Fantasy: Super-deep sleepers for 2021

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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 recent talk that Washington's starting quarterback job will be an open competition is a nice sentiment from head coach Ron Rivera, but it's unlikely to be true.

Barring an injury, Ryan Fitzpatrick is all but 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.
  • Gardner Minshew, Jaguars - With Trevor Lawrence in Jacksonville and backup C.J. Beathard signed to a bigger deal than Minshew, the former sixth-rounder will be traded before the season. Depending on where Minshew ends up, he could see his value rise, specifically if it's a team looking to replace an injured starter.
  • Davis Mills, Texans - Deshaun Watson's situation remains up in the air, so at this point, any Houston quarterback could start 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.

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, Coleman 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 continues to work his way back from a foot injury.
  • 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 is already making plays in OTAs, earning a Darren Sproles comparison from Ron Rivera. With Antonio Gibson still getting over last season's toe injury, pay 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 - after all, it's still June - but it's something to watch heading into training camp.

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:

  • Marquez Callaway, Saints - After catching 15 passes for 160 yards in the three games where he saw increased snaps last season, Callaway will battle Tre'Quan Smith for the No. 2 wideout spot in New Orleans.
  • Keke Coutee, Texans - Houston's offense might be a trainwreck this year, but its receiving depth chart is wide-open behind Brandin Cooks. Keep in mind, Coutee was the WR33 in fantasy points per game (14.2) over the final five weeks last season.
  • Tyron Johnson, Chargers - The 25-year-old field-stretcher will compete with Jalen Guyton and Josh Palmer for the right to be Justin Herbert's No. 3 receiver. Johnson posted 50 yards or more in six of his 12 outings last season.

Mo Alie-Cox, TE, Colts

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Tight ends accounted for 22.4% of the Colts' targets in 2020, and Alie-Cox led that group with 31 catches and 394 yards.

Jack Doyle is still on the roster, but Trey Burton and the 47 passes thrown his way last year have left. While rookie Kylen Granson might take on some of those looks, it's rare for a first-year tight end to make a major impact in the passing game.

So, the time is now for Alie-Cox.

New quarterback Carson Wentz has plenty of history getting his tight ends involved, helping 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, Parris Campbell, and T.Y. Hilton are more likely to split big weeks than to hog targets.

None of this guarantees Alie-Cox will see his role grow; 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
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