The term sleeper has different meanings for different people in the world of fantasy football. Some folks believe it’s simply a player who will outperform his draft position. That would include players like Justin Herbert, James Robinson, and Justin Jefferson in 2020. Others believe it’s someone who was a relative unknown who emerges into a useful fantasy option, such as Myles Gaskin, Curtis Samuel, or Robert Tonyan.
However, I think there are different levels of sleeper value among NFL players.
For example, the athletes I labeled as traditional sleepers are likely to come off the board in the middle to late rounds. Then, you have another tier. I like to call them deep sleepers. These players have late-round average draft positions (ADPs) but could bring back some value based on their skills and potential opportunities on their respective team’s depth charts.
With that in mind, here are 10 players to target in the late rounds who could be the best of the best for the fantasy football deep sleeper class of 2021.
Damien Harris, RB, New England Patriots
Harris showed some flashes of potential last season, posting three games with at least 100 rushing yards and finishing with an average of five yards per attempt. He won’t do much in the passing game, but Harris could open the season as New England’s starting running back ahead of Sony Michel and rookie Rhamandre Stevenson. He’ll be worth a look in the late rounds as an RB4 on your roster who could develop flex-starter value in 2021.
Rashaad Penny, RB, Seattle Seahawks
Penny has been anything but durable in the NFL, missing a combined 21 games over his first three seasons. Still, he’ll be the No. 2 back in Seattle behind Chris Carson with Carlos Hyde (Jaguars) no longer on the roster. Carson has had his share of bumps and bruises (Hyde, DeeJay Dallas, and Travis Homer had 182 touches in 2020), so Penny should find himself seeing enough touches to have definite late-round fantasy appeal.
Daniel Jones, QB, New York Giants
Jones was a popular sleeper in fantasy land a season ago, and well, things didn’t work out. But often, we’re a season too soon on predicting a player’s coming out party, and Jones is in a great position to succeed. Not only will he get Saquon Barkley back in the offense, but the Giants added Kenny Golladay, Kadarius Toney, and Kyle Rudolph in the offseason. It’s likely do-or-die time for Danny Dimes, who is worth a late-round flier.
Darnell Mooney, WR, Chicago Bears
Mooney didn’t produce spectacular numbers as a rookie, finishing 50th in fantasy points among wideouts. He did flash some potential at times though, none more memorable than an 11-catch explosion against the Packers in the regular-season finale. The Bears seem to be moving on from Anthony Miller (he’s been on the trade block), which would make Mooney the team’s projected No. 2 wideout behind Allen Robinson this season.
Henry Ruggs III, WR, Las Vegas Raiders
Remember when the NFL world was absolutely gushing about Ruggs, comparing him to Tyreek Hill? Heck, he was the first wideout picked in the 2020 NFL Draft! I’d guess that the Raiders regret that decision now, but Ruggs is still young, talented, and in an offense that lost its top wideout (Nelson Agholor) as a free agent. Maybe he’ll be better off as a late rounder in best-ball formats, but I’d take a chance on Ruggs as a No. 5 in redrafts.
Josh Reynolds, WR, Tennessee Titans
Reynolds didn’t make much of an impact as a member of the Rams, but he’s in a good spot to find success in Tennessee. The Titans lost Corey Davis and Jonnu Smith as free agents, and Reynolds looks like the favorite to take over as the team’s No. 2 wide receiver behind A.J. Brown. With over 100 open targets, including Davis’ 92 from last season’s roster, Reynolds will be a worthwhile No. 5 fantasy wideout in most redrafts.
Russell Gage, WR, Atlanta Falcons
Gage finished last season with career-bests across the board, but those efforts weren’t good enough for a top-30 finish among wideouts. Still, the future could be brighter for the former LSU product if the Falcons decide to move Julio Jones via trade. Gage would immediately become the favorite to start opposite Calvin Ridley in a Falcons offense that should score a ton of points in that sort of scenario. That makes him worth a late pick.
Adam Trautman, TE, New Orleans Saints
Trautman is in a great position to emerge as a statistical weapon for both the Saints and fantasy managers in 2021. The team lost Emmanuel Sanders and Jared Cook as free agents and didn’t add significant competition in the passing game, so the stage is set for Trautman. Coach Sean Payton’s offense has been very tight end friendly in the past, so don’t be surprised if the Dayton product puts up top-15 fantasy totals in 2021.
Tyrell Williams, WR, Detroit Lions
Someone has to catch passes from Jared Goff, right? His top target could end up being Williams, who missed last season due to injuries but now figures to be the Lions’ No. 1 wideout (sad, I know). Williams, who has a 1,000-yard season on his NFL resume, is in a position to push for 90+ targets, with rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown and Breshad Perriman competing for wideout targets. Williams will be a nice late best-baller flier too.
Anthony Firkser, TE, Tennessee Titans
The Titans’ top tight end from a season ago, Jonnu Smith, left for the Patriots as a free agent. The team didn’t add another player at the position and have still yet to re-sign MyCole Pruitt, so Firsker looks like the top option in an offense that has utilized the tight end position in a prominent role. I’m not sure if I see Firsker as a week in and week out starter in fantasy land, but he does have a chance to produce good overall numbers.
Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on Sports Illustrated and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. Click here to read all his articles here on SI Fantasy. You can follow Michael on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram for your late-breaking fantasy news and the best analysis in the business!