. There are concerns about Harris’s lack of pass-catching – he only had 5 receptions last year – but at 29 years old, James White is no spring chicken, and Bill Belichick has praised Harris’s improved pass-catching this offseason. He’s a nice value where he’s currently being drafted.
ADP: Round 8, Pick 4 (#91 overall, RB39)
2021 Projections: 161 carries for 853.3 yards and 7 touchdowns, 31.1 catches for 251.7 yards and 1 touchdown, RB29
The Packers have been hesitant to make Aaron Jones an every-down workhorse despite his clear talent as Jamaal Williams has seen an average of 10.5 touches per game over the past two seasons. Now, Williams is in Detroit, and A.J. Dillon is the obvious second-choice back on the roster. Dillon had the highest SPARQ score in the running back class last season and was drafted in the second round in 2020 with a big role in mind. Dillon impressed last season in terms of efficiency with 5.3 YPC and 10.5 YPR, and with an increased workload, he could be a solid flex option in fantasy leagues this season. He also has the added value of being a clear-cut top-12 RB if anything were to happen to Jones this season. As a 9th or 10th round pick in most leagues, Dillon is a great value at running back.
ADP: Round 8, Pick 1 (#87 overall, RB38)
2021 Projections: 192 carries for 844.8 yards and 7 touchdowns, 24.6 catches for 166.9 yards and 2 touchdowns, RB32
I can understand fantasy managers being out on James Conner as he hasn’t played a full season in his four-year career and had averaged just 4.1 YPC over the last two seasons. However, Conner gets a fresh start in Arizona in a high-powered offense and should be able to make the most of it. Chase Edmonds isn’t meant to be an every-down back at just 5’9″, 209 lbs, and is better served as a scatback who can play all over the field. Conner, meanwhile, should fill Kenyan Drake’s role from last season that saw him register 955 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. Conner will be the goalline back for this team and could see some passing-game involvement as well. I totally understand if you want to avoid Conner, given his injury history, but he’s a sleeper worth taking a flier on in this offense.
ADP: Round 10, Pick 9 (#120 overall, RB46)
2021 Projections: 64.2 catches for 975.1 yards and 7 touchdowns, WR34
The Chargers selected Williams with the #7 overall pick in the 2017 draft, and he hasn’t quite lived up to that high-level draft pedigree. In four professional seasons, Williams has topped 1,000 yards just once and has just 17 touchdowns over 56 career games. However, he is a terrific deep threat and has a career YPR of 16.7 yards making him an awesome fit with Justin Herbert’s deep-ball prowess. Herbert is much more suited to elevate Williams’s game than Philip Rivers ever was, and Williams should benefit from additional targets in the offense with the departure of Hunter Henry. Williams is running out of opportunities, but we saw a fellow 2017 draft pick in Corey Davis break through last season, and this could be a similar breakout campaign for Williams. Target him as a sleeper with WR2 upside in the double-digit rounds.
ADP: Round 10, Pick 8 (#119 overall, WR45)
2021 Projections: 77.9 catches for 982.6 yards and 6 touchdowns, RB33
As part of the Ryan Fitzpatrick Washington offense, I’m excited about Curtis Samuel’s potential this season. Despite plenty of mouths to feed in the Carolina offense last year, Samuel came through with 77 catches for 851 yards and 3 touchdowns and showed much more range to his game than was expected when he was drafted in 2017. Ryan Fitzpatrick has consistently shown a tendency to pepper his top two wideouts with targets and isn’t afraid to take shots downfield, so Samuel’s upside is certainly higher as the WR2 in this offense than it was as the WR3 in Carolina. Samuel finished as the WR25 in half-PPR scoring last season, so he’s a value where he’s currently being drafted.
ADP: Round 11, Pick 10 (#136 overall, WR50)
2021 Projections: 62.6 catches for 895.6 yards and 5 touchdowns, WR48
It took a few years, but Corey Davis finally shined in Tennessee last season as the former #5 overall pick compiled 65 catches for 984 yards and 5 touchdowns over 14 games; that was his best season in the NFL. Now, Davis joins a new team in the Jets, one which fantasy football managers seem to want nothing to do with. While New York has several receivers who will see targets – Jamison Crowder, Keelan Cole, Denzel Mims, Elijah Moore, and Davis – none of those players are particularly proven in the NFL. The Jets gave Davis a 3-year, $38 million contract to bring him to New York, making him a guaranteed highly involved player in the offense. He’s being drafted outside the top 50 wide receivers in many leagues and should outperform that selection.
ADP: Round 14, Pick 11 (#196 overall, RB65)
2021 Projections: 50.5 catches for 848.6 yards and 6 touchdowns, WR54
I’ve worked very hard to temper my expectations for the second-year wide receiver, but I’m so excited about Davis in the Bills’ offense. While Buffalo still has Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley in house and added Emmanuel Sanders in free agency, Davis has huge upside with Josh Allen throwing him the ball. With minimal expectations as a fourth-round pick, Davis had 35 catches for 599 yards and 7 touchdowns as a rookie and had some big-time receptions down the field. Now, Davis is being drafted in the 60s at the wide receiver position and is even going undrafted in many leagues – bet on his clear talent in a high-powered offense as a deep sleeper at wide receiver.
ADP: Round 15, Pick 3 (#208 overall, TE22)
2021 Projections: 45.7 catches for 679 yards and 4 touchdowns, TE22
The Titans said goodbye to Corey Davis and Jonnu Smith over the offseason, and while they did bring in Julio Jones, there is plenty of opportunity for targets in this offense. Firkser isn’t a great athlete or an elite receiver, but he should be the starting tight end for this team and could be the third-most reliable receiver on the roster for Ryan Tannehill. I was higher on Firkser before Jones was brought in due to the vacated targets, but he is still an enticing late-round option at the position. He’s only started two games in his career, but Firkser caught 8 balls for 113 yards and a touchdown against the Texans last year when Jonnu Smith exited with an ankle injury. If you’re waiting until the very late rounds to take a tight end, you could do a lot worse than Firkser.
ADP: Round 14, Pick 12 (#200 overall, TE20)
2021 Projections: 43.9 catches for 448.3 yards and 4 touchdowns, TE24
I was very excited about Gerald Everett as the Rams’ second-round pick in 2017. He ran a 4.62 40-yard dash and posted a 93rd-percentile burst score at the combine. However, his athletic talent never came to fruition regarding high-level production in Los Angeles, as his career-high came last year with 41 catches for 417 yards. Now, he’ll be heading to a new team with Russell Wilson as his new quarterback, but he’s playing in a familiar system with new Seattle offensive coordinator Shane Waldron. Waldron was formerly the passing game coordinator for the Rams. Everett should see a lot of time on the field as the conduit between his new teammates and old coach in Waldron, and I’m excited about his potential to produce with his new team.