Is Rhamondre Stevenson a fantasy sleeper in 2021?

In light of his sensational play through two weeks of the NFL preseason, is Rhamondre Stevenson a fantasy football sleeper in 2021?

As we close out the second week of the NFL preseason, New England Patriots running back Rhamondre Stevenson is quickly climbing the ranks of potential fantasy football sleepers. Given the success he has seen so far, should fantasy managers buy into this production, or is Stevenson’s success merely a flash in the pan?

Rhamondre Stevenson has quickly found success as a rookie

We always say, don’t get overly excited when it comes to preseason production. Don’t overreact to what you see on the field. But in the case of Patriots rookie RB Rhamondre Stevenson, it’s hard to ignore what he has been able to do. Stevenson has found paydirt 4 times on 25 carries with 193 yards through two games on limited snaps, including a 91-yard scamper inside the final minute of his first game. 

The bruising one-cut-style back out of Oklahoma, Stevenson has taken little time to get acclimated to the speed of the NFL game. Because of this, fantasy managers preparing for their drafts have quickly noticed his skills and believe he could potentially be an early producer once the regular season comes around.

This is a bit of a surprise as Stevenson was not a highly touted back entering the NFL Draft. I’ll be the first to admit I was one of those who were not high on his skills. Yet, if this is any sign of things to come, Stevenson will quickly have analysts eating crow. But is this likely to happen? Can Stevenson go from being a potential sleeper to a regularly-used fantasy asset?

Can we ever trust a Patriots RB in fantasy?

Death. Taxes. And Bill Belichick using a committee approach at RB. Some things in life are inevitable. In 2021, New England’s backfield is as deep as ever, making it difficult for an unproven rookie to break through.

Damien Harris will lead the backfield after playing on 39% of the snaps last season (10 games), totaling 743 yards and 2 touchdowns on 137 carries. Harris would have been the clear leader last season if not for undergoing surgery on his hand during the summer. Reports from camp have been glowing about him, which has done nothing but raise his fantasy outlook.

James White and second-year RB J.J. Taylor will handle the bulk of the passing work, especially with Rex Burkhead no longer on the team. Despite the lowest receiving totals since his 2014 rookie season (375), White finished third on the Pats in receiving yards. However, that might say more about the offense than White. 

Then we have the short-yardage, red-zone rushers, which is where we find Stevenson. The departure of Sony Michel is a huge boost for Stevenson’s fantasy value. Stevenson could now become the LeGarrette Blount-style rusher for the Patriots in 2021. 

However, this is a double-edged sword. The trade for Michel opens up a world of potential for Stevenson this season. However, at least in the immediate term, we will likely see Stevenson’s ADP rise in response to the Michel trade. This could limit his sleeper potential, but given the crowded backfield in New England, the price should not get out of control.

Has Rhamondre Stevenson reached sleeper status for fantasy?

Stevenson has reached sleeper status in fantasy football, but his upside is up for debate. 

First, what happens at QB? With Cam Newton under center, he is the primary option as a rusher when they are in the red zone. Last season, Newton recorded 42 red-zone carries, where he scored all 12 of his rushing touchdowns.

Now, if Mac Jones is under center, things are different. Jones is a pocket passer with virtually no rushing ability. Those attempts that would have gone to Newton now filter back to running backs, including Stevenson.

It also means Stevenson shows us something at the highest level he never could while at college. He never really broke out while at Oklahoma, lacked any elusiveness or burst, and struggled to stay on the field due to choices made off of it. 

Just…be careful

Let me take you on a trip down memory lane as an exercise of caution when it comes to sleepers, especially those under Belichick. Do you remember the name Jonas Gray? Depending on which side you were on, this name might bring joy or tears to fantasy managers.

Having seen little action in his career, Gray was activated for a Week 11 game in November of 2014 against the Indianapolis Colts. He went on to carry the ball 37 times for 201 yards and 4 touchdowns, resulting in 43.9 fantasy points. The rest of the NFL only had 6 rushing touchdowns combined that week.

The very next week, Gray’s phone died, causing him to miss his alarm clock. He recorded double-digit touches just once the rest of the season after getting in Belichick’s dog house. He spent the 2015 season playing for both the Jaguars and Dolphins and was then out of the NFL.

I bring Gray up as a cautionary tale. Not every player who flashes pans out, especially with the Patriots. Can Stevenson break this mold and assert himself into a consistent role? Yes. But given the odds and what could work against him, there is a reason we shouldn’t elevate him above anything more than sleeper status right now as fantasy drafts continue to fire off.

Tommy Garrett is a writer for Pro Football Network covering the NFL and fantasy football and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA). You can read more of his work here and follow him at @TommygarrettPFN on Twitter.

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