2021 NFL Draft Sleepers
The Sleeper. The holy grail in the fantasy community. Through most of the top 100 players in redraft ADP, variances are knit-picking, and wild swings among consensus are uncommon. The true path to success lies in unveiling The Sleeper.
In 2020, James Robinson was The Sleeper. According to data pulled from ESPN’s leagues, Robinson was the single most common name on playoff rosters at 67%. Travis Kelce came in second on the list, leading a closely grouped pack at 61%. Adding a significant contributor very late in a draft or even off waivers swings leagues. Identifying that player is an educated guess, but we can begin to identify potential targets.
Jamie Newman (QB – Wake Forest)
Identifying a sleeper QB in any draft is exceptionally long odds. Over the last ten drafts, only four quarterbacks picked after the third round delivered top 20 QB seasons: Gardner Minshew, Dak Prescott, Kirk Cousins, and Tyrod Taylor. All four reached that level of success with a measurable level of rushing production. Cousins came in on the low end, with 10% of his points from his breakout season in 2015 coming via the rushing game. On the opposite end, Tyrod Taylor had an eye-opening 29% of his production via the run game in the same season, which saw him land as QB8.
Newman had a rocky 2020. A high-profile transfer from Wake Forest to Georgia ultimately ended before it started after a Covid opt-out in 2020. A pressure-packed Senior Bowl led to an uneven performance, and his stock has fallen from the rest of the QB pack.
Diving into his 2019 stats reveals a line similar to Taylor’s: 2,868 passing yards / 26 TDs / 574 rushing yards / 6 TDs. Newman’s rushing production accounts for 29% of his total points in a traditional 4 point passing TD system. Newman stands out in his prototype frame; at 6’3″ – 235 lbs, he more closely resembles Dak Prescott than an undersized scrambling QB.
The path for the relevance of any late QB is unlikely. Newman’s rushing ability and build can spark hope that his ceiling is that of fantasy starting QB if he does emerge. When you swing late, make sure it’s on a ceiling that matters.
Khalil Herbert (RB – Virginia Tech)
Breakout RBs come from opportunity. Identifying them predraft revolves around identifying desirable traits and hoping the opportunity breaks in your favor. Herbert is an undervalued asset, ranking RB12 and overall 35 in FantasyPro’s rookie rankings.
The real question, does he have traits that portend a breakout?
He is no stranger to hunting opportunities. Facing a crowded Kansas backfield with fellow 2021 prospect Pooka Williams, he transferred to Virginia Tech. After arriving in Blacksburg, he wasted no time in seizing the role. He delivered 1,182 rushing yards, placing fifth in the NCAA.
Herbert has excelled in the predraft run-up. His Senior Bowl practice week saw him receive high marks, including a pancake block on Ohio St. LB Tuf Borland in pass protection drills. He followed this up with a pro-day that saw him run a 4.46 40 yard dash, placing third among all RBs in the draft. Backing up the explosion, he showed on tape.
The major knock is size, at just 210 lbs. However, we have seen a very similarly built player excel on the fantasy landscape – the Packers’ Aaron Jones. Herbert has a great chance to land as a helpful piece in an RB rotation.
Nico Collins (WR – Michigan)
If you have not caught on to the trend yet, it is a fact Covid had a significant impact on the college football landscape. The lost year for many prospects has left NFL teams scrambling and made building a complete picture difficult. Collins is another opt-out, missing the entire 2020 season. The missed season has shaken up draft boards and given savvy managers opportunity.
This receiving class is heavy on explosive players with small statures. Collins is at the opposite end of the spectrum, a 6’4″ hulk who still flashes explosion with a 4.43 40 yard dash time. The size and speed combination lends to a classic WR profile we have seen dominate the top of fantasy draft boards since the advent of the game. Add in his current ranking at WR16 and overall number 37, and he becomes a tremendous late swing.
His production is a knock. He topped out at 729 yards while at Michigan in a WR room that included current Brown Donovan Peoples-Jones and Ronnie Bell, who led the Wolverines in receiving in both 2019 and 2020. But circling back to swinging on the upside, that matters; if Collins hits, he is a plug-and-play fantasy difference-maker.
Kenny Yeboah (TE – Ole Miss)
Yeboah is yet another player who saw an opportunity to transfer to a different school. His college experience has been a journey after starting as a high school WR at Temple. He has continually worked, building himself into an SEC TE and now an NFL prospect. Anytime “converted WR” is mentioned, Darren Waller alarm bells should ring for fantasy managers.
Yeboah played well in his sole season in Oxford. His 524 receiving yards were second on the team and placed him inside the NCAA top 10 for TEs. He is a real long shot to see fantasy relevance, but he has the receiving skills to emerge as a critical roster piece if he were to climb a depth chart.
If you want to dive deeper into fantasy football, be sure to check out our award-winning slate of Fantasy Football Tools as you navigate your season. From our Start/Sit Assistant – which provides your optimal lineup, based on accurate consensus projections – to our Trade Analyzer – that allows you to instantly find out if a trade offer benefits you or your opponent – we’ve got you covered this fantasy football season.