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Early Dynasty Sleepers to Target (2021 Fantasy Football)

by Mike Tagliere | @MikeTagliereNFL | Featured Writer
Feb 26, 2021


What does the term “sleeper” mean anymore? Anyone can go on the internet, type in fantasy football sleepers, and have dozens of articles suggesting the same players. Are they really sleepers at that point? The goal should always be to find the players who are undervalued before everyone catches on.

In dynasty leagues, it’s harder than ever because everyone pays attention to the incoming rookie class, and everyone wants to find the “next big thing.” It’s why we continually see dynasty managers trading away proven (even if it is boring) production in exchange for rookie draft picks. They want the unknown. They crave the possibility.

But what happens when last year’s rookies are no longer at the forefront of their minds? There are two things we know about dynasty managers. They love rookie picks, and they hate older players. We can argue about hating on veterans a different day, but this article will focus on the players in-between those draft picks and aging veterans. These are the players that have slipped through the cracks and can be had at a discount in startups because they may not have had their breakout yet.

Quintez Cephus (DET) Current Cost: WR85
I was a massive fan of Cephus as a prospect last year, though we knew his draft position (fifth round) wouldn’t get him on the field immediately. After a rough start to his career in Week 1 where he caught just 3-of-10 targets for 43 scoreless yards, Cephus got it together and caught 17 of his next 25 targets for 306 yards and two touchdowns. That’s a massive 12.2 yards per target, though I’ll admit it’s a small sample size. The Lions have just two wide receivers under contract right now: Cephus and Geronimo Allison, who didn’t play in 2020. There are rumors they might franchise tag Kenny Golladay, but even so, that would still mean Cephus is the No. 2 receiver on a team that’s clearly in rebuild mode. Jared Goff is a downgrade from Matthew Stafford, but we’ve seen him support multiple fantasy options before.

Mike Williams (LAC) Current Cost: WR60
There’s going to be someone who reads this and says, “Mike Williams is not a sleeper.” When he’s going as the 60th wide receiver off the board in startups (WR5/6 territory), he’s undervalued, which is my definition of a sleeper. You have a fifth-year wide receiver who’s flashed 1,000-yard and 10-touchdown upside, and he’s now tied to a promising young quarterback who just broke the record for touchdown passes in a rookie season, yet he’s going as the 60th wide receiver off the board? His back problems have certainly derailed some progress in his career, but you just don’t find players with WR1-type upside this late in drafts.

Donovan Peoples-Jones (CLE) Current Cost: WR94
He reportedly fell in the NFL Draft because he bad-mouthed some Michigan personnel during the draft process. He’s someone who had the talent to go on Day 2 of the draft, not the sixth round. He was somewhat buried on the depth chart, but as injuries piled up, he got a chance to showcase what he could do in the NFL, catching 16-of-23 passes for 335 yards and two touchdowns, which included a few highlight-reel plays. We saw Baker Mayfield get better and better as he learned Kevin Stefanski’s offense, so we should continue to see his receivers be fantasy relevant. Heck, we had Rashard Higgins (who’s now a free agent) as a WR3 over the final month of the season. Peoples-Jones is likely one Odell Beckham or Jarvis Landry injury away from reliable production.

Van Jefferson (LAR) Current Cost: WR78
We heard about Jefferson’s impressive camp last year, though nothing ever materialized from a fantasy standpoint with him. Why was that? Well, his quarterback didn’t match his skill-set. No Rams wide receiver averaged more than 11.9 yards per reception last year. Jared Goff only threw the ball deep on 7.8 percent of his pass attempts, which was the fourth-lowest mark in the league. It’s likely because he only completed 30.2 percent of them, which ranked 33rd among the 44 quarterbacks who threw 10-plus deep balls. Meanwhile, Matthew Stafford had two receivers who averaged at least 16.9 yards per reception. It was the same story in 2019. Jefferson didn’t run the 40 at the Combine, but while at the Senior Bowl, he was clocked as the fastest player on the field; faster than Denzel Mims, Devin Duvernay, and Antonio Gibson, all players who ran in the 4.3-second range. If the Rams get more vertical with their new quarterback, Jefferson will be the beneficiary, which makes him a phenomenal player to target in startups.

Bryan Edwards (LV) Current Cost: WR73
If we learned anything in 2020, it’s that the Raiders aren’t using Henry Ruggs in a way that’ll set him up for success, so we need to look elsewhere. That’s why Nelson Agholor broke out, after all. Edwards was supposed to be that guy, but injuries derailed him early in the season and he never got back on track. Now that Agholor is a free agent and the team’s expected to release Tyrell Williams, Edwards should be starting in 2WR sets. If you recall last August, Derek Carr said that Edwards reminded him of Davante Adams, who Carr played with for two years at Fresno State where they connected for a ridiculous 38 touchdowns. I’m all about getting talented wide receivers outside the top-70 who are going to be starters.

Jakobi Meyers (NE) Current Cost: WR82
What more does Meyers have to do to get some respect? He only played 11 full games in 2020 and finished as the WR57… without scoring a single receiving touchdown… with Cam Newton and Jarrett Stidham as his quarterbacks. Are you worried about Julian Edelman? You shouldn’t be. Are you worried his quarterback situation could get any worse? You shouldn’t be. The only concern should be whether or not the Patriots draft a wide receiver with an early-round pick, though they might be a tad gun-shy after selecting N’Keal Harry two years ago. By snagging Meyers with a late-round pick, you’re taking no risk, but you’re getting a potential WR2/3 reward.

Rashaad Penny (SEA) Current Cost: RB52
When the Seahawks signed Penny, it was one of the worst draft picks in recent memory. Not because he was horrendous at football, but rather because they didn’t need a running back. They had Chris Carson, who played his tail off the last few years, keeping the job away from Penny. If it wasn’t for Penny’s ACL tear late in 2019, we may have seen him have a bigger role in 2020. Now that Carson’s a free agent (so is Carlos Hyde), what will the Seahawks do? Penny is the clear-cut starter if the roster remained the way it is today, and that’s possible considering they have Penny, DeeJay Dallas, Travis Homer, and Alex Collins. Some have found it odd that the Seahawks are allowing Carson to just move on in free agency, especially when Pete Carroll just emphasized they’re going to run the ball in 2021, but that tells you they have a plan for Penny (or someone else on the roster).

O.J. Howard (TB) Current Cost: TE27
There aren’t 26 tight ends who should be rostered before Howard. Heck, I don’t even know if there are 15 who should be. Howard was off to a solid start in 2020 despite Rob Gronkowski being on the roster and having familiarity with Tom Brady. Through four games, Howard totaled 146 yards and two touchdowns while Gronkowski had just 88 yards and no touchdowns. Howard is still just 26 years old and has averaged 10.08 yards per target over his career, which is the highest mark of all-time by a tight end (closest is Gronkowski at 9.74 yards per target). I’m not going to say Howard is a can’t miss player because he hasn’t been able to stay on the field and is coming off a bad injury, but at TE27, you won’t find a player in that area with upside remotely close to Howard.

Tyler Higbee (LAR) Current Cost: TE21
This one was surprising, as I figured dynasty managers would’ve been on top of this one. Not only is Matthew Stafford joining the Rams and upgrading the entire offense, but Gerald Everett is a free agent. Remember that five-game stretch where Higbee racked up 522 yards and two touchdowns in 2019? Yeah, that was when Everett was out with an injury. If you don’t believe in Higbee, you might want to invest in Brycen Hopkins, who is the next one up on their depth chart, but it’s very possible that Higbee is an every-week TE1 in the near future.

Other candidates: Parris Campbell (IND) WR70, Tarik Cohen (CHI) RB53

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Mike Tagliere is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Mike, check out his archive and follow him @MikeTagliereNFL.

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