The two biggest keys to turning your fantasy football draft into a winning season are taking surefire studs in the early rounds and surrounding them with high-upside players later on. If your instincts are correct, those sleeper picks from the last few rounds could transform your squad from playoff contender to championship favorite.
However, fear not if your fantasy instincts aren’t in tune. Below are 10 sleeper candidates that enter the preseason facing strong odds to outperform their projected draft positions. With these under-the-radar players in tow, that fantasy glory will be well within reach.
2021 FANTASY FOOTBALL SLEEPERS (STANDARD SCORING)
Joe Burrow – QB, Cincinnati Bengals (ADP: 81, QB11)
- 2020 passing stats: 264 completions, 2,688 yards, 13 TDs, 5 INTs
- 2020 rushing stats: 37 attempts, 142 yards, 3 TDs, 9 fumbles
Through the first 10 weeks of the 2020 season, only Tom Brady attempted more passes at the quarterback position than Joe Burrow. The Bengals’ young signal caller then had his season cut short by a torn ACL, but Cincinnati’s offense should once again run through the right arm of the former Heisman winner — especially with favorite LSU target Ja’Marr Chase now in town.
Ryan Fitzpatrick – QB, Washington Football Team (ADP: 158, QB25)
- 2020 passing stats: 183 completions, 2,091 yards, 13 TDs, 8 INTs
- 2020 rushing stats: 30 attempts, 151 yards, 2 TDs, 2 fumbles
Ranked so low that he can easily be the second quarterback on your roster, Ryan Fitzpatrick has something in Washington this year that’s he had only a few times in his career: job security. With all due respect to Taylor Heinicke, Fitzpatrick is going to get every opportunity to hold onto the starting QB job in the nation’s capital. His ability to air it out coupled with the speedy pass catchers he’ll have at his disposal make Fitzpatrick a lottery ticket worth buying.
Myles Gaskin – RB, Miami Dolphins (ADP: 53, RB22)
- 2020 rushing stats: 142 carries, 584 yards, 3 touchdowns
- 2020 receiving stats: 41 catches, 388 yards, 2 touchdowns
There’s nobody other than Malcolm Brown standing in the way of Myles Gaskin being an every-down back this season in Miami. That’s value you just can’t get at his ADP, making him a player you could even consider reaching for in the fourth round if you’re thin on RBs. Gaskin has had some injury issues in the past, but the Dolphins’ offensive line has a new look this year that bodes well for keeping the third-year RB healthy.
Melvin Gordon III – RB, Denver Broncos (ADP: 67, RB27)
- 2020 rushing stats: 215 carries, 986 yards, 9 touchdowns
- 2020 receiving stats: 32 catches, 158 yards, 1 touchdown
When the Broncos drafted Javonte Williams in the second round, it was understandable to lose confidence in Melvin Gordon’s fantasy outlook for this season. But Gordon is coming off one of the best seasons of his NFL career and should still be the primary ball carrier in Denver for at least 2021 considering the Broncos are paying him almost $9 million. With Teddy Bridgewater now expected to start over Drew Lock, Gordon may be poised for another career year.
Michael Carter – RB, New York Jets (ADP: 84, RB32)
- 2020 rushing stats: N/A (rookie)
- 2020 receiving stats: N/A (rookie)
As a senior at UNC last season, Michael Carter rushed for 1,245 yards on 156 attempts. That’s an average of eight yards per carry, a gaudy number that’s practically unfathomable at any level of respectable football. While he certainly won’t be doing that for the Jets this season, Carter only has to fend off Tevin Coleman for carries. The 2021 fourth-round pick is a much better fit for New York’s new-look offense and should get plenty of opportunities to shine.
Marvin Jones, Jr. – WR, Jacksonville Jaguars (ADP: 130, WR52)
- 2020 receiving stats: 58 catches, 600 yards, 5 touchdowns
Somebody is going to have to emerge as the top pass-catching option in Jacksonville, right? Marvin Jones, Jr. has a lower ADP than Travis Etienne, James Robinson, Laviska Shenault, Jr. and D.J. Chark, which makes him a much more worth the gamble than any of the other four. With rookie Trevor Lawrence expected to expand the Jaguars’ offense, Jones’s veteran presence and history of steady production should make him a reliable option for the No. 1 pick.
Darnell Mooney – WR, Chicago Bears (ADP: 142, WR57)
- 2020 receiving stats: 61 catches, 631 yards, 4 touchdowns
The Bears’ trade of Anthony Miller to Houston puts the 76 targets he garnered last season up for grabs and no one is in a better position to take advantage than Darnell Mooney. The second-year Tulane product actually outperformed Miller last season and proved to be an effective deep threat for a team that didn’t air it out too often. Stash Mooney on your bench and wait for Justin Fields to take over at QB. Once he does, Mooney will be a player to watch.
Gabriel Davis – WR, Buffalo Bills (ADP: 166, WR59)
- 2020 receiving stats: 35 catches, 599 yards, 7 touchdowns
Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs weren’t the only players on the Bills’ offense who broke out last season. Gabriel Davis emerged as a playmaker capable of getting over the top of opposing defenses. He would be ranked a lot higher this year if not for Buffalo’s addition of Emmanuel Sanders over the offseason. But the Bills run four-receiver sets as often as anyone and Davis’ game-changing speed should keep him plenty involved in Buffalo’s high-octane offense.
Tyler Higbee – TE, Los Angeles Rams (ADP: 133, TE15)
- 2020 receiving stats: 44 catches, 521 yards, 5 touchdowns
Not only does Tyler Higbee have Matt Stafford throwing him passes this season instead of Jared Goff, he also no longer has to compete with Gerald Everett for targets at the tight end position. Stafford targeted tight ends 128 times last season in Detroit, which bodes well for Higbee garnering a decent share of passes in an offense that also has Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp.
Adam Trautman – TE, New Orleans Saints (ADP: 175, TE20)
- 2020 receiving stats: 15 catches, 171 yards, 1 touchdown
One of the most popular sleeper picks around right now, Adam Trautman is in for a big opportunity in the Saints’ offense this season. With Michael Thomas expected to miss at least the first month of the season and 2020 key contributors Jared Cook and Emmanuel Sanders now playing elsewhere, Trautman will have little-to-no competition for targets — particularly at the tight end position where only blocking specialist Nick Vannett stands in his way.