2021 Fantasy Football RB Sleepers: Breakout Running Backs To Draft

Last Updated: Jul 14, 2023

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With 2021 fantasy football drafts approaching, here are some deep 2021 fantasy football RB sleepers to target in the late rounds, primarily after pick 100.

2021 Fantasy Football RB Sleepers: Late-Round Breakout Running Backs To Draft

The average draft position (ADP) for the following players comes from Fantasy Football Calculator‘s Full-Point PPR ADP as of June 13.

James Conner, Arizona Cardinals (83.0 ADP)

I am all-in on James Conner in 2021.

Now, I’m not normally a Conner guy, mainly because he’s usually hurt too much to return value at his ADP, which has been as high as the first round. He wasn’t that expensive last year, but in 2021 you can get him far later (and cheaper).

For once, it seems that Conner is actually being undervalued. Not only is his injury history built into his price, but Chase Edmonds‘ presence is a factor as well. You’re essentially paying supporting cast capital for a player who could be a fantasy starter.

To put things into perspective, J.D. McKissic, Jeff Wilson, and A.J. Dillon are all going around where Conner’s being drafted, none of whom have the same clear path to touches.

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While many believe Edmonds will be the guy in Arizona, I’m not willing to take that risk in the fifth round, especially when Conner could easily step into the vacant Kenyan Drake role. Drake finished 2020 as the RB24 in FPPG (12.8) — still a back-end RB2. He was also the RB13 in opportunity share (66.0%), the RB4 in red-zone touches (57), and the RB2 in goal-line carries (19), resulting in 10 total touchdowns.

Those money opportunities will now likely go to Conner. A healthy Conner, who has about 20 pounds on Drake despite being the same height, could really cash in for his fantasy managers. I usually hate chasing touchdowns like this, but I will take the risk at this point in a draft.

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Tarik Cohen, Chicago Bears (125.0 ADP)

After suffering a torn ACL in Week 3 against the Atlanta Falcons, Tarik Cohen is back and ready for action. While we saw the second-half emergence of David Montgomery in his absence, Cohen is a unique back who excels in the passing game, particularly in open space.

Those skills were on display in 2019, when Cohen hauled in 79 of his 104 targets for 456 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Although Montgomery handled the pass-catching role with ease in 2020. some of that will likely go back to Cohen, further driving up his value in PPR leagues.

I’m not saying Cohen will be a league-winner, but he will have a role on an offense that is in need of playmakers behind Montgomery, Allen Robinson, and Cole Kmet. Cohen averaged 10.1 FPPG in 2019, and he’s certainly capable of approaching double digits again.

Javonte Williams Denver Broncos RB

Rookie RB Javonte Williams will look to establish himself in Denver’s backfield (Image: USA Today).

Javonte Williams, Denver Broncos (134.0 ADP)

After losing Phillip Lindsay in free agency, the Broncos bolstered their RB depth by taking Javonte Williams in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft.

You don’t take a player with the 35th overall pick unless you intend to use him. Barring injury, Melvin Gordon will open 2021 as Denver’s bell cow, with Royce Freeman and Mike Boone backing him up. However, that doesn’t mean Williams won’t see touches, as Lindsay was the RB39 in opportunity share (42.6%) last season in only 11 games.

Gordon, now 28, is starting to slow down a bit and may not play as much, especially if the Broncos endure another losing season. Denver’s brass views Williams as a special back with three-down potential who already impresses in pass-protection and has the skillset to take over a backfield. Head coach Vic Fangio will find a way to use him and get him some experience.

Williams isn’t going to set the world on fire as long as Gordon’s healthy, but the rookie will see his fair share of the workload. Lindsay drew 11.4 touches per game last year, and if Williams gets a similar number he will vastly outperform his middling ADP.

Trey Sermon, San Francisco 49ers (142.0 ADP)

With Jerick McKinnon and Tevin Coleman both departing in free agency and Jeff Wilson suffering a torn meniscus, the 49ers will be able to give Sermon meaningful opportunities from the get-go. While they still have Raheem Mostert slated as the starter and signed Wayne Gallman, Sermon is unique given that he’s the highest running back drafted in the Kyle Shanahan era at 88th overall. In fact, the last time the 49ers selected a rusher in the Shanahan era was back in 2017 during his first year as head coach.

Sermon has pedigree on his side and will also get to learn from RB coach Bobby Turner. Turner believes Sermon’s skillset — notably his acceleration, size, and strength — is capable of thriving in Shanahan’s zone-run scheme.

We already know that Wilson will miss a minimum of six games. We also know that Mostert doesn’t exactly come with the cleanest bill of health, as he’s only had one season where he played more than 11 games. While Gallman will open training camp as the 49ers’ RB2 in Wilson’s absence, Sermon is likely the RB3 with a clear path to touches in 2021. Given how late he’s being drafted, Sermon is one of my top fantasy football RB sleepers in this year’s rookie class.

2021 Fantasy Football Sleepers: Top SleepersQB • RB • WRTED/ST

More 2021 Fantasy Football RB Sleepers To Watch & Consider

  • Gus Edwards, Baltimore Ravens (105.0 ADP)
  • Phillip Lindsay, Houston Texans (119.0 ADP)
  • Michael Carter, New York Jets (149.0 ADP)
  • Javian Hawkins, Atlanta Falcons (175.0 ADP)
  • Salvon Ahmed, Miami Dolphins (176.0 ADP)

For more of The Game Day’s 2021 fantasy football draft tips, listen to our Take The Points podcast with Marcus Mosher and Adam Kramer:


Anthony Cervino

Anthony Cervino is an NFL Writer and Betting Analyst for The Game Day. He is also a lifelong NFL savant and self-proclaimed league historian. In the industry, Anthony has excelled in both the fantasy football and sports betting space with fantasy his proverbial bread and butter. Anthony has made appearances on SiriusXM, amongst other publications. He is also the co-creator of the FF Faceoff (Faceoff Sports Network) and the FF Faceoff Mental Health Podathon partnered with the Hayden Hurst Foundation. Industry Clout: 15th most accurate ranker in the FantasyPros ECR for both draft and in-season accuracy (2019) | 8th most accurate ranker in the FantasyPros ECR for sleepers (2020) | 13th most accurate ranker in the FantasyPros ECR for in-season accuracy, including 2nd at quarterback and 3rd at tight end (2021).

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