2021 Fantasy Football Sleepers: Breakout & Undervalued Players To Draft
With 2021 fantasy football drafts approaching, I’m starting to identify 2021 fantasy football sleepers and breakout players. The term “sleeper,” of course, is subjective. It can be applied to players the majority of fantasy football GMs aren’t talking about — or fantasy football players who are heavily undervalued in the early rounds of 2021 fantasy football drafts and mock drafts.
There are many reasons for these potential breakout players to be forgotten or undervalued. Situational changes such as a change in team, surrounding talent, or coaching staff can all benefit a player who was not thought of as a fantasy football sleeper or breakout player in prior seasons. Situational changes can also be the reason many will lower expectations of a top-tier player. Someone who was injured for the majority (or all) of the previous season can often be forgotten or devalued heading into a new year.
I will outline why I feel the following players are fantasy football sleepers — listed below from earlier to later picks — and hopefully encourage you to consider targeting them with picks in your 2021 fantasy football drafts.
>The average draft position (ADP) for the following players comes from Fantasy Football Calculator‘s 0.5 PPR ADPas of June 4.
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2021 Fantasy Football Sleepers & Undervalued Players
Logan Thomas, TE, Washington Football Team
94.1 ADP (TE9)
Is 2020’s fantasy football TE3 being forgotten? Logan Thomas was one of only five tight ends to have over 100 targets (110) last season. His six touchdowns in 2020 were admirable, but there’s room for more in 2021. The Washington Football Team have made some great offseason moves to strengthen their offense.
The addition of Curtis Samuel, mentioned above, may be the reason that many are fading Thomas in 2021. I believe having another pass-catching weapon on the field will help the top 3 receivers (Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel, and Logan Thomas).
This is especially true with “Fitz-Magic” himself, Ryan Fitzpatrick, throwing the football in 2021. It’s crazy to believe that Fitzpatrick is an upgrade, but Logan Thomas had to catch balls from Alex Smith and Dwayne Haskins in 2020.
All tight ends (outside of the top 3 or 4) are risky picks. With Thomas’ top-5 upside, he’s more than worth his current ADP.
Rob Gronkowski, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
98.5 ADP (TE10)
Another “out of sight, out of mind” player, Rob Gronkowski took the 2019 season off to get his mind and body right. He returned last season and was slow to shake off the rust as a Tampa Bay Buccaneer. The rust lasted through Week 4, then we began to see a bit of his old self and his connection with Tom Brady.
Gronk had either over 50 receiving yards or a touchdown (sometimes both) in eight of his last 12 regular-season games. He then caught two touchdowns in the Buccaneers’ Super Bowl victory.
Gronk finished the 2020 season as the TE8. Last year Rob Gronkowski proved he isn’t done producing in the NFL. As long as he has Tom Brady throwing to him, he’s going to be an undervalued 2021 fantasy football tight end worth rostering.
Curtis Samuel, WR, Washington Football Team
101.1 ADP (WR41)
Curtis Samuel finished as 2020 fantasy football’s WR23 with just three touchdown receptions and had the 2nd-most rushing yards among wide receivers while a member of the Carolina Panthers. Samuel was the only wide receiver inside the top 30 at his position to garner fewer than 100 targets (97). He had the highest catch rate in that group (79.4%).
The veteran slot receiver now finds himself on The Washington Football Team — a dream landing spot for his 2021 fantasy football value. With Terry McLaurin spreading defenses, Ryan Fitzpatrick will feed plenty of targets to Samuel that will allow him to do damage after the catch, which will again fuel Samuel’s value and ceiling — especially in PPR fantasy football leagues.
Cole Beasley, WR, Buffalo Bills
103.9 ADP (WR42)
Another wide receiver that is being drafted significantly lower than his 2020 finish. Cole Beasley is Josh Allen’s second-favorite target. That’s a favorable situation given the fact that Josh Allen is one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL and had the 6th-most pass attempts in 2020.
Beasley caught 82 of his 107 targets in 2020 with an impressive 76.6% catch rate. His catch rate was 3rd-best among wide receivers with 85 or more targets. The Bills are true contenders in the AFC East, and this offense doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon.
Though Gabriel Davis is also a popular fantasy football sleeper name, Beasley’s reliability will sustain his stable role and probably allow the slot machine to be acquired as a 2021 fantasy football undervalued pick.
Corey Davis, WR, New York Jets
109.7 ADP (WR46)
How is this man being drafted later than his 2020 fantasy football finish? Corey Davis was the WR30 as the WR2 in a run-first offense. He was 16 yards shy of 1,000 receiving yards and had five touchdowns in 14 games.
He is in a much better situation for potential volume in 2021. Davis has the opportunity to be the WR1 in a Jets offense that drafted Zach Wilson and addressed its offensive line — but has an underwhelming running back group and, due to a likely poor season, will have to furiously pile up pass attempts playing from behind.
Davis will take full advantage of that.
Travis Etienne, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars
119.8 ADP (RB49)
My instinct is to fade the hype on most rookies. Travis Etienne has concerns, but not enough to have him drafted THIS late in fantasy football drafts.
The Jaguars coaching staff is doing its best to throw off the other 31 NFL teams with, what I believe to be, misinformation. Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer has called Etienne a “3rd-down back.” This may be the case to begin the season, to be fair, as the Clemson grad works his way into the system.
- See where Travis Etienne ranks in our Top 40 Fantasy Football Rookie Rankings.
Of course, a team that spends the 25th overall pick on a running back probably will heavily involve that player sooner rather than later. Yes, James Robinson proved he can handle a full workload last year, but Meyer also mentioned Carlos Hyde as another “1-2 downhill, powerful running back” — which all but discredits everything he says this offseason.
And of course, No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence will feel comfortable incorporating his longtime Clemson teammate out of the gate.
We’ve seen examples of the 1-2 punch backfields and how they can both be valuable fantasy football starters. James Robinson and Travis Etienne could both at least be flex-worthy many weeks, and at his current cost, the rookie has a higher ceiling in his first season than many think.
Tarik Cohen, RB, Chicago Bears
127.2 ADP (RB52)
Tarik Cohen could be one of those “out of sight, out of mind” players heading into the 2021 season. He played just three games in 2020 before a season-ending ACL tear in Week 3.
Cohen has been a consistent pass-catching option for the Bears since his rookie season in 2017. He had a combined 266 targets, 203 receptions, 1,534 receiving yards, and 9 receiving touchdowns before his lost 2020 season. In his last healthy season (2019), Tarik Cohen was the RB27.
Yes, there are concerns on how he bounces back from an ACL injury and after the arrival of fellow back Damien Williams to crowd a backfield led by David Montgomery.
However, Cohen has been a staple in this offense. Expect Cohen to step back into his usual role and remain a 2021 fantasy football undervalued pick in the double-digit rounds of drafts.
Darnell Mooney, WR, Chicago Bears
159.7 ADP (WR57)
Darnell Mooney was a top-50 wide receiver in 2020 with unfavorable conditions at the quarterback position as a rookie in 2020. He outplayed teammate Anthony Miller and ranked second among the Bears wideouts in targets, receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns.
The Bears have upgraded at quarterback with first-round pick Justin Fields, which will bode well for the entire offense. Even if Andy Dalton begins the season as the starting QB, Mooney will see a healthy target share as the clear WR2 in the offense.
Russell Gage, WR, Atlanta Falcons
Not listed among Top 223 Picks
The Atlanta Falcons traded star wide receiver Julio Jones. This leaves behind plenty of vacated targets for Russell Gage. Gage was the beneficiary of Julio Jones’ absence in 2020. Jones played in just nine games, which led to Gage’s increased workload. He finished the 2020 season as the WR37 with 72 catches on 110 targets for 786 receiving yards and four touchdowns.
Sure, the Falcons drafted Kyle Pitts fourth overall. The hybrid tight end will certainly carve out a significant place in this receiver tree, lining up all over the field.
Still, Julio Jones will play in exactly ZERO games for the Falcons in 2021, creating a major void at wide receiver. If Russell Gage saw 110 targets with Julio Jones on the roster for nine games, you can guarantee he’ll see more this season.
This isn’t hyperbole. The Falcons pass-catchers often see more targets than the majority of the league. In fact, Matt Ryan led the league in pass attempts in 2020. He ranked 3rd in pass attempts in each of the two seasons prior to 2020 as well.
You can expect Russell Gage’s ADP to rise, but landing him outside of the top 40 at the position could bolster your depth, especially as bye weeks roll in.
Stay tuned for position-specific 2021 fantasy football sleepers reports as we dive deeper into possible league-winning picks.
2021 Fantasy Football Sleepers: Honorable Mentions
- Kirk Cousins, QB, Minnesota Vikings (133 ADP, QB18)
- Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers (151.9 ADP, QB21)
- Mike Davis, RB, Atlanta Falcons (67.8 ADP, RB28)
- Leonard Fournette, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (70.3 ADP, RB30)
- Najee Harris, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers (74.2 ADP, RB32)
- Brandin Cooks, WR, Houston Texans (86.3 ADP, WR36)
- Michael Gallup, WR, Dallas Cowboys (131.5 ADP, WR52)
- Nelson Agholor, WR, New England Patriots (138 ADP, WR56)
- Mike Gesicki, TE, Miami Dolpins (79,5 ADP, TE6)
- Blake Jarwin, TE, Dallas Cowboys (145.2 ADP, TE17)
For more 2021 fantasy football draft tips, listen to our Take The Points podcast with Marcus Mosher and Adam Kramer: