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8 Early Sleepers (Fantasy Football)

Jun 3, 2021

Every team attempted to make big changes to both their roster and future during the NFL Draft. While every skill player chosen has both the talent and potential to succeed, most will not in their first year, which is why rookies tend to go later in fantasy drafts. Identifying which rookies have the best combination of ample opportunity and high-end talent is a great way to find potential sleepers. Trevor Lawrence and Jaylen Waddle are a couple players with elite pedigrees that immediately come to mind.

Finding this year’s sleepers is more than just determining which rookies have the best immediate outlook though. Knowledge of every player and their situation is necessary to find the hidden gems. For example, reuniting with Frank Reich could push Carson Wentz back into elite territory. Within that offense, either Parris Campbell or Michael Pittman could lead the team in targets, which presents them with major upside should Wentz hit his ceiling. Adam Trautman is set to be the starting TE in New Orleans and could have a big sophomore year as a result. Chuba Hubbard, Alexander Mattison, and Tony Pollard all have massive potential if their team’s respective incumbent starters were sidelined for some time. These are just a few names that have high ceilings, but our featured pundits are here to add more athletes to this list by sharing their favorite sleeper candidates at the running back and wide receiver positions.

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Q1. What RB outside of our half-PPR consensus top 40 should fantasy owners target in their drafts and why?

Trey Sermon (SF): Consensus Rank – RB43
“San Francisco 49ers rookie running back Trey Sermon will end up being one of the better value picks for fantasy managers this season. The Niners moved up in the 2021 NFL Draft to grab the former Buckeye running back, and this selection created plenty of buzz in the fantasy world. Kyle Shanahan loves his running backs with the ability to make the likes of Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson fantasy relevant. Both running backs are injury-prone. In fact, Wilson will be out for several weeks of the season due to a knee injury. The injury to Wilson and the speculation that Mostert might be traded or released has opened the door even wider for Sermon to make a fantasy impact this season. Sermon averaged 6.5 yards per carry over his college career. His elite burst and athleticism make him an ideal fit in the Niners’ outside-zone blocking scheme. He is a physical runner who gets stronger as the game progresses, making him a strong closer for the Niners. They have had four different leading rushers over the last four seasons. Sermon will have a significant role in the Niners’ offense so mark him down as the fifth different leading rusher.”
– Dennis Sosic (Fantasy Six Pack)

“The injury to Jeffrey Wilson opened a door for more reps for Trey Sermon this preseason. Sure, Raheem Mostert and Wayne Gallman are in the house, but Sermon has a real chance to be the guy for the 49ers as the year goes on, so don’t be discouraged by a slow start to the season. Mostert has had trouble staying healthy and Gallman has been a career backup. Kyle Shanahan’s system is one that uses multiple backs but could thrive with a bell cow getting the bulk of the carries. Sermon is a sneaky bench RB that could have major returns in the latter part of the season.”
– Joe Pisapia (FantasyPros)

Latavius Murray (NO): Consensus Rank – RB45
“Murray never seems to get any love in fantasy with Alvin Kamara in town. He has had 146 carries in back-to-back seasons playing second fiddle in the backfield. Question marks at quarterback could force the offense to be more run-oriented and elevate Murray to produce better than his RB30 half-PPR finish in 2020. The Saints have produced a top-seven rushing offense in three of the last four seasons. He is a solid flex option at times, and if Kamara goes down, Murray automatically jumps into that RB2 territory.”
– Steven Pintado (The Fantasy Coaches)

Gus Edwards (BAL): Consensus Rank – RB41
“Edwards has ranked second and seventh in yards per carry over the last two seasons (5.3 & 5.0), as well as fifth and sixth in yards after contact during that span (2.8 & 2.7). He’s going to get flex-worthy usage in the league’s most unstoppable rushing offense and has top-15 upside if J.K. Dobbins misses time. Edwards is an elite zero-RB target.”
– Adam Pfeifer (FTN)

Darrell Henderson (LAR): Consensus Rank – RB48
“If you’re going to take a swing on one of the RBs in this range, I want to swing for the fences on a potential league-winner. There are players like Tarik Cohen or Latavius Murray who should easily outperform their ECR, but I want to invest in a player who could finish top 10 at the position if everything goes their way. Henderson is being completely undervalued right now and it’s showing with his RB48 ranking. If something were to happen to Cam Akers, there’s nobody else on this depth chart that can step in and shoulder the workload. In a potential top-five offense this season with Matthew Stafford at QB, the ROI potential for Henderson is off the charts.”
– Kyle Yates (FantasyPros)

Q2. What WR outside of our half-PPR consensus top 50 should fantasy owners target in their drafts and why?

Darnell Mooney (CHI): Consensus Rank – WR55
“Former Tulane standout Darnell Mooney started nine of 16 games as a rookie last season and emerged as the No. 2 target in the Chicago Bears’ offense. He totaled 61 receptions on 98 targets for 631 yards and four touchdowns. Mooney could have had an incredible season with the amount of production left on the field due purely to the horrendous quarterback play from Nick Foles and Mitch Trubisky. He still averaged a healthy 6.12 targets per game, including six games with at least seven targets. Mooney may be only 5-foot-10 and 176 pounds, but he has the elite speed to stretch the field and was the Bears’ biggest deep threat. He had 17 missed tackles forced last season, which was tied for fourth-most among all wideouts. The money is on Justin Fields taking over for Andy Dalton as the Bears’ signal-caller at some point this season. Fields’ ability to throw the deep ball will create much-needed big plays for the Bears’ offense. Mooney showed tremendous promise as a rookie, and his development with better quarterback play should propel Mooney into a breakout season.”
– Dennis Sosic (Fantasy Six Pack)

“As a rookie, Darnell Mooney impressed last year. He constantly got open, but bad quarterback play limited him, as just four of his 23 deep targets were caught. Mooney gets a massive quarterback upgrade with Justin Fields and with only Allen Robinson ahead of him on the depth chart, 100-plus targets seem likely in 2021. Mooney is a very intriguing sophomore receiver entering the season.”
– Adam Pfeifer (FTN)

Gabriel Davis (BUF): Consensus Rank – WR69
“Davis’ value seems to have fallen with Emmanuel Sanders arriving in town. The 34-year-old oft-injured receiver shouldn’t scare you off from taking a double-digit round shot on Davis. The 6’2″ 210-pound receiver should continue to follow up with the flashes he showed in the second half of 2020, where he finished as the WR37. He averaged 17.1 YPR last year and finished with the second-most red-zone opportunities among the Bills’ pass catchers. Davis is attached to a high-scoring passing offense lead by Josh Allen that you want to get a part of in fantasy.”
– Steven Pintado (The Fantasy Coaches)

Jaylen Waddle (MIA): Consensus Rank – WR51
“He’s unlikely to be in this range for very long and I fully expect his ECR to rise as we see some splash plays in training camp and the preseason, but Waddle is going to be on a lot of my rosters this year. He was my WR2 in this draft class and he has the draft capital to indicate that he’s going to be heavily involved in this offense. Add in the fact that he’s reuniting with his former college QB who loves getting the ball out quickly and into his playmakers’ hands and Waddle could easily finish within the top 30 at the position this season. I’m drafting him everywhere that I can.”
– Kyle Yates (FantasyPros)

Van Jefferson (LAR): Consensus Rank – WR92
“Jefferson impressed the Rams’ coaching staff in the final weeks of the season and into the playoffs. With Cooper Kupp having some injuries in recent years and DeSean Jackson being 147 years old, Jefferson has a real chance to emerge as a viable option with new QB Matthew Stafford. The depth chart will suppress his ADP, but the talent may win out when all is said and done.”
– Joe Pisapia (FantasyPros)

Thank you to the experts for giving us their favorite early sleepers. Be sure to give them a follow on Twitter and subscribe to our podcast below for advice all year round.

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