Fantasy: Sleepers to steal in your draft

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Considering the amount of in-depth NFL coverage available, a true fantasy sleeper can be difficult to find. But in this exercise, we aim to identify players who could emerge as fantasy assets despite likely being available later in drafts.

Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Washington

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From a narrative standpoint, Alex Smith's comeback story is a tough act to follow in Washington. That might explain why Fitzpatrick isn't getting enough love from fantasy managers.

Fitzpatrick's ADP has him as the QB24 in best-ball leagues, but this situation is far different than Smith's last season.

Terry McLaurin was the Washington Football Team's one proven skill-position player last year. Although rookie Antonio Gibson showed flashes and tight end Logan Thomas became a security blanket, there wasn't a reliable second receiver. Journeyman running back J.D. McKissic received 110 targets in 2020.

We're not likely to see that happen again after the team upgraded its pass-catching corps with the dynamic Curtis Samuel and slot receiver Adam Humphries in free agency, as well as promising third-rounder Dyami Brown. Expectations are also sky-high for Gibson in his sophomore campaign.

That gives the always aggressive Fitzpatrick plenty of firepower to work with. Plus, he'll be behind a retooled offensive line that brought in Charles Leno Jr., Samuel Cosmi, and Ereck Flowers to help All-Pro guard Brandon Scherff. Don't underestimate the fantasy impact of a properly protected quarterback who's willing to push the ball downfield.

While Smith averaged 6.3 yards per attempt in this offense, Fitzpatrick's number hasn't fallen below 6.3 in over a decade.

Even in his late 30s, Fitzmagic's fantasy appeal remains strong. As the Dolphins' starter through the first six games of 2020, he averaged the 12th-most fantasy points among quarterbacks. He's also a sneaky threat to take off on the ground - he's averaged over 17 rushing yards per outing over the last three seasons, with eight total rushing scores during that time.

The quarterback position is deep in fantasy, so managers might not need Fitzpatrick as anything more than a bye-week replacement. But in his current setting, Fitzpatrick can put up high-end QB2 numbers if he stays healthy.

Other sleeper QB candidates:

  • Carson Wentz, Colts - A fresh start and a reunion with Frank Reich give Indy's new quarterback a chance at fantasy redemption.
  • Teddy Bridgewater/Drew Lock, Broncos - If an Aaron Rodgers trade doesn't happen, there's enough firepower in Denver's offense to make its starting quarterback a fantasy asset.
  • Tyrod Taylor, Texans - Depending on what happens with Deshaun Watson, we could see Taylor take over as his replacement. Taylor's dual-threat upside alone would make him fantasy relevant again.

A.J. Dillon, RB, Packers

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It wasn't long ago that fantasy managers were excited about the possibility of Dillon becoming the Packers' starting running back. Unfortunately for them, the team re-signed Aaron Jones, and now last year's second-round pick appears to be blocked on the depth chart.

However, this isn't the end of the A.J. Dillon story.

Veteran Jamaal Williams left behind 119 carries and 35 targets when he signed with the Lions. While Jones should soak up a bigger portion of the receiving touches, Dillon could see the bulk of those vacated rushing attempts.

Though he's not a pass-catching specialist by any means, Dillon is far from a zero through the air. It's also worth noting that he graded out far better than Jones as a blocker last season, according to PFF. Green Bay has never shown a desire to use Jones as a workhorse, so plan for Dillon to be involved in a variety of ways, including as a part-time goal-line vulture with his 6-foot, 247-pound frame.

The bigger question looming over the entire Packers roster is whether Aaron Rodgers will take snaps in Week 1. If things get smoothed out and Rodgers returns, Dillon will benefit as the number of overall scoring opportunities will remain high. If Rodgers leaves, the offense will suffer, but Matt LaFleur will be forced to put more emphasis on his rushing attack to take the pressure off his next passer.

All this points to Dillon being a weekly flex option with league-winning upside if Jones were to miss time during the year, making him an intriguing option with an ADP well outside the top 100.

Other sleeper RB candidates:

  • Gus Edwards, Ravens - Even when J.K. Dobbins came on as the RB12 in fantasy points per game over the final five weeks, Edwards was the RB29 during that same span. He'll remain involved and could offer weekly flex numbers with massive upside if Dobbins misses any time.
  • Darrynton Evans, Titans - Evans is one of my favorite late-round picks this year as the main backup to workhorse Derrick Henry, who's tallied 718 touches the last two years, including 397 just last season.
  • Malcolm Brown, Dolphins - Though Myles Gaskin remains the starter, the coaching staff has mentioned their new addition Brown as a potential complementary option capable of handling third-down and goal-line work.

Breshad Perriman, WR, Lions

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Before you dismiss Perriman as a 27-year-old wideout who's never delivered as a first-round pick ... hear me out.

The Lions are the league's only team with over 50% of its targets from 2020 up for grabs. Marvin Jones (115 targets), Danny Amendola (69), Kenny Golladay (32), Marvin Hall (30), and Mohamed Sanu (23) are no longer on the roster, and that means the new pecking order will be decided throughout the offseason.

Tight end T.J. Hockenson and running backs D'Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams will get a ton of volume, but Perriman has as good a shot as anyone to lead this receiving corps in 2021.

His main competition will come from sophomore Quintez Cephus and veterans Tyrell Williams and Geronimo Allison, as well as rookie fourth-rounder Amon-Ra St. Brown.

Williams is the only one with anything notable on his NFL resume, and his lone 1,000-yard campaign came back in 2016. The 29-year-old is also making his way back from a shoulder injury that kept him out of last season.

Perriman dealt with injuries of his own in the first half of 2020, but he managed to make his mark with at least 79 yards or a touchdown in four of his last eight contests on a dysfunctional Jets offense.

Prior to signing in New York, Perriman exploded down the stretch in 2019 as a member of the Buccaneers. He recorded stat lines of 5-87-0, 3-70-1, 5-113-3, 7-102-0, and 5-134-1 while filling in for Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.

The Lions' new receivers coach, Antwaan Randle El, was on the Bucs' coaching staff at the time, and he recognizes the potential in front of him.

"We got to find ways to get him the ball because he kept showing up," Randle El recently told Justin Rogers of The Detroit News. "Wide-open here, wide-open there. So, that's what we kept doing. And then, obviously, later in the season, those (Evans and Godwin) went down and he just kept playing well. So, it's really about figuring out ways to get him the ball."

The ceiling for this passing attack is limited with Jared Goff at the helm, but there's value to be had for whoever earns the No. 1 role. There's also little risk in selecting Perriman, as he's going outside of the first 10 rounds and the top 55 receivers in fantasy drafts.

Other sleeper WR candidates:

  • Russell Gage, Falcons - The 25-year-old is moving up the depth chart after the Julio Jones trade. Gage averaged the 13th-most fantasy points among receivers while Julio was sidelined for the final four games last year.
  • Parris Campbell, Colts - After generating plenty of buzz with his practice performances the last two offseasons, injuries have prevented Campbell from getting a chance to prove himself.
  • Jakobi Meyers, Patriots - Meyers quietly accrued 59 receptions and 729 scoreless yards over the final 11 games last season and might be the best receiver in New England heading into 2021.

Adam Trautman, TE, Saints

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Finding tight ends who could serve as the de facto No. 2 receiver in an offense is a good place to begin when looking for fantasy sleepers at the position.

In addition to the uncertainty on the Saints' receiver depth chart behind Michael Thomas, New Orleans also lost Jared Cook, who recorded the 10th-most fantasy points per game among tight ends in 2020.

Trautman, a 2020 third-rounder, is the favorite to assume Cook's old duties, and he could bring a more explosive element to the table. As a prospect, Trautman posted a 95th-percentile agility score and an 82nd-percentile catch radius, according to Player Profiler. Meanwhile, two of his 15 catches as a rookie went for 41 yards and 29 yards, showcasing that explosive ability.

Change is coming for this offense in the post-Drew Brees era, but tight ends have caught 21 total touchdowns over the last two seasons in New Orleans. Regardless of who wins the starting job between Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill, you can be certain the Saints' tight ends will remain involved, especially in the red zone.

A decent touchdown total by itself is enough to create a fantasy starter at tight end, and with Trautman's athleticism, there's room for him to become an impact player in your lineups.

Other sleeper TE candidates:

  • Gerald Everett, Seahawks - Everett followed former Rams passing-game coordinator Shane Waldron to Seattle, where Waldron's now the offensive coordinator. Though a huge target total is unlikely, Everett should have plenty of scoring opportunities while playing with Russell Wilson.
  • Anthony Firkser, Titans - His ceiling isn't as high after the Julio Jones trade, but Jonnu Smith's departure opens the door for a starting role in an offense that heavily uses tight ends.
  • Dawson Knox, Bills - The 24-year-old continues to show promise in a high-volume passing attack; he's scored five touchdowns over his last nine contests (including the playoffs).

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Fantasy: Sleepers to steal in your draft
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