Fantasy Football 2021: Cheatsheet for Sleepers and Busts Heading into Your Draft

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IIAugust 16, 2021

Fantasy Football 2021: Cheatsheet for Sleepers and Busts Heading into Your Draft

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    David Banks/Associated Press

    When draft day arrives for your fantasy football league, you're going to want to be prepared. And just because you fared well last year doesn't mean that will be the case in 2021. Things change quickly around the NFL, meaning players may not repeat their 2020 performances, for better or worse.

    With that being said, there are some players falling through the cracks in fantasy drafts. These are the sleepers who could win you your league because of the value they will bring you late in the draft.

    On the other side, some players are getting taken way too early and are unlikely to live up to their projections. Fill your roster with too many of these players, and you could be looking at a tough season.

    Here's a look at some predicted sleepers and busts to consider while preparing for fantasy drafts.


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    Elise Amendola/Associated Press


    Trey Lance, San Francisco 49ers

    Cam Newton, New England Patriots

    Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins

    While Cam Newton and Tua Tagovailoa underperformed in 2020, they could bounce back this season. Newton is more familiar with the New England Patriots offense, and there will be better players around him. The Miami Dolphins also upgraded their receiving corps, and Tagovailoa now has some NFL experience under his belt.

    Trey Lance may not get drafted in your league because he's likely to begin the season as the San Francisco 49ers' backup to Jimmy Garoppolo. But if you have the roster space, it could be great to stash Lance there for now, as he's been impressing this preseason and could thrive immediately once given the opportunity, which should happen at some point in 2021.



    Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals

    Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia Eagles

    Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons

    Some believe Joe Burrow and Jalen Hurts could have big seasons in their second years in the NFL, but they are also risky quarterbacks to draft. Burrow is coming off left ACL and MCL tears, and the Cincinnati Bengals may run the ball quite a bit with Joe Mixon healthy. Hurts still doesn't have a ton of NFL experience, and it will be interesting to see how he adjusts once opposing defenses can better game-plan for him.

    Matt Ryan lost his longtime No. 1 receiver in Julio Jones this offseason, and while the Atlanta Falcons still have some solid offensive players (most notably wide receiver Calvin Ridley and rookie tight end Kyle Pitts), there's a chance Ryan will struggle. The 36-year-old has thrown 26 or fewer touchdowns in three of the past four seasons.

Running Backs

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press


    Michael Carter, New York Jets

    AJ Dillon, Green Bay Packers

    Gus Edwards, Baltimore Ravens

    Michael Carter is an exciting rookie running back to consider drafting because he's going to have the opportunity to potentially be the New York Jets' lead back right away. New York is much more solid on the offensive line heading into 2021, and Carter could benefit from that to enjoy an impressive first year in the NFL.

    Even if Aaron Jones stays healthy, AJ Dillon should get more than the 46 carries he recorded as a rookie last year now that Jamaal Williams isn't in Green Bay. And while J.K. Dobbins will be the Baltimore Ravens' lead back, Gus Edwards has rushed for more than 700 yards in each of his first three NFL seasons and scored a career-high six touchdowns last year, so he's always a solid flex option.



    Travis Etienne, Jacksonville Jaguars

    Kareem Hunt, Cleveland Browns

    Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles

    Many people are expecting big things from Travis Etienne, whom the Jacksonville Jaguars selected with a first-round pick in the 2021 NFL draft. And he could have a solid rookie season. But don't forget about James Robinson, who rushed for 1,070 yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie in 2020. Etienne may not live up to expectations while splitting touches with Robinson.

    Kareem Hunt wasn't nearly as productive once Nick Chubb returned from injury in the second half of 2020. And with Chubb healthy, Hunt's value will be much lower. As for Miles Sanders, he's part of a crowded running back room in Philadelphia, so he may not get as many touches as previous seasons.

Wide Receivers

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press


    Jerry Jeudy, Denver Broncos

    Michael Pittman Jr., Indianapolis Colts

    Henry Ruggs III, Las Vegas Raiders

    All three of these receivers could break out in their respective second years. They flashed their potential last season, but not one quite performed up to the expectations he had after getting taken early in the 2020 NFL draft (Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III in the first round, and Michael Pittman Jr. in the second).

    Ruggs may get the most opportunities in 2021, as the Las Vegas Raiders lost Nelson Agholor and didn't do much to add to their receiving corps during the offseason, leaving plenty of targets that could head Ruggs' way. Pittman is now the most valuable receiver in Indianapolis, and don't be surprised if he outperforms veteran T.Y. Hilton.



    DJ Chark Jr., Jacksonville Jaguars

    Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    Adam Thielen, Minnesota Vikings

    DJ Chark Jr. was inconsistent in 2020, making it tough to know when to start him in fantasy. Now that Jacksonville has more playmakers on its offense, including veteran receiver Marvin Jones Jr., Chark may not have a ton of fantasy relevance this season.

    Mike Evans and Adam Thielen are both receivers who have had success in the past but could regress a bit in 2021. Evans is part of a Bucs offense with a ton of playmakers, while Thielen is no longer the No. 1 receiver on the Vikings following Justin Jefferson's emergence. Both Evans and Thielen are too dependent on touchdowns and likely won't get into the end zone as much as they did in 2020.

Tight Ends

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press


    Jared Cook, Los Angeles Chargers

    Cole Kmet, Chicago Bears

    Irv Smith Jr., Minnesota Vikings

    Irv Smith Jr. has the potential to take a big step forward this season with Kyle Rudolph no longer in Minnesota. Smith should get a lot more targets than he had in his first two NFL seasons, and he could end up being one of the Vikings' top receiving options this year.

    Cole Kmet is a candidate for a second-year breakout, especially if he starts to get more opportunities than veteran Jimmy Graham. Meanwhile, Jared Cook has been a solid fantasy option in the past and should thrive now that he's the Los Angeles Chargers' No. 1 tight end and will be playing with quarterback Justin Herbert.



    Evan Engram, New York Giants

    Mike Gesicki, Miami Dolphins

    Logan Thomas, Washington Football Team

    Evan Engram is getting taken much higher in fantasy drafts than he should be—the 11th round, per Fantasy Football Calculator—considering he hasn't reached the 700-yard mark since his rookie season in 2017. He scored only one receiving touchdown in 2020, and running back Saquon Barkley's return will likely take away some touches too.

    Miami and Washington both strengthened their receiving corps this offseason, so they may not need to rely as much on Mike Gesicki and Logan Thomas, respectively. That means both could have their fantasy value drop at a position that doesn't have a lot of star power.