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Fantasy Football Sleepers for 2021

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There may not be a hotter commodity during the fantasy football season than sleepers. The definition of a sleeper, however, varies from person to person.

Simply put, the players you see buzzing in every fantasy football article, every Twitter post, and every show are not sleepers. The buzz defeats the purpose and inflates ADP. Sure, these players can be pegged as breakouts or values at their current ADPs, but the point of a sleeper is to find an under-the-radar player who has an angle to make a splash in the fantasy football season. My general rule of thumb is that sleepers come from the back-half of your draft and more specifically, the latter handful of rounds. As you’ll see among my list, a handful of these players will be available in the very last round of your drafts and likely go undrafted.

Below are my top five fantasy football sleepers for the 2021 season.

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Jameis Winston has QB1 upside – 2021 fantasy football sleepers

(ADP: 16th round, QB30)

Jameis Winston’s ADP is sure to spike now that he’s been named the Week 1 starter, but you can still get him for free in redraft formats as of Aug. 26. (This was written Thursday before Friday’s announcement that Winston will start; how’s that for timing?) After the Week 2 preseason game, Winston saw his odds to start Week 1 go from -190 to -350 on DraftKings Sportsbook thanks to a dazzling performance.

He also has a track record of being a successful fantasy football asset. When starting in 2019 for the Buccaneers, Winston led the entire NFL in deep passes (93) and was the only quarterback to top 5,000 passing yards (5,109). His 33 touchdowns ranked second in the NFL, and while his 30 interceptions also topped the league, that’s a cost I’m willing to pay if it’s coupled with elite production. His offensive assets are not the caliber that they were in 2019, but with checkdown king Alvin Kamara and legitimate deep threats in Marquez Callaway and Tre’Quan Smith, Winston has more than enough upside to pay off his dollar-store price tag.

Sam Darnold has a higher ceiling than you think – 2021 fantasy football sleepers

(ADP: 15th round, QB27)

If my Winston call had you heading to the bathroom to vomit, then my Sam Darnold one will ensure your head will be in the toilet shortly.

Darnold is not a bad quarterback. He may not be amazing, but being buried in the coffin that is Adam Gase’s leadership has not helped his case. By turning a new page with the Panthers in 2021, Darnold has a chance at reviving his career. The collection of D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson and rookie Terrace Marshall is pretty easily the best group of receivers he’s worked with. Then, you add in Christian McCaffrey, and it’s hard to not see an inkling of upside. His first-read throw percentage (57%) mirrored that of Aaron Rodgers in 2020, showing that he has the ability to let plays develop if given the time, something Carolina should allow more than the Jets did. At worst, he also has a running back who will command over 20% of the target share with massive YAC upside. Given the soft schedule to open the season (Jets, Cowboys, Eagles, Vikings all within the first six weeks), he could very well start the season with a string of ceiling games and turn some heads.

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James White has PPR upside – 2021 fantasy football sleepers

(ADP: 13th round, RB52)

For some unknown reason, a running back who has logged at least 70 receptions in two of the last three seasons is a complete afterthought, even after the Patriots’ trade of Sony Michel. Given the fact that Damien Harris had only seven total targets in 10 games last season, it appears as though James White will have a significant role.

The other benefit here is the fact that rookie quarterback Mac Jones has drawn rave reviews in camp and has beat writer Tom Curran’s endorsement as the starter:

While Cam Newton is more of a run-first quarterback, Jones could be more prone to checking down in his first NFL season with such a reliable asset to do so in White. At such an inexpensive draft-day price, there’s virtually zero downside to a player with RB2 upside in full-PPR formats.

Marquez Valdes-Scantling is a high-ceiling value – 2021 fantasy football sleepers

(ADP: 21st round, WR82)

I hate to beat a dead horse after touching on Marquez Valdes-Scantling in my wide receiver handcuffs piece, but it bodes repeating again:

“While he is not a high-floor option, Valdes-Scantling offers an astronomical ceiling as long as Aaron Rodgers is manning the offense. This was backed up in 2020, as Valdes-Scantling led all players with at least 50 targets in aDOT (16.84).”

I repeat, he led the NFL in aDOT among players with at least 50 targets while playing with one of the best quarterbacks of all time. It’s as clear as day that Valdes-Scantling’s upside is other-worldly, but his draft-day price reflects nothing but his floor. In addition to being a solid handcuff for Davante Adams, he clearly has the trust of Rodgers, which we’ve seen is incredibly important over the course of this offseason:

Gerald Everett can be a TE1 – 2021 fantasy football sleepers

(ADP: 13th round, TE20)

Following the trend of earning the trust of your quarterback, tight ends have always had a knack for doing so with Russell Wilson.

Many of them are half the athlete Gerald Everett is. Ranking in the 88th percentile for his 40-time (4.62) and 94th percentile for his burst score (124.6), Everett has all the makings of a big-play pass-catcher. Furthering this idea, he ranked second among tight ends with at least 50 targets in 2020 in his percentage of receiving yards that came after the catch (59.5%). With so much defensive attention on DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, Everett could have ample room to work with over the middle of the field and provides TE1 upside for the price of a back-end TE2.

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