2021 Fantasy Football Sleepers Predictions Week 1: Start ‘Em Picks & Matchup Plays

Last Updated: Jul 14, 2023

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The 2021 NFL season has finally arrived, which means the 2021 fantasy football campaign is here as well. With fantasy drafts behind us, we can finally set our Week 1 lineups.

However, just because it is Week 1 doesn’t mean fantasy football sleepers don’t have value. While some of your studs may be entering tough matchups, fantasy sleepers can also be deployed in DFS lineups at FanDuel and DraftKings or used for NFL player prop wagers.

For the next 17 weeks — and perhaps into the playoffs — I will be here every week providing my matchup-winning fantasy football sleepers to help you dominate your fantasy football league.

Let’s get to it.

2021 Fantasy Football Sleepers Projections for Week 1

2021 Fantasy Football Sleepers for Week 1: Quarterback

Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars @ Houston Texans

  • Jaguars-Texans Total: 45 via BetMGM
  • Over 45 (-110), Under 45 (-110)

While BetMGM is setting the total at 45 points, there’s potential for a shootout here. Jacksonville’s defense isn’t great either, so there will be plenty of points to go around. Lawrence has mid-range QB1 upside for Week 1, which should be a good start to his Rookie of the Year candidacy.

It shouldn’t take long for Trevor Lawrence to show why he was the No. 1 pick of the 2021 NFL Draft. Lawrence should be able to hit the ground running against the Houston Texans, who had one of the worst defenses in the NFL last year.

Houston surrendered the 11th-most FPPG (19.8) to quarterbacks in 2020, including the ninth-most touchdown passes (and that was before J.J. Watt’s departure). They also allowed the sixth-most points in the NFL last year, so this is a unit with lots of holes.

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Deep QB Week 1 Sleeper: Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers @ Detroit Lions

  • 49ers-Lions Total: 45.5 via BetMGM
  • Over 45.5 (-110), Under 45.5 (-110)

Jimmy Garoppolo will be under center in Week 1 for the San Francisco 49ers, and any QB playing against the Detroit Lions is worthy of fantasy consideration after they allowed the second-most FPPG (23.4) to quarterbacks last season.

With first-time defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn calling the defense, Garopplo has a promising Week 1 fantasy outlook.

Jimmy G isn’t the greatest fantasy quarterback, but he can pop in the right matchup (like this one). He’ll also have his full complement of pass-catching weapons at his disposal, including George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk, and Deebo Samuel.

With Garoppolo playing for his job this year, he should be able to hold off Trey Lance with a solid performance here.

Week 1 Fantasy Football Sleepers To Consider: Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings @ Cincinnati Bengals

2021 Fantasy Football Sleepers for Week 1: Running Back

Raheem Mostert, San Francisco 49ers @ Detroit Lions

  • 49ers-Lions Total: 45.5 via BetMGM
  • Over 45.5 (-110), Under 45.5 (-110)

Staying with the 49ers-Lions matchup, make sure to get Raheem Mostert into your fantasy lineup. While San Francisco has a crowded backfield, Mostert is the starter when healthy. Injuries have cost him significant time in two of the past three seasons, but he’s been terrific in Kyle Shanahan’s system whenever he’s on the field.

Mostert is also one of the most efficient running backs in the NFL. In 2019, he was the No. 1 back in true yards per carry (5.3) and fourth in yards per touch (6.3). Last year, he ranked 14th (4.6) and seventh (5.6) in those respective categories.

The Lions were one of the worst teams in the NFL last season in stuffing the run, yielding the second-most FPPG (26.7) to enemy backs. Detroit’s defense won’t be fixed overnight by a new DC, so look for Mostert to gash them in Week 1.

James Conner, Arizona Cardinals @ Tennessee Titans

  • Cardinals-Titans Total: 51.5 via BetMGM
  • Over 51.5 (-110), Under 51.5 (-110)

While Chase Edmonds is initially expected to lead the Arizona Cardinals’ backfield, James Conner is one of my most rostered players in fantasy football. I have high aspirations for him in Arizona after he served as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ lead back following Le’Veon Bell’s departure.

Conner was signed to fill the vacant role in the Cardinals’ offense left by Kenyan Drake. Last season, Drake was fourth in red-zone touches (57) and second in goal-line carries (19). If Conner remains healthy and gets similar opportunities, he could be a league-winner this year.

Conner will look to make a good first impression for his new team against the Tennessee Titans, who had one of the worst defenses in the NFL last season. Tennessee allowed the seventh-most FPPG (21.1) to enemy backs in 2020, a trend that could continue in 2021.

They also surrendered the fifth-most rushing touchdowns to RBs last season (15) as well as five passing scores to tailbacks.

In a game with a 51.5 total line at BetMGM, look for ample points to be scored in this matchup between two high-powered offenses. Conner should be part of the point-scoring bonanza.

Deep RB Week 1 Sleeper: Leonard Fournette, Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Dallas Cowboys

  • Cowboys-Buccaneers: Total 50.5 via BetMGM
  • Over 50.5 (-110), Under 50.5 (-110)

I’m taking a shot here with Leonard Fournette. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ backfield will be tough to predict on a week-to-week basis given the presence of Ronald Jones, but considering how Fournette ended the 2020 regular season and playoffs, he could see an expanded role this year.

Fournette will also face a Dallas Cowboys defense that yielded the eighth-most FPPG (21.0) to fantasy running backs in 2020. Although I do expect the Dallas defense to improve under new DC Dan Quinn, it won’t happen right away and Fournette should be able to exploit them.

Fournette finished with 12+ PPR points in six of his final seven games last year, including the playoffs. He scored seven times and managed 12+ touches in six of those seven outings as well.

If he picks up where he left off, he’ll flourish against a Cowboys unit that surrendered 2,399 total yards and 15 total scores to running backs last season.

Also Consider: Phillip Lindsay, Houston Texans vs. Jacksonville Jaguars; Nyheim Hines, Indianapolis Colts vs. Seattle Seahawks

Leonard Fournette Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB

Buccaneers RB Leonard Fournette should see a heavier workload in his second season with Tampa Bay, which makes him an immediate Week 1 fantasy football sleeper. (Image: USA TODAY)

2021 Fantasy Football Sleepers for Week 1: Wide Receiver

Brandin Cooks, Houston Texans vs. Jacksonville Jaguars

  • Jaguars-Texans Total: 45 via BetMGM
  • Over 45 (-110), Under 45 (-110)

This Texans-Jaguars matchup has a lot of hidden juice for Week 1 fantasy football. While most of the attention will be on the Jaguars and their shiny new quarterback, the Texans are also packing some fantasy punch in the form of Brandin Cooks.

Assuming Jacksonville’s offense clicks and jumps out to an early lead, look for Houston to air it out as they try to keep pace, which bodes well for Cooks now that he’s the undisputed top receiver on the Texans. Cooks was 16th in FPPG (15.4) last season despite sharing a wide receiver room with Randall Cobb and Will Fuller, both of whom are no longer with the team.

With a steady stream of targets coming his way, Cooks will return a WR2 finish at worst in Week 1.

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Marvin Jones, Jacksonville Jaguars @ Houston Texans

  • Jaguars-Texans Total: 45 via BetMGM
  • Over 45 (-110), Under 45 (-110)

I love the Trevor Lawrence-Marvin Jones stack in Week 1. I already discussed Lawrence above, so let’s dive into Jones, who I believe could lead the Jags in receiving in 2021.

While Jacksonville also employs Laviska Shenault and D.J. Chark at wide receiver, Jones is the veteran in the room, which should make him Lawrence’s preferred option. Jones is also familiar with OC Darrell Bevell’s system from their time together in Detroit, which helped him score nine touchdowns in each of the past two seasons.

The preseason rapport between Lawrence and Jones will carry over into Week 1 and through regular-season play. Jones should have an easy time getting open against a porous Texans secondary that surrendered the seventh-most FPPG (26.5) to opposing wideouts last year.

Deep WR Week 1 Sleeper: Elijah Moore, New York Jets @ Carolina Panthers

  • Jets-Panthers Total: 43 via BetMGM
  • Over 43 (-110), Under 43 (-110)

Although we have seen Zach Wilson and Corey Davis find instant success during the preseason, let’s not forget about Elijah Moore. Moore has also drawn offseason hype and is expected to emerge as the No. 2 receiver in the New York Jets’ offense.

The Carolina Panthers’ secondary isn’t terrible, but that doesn’t mean Moore isn’t startable as a deeper option in fantasy. I expect Carolina to be aggressive against New York’s shaky defense, meaning plenty of passing opportunities for Moore and co.

Accordingly, Moore has a solid PPR floor for Week 1, but he’ll likely need to score to leap into the WR2 tier of outcomes.

Also Consider: Antonio Brown, Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Dallas Cowboys; Marquez Callaway, New Orleans Saints vs. Green Bay Packers

2021 Fantasy Football Sleepers for Week 1: Tight End

Tyler Higbee, Los Angeles Rams vs. Chicago Bears

  • Bears-Rams Total: 44.5 via BetMGM
  • Over, 44.5 (-110), Under 44.5 (-110)

Tyler Higbee is the de facto TE1 for the Los Angeles Rams in the wake of Gerald Everett joining the Seattle Seahawks. Although the Rams drafted Jacob Harris, who has impressed in the preseason, Higbee is primed to be Matthew Stafford’s primary tight end.

Everett’s presence capped Higbee’s fantasy ceiling in the past, but Higbee has the skill set to become a quality weekly starter in fantasy football. Despite his disappointing numbers last year, Higbee was still top-11 at his position in yards per reception (11.9), yards per target (8.7), and yards per route (1.7).

Higbee will get the Chicago Bears in Week 1, a team that not only regressed defensively as the 2020 campaign progressed, but also allowed the fifth-most FPPG (9.8) to enemy tight ends. Look for Higbee to benefit from increased target share, especially if Chicago’s secondary takes away Stafford’s deeper looks.

Irv Smith Jr., Minnesota Vikings @ Cincinnati Bengals

  • Vikings-Bengals Total: 48 via BetMGM
  • Over 48 (-110), Under 48 (-110)

Now that Kyle Rudolph is out of the picture, it appears that Irv Smith Jr. will finally get his time to shine as the Minnesota Vikings’ top tight end. While Tyler Conklin will get his fair share of playing time, Smith is expected to be the primary receiving tight end in Minnesota.

While Smith only drew 43 targets last year, he was efficient with the ball in his hands, ranking eighth among tight ends in yards per reception (12.2) and yards per target (8.5). He also scored five touchdowns despite receiving only 12 red-zone looks — a number which will certainly increase in 2021.

Smith should thrive against the Cincinnati Bengals, who were one of the worst teams at defending tight ends last season. They surrendered 9.8 FPPG to the position, tied for fifth-worst in the NFL.

UPDATE: Irv Smith Jr. is on injured reserve and is expected to miss the entire season after undergoing surgery to repair meniscus in his knee.

Deep TE Week 1 Sleeper: Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles @ Atlanta Falcons

  • Eagles-Falcons Total: 48 via BetMGM
  • Over 48 (-110), Under 48 (-110)

Coming off a disappointing 2020 and an offseason of trade rumors, Zach Ertz is a strong bounce-back candidate based on his stellar track record. He’ll be in a prime spot to rebound against an Atlanta Falcons defense that struggled to contain tight ends last year.

While Dallas Goedert is the projected TE1 for the Philadelphia Eagles, look for new head coach Nick Sirianni to consistently deploy two-tight-end sets on offense. Last season, Philadelphia ran 12 personnel sets 35% of the time, good for second-most in the league.

Sirianni’s Indianapolis Colts used that grouping 21% of the time last year, but he didn’t have a top tight-end duo like Goedert and Ertz to work with.

Even with Goedert on the field, Ertz still managed an 87.2% snap share with an 89.2% route participation rate, good for fifth at his position. He also drew 6.5 targets per game.

Assuming Ertz develops a rapport with Jalen Hurts, he should be able to exploit a defense that surrendered the third-most FPPG to tight ends (10.1) in 2020.

Also Consider: Adam Trautman, New Orleans Saints vs. Green Bay Packers; Anthony Firkser, Tennessee Titans vs. Arizona Cardinals

2021 Fantasy Football Sleepers for Week 1: Kicker

Joey Slye, Carolina Panthers vs. New York Jets

  • Jets-Panthers Total: 43 via BetMGM
  • Over 43 (-110), Under 43 (-110)

Although the Jets are on the right trajectory, they still have work to do. New defensive-minded head coach Robert Saleh will make an immediate impact for New York, but their defense still has issues. The Panthers shouldn’t have too much trouble moving the ball, especially with Christian McCaffrey wreaking havoc on the Jets’ defense.

Accordingly, Joey Slye should get his share of field-goal opportunities and extra-point attempts against the Jets. New York yielded the third-most fantasy points to kickers last season at a 10.5 FPPG pace, so Slye should be busy in Week 1.

Also Consider: Greg Zuerlein, Dallas Cowboys @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Josh Lambo, Jacksonville Jaguars @ Houston Texans

2021 Fantasy Football Sleepers for Week 1: Defensive Team

New York Giants vs. Denver Broncos

  • Broncos-Giants Total: 42.5 via BetMGM
  • Over 42.5 (-110), Under 42.5 (-110)

The New York Giants’ D/ST was deceptively one of the better units in fantasy football last year, ranking 13th overall with a 6.4 FPPG average. Fueled by their 40 sacks, they finished with 8+ fantasy points in seven games, including three outings above the double-digit threshold.

The Giants’ defense will look to build on their solid performance against a Denver Broncos offense that created the second-most fantasy points for opposing units (9.2). Although their offense should be better this season, middling quarterback play makes this an appetizing matchup for New York.

With the addition of Adoree Jackson’, the Giants have one of the best cornerback duos in the league this year. If they can contain Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton, Lock will have to hold on to the ball longer than usual, allowing New York’s front seven to pressure him and generate sacks as well.

Also Consider: Atlanta Falcons vs. Philadelphia Eagles; Miami Dolphins @ New England Patriots


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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