Fantasy Football Sleepers 2021: One breakout pick from every team

Fantasy Football Sleepers 2021: One breakout pick from every team

Training camp is a time for endless enthusiasm in NFL circles, and that always extends to the fantasy football community. You can talk yourself into just about any player being a prime breakout sleeper to highlight on draft cheat sheets. Of course, you can also talk yourself into just about any player getting injured, losing his starting job, and being a bust, too. But that’s not as fun to talk about, and in 2021, we’re all about focusing on the positives.

With that in mind, we’re spreading the good vibes to all 32 teams and trying to find one player (or D/ST) from each who has the potential to outperform his average draft position. Some teams have several viable candidates; others don’t really have any. That doesn’t stop us, though. Our job is to give you a name, and even if it’s someone buried on a depth chart who might spend more time in street clothes than a uniform this year, well, it’s a name. Plus, you know there will be at least a few out-of-nowhere guys who rise up the fantasy ranks, so why not take some deep shots? 

DOMINATE YOUR DRAFT: Ultimate 2021 Cheat Sheet

We also have some veterans on the list who would seem long past their “sleeper” days, but if they’re being significantly undervalued this preseason or have a realistic chance to break through to the elite tier of their position (and we can’t find anyone else from their teams), then they also qualify. 

Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | D/ST | Kicker | Top 200

All told, we have four QBs, nine RBs, 11 WRs, five TEs, and three D/STs. We considered a kicker or two, but then realized we don’t hate ourselves (or you) that much.

Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | D/ST | Kicker | Top 200

Not all of these players will play well, but even if we get just a few right, we’ve done our part to spread some joy across the fantasy football landscape. ‘Tis the season for that, so enjoy it while you can. Soon, you’ll regret 90 percent of your draft picks and hate your team, but when that moment first hits, remember back to simpler times in the preseason when you convinced yourself someone named Dyami Brown could help lead you to a fantasy championship. You’ll smile at how young and naive you were…but at least you’ll be smiling.

Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | D/ST | Kicker | Overall

Fantasy Football Sleepers 2021: One breakout pick from every team

Arizona Cardinals: Rondale Moore, WR

Many fantasy owners worry about Moore’s size (5-7, 181 pounds). His elite athletic profile and early college production suggests he won’t be just another John Ross. In his true freshman season at just 17 at Purdue, Moore commanded a 29-percent target share, posting 135 touches for 1,471 yards from scrimmage and 14 total touchdowns. There’s a chance he’s not a huge priority in the offense in 2021, but he certainly has the tools to be one. It’s Christian Kirk’s prove-it year, and failure to produce early in the season may lead to an increase in Moore’s usage. Regardless, Arizona used four-WR sets on 20 percent of their offensive snaps, far more than any other team in the league. Moore will be on the field in some capacity if he stays healthy (a big “if” given his injury history). — Jackson Sparks

Atlanta Falcons: Caleb Huntley/Javian Hawkins, RBs

Originally, we had rookies Javian Hawkins and Caleb Huntley here, but with Hawkins getting cut and Ollison being announced as the primary backup, we switched it up. We’re still leery of Ollison, who’s averaged just 2.3 yards on 23 career carries, but obviously with that small of a sample size, he might as well be a totally new player. The 6-1, 232-pound back has the size to be effective, especially around the goal line, so if Mike Davis struggles or get hurt, Ollison will be an interesting player to use in flex spots. — Matt Lutovsky

Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | D/ST

Baltimore Ravens: Gus Edwards, RB

Everyone is excited about JK Dobbins this year — and deservedly so — but don’t sleep on Edwards. He’s posted at least 700 yards and averaged at least 5.0 yards/carry in each of his three seasons, so you know he’s going to produce on the ground. With Mark Ingram gone, his path to production is even more open. He might not crack double-digit receptions, but it wouldn’t be a complete shock if Edwards wound up getting more touches than Dobbins and starred in the Ravens backfield. Either way, he’s being undervalued in drafts. Consider Edwards more of a 1B to Dobbins’ 1A than merely a traditional handcuff. –ML

Update 8/30: JK Dobbins will miss the entire 2021 regular season with a torn ACL. While Edwards was a sleeper, he’ll likely shoot up in ADP. If you’ve already drafted and grabbed him, congratulations. If you have yet to draft, he’s ranked our No. 21 RB in standard leagues and No. 29 RB in PPR.

Buffalo Bills: Gabriel Davis, WR

Davis is the likely WR2 in a top-three offense, but Emmanuel Sanders and Cole Beasley will have something to say about that. The good news is Josh Allen trusted Davis in 2020. He caught 35 balls on 52 targets for 599 yards and seven touchdowns acting as the Bills primary deep threat. Like the equation we learned with Mike Williams — rocket-armed QB plus aggressive deep-ball field-stretcher equals fantasy success — Davis could really break out this year. Of course, with all the mouths to feed in Buffalo, he could also be a total boom-or-bust play most weeks. Either way, he’s worth a late middle-round pick. –JS

Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight endD/ST

Carolina Panthers: Defense/special teams

The Panthers were largely middle of the road last year, but adding pass-rusher Haason Reddick, veteran DB A.J. Bouye, and first-round DB Jaycee Horn should go a long way to creating more big plays. Carolina had major outlier luck in fumble recoveries and scored three D/ST touchdowns last year, so there could be a correction there, but the Panthers still profile as a high-risk, high-reward defense. Their opening two matchups (vs. NYJ, vs. NO), could help them get off to a good start and make them a prime “last defense drafted” pick if you’re planning on playing the stream game during the season. –ML

Chicago Bears: Cole Kmet, TE

Kmet is poised to take over the keys from Jimmy Graham at TE1 in the Bears offense. While Kmet didn’t see a ton of volume last year (44 targets), he ranked fourth at the position in true catch rate at 94 percent. True catch rate is the total number of receptions divided by total number of catchable targets. With Andy Dalton or Justin Fields on the field, passing volume and catchable targets are likely to point upward. Chicago traded Anthony Miller to Houston, opening up more potential targets for Kmet. If Fields is as good as the Bears think he can be, Kmet may serve as a reliable target in an emerging offense. –JS

Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end

Cincinnati Bengals: Joe Burrow, QB

Burrow might not be a sleeper in the traditional sense, as he’s pretty properly rated (No. 12 average draft position among QBs) coming off a torn ACL, but if there’s one quarterback outside the top 10 this year who could break through into the top five, it’s him. He’s surrounded by three stud wide receivers and a solid RB, and he should challenge for the league lead in pass attempts. He also showed the ability to pick up yards/TDs on the ground last year. Protection (and health) are very valid concerns, but if Burrow stays in one piece, he should soar past his ADP. –ML

Cleveland Browns: Defense/special teams

Pass-rusher Jadeveon Clowney might be the biggest name among Cleveland’s offseason additions, but production-wise, he’s not the most notable. Cleveland also picked up former Rams John Johnson and Troy Hill, who combined for 182 tackles, four INTs, two fumble recoveries, and three TDs last season. With first-round pick Greg Newsome also joining the secondary, Cleveland looks to build on last season’s subpar 11 INTs and 22nd-ranked pass defense. Outside of Myles Garrett, pass rush is still an issue, but if the Browns can do a better job limiting points, they should be playable most weeks. As a bonus, after a brutal opener in Kansas City, Cleveland has favorable home matchups against Houston and Chicago the next two games. –ML

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Dallas Cowboys: Tony Pollard, RB

Pollard has played well in his first two seasons, averaging 4.8 yards/carry and showcasing solid receiving skills. When Ezekiel Elliott out in Week 15, Pollard took advantage, running 12 times for 69 yards and two scores against the 49ers. With Elliott coming off a down year, it’s fair to wonder if Pollard will see more touches, and in Dallas’s high-powered offense, even 10 touches per game would give him flex value. If Elliott gets hurt, Pollard’s value would really take off. If you draft Elliott, be prepared to overpay for Pollard because he’s the type of backup other owners will draft in the middle rounds, too. –ML

Denver Broncos: Javonte Williams, RB

Williams will be competing with veteran Melvin Gordon for touches, but even if the talented rookie isn’t starting in Week 1, he has more long-term potential because of his explosiveness. In his final season at North Carolina, Williams totaled 1,445 yards and 22 TDs while averaging 7.9 yards per touch. The Broncos offense has a lot of talent but also a lot of question marks. Williams can be a stabilizing force if the coaching staff lets him. It would be foolish to completely write off the 28-year-old Gordon, who posted 1,144 total yards, 4.6 yards/carry, and 10 TDs last year, but Denver drafted Williams early in the second round for a reason. –ML

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Detroit Lions: Tyrell Williams, WR

Williams finds himself on our list mostly due to the absence of quality wide receivers in Detroit. Outside of Williams, they have Quintez Cephus, who didn’t show much as a rookie, Breshad Perriman, who has shown flashes but never consistency, and fourth-round rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown. Rams receivers Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods have shown it’s possible to be a fantasy stud with Jared Goff at QB, and Williams has shown big upside in the past — most notably 2016 when he had 1,059 yards and seven TDs with the Chargers. The opportunity is certainly there in Detroit. For what it’s worth, Williams ranked No. 2 in contested catch percentage in ’20, per –JS

Update 8/30: With the news of Breshad Perriman being cut, Williams’ outlook to be the Lions’ No. 1 wideout just got a notch better.

Green Bay Packers: AJ Dillon, RB

When a guy is 6-0, 247 pounds and has both “Quadfather” and “Quadzilla” listed on his PFR page as nicknames, you want to give him your full attention. Dillon didn’t play much as a third-string rookie last year, but he did average 5.3 yards/carry in limited action and went off in the one games where he did get significant touches, posting a 21-124-2 line in a Week 16 game against Tennessee. With Jamaal Williams gone, Dillon takes over the primary backup role to Aaron Jones, so he’s primed for 120-plus carries. At last year’s rate, that would yield around 700 rushing yards and a five-to-six TDs. The potential is there for more with the supremely talented Dillon even in a backup role, and if anything happens to Jones, look out. Dillon would immediately vie for top-10 consideration. –ML

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Houston Texans: Phillip Lindsay, RB

David Johnson had a surprise bounce-back season last year, posting 1,005 total yards and eight TDs while averaging a career-high 4.7 yards/carry in 12 games. Even so, the Texans picked up Lindsay in the offseason, and fantasy owners shouldn’t ignore him. Lindsay started his career with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons before struggling in an injury-plagued 2020. Lindsay still has a career 4.8 yards/carry average, and despite his size (5-8,190 pounds), he’s a tough inside runner. Johnson might begin the season as Houston’s starter, but given his injury history and age (29), Lindsay could wind up outproducing him for the season. Don’t let Lindsay fall too far behind Johnson in drafts. –ML

Indianapolis Colts: Michael Pittman Jr., WR

Pittman Jr. had quite the underwhelming rookie campaign. He was used primarily as an underneath target, with an average depth of target (aDOT) of 8.45 (lowest on the Colts). However, he is in prime position to be the No. 1 WR in Indianapolis. If Parris Campbell can stay healthy and take over the underneath role, the 6-4, 223-pound Pittman possesses the size to be an alpha receiver out wide. The last time Carson Wentz was adequately protected by his offensive line, he was in the thick of the MVP race. If Frank Reich pulls that Carson Wentz out (once Wentz is healthy), Pittman should see deep, accurate targets. –JS

Jacksonville Jaguars: Laviska Shenault Jr., WR

Shenault flashed his yards-after-contact skills in year one. Jacksonville should be bad — really bad — and what do bad teams usually have to do? Air the football out. Expect the Jags to be among the league leaders in passing attempts with their new franchise QB Trevor Lawrence. Shenault is set up to potentially surpass DJ Chark as the No. 1 option in Jacksonville. In fact, he already finished ahead of Chark in total fantasy points in 2020. If he jells with Lawrence early, he has the A.J. Brown-like YAC acumen to make noise in fantasy football. As a bonus, he’ll get some work on the ground, too (18 carries, 91 rushing yards last year). –JS

Kansas City Chiefs: Mecole Hardman, WR

At last, Sammy Watkins is out in Kansas City. Hardman has every opportunity to be the clear-cut No. 3 option the Kansas City passing attack. A wideout who possesses 4.33 speed in an elite offense run by Patrick Mahomes presents unlimited potential in 2021. Of course, his ceiling is limited with Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce hogging targets, but if Hardman can garner more than his laughable 10-percent target share in ‘20, he could be a viable play most weeks. –JS

Las Vegas Raiders: Henry Ruggs III, WR

No rookie receiver was more of a letdown than Ruggs III in 2020. It’s important to remember that players with first-round draft capital get plenty of time and patience, so he should still see opportunity. The hope is he’s not just “one of those fast guys.” You at least hope for those kinds of players to score loads of touchdowns, but Ruggs charted just two, with one seemingly being a Jets attempt at tanking. However, since he has the first-round draft capital, his price is low enough in fantasy drafts (WR49 ADP in PPR) that he’s worth a flier. –JS

Los Angeles Chargers: Justin Jackson, RB

Jackson is just as likely to get cut as he is have a good year, so proceed with caution here. That said, the Chargers need a true “lead back” to complement receiving ace Austin Ekeler, and last year’s popular rookie sleeper, Joshua Kelley, repeatedly flopped in his attempts to take over the lead role when Ekeler was hurt (3.2 yards/carry). Perhaps Kelley will bounce back and get first crack at the 1B job, but Jackson outplayed him last year (when he wasn’t missing seven games because of toe, quad, and knee injuries). Jackson averaged 4.6 yards/carry (4.9 for his career) and caught 19 passes for 173 yards in a similar campaign as his rookie season. It’s tough get too excited about Jackson, but someone figures to emerge in this backfield. If it’s not Jackson or Kelley, then you’re looking at sixth-round rookie Larry Rountree III, who produced well in his career at Mizzou (5.0 yard/carry, 40 TDs). For now, we’ll err on the side of the veteran. –ML

Los Angeles Rams: Van Jefferson, WR

Yes, the Rams are loaded at the wide receiver position, but there will be plenty of targets to go around in a high-powered air attack. After losing Cam Akers for the entire season with a torn Achilles’, it can be assumed Los Angeles will lean more toward the pass. Tutu Atwell will likely take a redshirt year and won’t be heavily involved in the offense, while DeSean Jackson has proven he won’t be healthy for the majority of the season (played in only eight games over the past two years). Jefferson is heading into his sophomore season and looks poised to settle comfortably into the offense. –JS

Miami Dolphins: Tua Tagovailoa, QB

People were quick to write off Tua after a lackluster rookie season, but remember that he was coming off a serious hip injury suffered during his final year at Alabama. Although his rookie season wasn’t what many hoped, he did show off his ball placement and accuracy skills. The Dolphins went out and got him two receivers that excel in getting open deep, Jaylen Waddle and Will Fuller V. They play more to Tua’s strengths than DeVante Parker or Preston Williams. Tua already has experience hitting Waddle in stride, and they should pick up right where they left off. Mike Gesicki and Hunter Long are more than serviceable options at tight end, too. Put simply, Tua wasn’t set up for success in 2020. In ‘21 he is, and he could easily outperform his average draft position. –JS

Minnesota Vikings: Chris Herndon/Tyler Conklin, TE

Kyle Rudolph headed east to New York in the offseason, and now, Irv Smith Jr. will miss the entire 2021 season with a meniscus injury. Days after the initial Smith injury report, the Vikings traded for Chris Herndon of the Jets. It’s unclear who will emerge as the top TE in Minnesota, but Herndon probably possesses a greater receiving profile than Conklin. Behind Adam Thielen and Justin Jefferson, targets are up for grabs. –JS

New England Patriots: Jakobi Meyers, WR

Meyers is a strong candidate to become the bonafide WR1 in New England. With Julian Edelman retiring and N’Keal Harry’s trade request, Meyers and Nelson Agholor will contend for the nod. Meyers saw the most work in a putrid passing offense in 2020 (59 catches, 729 yards, zero touchdowns). The impressive Meyers statistic was his 26-percent target share (seventh among WRs). Cam Newton will likely be replaced with Mac Jones at some point this year, and it’s fair to assume the Pats passing offense will improve as a result. –JS

New Orleans Saints: Adam Trautman, TE

Trautman came into the league with an impressive prospect profile filled with production. During his college career at Dayton, he compiled 3,000 yards and 31 receiving touchdowns. With Michael Thomas (ankle) sidelined early in the season, targets are up for grabs in the New Orleans offense. Trautman has all the opportunity in the world to take advantage, making him an intriguing deep sleeper. –JS

New York Jets: Michael Carter, RB

Carter is competing with Tevin Coleman and La’Mical Perine for carries, but it’s tough to trust either after they averaged 1.9 and 3.6 yards/carry last year, respectively. Carter posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons at North Carolina and averaged a whopping 8.0 yards/carry in his final season. He’s the most explosive player in New York’s backfield and should eventually see the most touches. –ML

New York Giants: Daniel Jones, QB

Jones definitely has things going in the right direction. Saquon Barkley is coming back and Kenny Golladay is added into the fold. Whatever your opinion may be on Kadarius Toney, he’ll help the offense move the ball. If Danny Dimes can get the ball in the hands of his playmakers, he could enjoy a fantasy-relevant season, especially if he averages north of 30 rushing yards per game again. At his low price in drafts, he’s a low-risk, high-reward player — optimal for a backup if you take a QB early. –JS

Philadelphia Eagles: Jalen Reagor, WR

Similar to Henry Ruggs III, Reagor carries first-round draft capital with him into 2021. Yes, he was disappointing in his rookie season (31 receptions, 396 yards, one receiving touchdown), but he’s going to get plenty of time and opportunity to prove he was worth the pick. He has big-play ability with a 13.4-yard average depth of target in ’20 and looks to be the No. 2 WR in the Eagles offense. With a new coaching staff coming into the season, he’ll get a much needed fresh start in the offense. –JS

Pittsburgh Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger, QB

Weirdest pick on the list, right? We’re not going to disagree, but who else qualifies on the Steelers? Fantasy owners are properly rating the three starting WRs, RB Najee Harris, and the D/ST (and we don’t like the TEs), so that leaves Big Ben, whose average draft position is 21st among QBs. Last year, he was third among QBs in attempts and finished 14th in fantasy points despite missing a game. Even with the addition of Harris, the Steelers will throw a lot, and given the talent around him, Roethlisberger seems like a good bet to compile stats as long as he’s healthy. Despite being 39 and seemingly more immobile than ever, Roethlisberger took just 13 sacks last year, so he might not be as much as an injury risk as you think. Big Ben isn’t an exciting pick, but he’s going to steadily produce once again. Don’t ignore that. –ML

San Francisco 49ers: Trey Sermon, RB

Sermon had a decent college career split between Oklahoma and Ohio State, but he saved his best performances for the Big 10 Championship and Sugar Bowl last year, rushing for a combined 524 yards and three TDs while adding another 65 receiving yards on seven catches. The 6-1, 215-pound Sermon ran a 4.57 40-yard dash and doesn’t wow with any other measurables, but you know if he gets consistent touches in the 49ers system, he’ll be productive. Raheem Mostert won’t stay healthy, and even if he does, we know San Francisco will use multiple ball carriers. Wayne Gallman will probably more involved than any of us want, but Sermon still has major breakout potential. –ML

Seattle Seahawks: Defense/special teams

The Seahawks lost playmaking DB Shaquill Griffin, pass-rushing DT Jarran Reed and long-time LB K.J. Wright, but the additions of DE Kerry Hyder, DT Al Woods, and LB Ahkello Witherspoon should help. Even more than that, improved injury luck will go a long way, as DB Jamal Adams (four games missed), DB D.J. Reed (6), LB Carlos Dunlap (8), and second-round edge-rusher Darrell Taylor (season) all missed time. The ‘Hawks still managed to finish tied for 13th in fantasy points without even scoring a D/ST touchdown, which shows how much upside they have heading into this year. –ML

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: O.J. Howard, Buccaneers

This is Howard’s fifth-straight year on sleepers lists, which, for most players, means it’s time for us to give up. We’re willing to give him one more chance based on his talent and the offense around him. Howard is coming off a torn right Achilles’, so he might not be the same player he once was, but if Tampa decides to take it easier on Rob Gronkowski and save him for the postseason, Howard could be a cheap source of yards and TDs some weeks. He’s probably not worth drafting, but it’s certain worth watching his snap counts early in the season. –ML

Tennessee Titans: Anthony Firkser, TE

The Titans possess a star-studded offense in 2021, but don’t forget to keep an eye on this guy. Firkser has done nothing but produce when given the opportunity, and he’s just now getting a chance to take over the starting tight end role in Tennessee. According to, Firkser ranked No. 2 at the position in “hog rate” at 18.3 percent — one spot ahead of Travis Kelce. Hog rate represents targets per snap. In other words, Firkser saw a target on 18.3 percent of his offensive snaps, showing Ryan Tannehill trusted him when he was out on the field. With an expanded role, he’s worth a stab in the later rounds. –JS

Washington Football Team: Dyami Brown, WR

Washington doesn’t have many great sleeper candidates unless you’re all-in on Curtis Samuel taking another step up. We’re not quite there, so we’re going total lotto ticket with Brown. The third-round pick out of UNC has decent size (6-1, 195 pounds) and speed (4.46) and can work in a variety of formations. He was highly productive in his final two seasons, posting back-to-back 1,000-yard campaigns and scoring 20 total TDs. Whether he gets enough snaps and targets remains to be seen, but Washington’s offense figures to be improved this year, and that should create more opportunities. –ML