One of the things I value most whether it be in film, music, or literature, is originality. When you get a hold of something with a truly fresh concept, it is mind-blowing. I remember the first time I saw Robert Downey Sr.’s Putney Swope. I had never seen humor and satire done in such a confrontational and blunt manner. I was used to the kind of satire found in the early works of Mel Brooks and Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove. Incredible works on their own, but Putney Swope was truly another level for me. If you’ve never seen the film, it tells the story of the only minority executive member of an advertising firm, who is accidentally put in charge after the sudden death of the chairman of the board. Restricted by the company by-laws from voting for themselves, members voted by secret ballot for the one person they thought would never win: Putney Swope. It is hilarious, raw, and confronts the race issues of the late ’60s as I had never seen before. Originality is paramount when it comes to me consuming my content. That being said, today I am to talk about sleepers for this 2021 season.
What is a sleeper? I think it is different for everyone. For me, I consider a sleeper to have a few different attributes. A sleeper is usually going after the first one hundred picks in the draft. They have an opportunity to be an every week contributor on your team or at least an excellent bye week substitution. I don’t believe sleepers are viewed as players with the ceiling of the pinnacle of their position. Rather, these are the players who can fill a spot or position if you waited on in your draft. Although, sleepers sometimes do creep up into the best of their position. In 2020, Washington Football Team running back Antonio Gibson had an average draft position (ADP) 130.7 or the 44th running back off the board. He ended up as the RB14 rewarding his fantasy team managers all season long. Here are my sleepers for 2021.
ADP: 153rd | Position ADP: QB22
I keep looking at the calendar to see if it is still June. I first started airing my Festivus in June (Christmas is still reserved for July and December) grievances in my Underdog ADP Review Article. At the time, Roethlisberger was going as the 27th quarterback off the board, so it appears things have improved, but not enough. He did have one of the worst seasons of his career in 2020 as he still seemed to be recovering from his elbow surgery. However, he finished 14th at the position with a career-low in yards per completion, but the second-most touchdown passes of his career. Essentially, we were looking at the floor of his career while he was rehabbing an injury and he wasn’t even terrible. Other than his injury-shortened 2019 season, Roethlisberger has never finished lower than QB20 in his seventeen-year career. His last fully healthy season was 2018 where he was the QB3 in six points per passing touchdown leagues. 2021 also presents him the best collection of skill players he’s had to support him since his days with Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown. He currently has three wide receivers ranked inside the consensus top thirty and a dual-threat rookie running back coming off his 2020 Doak Walker Award campaign with Alabama. His new rookie tight end out of Penn State, Pat Freiermuth, more on him later, is making waves in the preseasons as well. The schedule for Roethlisberger is also a plus as he faces the second-best slate of games against teams allowing the most fantasy points to quarterbacks from 2020. Roethlisberger is the perfect quarterback if you are going Zero QB or to pair at the end of your draft if you are taking either rookie Justin Fields or Trey Lance, who may not start the season for their teams.
Ryan Fitzpatrick – Washington Football Team
ADP: 166th | Position ADP: QB24
Another player I really started gravitating to this offseason was Ryan Fitzpatrick, but I came to like him because of my love for another player. Best ball, charity, and site mock drafts found me taking Curtis Samuel everywhere. In fact, if you took him before me there was a good chance you saw me tilt a little bit. How fun for you! Samuel missed most of training camp and two weeks of the preseason, so my shine to him has lost much of its luster. Fitzpatrick though looks to have a path to his first full NFL season since 2015. It seems like a long time but there has been a common thing in Fitzpatrick’s way the last six seasons: Youth. More specifically a younger guy the coaching staffs want to give a look at. In Tampa Bay, it was a second (and third) chance to Jameis Winston and in Miami, it was both Josh Rosen and Tua Tagovailoa keeping him away from a full season workload. Maybe he just needs to get out of Florida. Fitzpatrick has started twenty games over the last two seasons where he averaged exactly twenty-two fantasy points per game. That number should have been much higher. Fitzpatrick’s receiving corps in Miami were simply not getting open last season, second-worst rate in the NFL, despite him having the second-highest accuracy in on-target throws. I see Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel, rookie Dyami Brown, and tight-end Logan Thomas should all find openings easier this season compared to the revolving door of the Dolphins 2020 squad. Fitzpatrick, like Roethlisberger, is a great option if you need a floor for any of the rookies, but not Justin Fields, with whom who he shares a bye week.
ADP: 106th | Position ADP: RB40
There are a few backfield battles going on in the NFL, but none has consumed me like James Conner and Chase Edmonds. Arizona ran the fifth most plays in the NFL last year and there’s no reason to see them slowing down. Conner currently has an ADP of 106th which is a full 39 picks later than Edmonds. The main issue concerning me with Edmonds he has rarely handled double-digit carries in a game with only three games out of forty-five total. When he has had those opportunities, outside of one absurd game in 2019, he has floundered averaging only 3.2 yards per carry and 58 yards a game. As the starting running back for the Steelers, Conner averaged fifteen carries a game over the thirty-three games he started and managed double-digit carries in 73% of those matchups. The main argument I hear in favor of Edmonds is his receiving ability. He is good, but Conner is better there as well with a higher yards per reception and completion percentage over their careers. The one hang-up with Conner is his durability. He has missed an average of four games per season. When he is on the field though he is the superior back, and it will take said injury for Edmonds to get a decent workload in the backfield. I would rather have the more talented back especially when he is going at least three rounds later in drafts.
ADP: 120th | Position ADP: RB44
Nyheim Hines was the RB15 in points per reception leagues last season. I’ll repeat. Hines was the RB15 in points per reception leagues last season. He was able to accomplish this task by only starting two games on the season as well. Jonathan Taylor is the lead back in this offense still, but new quarterback Carson Wentz found the most efficient passing success of his career in Philadelphia when he was targeting his running backs in the passing game. Wentz is putting off surgery for his foot and is looking to start the season and not miss any time. This means we could see more check-downs than we saw when Philip Rivers was under center last season. Hines has improved his yards per carry and yards per reception with each new season. He also had a career-high seven touchdowns in 2020. His sleeper value is very much tied to his current ADP, but those in PPR leagues looking for a good flex or bye week running back replacement could do much worse than Nyheim Hines on their bench.
ADP: 101st | Position ADP: WR42
Antonio Brown is my most rostered player of 2021 and with his value remaining consistent over the summer, I do not see anyone supplanting him. Brown was on the field for eleven total games with the Buccaneers last season including the playoffs, but he made them count with fifty-three receptions and six touchdowns finishing as the WR66. Project those numbers across a sixteen-game sample size and you have the WR25. Even more impressive is Brown accomplished this jumping onto the team midseason after missing the first half of the season due to suspension. My endearment with Brown this season is also tied to how much later he is going compared to teammates Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. During the regular season, the trio played every game together from Week Nine to Week Seventeen. The total targets in those games were Evans 63, Brown 62, Godwin 55. Those numbers seem very close to a three-way split if you ask me and if they are going to be so close together in target shares for 2021, give me the guy who is going latest, Antonio Brown.
ADP: 108th | Position ADP: WR46
There is immense opportunity for Mike Williams in 2021. This will be his fourth season in the league and second with Offensive Rookie of the Year quarterback Justin Herbert. Last season Williams was third on the team in targets with eighty-five and finished second in yardage. He could be in for a bigger workload in 2021 with tight end Hunter Henry leaving for New England and leaving behind 92 total targets. Williams is a downfield threat, but it is hard to imagine Herbert not giving some of those looks to the guy who averaged 17.3 yards per reception over the last three seasons. Williams is currently going as the 46th receiver behind the likes of Will Fuller and Michael Pittman, both of which I’d take him over. If Williams can get over 100 targets, he can easily enter the WR3 conversation.
ADP: 284th | Position ADP: TE63
This will be my deepest sleeper of the bunch and it’s a first-year tight end not named Kyle Pitts. Am I insane? I’ve been hearing about Pat Freiermuth from my grandfather every Tuesday morning this entire offseason. He is a diehard Steelers fan and reads Steelers reports every morning before settling into a few hours of online poker. He also worked in the steel mills for 34 years and built a ten-room home out of logs with his bare hands, but now I am getting off-topic. The love of Freiermuth does have some recency bias baked into his two touchdowns in last Saturday’s preseason game. It was nice to see Roethlisberger targeting him in the end zone and gave me flashbacks to the days of fellow 6’5 Steelers tight end Heath Miller. A lot of my Freiermuth love has to do with the play of Eric Ebron last season. Of the thirteen tight ends in 2020 who had at least 80 targets, Ebron ranked second to last in efficiency ahead of only Evan Engram. Freiermuth was predominately known as a blocking tight end in college, so with the Steelers pass protection being in question, he will see the field early. He did command 30% of the target share in his last year at Penn State with zero dropped passes in thirty career red-zone targets. Freiermuth is only being drafted in Pennsylvania home leagues at this point, but one more preseason performance like last Saturday, and we could start to see him fly up draft boards. Keep your eye on him in 2021.
Next week I will be onto another original topic, covering my 2021 breakouts. In the meantime, let me recommend you check out the Razzball site tools created by Rudy Gamble. There you’ll find everything you need to master your draft rooms, project players, and win your fantasy leagues. We are offering a free three-day trial of both our Roto and DFS packages to help you win your fantasy leagues. You can currently find Putney Swope streaming on the Criterion Channel or for the non-pretentious film nerds, it’s a $1.99 rental on Amazon. I always forget to mention it, but for more fantasy advice, humor, and exquisite film recommendations, you can follow me on Twitter.