Fantasy Football 2021: Bounce-Back Players and Sleepers to Target in Mock Drafts

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistAugust 25, 2021

Fantasy Football 2021: Bounce-Back Players and Sleepers to Target in Mock Drafts

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    While fantasy football managers can easily spot star players who should produce at a high level, they can crush their competition with some shrewd picks that target bounce-back candidates and late-round sleepers. 

    Bounce-back players either sat out for a big portion of the 2020 season because of injuries or statistically had a down year. Christian McCaffrey lands in this category after he missed 13 games with multiple injuries last season. Yet the All-Pro running back will come off the board as the top pick in a lot of drafts. Managers should look for alternative options beyond the first round.

    As for sleeper selections, carefully look through depth charts and check out preseason games to find unheralded players on the rise. You can pick them up in the double-digit rounds.

    We'll highlight the top five bounce-back and sleeper targets with a deep dive on three players who undoubtedly belong on your draft radar. Each selection is listed with his average draft position (ADP) in 12-team point-per-reception leagues courtesy of Fantasy Football Calculator.

Bounce-Back and Sleeper Targets

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    Bounce-Back Targets

    1. RB Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals (2.08)

    2. TE George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers (3.05)

    3. WR Odell Beckham Jr., Cleveland Browns (6.05)

    4. WR Kenny Golladay, New York Giants (7.04)

    5. WR Courtland Sutton, Denver Broncos (8.01)


    Sleeper Targets 

    1. TE Irv Smith Jr., Minnesota Vikings (10.08) 

    2. WR Henry Ruggs III, Las Vegas Raiders (10.10) 

    3. WR Marquez Callaway, New Orleans Saints (11.11) 

    4. TE Jonnu Smith, New England Patriots (13.01)

    5. WR T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts (14.01)

Bounce-Back Player: RB Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Greg Fiume/Getty Images

    The Cincinnati Bengals may lean on the ground attack as quarterback Joe Burrow finds his rhythm early in the season. 

    Burrow expressed some blunt thoughts about the mental aspect of his recovery from a torn ACL and MCL, per The Athletic's Jay Morrison

    "It's frustrating right now, more so just not feeling like myself," Burrow said. "I know I’ve put the work in to make my knee feel good, make my body ready for the season. It’s just now trusting my abilities, trusting my work, trusting everything." 

    Because of Burrow's candid comments, managers may shy away from him and his wide receiver targets. 

    In a mailbag response, The Athletic's Paul Dehner Jr. wrote about the potential expansion of Joe Mixon's role following the departure of Giovani Bernard in free agency.

    "Assuming health, this will be the largest workload of Joe Mixon's career. Tag an extra 15-20 receptions to his previous totals by virtue of Giovani Bernard being gone. You will see Samaje Perine give him a breather for maybe a series or two a game. I'd expect Chris Evans to earn a portion of the pass-situation plays as the year progresses. But for the most part, this will be all about him." 

    In 2020, Mixon missed 10 games because of foot injuries and finished with 566 yards and four touchdowns from scrimmage. He could bounce back with 1,500-plus yards as the workhorse back in Cincinnati and provide first-round fantasy value.

Sleeper Pick: WR Marquez Callaway, New Orleans Saints

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    Derick Hingle/Associated Press

    For those who have tuned into preseason action, Marquez Callaway isn't a sleeper. He caught five passes for 104 yards and two touchdowns against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Monday's exhibition contest. 

    Nonetheless, a player's preseason production doesn't always translate to the regular season against full starting lineups. Secondly, Callaway's ADP still sits on the back end of the draft, but he's worth a look between the eighth and ninth rounds with New Orleans Saints star wideout Michael Thomas out for an undetermined amount of time following ankle surgery.

    Before his standout performance, Callaway flashed in Week 1 of the preseason against the Baltimore Ravens, hauling in three passes for 61 yards. He's also turned heads at practice. 

    Jeff Duncan of the New Orleans Advocate named Callaway the Saints' "breakout star" at camp. Quarterback Taysom Hill also acknowledged the undrafted second-year wideout's strides this offseason.

    "This was a kid that when you created opportunities for him, he took advantage of (them)," Hill said to reporters. "And now Mike is banged up, and he's had an opportunity to continue to step up and more opportunities presented for himself and he's picking up right where he left off."

    As demonstrated Monday, Callaway has big-play potential, scoring on 43- and 29-yard touchdown passes from quarterback Jameis Winston. Assuming the latter wins the starting job, the Saints may have a solid tandem in the passing game while Thomas recovers from ankle surgery.

Bounce-Back Player: TE George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers

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    Las Vegas Raiders' Darren Waller has moved into the No. 2 spot among tight ends behind Kansas City Chiefs' Travis Kelce in average draft position. He has a late second-round ADP. George Kittle comes in third at 3.05.

    Some managers may have overlooked Kittle after he missed eight games because of knee and foot injuries last season. In 2020, he finished with 48 receptions for 634 yards and two touchdowns.

    Before his injury-riddled 2020 campaign, Kittle had been a top-three tight end in non-PPR and PPR scoring leagues. He has competition for targets this year, as Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk will command a fair number of looks in the passing game.

    Nevertheless, whether Jimmy Garoppolo or Trey Lance starts under center, expect Kittle to play a big role in the aerial attack. Under head coach Kyle Shanahan, he's led the San Francisco 49ers in targets for two of his four seasons. If the All-Pro tight end avoids the injury bug, he'll post big numbers for the 2021 campaign and push for the No. 2 scoring slot at his position.


    Average draft positions (ADP) are current as of Wednesday and courtesy of Fantasy Football Calculator.

    Preseason statistics provided by