Fantasy Football: One sleeper from every NFL team

The definition of “sleeper” varies, but I view the following players as undervalued compared to the market. Note that some of these suggestions are geared more for deeper leagues than others.

Arizona Cardinals: Rondale Moore

The rookie’s 40 time is in the 96th percentile while his breakout age was in the 99th, and there’s potential for real volume right away for Moore. DeAndre Hopkins is approaching 30, Christian Kirk seemingly isn’t any good (No. 91 in yards per route run last year), newcomer A.J. Green looks washed (he saw the 12th-most air yards last season and finished with the 67th-most receiving yards) and the Cardinals rarely use their tight ends (and have questions at RB).

Moore could quickly become Arizona’s No. 2 target in a fast-paced offense that ran no-huddle by far the most in the NFL last season (10% more than the No. 2 team). At a minimum, Moore should replace Larry Fitzgerald as Arizona's primary slot receiver.

Atlanta Falcons: D’Onta Foreman

The Falcons have one of the thinnest RB depth charts in football, with Mike Davis set to be the lead back. Davis is a 28-year-old who wore down while shattering his career-high with 165 carries last season. Foreman is a long shot and not even a guarantee to make the roster, but he posted intriguing speed scores for someone 230+ pounds and ran for more than 2,000 yards and 15 touchdowns in 11 games as a junior during his final year at Texas. Foreman played in Tennessee last season, so it could be telling new coach Arthur Smith signed him in Atlanta.

Baltimore Ravens: Marquise Brown

Brown has become something of an afterthought after failing to live up to the hype last season and then suffering a hamstring injury this summer. But rookie receiver Rashod Bateman suffered an even more serious injury (core-muscle surgery) that’s going to sideline him for weeks, and newcomer Sammy Watkins failed to provide fantasy value as Patrick Mahomes’ No. 2.

Brown should be 100% for Week 1, and he quietly caught six touchdowns over the final six games last season. Expect a more potent passing attack from Baltimore in 2021, with Brown the beneficiary.

Buffalo Bills: Dawson Knox

Knox enters as Buffalo’s clear starter on a pass-happy offense that didn’t trade for Zach Ertz during the offseason as many expected. After Knox worked with Josh Allen throughout the summer, the Bills have high expectations for him in 2021. Don’t be surprised by a Robert Tonyan-type season.

Carolina Panthers: Terrace Marshall Jr.

The rookie wideout’s ADP has moved up since a splashy preseason debut, and he should immediately be Carolina’s slot receiver. Over the last three years, Sam Darnold ranks top-five among quarterbacks in target percentage to the slot. There’s also further upside should Robby Anderson or DJ Moore were to go down.

Chicago Bears: Darnell Mooney

Mooney ranked top-10 in unrealized air yards as a rookie last season, and he’s about to see a significant upgrade at quarterback. Justin Fields is going to take over as Chicago’s starter soon enough, and his big arm and incredible downfield accuracy should be a perfect match for the speedy Mooney, who also forced the second-most missed tackles per touch among receivers last season.

With Anthony Miller gone, Mooney is going to finish as a top-25 fantasy receiver this year.

Cincinnati Bengals: Samaje Perine

Joe Mixon has missed multiple games during three of his four years in the league, including 10 last year. He’s now going to be given the heaviest workload of his career with Gio Bernard gone. If Mixon were to go down again, Perine would have to fight off rookie Chris Evans, but the veteran is the favorite to act as the team’s RB2 in a Bengals offense with upside in Joe Burrow's second year. Perine (0.18) was the far better runner in rushing yards over expectation compared to Mixon (-0.98) last season as well.

Cleveland Browns: Baker Mayfield

Mayfield is an afterthought during fantasy drafts after he’s disappointed as the No. 1 pick, but he quietly showed real growth last year under better coaching. He got 7.8 YPA over the second half of last season (despite some miserably windy games) and will be getting a motivated and healthy Odell Beckham Jr. back in 2021. Mayfield has to play outdoors in a tough division on a run-first team, but he’ll benefit from arguably the league’s best O-line and will provide Joe Burrow’s stats five rounds later.

One sleeper from every team. (Photo by Michael Wagstaffe/Yahoo Sports)
Will Baker Mayfield live up to his sleeper potential this year? (Photo by Michael Wagstaffe/Yahoo Sports)

Dallas Cowboys: Blake Jarwin

There were some reports of Jarwin splitting work with Dalton Schultz while returning from his torn ACL, but Schultz is now dealing with a sprained ankle, and Jarwin always had more fantasy upside after finishing top-five in fantasy points per route in 2019.

If Jarwin emerges as the starter, he’d be an easy top-10 fantasy TE on a Cowboys offense that averaged the most plays per game last season and is going to score a ton of points this year with Dak Prescott back.

Denver Broncos: Broncos D/ST

Mike Clay grades Denver’s defense as the No. 1 unit in the NFL entering 2021, yet they are the 15th D/ST off the board in Yahoo leagues. While drafting Patrick Surtain Jr. over Justin Fields became unforgivable once the Broncos failed to trade for Aaron Rodgers, the ill-advised pick (Denver’s GM argues franchise corners are harder to come by)does improve an already impressive defensive roster.

Detroit Lions: Jamaal Williams

Williams greatly improved as a player last year, and he joins a Detroit team with a strong looking offensive line and a new head coach who wants to Establish The Run. D’Andre Swift looks like a star but also like someone who’s a real injury concern, with a groin pull the latest to sideline the running back. Don’t be surprised when Williams is suddenly seeing 20+ touches a week.

Green Bay Packers: Marquez Valdes-Scantling

Since AJ Dillon is too beastly to insult with a sleeper label, let’s go back to the MVS well once again. After flashing down the stretch last season, Valdes-Scantling has been getting rave reviews throughout training camp, with reportedly improved hands and a possible locked-down role as the team’s WR2. Davante Adams isn’t the most durable receiver in the league either. Kylin Hill is a deeper sleeper on the Packers.

Houston Texans: Tyrod Taylor

Taylor is set to start this season with only third-round rookie Davis Mills behind him (and assuming no medical malpractice). He doesn’t offer big upside but is being undervalued in Superflex leagues given his rushing ability. Taylor has averaged 35.5 rushing yards over 47 starts during his career, which is the same number as Josh Allen and more than Russell Wilson (31.3).

It’s ostensibly not a great situation in Houston without many playmakers, but it could also prove to be a nice fantasy setup with the Texans forced to throw frequently against prevent defenses while playing from behind most second halves this season. Taylor is the frontrunner to lead the league in “garbage fantasy stats” in 2021, but they count just the same. Nico Collins is a deeper sleeper on the Texans.

Indianapolis Colts: Parris Campbell

He remains affordable in drafts thanks to a long injury history, but Campbell has flashed this preseason and offers nice potential given his 4.3 speed. With Carson Wentz looking like he shouldn’t miss much (if any) time to open the season after foot surgery, Campbell is an intriguing late-round flier. T.Y. Hilton certainly shouldn’t be going 30+ picks earlier.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Marvin Jones

While new coach Urban Meyer called DJ Chark a “big guy who played little last year,” Jones has a history with OC Darrell Bevell (Detroit) and has reportedly looked like Jacksonville’s WR1 throughout camp. With budding star Trevor Lawrence throwing to him downfield, Jones is a “boring veteran” who’s also a sneaky bet to finish as a top-30 fantasy WR this season.

Kansas City Chiefs: Mecole Hardman

Questions remain whether Hardman is up to the task, but he’s going to be given the chance to act as Patrick Mahomes’ new No. 2 receiver with Sammy Watkins gone. He’s reportedly shown improved route running throughout summer, although his first preseason game wasn’t exactly encouraging.

That said, Hardman was always expected to have a slow learning curve after being drafted so young/raw, and yet he’s posted the third-most yards per target (10.7) since entering the league. He's now set to see a lot more volume, making him arguably this year’s biggest boom/bust receiver.

Las Vegas Raiders: Bryan Edwards

Edwards was making noise before an injury ruined his rookie season, and he appears ready to fully break out in Year Two. Edwards looks like a young T.O. and poised to beat out Henry Ruggs (drafted ahead of CeeDee Lamb, Jerry Jeudy, Justin Jefferson, and Brandon Aiyuk!) as Las Vegas' WR1.

Los Angeles Chargers: Josh Palmer

While one of the running backs behind Austin Ekeler is certain to emerge with real fantasy value at some point, it’s entirely unclear which one, so let’s instead go with the rookie who’s reportedly the favorite to act as LA’s No. 3 receiver this season. Justin Herbert’s willingness to go downfield looks like an ideal match for Palmer, who has upside for more with injury-prone Mike Williams ahead of him on the depth chart. Jared Cook is another LAC sleeper.

Los Angeles Rams: Xavier Jones

I actually rank Darrell Henderson higher than most of the fantasy community, but that’s more to do with loving his situation than having any confidence in his ability to stay healthy. Whether Henderson can take a full workload remains very much in question, and with Cam Akers out for the season and Jake Funk as the only other RB on the roster, Jones has quickly become an obvious sleeper.

This is a Rams system that helped Todd Gurley produce the most touchdowns in the league over a recent three-year span despite playing on one leg for half of the time, and Sean McVay now gets an upgrade with Matthew Stafford as his quarterback.

Miami Dolphins: Jaylen Waddle

While early summer reports were negative and suggested Waddle still hadn’t fully recovered from ankle surgery, he’s since put all that FUD to rest with repeated impressive practice reports (including a good rapport with old teammate Tua Tagovailoa, who looks much improved). Waddle joins a seemingly crowded WR group, but that could change quickly given that Will Fuller and DeVante Parker are two of the most injury-prone players in the league (Fuller has already been sidelined since July).

The Dolphins passed on drafting Penei Sewell in favor of the rookie wideout despite badly needing offensive line help, so they have every incentive to heavily involve Waddle right away.

Minnesota Vikings: Alexander Mattison

Mattison isn’t nearly as good as Dalvin Cook and flopped badly during a Week 6 spot-start at home against the Falcons last season (when they were down 20-0 at halftime). But when you count all the times Mattison played while Cook was sidelined, he averaged 103.7 yards from scrimmage and scored two touchdowns over 2.5 games. It will take an injury for Mattison to be usable in fantasy leagues, but Cook has chronic shoulder problems, has missed multiple games during every season of his career (averaging 5.3 DNPs), and was worked hard in 2020 while averaging the most touches per game in the NFL.

The Vikings are a terrific spot for a lead back as a run-heavy team (they lost Mike Boone during the offseason) that got the fourth-most yards per play last season and projects to have a much better defense in 2021 with Danielle Hunter back. Mattison’s breakaway run rate was the fourth-best in football last year. He’d immediately become a fantasy RB1 if given the starting job.

New England Patriots: Jakobi Meyers

Meyers ranked top-30 in target share during his rookie season, and he’s reportedly separated himself as the team’s clear No. 1 receiver despite signing Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne during the offseason. Mac Jones looks like a big accuracy upgrade as his quarterback, and Meyers should eat out of the slot all season. Meyers’ ADP has curiously lagged all summer even in PPR formats despite somehow finishing top-10 in yards per route run last season with Cam Newton throwing him grounders. Meyers is the real deal. Rhamondre Stevenson is a deeper sleeper for the Patriots.

New Orleans Saints: Marquez Callaway

With Michael Thomas sidelined indefinitely and Tre’Quan Smith missing multiple weeks with a leg injury, Callaway has taken “ownership of being top dog at receiver” in New Orleans' camp, where he’s reportedly been the “breakout star” and the “go-to man” for both Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill. Callaway is quite the sleeper as the Saints’ sudden WR1. TE Juwan Johnson is a deeper sleeper in New Orleans.

New York Giants: Sterling Shepard

Shepard quietly ranked top-25 in target share last season, and it’s possible part of Daniel Jones’ struggles was because he played through injuries. Shepard is practically free at draft tables thanks to the Giants’ crowded receiving room, but newcomer Kenny Golladay and rookie Kadarius Toney have both been sidelined throughout camp, and Evan Engram is Evan Engram. Shepard is a sleeper.

New York Jets: Ty Johnson

Elijah Moore has been too hyped to qualify as a sleeper (I’m buying Moore but selling Zach Wilson), so let’s go with a deeper option. Johnson’s a much better athlete than fourth-round rookie (and presumptive starter) Michael Carter, who has a much higher ADP. Tevin Coleman is Tevin Coleman, and the Jets’ offensive line should be much improved. Johnson put up 1,200+ yards as an 18-year-old in college and really passed the eye test during limited work last season. He's my favorite last-round pick this year.

Philadelphia Eagles: Jalen Hurts

Hurts averaged the sixth-most fantasy points per dropback last year despite playing through a hamstring injury down the stretch alongside one of the worst supporting casts as a rookie. He rushed for 1,298 yards and 20 touchdowns during his final collegiate season (11.3 YPA) and will get to throw to electric WR DeVonta Smith in 2021. Forgive me if this is a stretch as a “sleeper,” considering I rank Hurts ahead of Aaron Rodgers and Justin Herbert. Quez Watkins is a deeper sleeper for the Eagles.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Anthony McFarland

The Steelers drafted Najee Harris early to give him 300+ touches right away, but if the rookie doesn’t hold up to a big NFL workload, McFarland has emerged as his backup. McFarland’s 40 time was in the 91st percentile, and he’d bust the waiver-wire budget should Harris go down.

San Francisco 49ers: Trey Lance

The rookie may no longer qualify as a sleeper, but the hype is for good reason. Lance is 6-4, 225 pounds and runs a 4.5 40 with a cannon arm, and he's about to take over a role that just saw Nick Mullens pass for the second-most yards through 16 starts in NFL history (sandwiched between Patrick Mahomes and Andrew Luck). Lance recorded a 28:0 TD:INT ratio while adding 1,100 rushing yards with 14 TDs as a 19-year-old, and those running skills should hold at the next level as someone who had multiple Big Ten offers to play safety and linebacker.

In Kyle Shanahan’s system with George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk, and Deebo Samuel to go along with a strong offensive line, Lance will be at least a top-eight fantasy QB the moment he takes over as SF’s starter. The 49ers also have the most favorable projected quarterback schedule during the fantasy playoffs. Expect Lance to be drafted as a top-three fantasy QB in 2022.

If he’s too obvious of a choice for you, let me add that I rank the 49ers as my No. 1 fantasy D/ST, as their pass rush looks absolutely loaded, and the team should benefit from the league’s easiest projected schedule by far.

Seattle Seahawks: Gerald Everett

While Seattle hasn’t produced any reliable fantasy tight ends lately, it’s not because Russell Wilson doesn’t target the position. Newcomer Everett is going to be given an opportunity as the team’s new starter. Everett has impressive workout metrics and shouldn’t split work like he did in LA with Tyler Higbee. Everett has a connection with Seattle’s new OC Shane Waldron, who was a big reason he signed with Seattle, and Pete Carroll is predicting a breakout. No quarterback in the NFL consistently attempts more passes in the end-zone than Wilson, and Everett will be a beneficiary this season.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Ronald Jones

Tampa Bay turned to Leonard Fournette during the team’s postseason run last year and added Gio Bernard during the offseason to take over all passing-down work. But Jones has upside anyway, as he’s still the team's clear best runner. The admittedly mistake-prone Jones will never catch a bunch of passes, but there’s potential for big-time rushing stats should he secure the starting role on an absolutely loaded Tampa Bay offense that returns all 11 starters (including a healthier Tom Brady, Antonio Brown, and O.J. Howard) after winning the Super Bowl. Let others worry about a supposed backfield by committee and draft Jones’ incoming 10+ touchdown runs.

Tennessee Titans: Anthony Firkser

Firkser is Tennessee’s new starting tight end with Jonnu Smith leaving for New England, and yet he’s still barely being drafted as a top-25 option. The Titans added Julio Jones to soak up more targets, but he’s 32 years old and increasingly likely to miss time with injuries. In fact, Jones is unlikely to take away more opportunities than the departed Corey Davis, who ranked top-25 in target share and top-five in yards per route run last season. The loss of Arthur Smith is the real concern when it comes to Tennessee’s offense (although it should help he’s being replaced by the team’s TE coach), but that should be offset by increased volume.

Washington Football Team: Adam Humphries

This is for deeper leagues, but Humphries is healthy again and reportedly showing terrific chemistry throughout camp with former teammate Ryan Fitzpatrick. Humphries saw 105 targets the last time he played with the bearded QB, so he’s a PPR sleeper as Washington’s new slot receiver.

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