The Eagles weren’t exactly lighting things up last year on either side of the ball, so you’ll be excused if you aren’t deep diving into their roster to find sleepers to pad your fantasy team’s roster.
But they retooled a bit on both sides of the ball, and the Birds suddenly have some sneaky deep fantasy options who could wind up giving you an edge under the right conditions.
There’s also a chance that some of these guys blow up in your face, so don’t say I never warned you - but that’s the beautiful two-edged sword of a fantasy sleeper. If you want the big payoff, you’ve got to take the big risk.
Here are five guys/units I like as sleepers this year, including where you should take them so you don’t make a mistake and pick someone way too early just because you like their upside:
WR Jalen Reagor
Take with: Bench WR spot
Let’s start with an admission: Reagor’s rookie year was a big letdown. Like, gigantic. The TCU product finished 90th in standard leagues and 88th in half- and full-PPR among all wideouts, worthy of only a last-ditch bench spot in deep 12-team leagues. Reagor only played in 11 games, which didn’t help, but when he was in the game he only had four games of 6+ targets and scored just one touchdown. Rough.
So why the sleeper upside? Because that’s not how his rookie year was supposed to go. If Reagor can stay healthy all year long - and there’s no indication he won’t - he’ll be lining up across from DeVonta Smith, who should command CB1 attention; he’ll be catching passes from Jalen Hurts, a quarterback who likes to throw the deep ball way more than Carson Wentz; and the Eagles’ offensive line can’t possibly be more injured than it was last year, so the offense as a whole should have more continuity.
I can see Reagor using his burner-style speed and the decreased attention within Nick Sirianni’s offense to put up, say, 50 catches / 700 yards / 5 touchdowns this year, a decided bump up from 2020 and probably worthy of a high bench spot or maybe some flex starts with good matchups.
Take with: Middle starting D/ST spot
Folks, I’m extremely bullish on the 2021 Eagles defense. The team as a whole might not have high expectations for this season, but Howie Roseman really improved the defense around the edges while hiring young defensive mind Jonathan Gannon to run the show. And last year’s Eagles defense already was a Top 15 unit in fantasy, averaging around 6.5 points per game despite nabbing the fourth-fewest interceptions in the league.
How’d they do it? With sacks, where they ranked third, and with six games against a pretty rough division. Now, the Cowboys will be better with Dak Prescott back, and Ryan Fitzpatrick will help Washington, but the Eagles still get to face the Giants twice and division games are nothing if not unpredictable.
With Steven Nelson opposite Darius Slay and Anthony Harris backing up the secondary at safety, I think the interception total jumps considerably this year. I also think the Birds stop giving up huge chunk plays to opposing tight ends with the addition of Eric Wilson. And slapping Ryan Kerrigan onto an already-formidable defensive line, as Josh Sweat emerges and Brandon Graham refuses to age, keeps the Eagles as one of the league’s most legit sack threats.
Give me the Eagles D/ST as a Top 8 starting defense this year.
QB Jalen Hurts
Take with: Late starting QB or early backup QB spot
I hesitated to put Hurts on this list, because I’ve seen a few early fantasy articles putting Hurts in starter-level territory already. But his rookie season had just four games, he’s a largely unknown commodity in a largely unknown offense, and he’s not known as a fantasy monster (yet) - so I think he qualifies as a sleeper.
But he won’t for long. As NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Reuben Frank examined last week, Hurts was on pace for the most combined passing and rushing touchdowns by any Eagle in franchise history in his 2020 starts, and there’s no reason to think he won’t be an improved player after an entire offseason program geared towards him being the starter, and entering an offense that will ideally be designed around maximizing Hurts’ dual-threat abilities as both a passer and a runner.
Hurts had just 14.5 quarters as QB1 last season, but in that time he put up 1,028 passing yards, 301 rushing yards, and nine combined touchdowns. Over a full 17-game season that equates to 4,820 passing yards, 1,411 rushing yards, and 42.2 combined touchdowns. Is that what Hurts’ 2021 season will look like? Probably not. Those are wild numbers, even with a 17th game tacked on this season. But if he puts up 80% of that line, he’s clearly worth a starting QB spot after the first handful of obvious names are off the board. And who knows - maybe Hurts becomes the next fantasy hero this year, and you were bold enough to make the pick.
RB Kenneth Gainwell
Take with: Last pick or undrafted free agent
We’ve reached the true “sleeper” part of this sleeper exploration, but I really love the idea of Kenny Gainwell as a fantasy option this year. He’s not going to be some Clyde Edwards-Helaire type who bursts onto the scene and is immediately a fantasy machine, because Gainwell is decidedly a backup and we’re not even sure how much playing time he’ll receive in his rookie season.
But Gainwell is built almost perfectly for Nick Sirianni’s offense, which thrived in Indianapolis when it incorporated running back Nyheim Hines into the passing game. In his only full season as a starter at Memphis, Gainwell ran 231 times for 1,459 yards and 13 touchdowns while also catching 51 passes for 610 yards and three touchdowns. A back who can average 10 yards per catch through the air on volume, and pile up more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage in 14 games? I’m all in on the potential here.
The dual-threat running back always has a place on my bench, just in case I’m in a pinch due to injuries or bye games and I need to pop in a spot start and just cross my fingers. Gainwell feels like the kind of guy who could be good for two or three pop-off games across a 17-game season because of his versatility and his long-term upside as a weapon in the NFL.
If you’re in a dynasty league and you don’t have any surefire hold-overs for next year, a strong rookie year from Gainwell might have you thinking about the future - especially if Miles Sanders’ third year with the Birds isn’t a smashing success. Running back is a fickle position.
WR Travis Fulgham
Take with: Last pick or undrafted free agent
Fulgham appeared out of nowhere last year for the Eagles and became an overnight must-start for fantasy owners prudent enough to monitor some random wideout on an otherwise struggling offense. The second-year player went on an absolute tear for five games, racking up 29 catches on 44 targets for 435 yards and four touchdowns. It was insane!
And then, like the rest of the Eagles’ offense, he disappeared somewhat inexplicably and it was like that stretch never happened. Was it falling out of favor with the coaches? Was it a bad connection with bad quarterback Carson Wentz? Was Fulgham doing things wrong behind the scenes?
We never got a fully satisfactory answer on why Fulgham suddenly became a black sheep after posting such glorious numbers for five games, but if wide receiver whisperer Nick Sirianni gets his hands on Fulgham’s game and shapes the guy into something resembling a consistent WR3 option for the Eagles? He could be a guy you wind up liking more than expected in an offense that figures to have plenty of aggression through the air. And if Jalen Reagor continues to underwhelm, perhaps Fulgham excels and gets bumped up to WR2 status. He’s at least worth a bottom-of-bench slot at some point this year, because of what he showed in those five games and because of what might be yet to come
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