Fantasy: Super-deep sleepers for 2021 (Updated)

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In an effort to shine a light on the unnoticed or outright ignored, we've built a list of players who are way off the fantasy radar but could become relevant if things fall their way this season.

Keep these players on your watch list and be ready to pounce when their opportunity arises.

Taylor Heinicke, QB, Washington

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The offseason talk that Washington's starting quarterback job would be an open competition was a nice sentiment from head coach Ron Rivera, but was always unlikely to be true.

Barring an injury, Ryan Fitzpatrick is assured to be atop the depth chart when the season kicks off, and he'll put up solid fantasy stats most weeks he's under center. The bigger question is whether he can stay there.

Fitzpatrick, who'll turn 39 in November, plays an aggressive style, often sacrificing his body to make a block or gain an extra yard while scrambling. It's an admirable trait that causes fans to adore him and one that also puts him at risk of missing time, especially at his age. We've seen the Fitzmagic run out at times in the past, either due to injury or a flurry of turnovers.

If that occurs in Washington, Rivera has another card to play in Heinicke.

In addition to a stunning 306-passing yard, 46-rushing yard, two-touchdown performance against the eventual Super Bowl champion Buccaneers last postseason, Heinicke has received glowing reviews from beat writers in OTAs.

The 28-year-old also bulked up, putting on 15 pounds in an effort to be more durable.

With the ability to rack up yards with his legs and outstanding offensive weapons at every position, Heinicke would be a fantasy factor the instant he reached the starting lineup. Keep him on your radar just in case.

Other sleeper QB candidates:

  • Marcus Mariota, Raiders - The former first-rounder posted 25.8 fantasy points - including 88 rushing yards and a score - in his lone appearance last year. If Derek Carr struggles or gets hurt, Mariota's dual-threat skills will make him an intriguing fantasy option.
  • Davis Mills, Texans - Deshaun Watson's situation remains up in the air, so at this point, any Houston quarterback could get starts in 2021. Even if veteran Tyrod Taylor gets the initial nod, the Texans aren't projected to win many games, so they might as well find out what they have in Mills later in the year.
  • Gardner Minshew, Jaguars - With Trevor Lawrence in Jacksonville and backup C.J. Beathard signed to a bigger deal than Minshew, the former sixth-rounder could be traded. Depending on where Minshew ends up, he could see his value rise, specifically if it's a team looking to replace an injured starter.

Ty Johnson, RB, Jets

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If you're looking for a surprise fantasy starter at running back, the best place to search is a backfield with an unstable depth chart.

The Jets are figuring out the pecking order among their ball carriers, with early indications pointing to a three-man rotation of Tevin Coleman, Michael Carter, and Johnson opening the season.

Of that trio, Coleman is the most familiar with the Jets' new system. The 28-year-old has experience playing for offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur, who came over from the 49ers. However, the speedy veteran failed to make much of an impact over the last two seasons in San Francisco.

Carter - a fourth-round selection in April - is an excellent pass-catcher and caught the eye of multiple beat writers in minicamp, but he may lack the size to be a true NFL workhorse. He split touches with Javonte Williams in college and might max out as a committee member in the pros.

That leaves a potential path for Johnson. As we've seen with Kyle Shanahan's rushing attacks, unheralded players can carve out major roles. So, would it be surprising to see someone like Johnson ascend in a Shanahan-inspired scheme?

The 23-year-old flashed when he topped 40% of his team's snaps last year, recording a 24-touch, 117-yard, one-score effort against the Raiders in Week 13 and a 13-touch, 68-yard performance versus the Patriots in the finale.

While that's a microscopic sample size, it gives us a brief glimpse at what Johnson is capable of. If you're digging this deep for value, the odds of a massive return on investment are slim, but Johnson is worth monitoring.

Other sleeper RB candidates:

  • Samaje Perine, Bengals - Perine is the clubhouse leader to replace former top backup Giovani Bernard in Cincy. It's a particularly notable role for fantasy purposes as Joe Mixon has dealt with injuries in the past, including a foot issue last year.
  • Jerick McKinnon, Chiefs - The 29-year-old might not be as effective as he once was, but any Kansas City running back deserves consideration in case Clyde Edwards-Helaire gets hurt.
  • Jaret Patterson, Washington - The undrafted rookie has flashed in OTAs and training camp, earning a Darren Sproles comparison from Ron Rivera. With Washington's backfield fairly wide-open behind Antonio Gibson, we'll be paying attention to who emerges as his immediate backup.

Byron Pringle, WR, Chiefs

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With Sammy Watkins no longer on the Chiefs, fantasy managers are trying to decipher which pass-catcher will step up behind Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce.

The primary challengers are Mecole Hardman, Demarcus Robinson, Cornell Powell, and Pringle.

Hardman has been hyped as Patrick Mahomes' next great receiving threat for a couple of years now, but he hasn't evolved into a consistent weapon. Robinson has popped off for big games, only to fade back into obscurity. Powell is an interesting rookie, but his Day 3 draft capital makes him a long shot.

Meanwhile, Mahomes targeted Pringle the most during OTAs, according to The Athletic's Nate Taylor. That's hardly a reason to pop champagne, but it's something to watch throughout the preseason.

The 27-year-old has poured in regular-season stat lines of 6-103-1 and 4-52-1 when he's seen 70% of his team's offensive snaps.

Though Hardman remains the favorite for that No. 2 role, he might cost you a ninth- or 10th-round pick. Pringle is three inches taller, nearly 20 pounds heavier, and he offers a better speed score than Hardman.

Pringle can also be had for free in current fantasy drafts and might have just as much upside if he can become a regular in the Chiefs' passing attack.

Other sleeper WR candidates:

  • Tyron Johnson, Chargers - Injuries caused the 25-year-old field-stretcher to fall behind Josh Palmer and Jalen Guyton in the race to Justin Herbert's No. 3 receiver. However, don't forget that Johnson posted 50 yards or more in six of his 12 outings last season.
  • Zach Pascal, Colts - Pascal has been running ahead of Parris Campbell in three-receiver sets this summer, positioning him to have a bigger role in 2021. He came away with at least 50 yards and/or a touchdown in seven outings last season.
  • Kalif Raymond, Lions - Detroit's receiving corps might be a black hole for fantasy production, but it appears Raymond has impressed coaches. He played the same amount of snaps as presumed No. 1 wideout Tyrell Williams in the first preseason game and then was held out of the second exhibition contest with several other starters. It's a long shot, but so are all the names on this list.

Kylen Granson, TE, Colts

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Tight ends accounted for 22.4% of the Colts' targets in 2020.

Mo Alie-Cox and Jack Doyle are still on the roster, but Trey Burton and the 47 passes thrown his way last year have left.

Enter rookie Kylen Granson - a fourth-round pick with strong pass-catching chops who could step into Burton's vacated role.

It's rare for a first-year tight end to make a major impact in the passing game, but Granson was a prospect whom head coach Frank Reich pounded the table for before the draft.

During offseason practices, the 23-year-old looks like a player who could make an early impact, according to several writers covering the team.

New quarterback Carson Wentz should be ready for the start of the season now and he has plenty of history with getting his tight ends involved. Both Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert put up top-10 fantasy numbers during his time in Philly.

And for all the weapons the Colts have, their receiving corps lacks a true dominant option. Michael Pittman, T.Y. Hilton, Parris Campbell, and Pascal are more likely to split big weeks than to hog targets.

None of this guarantees Granson will see his role grow enough to be a fantasy contributor in Year 1; it simply makes him an interesting name to consider on your fantasy waiver wire.

Other sleeper TE candidates:

  • Dan Arnold, Panthers - Arnold has the pass-catching chops to be a difference-maker, but will he get an opportunity in a crowded Carolina offense?
  • James O'Shaughnessy, Jaguars - Jacksonville didn't address the tight end position in the offseason, and now O'Shaughnessy sits atop the depth chart as a potential starter in a Trevor Lawrence-led offense.
  • Foster Moreau, Raiders - The third-year tight end is a Darren Waller injury away from being a significant fantasy asset.

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Fantasy: Super-deep sleepers for 2021 (Updated)
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