While this is a time generally reserved for the NFL Draft gurus, those of us in the fantasy football realm know it is equally as important. Whether you are buckling down for upcoming dynasty rookie drafts or starting your prep for the redraft season, predicting the sleepers for the upcoming 2021 season is vital for fantasy success.
What makes a player a sleeper in 2021?
The term sleeper is widely overused in the fantasy landscape. It tends to get thrown around to any player coming off a down season. For example, Michael Thomas is not a sleeper. He is just a potential value. There is a big difference.
When looking for fantasy football sleepers in 2021, there are a few things to look for that could be helpful when dialing in on certain players. Look for opportunity. While a broad term, it still holds true and can come in many forms.
Perhaps they changed teams in free agency or saw someone they previously shared opportunities with join a new team. An example of this would be Melvin Gordon. While not in the “sleeper” category, he is a fantastic value following Phillip Lindsay’s release. His ADP has not caught up with his potential value, and he’s a player I will be targeting heavily, but that is a discussion for another day.
Another example would be the landing spot of rookies on a team who saw a significant turnover at a position. The Tennessee Titans come to mind here at the wide receiver position. Generally, rookies get over-drafted in their first season, but if you hit on the right one, like Justin Jefferson, the payoff is massive. With Corey Davis now with the Jets and Jonnu Smith in New England, the Titans lost players who accounted for 56.6% of the intended air yards and 47% of the touchdowns.
Fantasy football sleepers for 2021 NFL season: Quarterbacks
Jameis Winston, New Orleans Saints
There is no question it is going to look weird not seeing Drew Brees under center. The juxtaposition between Brees and Jameis Winston could not be more polar opposite. Brees is the NFL’s most accurate passer and the more risk-averse QB compared to Winston (who threw 30 interceptions his last time on the field).
Do you know what else Winston did, though? Put up fantasy points. In 2019 under Bruce Arians, Winston threw for a league-high 5,109 passing yards for 33 touchdowns and finished as the QB3 in fantasy. Winston went to New Orleans to get his master class in the art of QB under Brees and Sean Payton. If you subscribe to the late-round QB methodology or are in a Superflex league, Winston could be one of the best sleepers for the 2021 fantasy football season.
Carson Wentz, Indianapolis Colts
Carson Wentz was traded from the Eagles last month to the Indianapolis Colts and rejoins Frank Reich, the Eagles offensive coordinator in 2017. Not only is he going to a familiar scheme, but Wentz is getting a massive upgrade at offensive line. Wentz was scrambling for his life last season, and his 10.3% sack rate was a career-worst.
Additionally, the Colts have, what we think, is an excellent corps of playmakers. T.Y. Hilton still has gas left in the tank, and Michael Pittman Jr. could be a reliable red-zone threat. The jury is still out on Parris Campbell, but due to injuries, not play. Throw in his mobility, and Wentz could be on the verge of a bounce-back in 2021.
Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia Eagles
Speaking of Eagles quarterbacks, Jalen Hurts is one of the more hotly contested names in fantasy football. You either love him or hate him, it seems. I personally have a hard time thinking that a five-game sample size is enough to say he will never be a good NFL QB.
Hurts has been a winner at every level and showed last season that he has the skill set to succeed. Undoubtedly, accuracy is a concern (52%). But how often do we see rookie quarterbacks not struggle in their first few games? Players like Justin Herbert and Joe Burrow are the exception, not the rule. What Hurts has in spades that is a critical element of fantasy football is his rushing ability.
In his four starts, Hurts rushed 51 times for 301 yards and 3 touchdowns. That’s 48 fantasy points just on the ground. He was the QB9 during this stretch that also includes the fiasco that was Week 17.
From Weeks 14 through 16, Hurts was the QB3 in fantasy with 847 passing yards (eighth), 5 touchdowns, and 238 rushing yards (2nd) and another score. Hurts has QB1 upside written all over him and is my favorite sleeper for the 2021 fantasy football season at QB.
Fantasy football sleepers for 2021 NFL season: Running backs
Chase Edmonds, Arizona Cardinals
Okay, this one comes with a big caveat. Chase Edmonds is a winner of the offseason with Kenyan Drake now in Las Vegas (sorry, Josh Jacobs managers). However, things change now that the Cardinals have signed James Conner. There is also the possibility that they draft a running back as well.
With all that out of the way, Edmonds is still a great value. He was by far the most efficient RB for the Cardinals last season and had 1.12 fantasy points per touch, which was eighth-most amongst RBs with 50 or more touches in 2020. Edmonds finished as the RB25 in PPR and could push into the mid-RB2 range if it remains him and Conner.
Tarik Cohen, Chicago Bears
While everyone is fixated on David Montgomery, and rightly so, Tarik Cohen is the forgotten man in that backfield. In 2018 and 2019, Cohen was fourth in the NFL in targets (195) and fifth in both receptions (150) and yards (1,181) amongst running backs. If you are in PPR formats, this cannot be overlooked.
Cohen missed last season due to a torn ACL in Week 3 but should be back in time for the opening of camp. Now that Matt Nagy has taken back play-calling duties, Cohen is one of the best RB sleepers in fantasy football for 2021.
Jeff Wilson, San Francisco 49ers
Jeff Wilson appeared in 12 games last season for the 49ers but led all running backs with 733 total yards and 10 touchdowns. He also saw his red-zone carries more than double from the year prior up to 25. Tevin Coleman and Jerick McKinnon are both off the roster, and given Raheem Mostert’s inability to stay on the field, Wilson could be a sneaky low-end RB2. I would not be surprised to see Wilson leading the team in rushing again this season.
Gus Edwards, Baltimore Ravens
All aboard the Gus Bus! Okay, maybe he isn’t going to light the world on fire, but I guarantee you the Baltimore Ravens like him a hell of a lot more than you think they do, despite drafting J.K. Dobbins.
Entering his fourth season, Edwards has seen over 133 carries and 700 rushing yards in each of his three years in Baltimore. In 2020, Edwards faced a stacked box (eight-plus defenders) the sixth-most times at 34.03%.
With Mark Ingram now with the Houston Texans, Edwards is in line for an increased role next season. Not every pick needs to woo the draft room but adding solid depth from sleepers like Edwards is how you build a championship-winning fantasy football roster in 2021.