As football enthusiasts shift their focus to the 2021 season, 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: July 30, 2021, 12:10 PM PST
Fantasy football sleepers for 2021 NFL season: Quarterbacks
Cam Newton, New England Patriots
The Patriots decided to kick the tires again and give Cam Newton another shot. Though, they also drafted QB Mac Jones to add for depth. However, the plan may be for Jones to sit for a season (kind of like Tom Brady did back in the day), leaving Newton in the starting seat.
With New England not messing around while being very active in free agency, it added 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 did lock Heinicke up to a new two-year deal. This is worth soaking in as Washington plans to have Heinicke compete with Fitzpatrick for the starting job in 2021.
For those who watched Heinicke in his Wild Card performance against Tampa Bay back in January, the young quarterback showed promise. He passed for 306 yards while rushing for another 46. Heinicke is a sleeper QB to stash, “just in case.”
Daniel Jones, New York Giants
Jones has gotten a pretty lousy reputation as a quarterback who has regressed from 2019-20. With that said, he can be drafted ultra-cheap as a fantasy player who really can’t go anywhere other than up.
For starters, Jones will get his safety blanket, Saquon Barkley (covered within) back. He also inherited Kenny Golladay in free agency and first-round rookie WR Kadarius Toney through the draft.
With a good cast of playmakers in place, it’s beyond time for Jones to have a breakout year.
Jameis Winston, New Orleans Saints
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
This big fantasy QB bust will get a fresh start with the Colts, 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.
Update July 30, 2021: Wentz is currently being held out of practice due to a foot injury. We will provide updates as more information becomes available as to when we can expect Wentz to return to action.
Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals
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. He and newly drafted LSU receiver Ja’Marr Chase should create fireworks again together. Meanwhile, Tee Higgins evolving in his second season only increases Burrow’s stock.
Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns
After taking his team through two postseason contests and impressing, Baker 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
Laviska Shenault, Jacksonville Jaguars
It’s just awesome 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.
Rashod Bateman, Baltimore Ravens
Ravens WRs are sometimes best to avoid in fantasy with the team employing a run-heavy scheme. However, the Ravens spoke volumes by selecting Bateman 27th overall in the 2021 NFL Draft, even with Marquise Brown and Sammy Watkins headlining their roster.
Perhaps the Ravens plan to get serious about having Lamar Jackson start throwing the ball more this year. If so, Bateman is a nice fantasy sleeper to stash on your roster.
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 he has been turning heads in his offseason practices and looking pretty darn healthy while making some terrific plays.
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.
Randall Cobb, Green Bay Packers
Cobb is coming back home to Green Bay! So, he will now be worth a lower-round pick who belongs on fantasy rosters everywhere now that he will be paired back up with Aaron Rodgers. Not only did Rodgers return to his team, but he was also the one pulling for the Packers to get Cobb back on their roster.
Cobb and Rodgers have eight years of history playing together, so the potential for breakout fantasy points is plentiful.
Nico Collins, Houston Texans
The Texans made a swift draft move adding Michigan’s Collins to a pretty paper-thin WR corps, headlined by Brandin Cooks, and newly traded Anthony Miller. So, look for Collins, who stands a lofty 6-foot-4, to make an impact on offense right from Day 1.
Even with the QB situation in flux in Houston, Collins is a handy sleeper to have on your fantasy roster in both redraft and dynasty leagues.
Parris Campbell, Indianapolis Colts
Campbell was mentioned above as a part of a receiver group who could help Carson Wentz get back into the relevant column in 2021. With that said, Campbell is a dark horse sleeper himself, who can be drafted low and easily offer more bang for the buck this year.
Look for Wentz to hit up Campbell, who should be playing in the slot, as he racks up those dink and dunk passes that will amount to fantasy points come game day.
Tyler Johnson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Johnson’s fantasy stock could still rise even though the Bucs re-signed Antonio Brown. Brown is signed for only one season and he will still be on a short leash to not commit any off-the-field issues that could see him getting the boot out of Tampa Bay. So, stash Johnson just in case, or pick him up as a later-round pick in dynasty leagues with deep rosters.
Keep in mind, he is part of an offense that Tom Brady loves to keep defenses guessing when he spreads the ball around. Johnson did have some clutch catches in key spots during Tampa Bay’s run to Super Bowl LV, so Brady obviously trusts him.
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 rookie QB Trey Lance 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.
Rondale Moore, Arizona Cardinals
It may not take long for Moore to surpass his WR competition behind DeAndre Hopkins. This competition includes an aging A.J. Green, and youngsters Christian Kirk and Andy Isabella who have yet to impress as 2018-19 second-round draftees, respectively.
Obviously, the Cardinals were still looking to fill in their weakness at WR when they selected this Purdue standout, who ranked No. 1 in receptions in the NCAA in 2018. Moore comes with much sleeper appeal for those who are patient enough to wait on him.
Mecole Hardman, Kansas City Chiefs
With no more Sammy Watkins in the picture, look for Hardman to have a more dominant role 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 keeper in the making, with more stability at the quarterback position in Chicago. Whether it’s veteran Andy Dalton or rookie Justin Fields slinging the pigskin, Mooney should be on course to see an increase in the 98 targets, 631 yards, and four touchdowns he produced as a rookie.
Olamide Zaccheaus, Atlanta Falcons
Get this guy on your radar as a fantasy sleeper who could contribute in a big way in 2021. The Falcons offense will take on a fresh look with Julio Jones out of the picture, which will force defenses to hone in on Calvin Ridley more than ever. And, with TE Kyle Pitts also drawing extra coverage, this will open up more target opportunities for Zaccheaus to attract. He’s worth a late pick if your roster has deep pockets.
Gabriel Davis, Buffalo Bills
Look for Davis to potentially have a breakout fantasy season this year. With Josh Allen developing into a legit threat as a passer, he will be forced to spread the ball around while defenses are focused on slowing down Stefon Diggs.
As a result, look for Davis to build on his 599 yards and seven touchdowns he accomplished in 2020. If he goes undrafted, he will surely fly off waiver wires early on in the season.
Jerry Jeudy, Denver Broncos
Jeudy is due for a breakout season coming from 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 with either Drew Lock or Teddy Bridgewater under center.
Marquez Callaway, New Orleans Saints
Keep Callaway in mind in later rounds of drafting. With Michael Thomas (ankle) expected to miss some time at the start of the season, Callaway should become more involved among the likes of Tre’Quan Smith and Deonte Harris.
Callaway is a 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 opposite of stud rookie DeVonta Smith (likely drawing double coverage), will afford Reagor more opportunity to step up and take his fantasy game to the next level.
Fantasy football sleepers for 2021 NFL season: Running backs
Larry Rountree, Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers have a slew of backs but felt it prudent to add Rountree in the sixth round of the NFL draft. He enters the NFL after producing a whopping 4,009 total yards and 40 touchdowns at Missouri.
With that said, he’ll likely challenge and best Justin Jackson in training camp, making him the No. 3 RB option. And, it might not be long before Rountree stands out over Joshua Kelley, who was very underwhelming as a rookie.
Rountree definitely boasts later-round sleeper appeal in standard fantasy formats, playing opposite of PPR stud, Austin Ekeler.
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 Jamaal Williams sway you from trusting in Swift’s breakout potential. It’ll also help Swift to run behind new first-round pick Penei Sewell.
Jake Funk, Los Angeles Rams
The Rams selected Funk in the seventh round of the 2021 NFL draft. He’s a fantasy sleeper to keep within your radar at this time.
Keep an eye out on this youngster in training camp. With the loss of RB Cam Akers, the Rams will be looking for options to compensate for his absence. Darrell Henderson would be the target to draft as a No. 1 fill-in for Akers, but the Rams might resort to a committee when owning Funk down the road could come in handy.
Michael Carter, New York Jets
Already practicing with the starters in training camp, it won’t take Carter long to rise up the depth chart considering he put up 2,669 scrimmage yards during his last two seasons at North Carolina. He currently sits behind Lamical Perine, who had an uneventful rookie year, and the embattled Tevin Coleman who can’t stay healthy.
So, get your draft shares of Carter now! Then sit back as he migrates from sleeper to start status before your very eyes.
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. As it currently stands, both Rashad Penny and Travis Homer remain sidelined with injuries. And, with Carson’s proneness to injury as well, Dallas may be called upon to step up and contribute in a big way.
James Conner, Arizona Cardinals
Conner fizzled out in Pittsburgh, leaving a cloud of disappointment behind. Because of this, Conner’s ADP will be extremely low in upcoming drafts. This makes him a sweet 2021 fantasy sleeper RB who can be targeted in later draft rounds, who offers nothing but upside at a cheap price.
Chase Edmonds will compete for touches, but if Conner plays 100% healthy, he could push to be the lead Cardinals RB who can be started every week.
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 running backs 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.
Phillip Lindsay, Houston Texans
Lindsay finds himself in an awkward backfield crowded by David Johnson and Mark Ingram. However, Lindsay is the youngest of this trio and a sleeper who could inherit a larger role if either Johnson or Ingram become sidelined. Johnson has an injury-riddled past and Ingram is not getting younger on anyone’s watch.
Remember that Lindsay is a speedy back who averaged a massive 6.0 yards per carry during his three-year tenure in Denver. Keep this in mind when filling your fantasy roster with some later-round RB depth on draft day.
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. Since the Packers moved on from Jamall 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 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.
Elijah Mitchell, San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers saw fit to draft Mitchell in the 6th round of the NFL draft, aside from taking Trey Sermon in the third round. So, it would appear that Mitchell is poised for some type of role. He comes four seasons at Louisiana when he averaged an impressive 6.2 yards per carry and scored 41 rushing touchdowns.
With the 49ers’ tailbacks constantly dealing with injuries, Mitchell is a fantastic depth player to handcuff behind Raheem Mostert who — despite missing eight games in 2020 — will presumably be slated to start.
Tony Pollard, Dallas Cowboys
Pollard made some excellent plays when spot filling in for Ezekiel Elliott in 2020. With Dak Prescott back in the game running what should be a fine-operating offense, Pollard will get his chances to spell Elliott when the team is in a good position to let their star RB take a time out.
Elliott is a precious and highly-paid cargo and the Cowboys won’t want to burn the tires off of their sixth-year ball carrier. At the least, Pollard is a sleeper pick who might be flex-worthy depending on the Cowboys’ game script.
Fantasy football sleepers for 2021 NFL season: Tight ends
Hunter Henry, New England Patriots
Henry landed a sweet spot playing for Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots. He will now work with either Newton, who always had a nice connection with his tight ends in Carolina or a promising rookie in Mac Jones. 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 the Bears are secure at QB 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.
Hunter Long, Miami Dolphins
Long gives QB Tua Tagovailoa another big-bodied receiving option in tandem with tight end, Mike Gesicki. Over his past two seasons at Boston College, Long recorded 85 catches for 1,194 yards and seven touchdowns.
This apparently prompted the Dolphins to spend a third-round pick on Long to enhance their depth here. Long is worth rostering in dynasty leagues from a fantasy perspective and as a sleeper who could emerge as a starter in redraft fantasy 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. Plus, the short-term absence of Michael Thomas (ankle surgery) should prompt more targets for Trautman.
Whether it’s Taysom Hill or Jameis Winston slinging the pigskin in 2021, Trautman should be more involved on offense.
Brevin Jordan, Houston Texans
Who? Jordan is a deep sleeper on a team whose quarterback situation remains murky. At 6-foot-2 and 247 pounds, Jordan profiles as a big-bodied WR and should have an impact on an offense lacking high-profile passing options.
Jordan comes from three years at Miami when he racked up 105 receptions for 1,368 yards and 13 touchdowns. Keep an eye out for how he performs during training camp.
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 now 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 large-bodied 6-foot-6 Higbee will be a sweet red zone option for the veteran quarterback. Look out!
Kyle Pitts, Atlanta Falcons
It’s a little bold to throw a rookie tight end in here, but Kyle Pitts is far from your average tight end. This fantasy football keeper was selected without hesitation by the Atlanta Falcons which run a pass-heavy offense. With Julio Jones out of Atlanta, the breakout potential for Pitts is endless, and so much so, that he could give studs such as Travis Kelce and George Kittle a run for the money.
Noah Gray, Kansas City Chiefs
This guy is a sleeper and one who can be deeply rostered in dynasty leagues if your space allows. He is an heir apparent to Travis Kelce who is 31 and fully playing at his prime. With that said, the Chiefs spent a fifth-rounder on this pass-catching TE who tallied 80 catches for 677 yards and five touchdowns throughout his last two seasons at Duke.
With Sammy Watkins out of the picture and the Chiefs wanting to keep Kelce in good condition, Gray may just see a little action on offense in his rookie year. Perhaps even look for the Chiefs to run more two-tight end sets while they attempt to keep opposing defenses on their toes.