Fantasy: Sleepers to steal in your draft (Updated)

Icon Sportswire / Getty

Get ready for your season with theScore's 2021 Fantasy Football Draft Kit and subscribe to push notifications in the NFL Fantasy News section.

More in this series

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

Jim McIsaac / Getty Images Sport / Getty

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:

  • Zach Wilson, Jets - While fantasy managers seem excited about rookie QBs like Trevor Lawrence, Trey Lance, and Justin Fields, there isn't nearly as much buzz about the second overall pick who's a lock to start in Week 1. With a new coaching staff and upgrades across the offense, Wilson could surprise.
  • Teddy Bridgewater, Broncos - There's enough firepower in Denver's offense to make its starting quarterback a fantasy asset.
  • Tyrod Taylor, Texans - One way or another, Deshaun Watson won't be playing for Houston this year. That means Taylor will get the first crack at starting, and his dual-threat upside alone could make him fantasy relevant in deep leagues again.

A.J. Dillon, RB, Packers

Dylan Buell / Getty Images Sport / Getty

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.

With Aaron Rodgers back in the fold, the offense will continue to be one of the top units in the league, and the number of overall scoring opportunities will remain high - benefitting both Jones and Dillon.

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. Just monitor his hamstring injury heading into Week 1.
  • Malcolm Brown, Dolphins - Though Myles Gaskin remains the starter, the coaching staff has acknowledged a three-man committee with Gaskin, Brown, and Salvon Ahmed. Brown has been specifically highlighted as a goal-line option.

Jakobi Meyers, WR, Patriots

Elsa / Getty Images Sport / Getty

The Patriots' receiving corps isn't the first place fantasy managers go looking for starting options, but there may be a diamond waiting to be uncovered this year.

Meyers quietly accrued 58 receptions and 722 scoreless yards over the final 11 games last season. For context, that would have put him on pace for 84 catches and 1,050 yards over the course of a 16-game schedule.

The fact that he didn't score a touchdown might be the only thing holding his ADP back since most people don't realize his potential.

The good news is that the 24-year-old has found the end zone already in the preseason, and even with the free-agent additions of Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne, Meyers is standing out as New England's best receiver heading into 2021.

Whether it's Cam Newton or Mac Jones under center, Meyers should lead the team in targets and could turn into a solid WR3 or flex option in fantasy.

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 appears to have emerged as the No. 1 wideout in New Orleans while Michael Thomas is sidelined.
  • 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.
  • Terrace Marshall, Panthers - It may look as though the rookie is blocked on the depth chart by D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson, but Curtis Samuel's 97 targets are available. Marshall should make an immediate impact in the red zone and could break out if someone ahead of him gets hurt.

Cole Kmet, TE, Bears

Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / Getty

Kmet was a part-time player in the first half of the season, like most rookie tight ends tend to be, after being drafted in the second round in 2020.

However, his playing time spiked around midseason, and over the final seven games, he saw the field on over 70% of the Bears' offensive plays. Meanwhile, veteran Jimmy Graham's snaps dropped below the 50% mark down the stretch.

And though Graham out-targeted his young teammate 54-8 over the first nine games, it was Kmet who had a 36-21 edge over the final seven outings.

If the 22-year-old can wrestle away Graham's involvement in the red zone, he could push for back-end TE1 fantasy stats in 2021. At worst, we might be a year early on his eventual complete ascension in this passing attack.

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 - Firsker's 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 has flashed at times in Buffalo's high-volume passing attack, scoring five touchdowns over his last nine contests (including the playoffs). Knox just needs to develop into a more consistent player to earn more targets.

More in this series

Comments
Fantasy: Sleepers to steal in your draft (Updated)
  Got something to say? Leave a comment below!

Daily Newsletter

Get the latest trending sports news daily in your inbox