Every year there are a handful of players that rise unexpectedly to fantasy football relevance. Rostering these players can fill holes in your lineup or shore up a weakness. In some cases these players transcend into being elite and are league winners, looking at you James Robinson and Mike Davis. In this article we’ll cover some of the players that have a chance to be the difference maker on your roster despite being found on the waiver wire or considered end of the bench fodder in most leagues. The early bird gets the worm, so rise and shine, it’s 2021 Fantasy Football Sleepers time!
Devontae Booker RB New York Giants
Booker finds himself as the backup to another great running back. This is an untenable position for most players and generally not a huge draw for tying up a roster spot on your fantasy team. This is, however, not your typical situation. Barkley is coming off of a season-ending ACL tear. 2020 saw Saquon record 19 carries and nine receptions before going down for the season. There is also concern that Barkley may not be ready for the start of this season.
In steps Booker, who is a capable runner and receiver. You will never mistake him for Barkley, but he doesn’t have to be for him to be worth having on your roster. Filling in for Barkley, Wayne Gallman was able to perform respectably, averaging just over nine points a game during the 15 games he played. Booker is a more talented back and the Giants should be an improved squad. If Barkley goes down Booker becomes a bell cow back with an easy path to 15-20 touches a game.
Jordan Akins TE Houston Texans
Akins is in a good position this year to be a much bigger part of the offense. The departure of Darren Fells frees up Akins to be the clear cut Alpha in the tight end room. Akins also has a possibility to be the number two receiving option in the new look Texans offense.
Despite the panning of the hiring of David Culley this could be a boon for the pass catching tight end. Culley’s offense heavily utilizes the tight end.
Akins should slot into the role that Mark Andrews occupied in Baltimore. The upside on Akins is easily worth the small price, if any, you will pay to acquire him. Akins has the opportunity to breakout like Logan Thomas did last year. Snag Akins early and watch as your league mates jealously watch one of this year’s biggest fantasy football sleepers.
Donovan Peoples-Jones WR Cleveland Browns
Donovan is a former 5-star recruit out of Michigan who failed to live up to expectations in college. It wasn’t until the end of the season that Peoples-Jones saw an uptick in playing time. When given the opportunity last year he produced.
Odell Beckham Jr. is set to return this year, but he is not the same player he once was. He has had four seasons in a row with an injury.
Last season he tore his ACL. There is no guarantee Beckham Jr. returns to form. If Odell sustains another injury Peoples-Jones will be the first in line for his spot.
As a bonus, while their contract situations don’t impact this year, Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry could be gone next year. With Odell’s contract having no dead money after this season Cleveland could cut him, creating $15 million in cap space. Jarvis Landry carries a $16.5 million cap hit next year with $1.5 million in dead money. By cutting Landry the Cleveland Browns could create another $15 million in cap space. DPJ could find himself in a premium spot next year in a wide open wide receiver room.
Ty Johnson RB New York Jets
Johnson finds himself in a crowded backfield alongside a newly drafted running back in Michael Carter. The new regime in NY is making a lot of changes. One of the biggest is a change in offensive scheme and philosophy. The Jets will be employing a run heavy offense that utilizes the wide zone.
There is sure to be heavy competition for touches in the Jets’ backfield. A running-back-by-committee is almost guaranteed to be used in some form. So why Ty Johnson? Michael Carter is a great fit for the scheme, but I don’t believe he can carry the full load. I expect Johnson to be the other man in the running back committee. Johnson is a bigger and more physical player whose combination of speed and one cut ability aligns well with the scheme. Any injury or faltering by Carter should see Johnson emerge as the top dog in the committee.
Jakobi Meyers WR New England Patriots
With all the money being thrown around and all the new receiving options on the Patriots, Meyers is a forgotten man. It is easy to expect him to fall out of relevance and right into obscurity. There are also really good reasons not to.
Meyers became a starter in week seven. Once given the opportunity all he did was produce. In the 11 games from Week seven to Week 17 his stat line was 80 targets, 58 receptions, and 722 yards.
While he never found the end zone, touchdowns are flukey and not many players on the Patriots were finding the end zone. Coming into his third year Jakobi has the rapport and trust of Newton. He should see more single coverage against weaker corners. It would not be surprising to see Meyers end the year with a better receiving stat line than Agholor, Henry, and Smith.
Dan Arnold TE Carolina Panthers
Arnold signed a two-year deal worth $6 million this off-season with the Panthers. Last year saw him emerge as the top tight end in Arizona. His growth as a receiver was evident throughout the year.
A reunion with Joe Brady in Carolina provides an opportunity for continued growth. Arnold’s snap share should greatly increase, and with it, his opportunities.
Arnold showed ability last year to move the chains and led the league amongst tight ends who qualified (minimum 30 receptions) with 14.13 yards per reception. At 6’5” tall, Arnold is a slumbering giant amongst the fantasy football sleepers in 2021.
Chris Evans RB Cincinnati Bengals
Another highly touted recruit that failed to meet expectations at Michigan, Evans has landed in a good spot. With the departure of Giovani Bernard and the injury history of Mixon there should be touches available. Evans has a lot to like about his game.
At 5’ 11” and 220 pounds Chris is a solidly built back with sufficient speed, running a 4.44 second 40 yard dash.
His ability to catch out of the backfield and his elusiveness in small areas are what sets him apart. His all-around skill set should see him get opportunities. If Mixon is injured this year Evans could emerge as a 3-down back with immense upside in the Bengals high-powered offense.
Amon-Ra St. Brown WR Detroit Lions
St. Brown has a chip on his shoulder and a wide open depth chart in front of him. Detroit saw an almost complete change of wide receivers after the 2020 season. With no receiver occupying a clear spot on the depth chart Amon-Ra has ample opportunity to have a big year.
From all accounts, St. Brown is doing everything he can to be successful. He impressed in OTAs and coaches have raved about his route running and work ethic. Amon-Ra has been getting in extra work with Jared Goff to build a strong rapport. For his part, Goff has taught St. Brown about things he liked that Cooper Kipp did and about certain routes. Despite being one of 2021’s fantasy football sleepers, Amon-Ra could reign supreme in the wide receiver room for Detroit.
Phillip Lindsay RB Houston Texans
For a running back who has two out of his three seasons in the league with over 1,000 yards rushing and over 1,200 yards from scrimmage, Lindsay gets no respect. Averaging 4.8 yards per carry for his career has not garnered him any favor either. What does a guy have to do?
Lindsay lands in a backfield with David Johnson and Mark Ingram, a couple of running backs who are past their primes.
Few, if any, people are predicting Phillip to be the starter. It is true that Johnson and Ingram are more talented than Lindsay. They are also two and four years older than him respectively with a lot less tread on the tires.
In David Culley’s run-heavy offense one running back cannot shoulder the load. It is even less likely that a guy like Johnson will be able to take the punishment that will come this season. Phillip should emerge as the lead back before the halfway point of the season. With his all-around skill set Lindsay has another chance to post a 1,000 yard rushing season. A player with the performance history of Lindsay is almost never one of the fantasy football sleepers and he will show why this season.
Josh Palmer WR Las Angeles Chargers
Palmer joins a Chargers offense that looks to take a step forward this year. With Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and Austin Ekeler set in their roles as pass catching options there are a lot of targets accounted for. Despite this, what was clearly apparent last year was a need for a capable third wide receiver.
Josh had some great moments last year against top drafted cornerbacks Patrick Surtain Jr. and DJ Daniel.
He has been flashing in training camp and shown the ability to track the deep ball and find open space. His skill set aligns with Herbert and Palmer’s deep ball skills should be an asset in the offense. Williams has been the deep ball receiver for the Chargers the past few years, but his hands have remained inconsistent in his time there, posting a 57 percent catch rate for his career.
With his competition for the third wide receiver spot being the uninspiring Jalen Guyton and Tyron Johnson, Palmer should win the job out of the gate. Josh will have the opportunity to impress early in the season and carve out a bigger role. This new role, and the opportunities that come with it, may come at the expense of Williams, whose contract will expire at the end of the year.
Do you agree or disagree with our list of fantasy football sleepers? Are there any that you think are missing from the list? Join the conversation! Drop a name or two in the comment box and let us know why you like them!
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A fantasy football degenerate with an extreme love for the game. The only position Sam has ever played in any form of competitive football is armchair quarterback.
An affinity for football and watching games together was a part of growing up for him and his three brothers. 30 plus years as a Vikings fan has made him a glutton for punishment and a believer that he can do something his hometown team can’t, put together a championship roster.
Now 22 years into his fantasy football general manager career he is here to offer insight, advice, and the same hope for championships that he desperately clutches to for his Purple People Eaters.