Editor’s Note: Thank you for arriving at our 2021 fantasy football sleepers awards article!
To keep up with our preseason and inseason weekly fantasy football sleepers and more fantasy league tips, please go to our new fantasy football sleepers page.
The 2021 Fantasy Football season is over. Congratulations if you have won a fantasy football championship.
The road to victory was long and strenuous. Not only have we had our usual dose of injuries, but for the second consecutive season, we’ve also had to deal with the ramifications from COVID-19.
As a result, the taste of victory is that much sweeter.
Writing my Fantasy Football Sleepers column for the first year at The Game Day has been a joy.
While it wasn’t my first rodeo, as I’ve been writing weekly sleepers columns for the past four seasons at other publications, I know my sleeper picks were that much more valuable due to the extraordinary circumstances around the NFL.
Today, I am going to reveal my All-Sleepers list for 2021.
2021 Fantasy Football All-Sleepers Team
We all view sleepers differently. Sure, there is a clear definition in the fantasy football dictionary, but a sleeper can mean many different things.
I view a sleeper player as a player who is flying under the radar at any point. While some players are highly regarded during a draft, it might have taken him a while to get going until he pops. Then, there are the players who no one expects pops early and never looks back.
*I used FantasyData’s ADP for this article.
2021 Fantasy Football All-Sleepers: Quarterbacks
Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals
In many spot, Joe Burrow was drafted as the QB13 but returned QB5 value.
Every year, there is that quarterback drafted outside the top 12 and ends up going ballistic. That was Burrow in 2021. While he had the weapons to pop, his offensive line was suspect.
Burrow was also coming off of a catastrophic knee injury suffered in his rookie campaign, hindering fantasy managers from taking him higher. He finished with 20+ fantasy points, depending on your quarterback scoring format, in 12-of-16 games.
I’m a Burrow guy. He has the swag, clout, and confidence to be one of the best signal-callers the NFL has to offer. While he may not be top five in fantasy just yet, as he lacks rushing upside, he is a top-five NFL quarterback in the NFL right now.
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Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings
Kirk Cousins is like that old lawnmower in your garage. Sure, you can get a newer model with bells and whistles, but you know your mower will get the job done. That is Cousins.
Cousins had a QB20 ADP entering 2021. He finished as the QB11.
While Cousins has no rushing upside, which fantasy managers are looking for nowadays, the reliable veteran had a slew of weapons to satisfy his fantasy worth. Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, Dalvin Cook, K.J. Osborn, and Tyler Conklin.
Cousins had so much around him I can’t understand why he is perennially overlooked.
Sometimes, fantasy managers need to stop looking for the new shiny trend and go with what has worked for years. Cousins isn’t the sexy pick. He drivers his grandmother’s caravan still, for Pete’s sake. However, if you had him as your fantasy quarterback, there is a good chance you had a solid year.
- Taylor Heinicke, Washington Football Team
- Derek Carr, Las Vegas Raiders
2021 Fantasy Football All-Sleepers: Running Back
Leonard Fournette, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I once compared Leonard Fournette to a gas station breakfast sandwich. That comp still stands today.
Despite Fournette’s late-season and postseason success in 2020, earning him the RB1 spot on the Buccaneers for 2022, fantasy managers still didn’t put respect on the name of Super Bowl Lenny.
He’s so disrespected that fantasy managers were still taking Ronald Jones (RB33 ADP) ahead of Fournette (RB40 ADP) entering 2021.
Welp, if you are a Fournette guy like me, you were likely hoisting a fantasy championship. While he was sidelined for the final two games of the fantasy season, Fournette currently stands as the RB5 in PPR despite the time missed.
Fournette managed 10+ PPR points in 12-of-14 games, including five with 20+ points.
James Conner, Arizona Cardinals
Similar to Super Bowl Lenny, James Conner is another running back castaway, according to the consensus.
Sure, injuries finally caught up to Conner, who missed the final two games of the fantasy campaign, but he was drafted as the RB39 and ended the year as the RB8.
While many were slating Chase Edmonds as “the guy" in Arizona, Edmonds was the Cardinals’ back who was stricken by injury, missing four games with a high ankle sprain.
Meanwhile, Conner logged 1,034 total yards and 16 scores.
Cordarrelle Patterson, Atlanta Falcons
Cordarrelle Patterson out of nowhere like a Randy Orton RKO.
Patterson was the story of 2021 in fantasy. Patterson shined playing in Falcons HC Arthur Smith’s offense as a running back-wide receiver hybrid. He had his games catching the ball, he had his games running the ball, and then had his games where he did both.
Drafted as the RB63 — WHAT? — Patterson finished 2021 as the RB7 in PPR on a Falcons club hurting for playmakers, with Calvin Ridley leaving the team due to personal reasons.
While Patterson cooled off down the stretch, managing fewer than 8.3 PPR points in each of the final three games of the fantasy campaign, he was terrific for most of the season beforehand, logging 10+ PPR points in 10-of-11 games from Weeks 2-14.
- Darrel Williams, Kansas City Chiefs
- Javonte Williams, Denver Broncos
2021 Fantasy Football All-Sleepers: Wide Receiver
Hunter Renfrow, Las Vegas Raiders
Hunter Renfrow is another example of a player off of most fantasy managers’ radar’s who went off in a big way.
Renfrow was overshadowed by Henry Ruggs, Darren Waller, and even Bryan Edwards in the pecking order for pass-catching targets on the Raiders. However, when it was all said and done, the shifty slot receiver ultimately out-shined them all.
Drafted as the WR78, Renfrow ended 2021 as the WR11 in PPR. While he only logged three games with 20+ PPR points, Renfrow was fairly consistent. He managed 10+ PPR points in 13-of-16 games overall. In eight of those, he had at least 16 points.
Renfrow was a staple on many fantasy teams who made it to the playoffs. He was also all the Raiders had to throw the ball to, aside from Waller, for most of the year. The enemy defenses knew that and still couldn’t stop him.
Ja’Marr Chase, Cincinnati Bengals
There are other sleeper-worthy wide receivers I could put here for Ja’Marr Chase, but I don’t want to.
If you remember back in July and August, Chase was left for dead. Many questioned if he could run a route, get separation, or catch a football. As a result, Chase’s ADP dropped from the fourth round down to the eighth in some spots.
Then, miraculously, Chase remembered how to play football. I am being sarcastic because I am a Chase guy and happily took him at his value ADP. Drafted as the WR38, Chase ended 2021 as the WR5.
- Get fantasy football tips for the NFL Playoffs, with DFS picks and more.
Folks, there was a reason why he was selected No. 5 overall by the Bengals, and it wasn’t just because he was Burrow’s teammate at LSU. Sheesh.
While Chase was a monster for most of the year, he called off some in the middle of the campaign. Then, in last week’s fantasy championship, Chase erupted for 55.6 PPR points when we needed him the most. In the fantasy playoffs, Chase managed 19+ PPR points in 3-of-4 games.
I hope we enjoyed getting Chase at his WR38 ADP. It will never happen again.
*Humblebrag — I had Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase on my third-place FFPC Best Ball team shared with Billy Muzio. Needless to say, I thought I was going to win it all.
Amon-Ra St. Brown, Detroit Lions
Amon-Ra St.Brown was an afterthought for most of 2021. And why not, as the Lions’ offense was anemic.
Through the first 11 games of the year, St. Brown only logged 10+ PPR points three times. Then something happened in Week 13. ARSB dropped 24.8 PPR points on the Vikings and never looked back.
In fact, in the final five games of the year beginning in that Week 13 matchup, St. Brown logged 15+ PPR points in all five, four of which, finishing with at least 23.5. The kid came out of nowhere. He had 11+ targets in all of those games and scored in four of them.
Oh, by the way, he accomplished those feats with Jared Goff and Tim Boyle throwing him the ball.
In the actual NFL Draft, St. Brown was the 112th overall pick. He was a legit sleeper in real life and fantasy.
While St. Brown was drafted as the WR75 in fantasy and only began to catch fire in December, he still finished as a top 24 wideout. The Lions have something with ARSB. Let’s hope they don’t mess it up.
- Christian Kirk, Arizona Cardinals
- Van Jefferson, Los Angeles Rams
Check out more of our 2021 Fantasy Football Awards
- 2021 Fantasy Football Best Waiver Wire Pickups
- 2021 Fantasy Football All-Pro Team
- 2021 Fantasy Football All-Busts Team
2021 Fantasy Football All-Sleepers: Tight End
Hunter Henry, New England Patriots
I can go in many directions with my sleeper tight ends, but I will go with my favorites.
Hunter Henry was over-shadowed by Jonnu Smith in the fantasy community. Once again, fantasy managers elected to go for a potential ceiling (Smith) over a ceiling that had already been obtained in the past (Henry).
Fantasy football is easy. I don’t get why people try to complicate it.
Smith has all the talent and upside in the world, but he’s never really lived up to his hype. Meanwhile, Henry was a longtime staple in the passing attack of the Chargers. The Patriots signed both in free agency and, surprise surprise, the player who’s been there and done that ultimately popped.
While Smith was drafted as the TE13, Henry was targeted as the TE18. Meanwhile, Smith finished as the TE33 while Henry the TE11.
I’m not quite sure why many are so infatuated with Smith. But if I’m a betting man, and I am, I would wager that in 2022 fantasy drafts, Henry will be selected after Smith because people will never learn.
Pat Freiermuth, Pittsburgh Steelers
Pat Freiermuth was only on the radars of those who play in Dynasty leagues entering 2021. The Steelers opened the year with Eric Ebron as their TE1. Overall, the position was anemic until Freiermuth emerged onto the scene in late October.
From Weeks 6-17, Freiermuth managed 10+ PPR points in 6-of-10 games. He cooled off in the fantasy playoffs but helped many fantasy managers get there from his contributions in the middle of the campaign.
The tight end position in fantasy is a tough one to decipher. If you don’t get a top guy, you are usually streaming and hoping for the best. However, if you managed to get your hands on Freiermuth when he was hot, you had one less headache to deal with when setting your lineups.
- Dalton Schultz, Dallas Cowboys
- Zach Ertz, Arizona Cardinals
2021 Fantasy Football All-Sleepers: Kicker
Nick Folk, New England Patriots
No one saw Nick Folk coming in 2021. I bet Folk was not drafted in most leagues. However, the longtime NFL veteran popped as the No. 1 fantasy kicker.
The Patriots always had an upside kicker. Whether it was Stephen Gostowski or Adam Vinatieri, they always had a place in fantasy until 2020.
Last season, the Patriots offense was nowhere to be found. And let’s be honest, no one expected the Patriots to field a top 10 offense in 2021 led by Mac Jones. But here we are.
Normally, when you have a top 10 offense, your kicker is pretty good in fantasy, which is exactly what we got from Folk and the Pats in 2021.
- Evan McPherson, Cincinnati Bengals
- Jake Elliott, Philadelphia Eagles
2021 Fantasy Football All-Sleepers: Defensive Team
In 2020, the Cowboys’ defense was nearly historically bad. Then, Trevon Diggs, Micah Parsons, and Dan Quinn happened. Sure, the Cowboys already had talent and added other young pieces in the NFL Draft, but Diggs, Parsons, and Quinn were the glue that held it all together.
The Cowboys D/ST was a force in fantasy, ending the year as the No. 1 unit. A top team in takeaways and defensive touchdowns, one of last year’s worst emerged as this year’s best.
I bet there were some fantasy managers who rode the Cowboys’ D/ST to a fantasy championship. Maybe send them an Edible Arrangements fruit basket as a thank you.
Do the right thing.
- Arizona Cardinals
- New Orleans Saints
Anthony’s Accountable: Week 17 Sleeper Pick Success Rate
My Fantasy Football Sleepers for Week 17 went 9-3. In fact, back in Week 16, I went 9-1-2. While my overall record should be better, as I will never be satisfied, my picks were on point when we needed them the most!
This is a recap of my plays from Week 17 (skill position players only). I consider a sleeper a hit if the player scores 10-plus PPR points (15-plus for QBs, 8-plus for D/ST):
Anthony’s Sleepers are 109-87-3 this season.
- QB Joe Burrow (34.8)
- QB Trey Lance (20.1)
- RB Darrel Williams (25.7)
- RB Sony Michel (18.9)
- RB Ronald Jones (3.7)
- WR Van Jefferson (10.3)
- WR Chrisitan Kirk (13.9)
- WR Amon-Ra St. Brown (35.4)
- TE Tyler Higbee (12.9)
- TE Gerald Everett (6.6)
- K Harrison Butker (7.0)
- DST San Francisco 49ers (9.0)