As football enthusiasts shift their focus to the 2021 offseason, here are some under-the-radar fantasy football sleepers and breakout players to consider when drafting.
Here is a look at each major position on offense and where to find the best value in your fantasy football drafts.
Updated: April 20, 2021, 8:38 AM PST
Fantasy football sleepers for 2021 NFL season: Quarterbacks
Cam Newton, New England Patriots
The Patriots have decided to kick the tires again with Newton for 2021. And, it might be time for potential fantasy drafters to do the same. New England is not messing around and the team has been very active in free agency, adding multiple talented playmakers to help Newton to succeed this fall.
This makes him a sleeper coming from what was a pretty disastrous 2020 fantasy season.
Taylor Heinicke, Washington Football Team
Even though Washington signed veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick to the squad, Heinicke comes with some sleeper appeal moving forward. After all, Washington recently locked Heinicke up to a new two-year deal. This is worth soaking in as Heinicke could be the guy Washington plans to phase in while Fitzpatrick mentors.
For those who watched Heinicke in his Wild Card performance against Tampa Bay in Week 18, the young quarterback showed promise. He passed for 306 yards while rushing for another 46. With Alex Smith likely done in Washington, Heinicke is a sleeper QB to stash, “just in case.”
Jameis Winston, New Orleans Saints
While it would seem the Saints plan to roll with Taysom Hill under center in 2021, Winston (newly re-signed) could be called to duty if Hill sputters. Don’t panic, however.
Despite those gnarly turnovers Winston was famous for in Tampa Bay, he last chucked the ball for a league-high 5,109 passing yards in 2019. This equated to fantasy points galore!
More of the same could be coming — with hopefully far fewer turnovers — making Winston a later-round sleeper to target in 2021 fantasy drafting.
Carson Wentz, Indianapolis Colts
Wentz’s fantasy season went up in flames in 2020 when he was ultimately benched for rookie Jalen Hurts. But, no more of that for 2021.
This big fantasy QB bust will get a fresh start with the Colts — via a big blockbuster trade — which should reignite his NFL career. Reuniting with former Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich, who’s now the head coach in Indianapolis, should help Wentz get back on track.
Plus, the Colts sport an exciting group of receivers including T.Y. Hilton and youngsters, Michael Pittman Jr. and Parris Campbell.
Hopefully all those elements launch Wentz into the fantasy-relevant column again. Fingers crossed. He’s worth taking a flier on as a sleeper option due to his high-end talent level. That raw ability is undeniable.
Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals
Burrow’s rookie season ended abruptly when the young quarterback tore his ACL in Week 10. Before this, Burrow was averaging a respectable 268.8 passing yards per game, and he had scored 16 times.
Look for Burrow to quickly get back on course, primed to breakout in 2021 with the offense he played so well with before his injury. Expect Tee Higgins — who is just getting started, coming from 908 yards and six touchdowns — to bust out as well in his second year. Burrow and Higgins have the talent to be one of the most coveted QB/WR fantasy football combos to own this fall.
Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns
After taking his team through two postseason contests and impressing, Mayfield seems to have turned a new leaf. As a fantasy quarterback heading into 2021, he should keep evolving. He’s got an excellent wide receiving corps — including Odell Beckham Jr’s return — to help keep the fantasy points rolling in.
It is also worth mentioning that Mayfield’s interceptions dropped from 21 in 2019 to just eight in 2020, while his passing touchdowns increased by four.
Who is ready to rock and roll with Mayfield this year?
Fantasy football sleepers for 2021 NFL season: Wide receivers
Antonio Gandy-Golden, Washington Football Team
Gandy-Golden should be ramping up for more success in his sophomore year as a WR3 option in Washington, behind Terry McLaurin and Curtis Samuel.
So, scrap Gandy-Golden’s injury-plagued rookie campaign. And, take note that Gandy-Golden led the Independent Conference in 2019 with 79 receptions and 1,396 yards, and he was thought to be a steal in the draft when Washington acquired him in the fourth round..
With an average yards per catch of over 17 in college and a 6-foot-4 frame that makes for an inviting red-zone target, Gandy-Golden has the kind of big-play upside fantasy owners can enjoy when they take a late-round flier on this young wideout.
Tyler Johnson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Johnson’s fantasy stock could rise if the Buccaneers do not re-sign Antonio Brown. This has yet to be determined and given the constricted salary cap situation the Bucs are operating under, Brown may find there is a market out there willing to pay him more than the Bucs can afford to.
Keep an eye out to see what happens in free agency, as Johnson has the potential to slide in as a slot receiver, catching passes from the GOAT himself, Tom Brady.
If anything, Johnson is worth a late dart throw in redraft leagues and has plenty of sleeper value, making him worth rostering in dynasty fantasy football leagues. He did have some clutch catches in key spots during Tampa Bay’s run to Super Bowl LV, so Brady obviously trusts him.
Denzel Mims, New York Jets
New and exciting things are happening for the Jets, which means primo fantasy potential for Mims, selected 59th overall in 2020. With a quarterback shift from Sam Darnold (traded to Carolina) to likely a top rookie prospect, the Jets offense should be running more efficiently under new coaching. This should boil down to Mims fetching plenty of targets — even with the newly-signed Corey Davis — joining the Jets in 2021. He is a fantasy football sleeper you will want to stash on your team.
Brandon Aiyuk, San Francisco 49ers
Aiyuk has a fantastic opportunity to build on the 748 yards and five touchdowns he scored as a rookie. These numbers should have been higher if Aiyuk — when left wide open many times — had been better targeted last year. With a rookie QB likely entering the mix, look for Jimmy Garoppolo to play more focused than ever with his job security on the line.
This season just screams breakout for Aiyuk with the chains moving in the Bay area.
Laviska Shenault, Jacksonville Jaguars
It’s very likely the case that Shenault gets Trevor Lawrence as his quarterback this fall. Yippee! This will mean a world of difference for Shenault, who already turned heads at times in his 2020 rookie year. Even with a revolving door of quarterbacks last year in Jacksonville, Shenault managed to record 600 yards and five touchdowns. Pair Shenault with Trevor Lawrence, and cash in with fantasy points.
Mecole Hardman, Kansas City Chiefs
With no more Sammy Watkins in the picture, look for Hardman to have a more dominate roll on offense. He will start opposite Tyreek Hill and should only build on the 560 yards and four touchdowns he last accomplished in 2020.
With defenses blanketing both Hill and Travis Kelce to the best of their ability, Patrick Mahomes will be forced to look Hardman’s way on a regular basis. Nab Hardman with a late-round pick as a sleeper who should definitely pull his weight this year.
Darnell Mooney, Chicago Bears
Despite the Bears tagging Allen Robinson, look for Mooney to have a larger role on offense. He could be a fantasy stud in the making, now that a dependable QB in that of Andy Dalton has joined Chicago.
Mooney should be on course to see an increase in the 98 targets, 631 yards and four touchdowns he produced as a rookie.
Jerry Jeudy, Denver Broncos
Look for Jeudy to build on a solid rookie campaign when he averaged a big 16.5 yards per catch in 2020. In all, Jeudy tallied 856 receiving yards but found the end zone only three times. With Courtland Sutton’s return, Jeudy will have more opportunities to make the YAC plays that pad his fantasy stats. This should remain the case even if the Broncos stick with Drew Lock under center.
Marquez Callaway, New Orleans Saints
Keep Callaway in mind in later rounds of drafting. If the aforementioned Winston winds up starting for the Saints, he’ll be looking for receiving options outside of Michael Thomas and Tre’Quan Smith when they are drawing coverage.
For now, it would appear that Taysom Hill will be under center in Week 1. Either way, Callaway is fantasy sleeper worth stashing on a Saints offense that might have to rely upon throwing the ball more often than running it in 2021.
Jalen Reagor, Philadelphia Eagles
Limited to just 11 games in his rookie year, Reagor did little to dazzle his fantasy owners. Those who stuck with Reagor on their rosters saw one measly touchdown be scored which accompanied 36 yards on average per clash. No good.
Perhaps playing healthy and assuming a WR1 role catching passes from Jalen Hurts will be just the boost Reagor needs to wake up and take his fantasy game to the next level.
Fantasy football sleepers for 2021 NFL season: Running backs
D’Andre Swift, Detroit Lions
Many people are counting on Swift to be a fantasy football star next season. It could work out. He’ll be partnered with Jared Goff, who should rely heavily on Swift for check-downs to move the ball.
Swift can do it all. He rushed for 4.6 yards per carry and eight touchdowns in just 13 games as a rookie while catching 80.7% of his targets for 357 yards and two touchdowns. Swift will be a gem of an RB to own, especially in PPR fantasy formats in 2021.
P.S. Don’t let the presence of a newly-signed Jamaal Williams sway you from trusting in Swift’s breakout potential.
DeeJay Dallas, Seattle Seahawks
We saw Dallas in limited action last year when he helped fill in for an injured Chris Carson and Carlos Hyde.
Heading into 2021, the Seahawks re-signed Carson. While this certainly flattens Dallas’ fantasy value, he should still be drafted as a handcuff. Even with Rashaad Penny in the picture, Dallas has appeal, taking into consideration, the oft-injured Penny has played in only 27 games in his three seasons in Seattle.
With Carson’s proneness to injury as well, Dallas may be called upon to step up and contribute in a big way.
Damien Williams, Chicago Bears
Williams opted out of his 2020 Chiefs’ season, much to the dismay of those who drafted him last summer. However, he will return to the league to join David Montgomery in what could be a one-two punch at RB.
Because Williams was M.I.A. last year, some may write him off when fantasy drafting begins. Though, remember, it was Williams who helped spark his former Chiefs’ comeback in their Super Bowl LIV triumph over the San Francisco 49ers. He scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns to aid the victorious cause.
Saquon Barkley, New York Giants
Barkley is due for a significant fantasy rebound, having had plenty of time to recover from a torn ACL he suffered in Week 2 of last season. Daniel Jones and the Giants need him back on the gridiron more than ever, when Barkley should return to being the focal point of their offense.
This is a guy who stunned his fantasy owners in 2018 with a league-high 2,028 scrimmage yards 15 touchdowns. As long as Barkley stays healthy, he will receive a ton of touches. Don’t be surprised if Barkley is one of the top fantasy football studs in 2021.
Giovani Bernard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
A sneaky sleeper RB pick in 2021 might just be Bernard. The Bucs honed in and signed this free agent as they are a pretty savvy team at finding talent in recycled players.
Think back to when Tom Brady made James White a fantasy staple in New England, and this could be what happens with Bernard in Tampa. Both backs are similar in physique and skilled in catching passes. Bernard is worth a lower-round pick in PPR fantasy formats as such.
AJ Dillon, Green Bay Packers
So, the Packers surprised the fantasy world when they re-signed their No. 1 RB, Aaron Jones. Don’t worry. With the Packers moving on from free agent Jamaal Williams, Dillon will inherit the No. 2 role alongside Jones. That is a spot where Dillon should see plenty of goal line work and touches when the Packers are in the winning position to allow Jones to rest.
Aside from this tag-team action, Dillon is definitely worth drafting as a backup should Jones miss time. He displayed some nice potential as a rookie while filling in here and and there back in 2020. When given the ball, Dillon rushed for a bruising 5.3 yards per carry proving he’s ready to take his fantasy game to the next level.
Anthony McFarland, Pittsburgh Steelers
McFarland is a dark horse fantasy sleeper entering 2021 with James Conner out of Pittsburgh. Benny Snell looks to be the next in line to start at RB, however, McFarland should play a complementary role.
We saw a sampling of McFarland in action last year when Conner was sidelined. Also, keep in mind, McFarland averaged 6.7 yards per carry over his two seasons at Maryland before the Steelers drafted him in 2020.
Jeff Wilson, San Francisco 49ers
Wilson is a deep sleeper who comes with plenty of appeal to draft and stash. The 49ers’ tailbacks seem to constantly deal with injuries and Wilson really impressed last season when called to the field. Quick on his feet, Wilson bulldozed his defenders, rushing for 4.8 yards per carry. And in all, he averaged 61 total yards per game, while scoring 13 times in limited usage.
At the least, Wilson is a must-own handcuff to Raheem Mostert — who will despite missing eight games in 2020 — presumably slated to start.
Fantasy football sleepers for 2021 NFL season: Tight ends
Hunter Henry, New England Patriots
Henry just landed a sweet spot playing for Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots. He will now work with QB Cam Newton who always had a nice connection with his tight ends in Carolina. Even sharing the field with Jonnu Smith, Henry comes with plenty of sleeper value provided he stays healthy as he continues his NFL career in New England.
Cole Kmet, Chicago Bears
Kmet enters 2021 slightly under the radar. But now that Dalton has arrived in Chicago, this makes Kmet an intriguing fantasy sleeper.
Last year as a rookie, Kmet played second fiddle to Jimmy Graham. However, Graham is slated to take up tons of salary cap space and Chicago could decide it wants none of that heading into the new season in retooling its offense.
Given the landscape at tight end isn’t great in fantasy football, Kmet is worth a stash, especially in dynasty formats.
Adam Trautman, New Orleans Saints
Things will be moving and shaking in New Orleans this season, opening up the door for Trautman to make a fantasy impact at tight end now that Jared Cook has signed on with the Los Angeles Chargers.
Whether it’s Taysom Hill or Jameis Winston slinging the pigskin in 2021, Trautman should be more involved on offense.
Tyler Higbee, Los Angeles Rams
Higbee was a bit overhyped heading into 2020 when his receiving yards dipped by over 200 last year compared to 2019. However, Matthew Stafford will now be throwing the ball in Los Angeles is getting us giddy again about Higbee as a breakout fantasy tight end. Stafford has always kept his tight ends involved and the big-bodied 6-foot-6 Higbee will be a sweet red zone option for the veteran quarterback. Look out!
Kyle Pitts, 2021 NFL Draft
It’s a little bold to throw a rookie tight end in here without even knowing which team will draft Pitts yet. But, all mock drafts have this Florida standout flying off the board early. In our exclusive Sportsnaut mock draft, we have Pitts selected by the Miami Dolphins.
Pair Pitts up in his home state with Tua Tagovailoa and fantasy fireworks might happen sooner rather than later. It’s rare that a TE entering the league is this sought after. If not the Dolphins, Pitts is a fantasy sleeper who could give studs such as Travis Kelce and George Kittle a run for the money.