Fantasy Football 2021: 7 Sleepers to Keep an Eye On in Training Camps
As fantasy football drafts start approaching, managers should be attempting to identify mid-to-late-round steals.
We can't gauge much from unpadded spring practices, but coaches and beat reporters have provided enough information to raise optimism about certain players.
We've highlighted seven fantasy sleepers who have an average draft position later than the seventh round and should vastly outperform their ADP. Whatever you do, don't go into autodraft midway through the selection process.
Who flashed through mandatory minicamp, and where should you focus your attention this summer?
QB Daniel Jones, New York Giants
ADP: 15.03 (in 12-team leagues)
With quarterback Daniel Jones heading into a make-or-break season, the New York Giants spent the past few months bolstering his pass-catching group.
Jones has a new go-to wideout in Kenny Golladay, who's two years removed from a Pro Bowl campaign with 65 receptions, 1,190 yards and 11 touchdowns. The 6'4", 214-pounder should become a factor in the red zone, and he'll come down with some contested catches.
The Giants spent the No. 20 overall pick on Kadarius Toney, who should bring versatility to the wideout unit. He can line up all over the formation and exploit matchups with his speed. They also signed tight end Kyle Rudolph, a sure-handed veteran with a career 68.1 percent catch rate.
Darius Slayton, Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram all have two years of experience with Jones under center. The 24-year-old signal-caller can lean on them while he builds a rapport with the new additions.
Star running back Saquon Barkley is on the mend from a torn ACL, too. He's one of the best pass-catching tailbacks in the game with 149 receptions for 1,219 yards and six touchdowns in 31 outings.
Jones has the playmakers to rank among the top 10 in passing yards and throw well over 30 touchdowns this season. Keep an eye on how well he jells with his new pass-catchers in training camp.
RB Zack Moss, Buffalo Bills
After suffering an ankle injury in the AFC Wild Card Round, Buffalo Bills running back Zack Moss underwent a "minor surgical" procedure in mid-January, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. However, head coach Sean McDermott expects him back on the field for training camp.
The Athletic's Joe Buscaglia believes Moss could "take over the backfield in 2021 if he continues to improve" and play 60-70 percent of the Bills' offensive snaps.
"He has underrated receiving skills, he's their best runner between the tackles, showed a punishing rushing style that routinely maximized attempts and is the Bills’ preferred goal-line back," Buscaglia wrote.
In the final four games of the 2020 regular season, Moss logged more rushing attempts than fellow tailback Devin Singletary (41 to 28). The former also started in the Wild Card Round win against the Colts.
Moss' recovery from his ankle injury may delay his rise to the top of the depth chart, but fantasy managers should buy his stock early before a possible shift in the Bills backfield. He may go into the season in an even-split timeshare with Singletary and see his workload increase as the year goes on.
WR Henry Ruggs III, Las Vegas Raiders
Aside from a highlight performance against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 5 (two catches, 118 yards and a touchdown) and a game-winning touchdown reception against the New York Jets, Las Vegas Raiders wideout Henry Ruggs III had an underwhelming rookie campaign. He finished with only 26 catches for 452 yards and two touchdowns.
He could be primed for a sophomore-year leap, though.
In June, quarterback Derek Carr praised Ruggs' offseason development while speaking with reporters.
"Man, he's been impressive," he said. "The way he's running routes. He's being violent in his cuts. I think something clicked in his head. Just like with everybody, you play a season in the NFL, you go back and watch the tape and you're like, 'wow, I know what it takes now.' And you either do it or you don't. And he's showing already that he said, 'nah, I'm going to do it.' And it's been so impressive."
In April, general manager Mike Mayock challenged Ruggs to improve his route running. Based on what Carr said, the second-year wideout appears to be developing the technical aspect of his game.
Tight end Darren Waller is Carr's go-to target, but head coach and offensive play-caller Jon Gruden may look to show why he picked Ruggs over CeeDee Lamb and Jerry Jeudy as the top wide receiver in the 2020 draft.
If Ruggs sees the second-most targets behind Waller, he could eclipse 1,100 yards because of his ability to stretch the field and accumulate yards after the catch.
WR Laviska Shenault Jr., Jacksonville Jaguars
Laviska Shenault Jr. may have gained some staunch supporters over the past few weeks.
According to Hays Carlyon of 1010 XL and 92.5 FM, the Jacksonville Jaguars coaches have been "buzzing about" Shenault. ESPN's Michael DiRocco also listed him as the Jaguars player who turned heads through mandatory minicamp.
"Shenault has arguably been the Jaguars' best offensive player throughout OTAs and minicamp," DiRocco wrote. "... The Jags are keeping him at receiver instead of trying to use him in the backfield at times, and his development has been one of the highlights of the spring."
Last year, Shenault caught 58 passes for 600 yards and five touchdowns with a 73.4 percent catch rate. He also ran the ball 18 times for 91 yards.
With 2021 No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence under center, the Jaguars may field a pass-heavy offense this season. That bodes well for Shenault's growth and his receiving numbers despite the presence of DJ Chark Jr. and Marvin Jones Jr. in a solid wide receiver group.
WR Tyrell Williams, Detroit Lions
The Detroit Lions turned over their wide receiver unit from last season, allowing Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr. to walk in free agency. They also have a new quarterback in Jared Goff.
That overhaul creates risk for fantasy managers, but wideout Tyrell Williams could be a late-round steal. According to The Athletic's Nick Baumgardner and Chris Burke, the seventh-year veteran had a strong showing during mandatory minicamp:
"Williams has looked particularly tough in tight space. He made a terrific, physical catch in the back of the end zone against a trailing Amani Oruwariye that was as impressive as any play a receiver has made this week. Williams was crisp with his release and was able to give the corner just enough wiggle at his break point to get an advantage. The Lions don't have many veteran skill players who have the walk of a pro who understands—completely—what that means. Williams might be on that short list."
Williams played under Lions offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn with the Los Angeles Chargers in 2017 and 2018. He caught 84 passes for 1,381 yards and nine touchdowns during that stretch.
Williams missed the entire 2020 campaign with a torn labrum. Now that he's healthy again, he could open the season in the lead role over oft-injured wideout Breshad Perriman, Quintez Cephus and rookie fourth-rounder Amon-Ra St. Brown.
TE Dallas Goedert, Philadelphia Eagles
Fantasy managers who miss out on Travis Kelce, Darren Waller, George Kittle and Mark Andrews will be looking for a second-tier tight end in the middle of the draft.
Coming off a Pro Bowl campaign, T.J. Hockenson fits the bill with a 6.01 ADP, but Dallas Goedert may be an even better value in the ninth round.
The Athletic's Zach Berman selected Goedert as the Philadelphia Eagles' 2021 breakout player:
"With Zach Ertz expected elsewhere next season, Dallas Goedert will likely take over as the No. 1 tight end. That should lead to even more production from a player who will be featured in new coach Nick Sirianni's offense. Goedert ranks No. 13 among tight ends in receiving yards since he entered the NFL in 2018 and No. 11 in receptions and touchdowns, so he's already among the more productive tight ends in the NFL."
In three seasons with Ertz on the roster, Goedert has hauled in 137 passes for 1,465 yards and 12 touchdowns. If the Eagles trade or release Ertz, who didn't attend spring practices in anticipation of a move, Goedert could see the second- or third-most targets behind wideouts DeVonta Smith and Jalen Reagor.
Quarterback Jalen Hurts' 52 percent completion rate over his four starts in 2020 raises some concerns, but Goedert should have a steady target volume, which makes him a potential fantasy gem.
Managers should monitor Ertz's situation over the coming weeks to make sure Goedert goes into the 2021 season as the Eagles' featured tight end.
TE Irv Smith Jr., Minnesota Vikings
The Minnesota Vikings have given mixed messages about Irv Smith Jr.'s 2021 outlook.
When asked about the increased opportunities for his young tight ends following the departure of Kyle Rudolph in free agency, head coach Mike Zimmer brought up Tyler Conklin.
"I think it's a bigger role for Tyler Conklin," Zimmer said. "He's kind of emerged as a guy that's moving upward and with those two guys, we have a lot of weapons there. Irv always has been able to do what he's been able to do whether Kyle was here or not."
Offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak had more encouraging comments for fantasy managers who may want to pounce on Smith late in their drafts.
"Irv has come back in phenomenal shape," Kubiak said in May. "He's really been working at it since we last saw him in the building. But I don't want him to do anything different. I want him to be himself. And now he's going to have more opportunities, and I'm excited to see what he does with it."
If you're confused about Smith's role, put more stock in Kubiak's assessment since he's the one who's going to run the offense.
Even if Conklin sees a decent portion of the targets at tight end, Smith should be more involved in the passing attack. That makes him a late-round sleeper worth targeting.
Average draft positions are current as of Wednesday and courtesy of Fantasy Football Calculator.