2021 Fantasy Football Draft Kit

Fantasy Football Sleeper: How to Spot One

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You’ve all heard the story. With the 199th pick of the 2000 NFL Draft, the New England Patriots drafted an unimpressive quarterback from Michigan – Tom Brady. General managers and coaches would consider themselves lucky to find a role player at that pick, much less a franchise cornerstone. Since then, all Brady has done is re-write the record books and make his stamp in history as one of the greatest players in NFL history. Not bad for a guy with man boobs.

This is all to say the Patriots (and now the Buccaneers) have benefited immensely from absolutely nailing a low draft pick and any fantasy owner should be looking to replicate that. Unearthing a fantasy football sleeper in the later rounds of the draft is a surefire way to gain an advantage over your opponents.

Sleepers become defined by their relative namelessness before the season and their unexpected production during it. It’s impossible to consistently find these performers, but most fantasy football sleepers are a product of a perfect symphony of talent and opportunity. By looking at a few different factors, we can give ourselves a better chance of identifying these sleepers.

How to Spot a Fantasy Football Sleeper

Free five-minute mock drafts against industry experts and custom analysis for your team with the FantasyPros Draft Wizard.

Opportunity

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No matter the talent a player has, they still must have the opportunity to succeed. You can’t score touchdowns while sitting on the bench.

The best thing a player can have going for him is opportunity. It’s easy to predict who will get opportunities for quarterbacks. It’s a bit harder for running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends. For these positions, a sure-fire way to measure potential opportunities is touches or targets vacated.

If a team has a player leave in free agency, trade, or retirement, it’s obvious they will need their workload replaced. For example, Leonard Fournette (341 touches in 2019) was cut by the Jaguars just before the 2020 season started. That left an obvious hole for somebody to step into and that somebody was undrafted rookie James Robinson who finished as RB7.

Next Man Up

While it’s impossible to predict who suffers injury during the course of a season, knowing who MIGHT is important. It’s necessary to consider a player’s injury history when assessing their value. Availability is the best ability. If a player misses six games, they are inherently less valuable than a similar player who plays all 17 games.

It’s also important to think about which players might miss games because their backups automatically have more valuable. For example, Odell Beckham Jr has played in just 39/64 games over the past four seasons and Joe Mixon missed 10 games in 2020 and is constantly banged up.

That lets me know I may want to bump Cleveland pass-catchers and Bengals‘ backup running backs up my draft list in the case that either of those stars misses time once again.

Unconvincing Starters

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Teams usually go into the season with their depth chart set, but situations change. If a player doesn’t perform for two or three games, coaches can’t take their time making a change. If you believe a starter won’t be productive, you might be able to get his backup at a lower draft cost.

Take advantage of Twitter to follow each teams’ beat writers. They tweet opinions gathered from watching the team up close and speaking to coaches that they won’t put in articles.

It’s the fastest and most direct way of gaining information on a fourth-string running back or a late-pick wide receiver that you might not have ever heard about.

A Good Environment

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One of the best things an offensive player can have going for him is a stable offense. More specifically, we would like for them to have an elite quarterback. A bad quarterback can make even the best players look pedestrian — compare Robby Anderson‘s production with Teddy Bridgewater to his numbers in New York with Sam Darnold.

Meanwhile, an explosive offense can put a marginal player in a better situation to put up huge and consistent numbers. Better offenses mean more opportunities for yards, catches, and touchdowns on a week-to-week basis. Robert Tonyan was a third-year undrafted free agent who wasn’t on anybody’s radar, but he exploded for 11 touchdowns and a TE3 finish with the help of Aaron Rodgers.

For running backs, the presence of a good offensive line is arguably just as important. The talent of any given high-end running back may be quite evident on paper, but if defenses can disrupt his blockers, they can limit that running back’s production. Look no further than Josh Jacobs, who as a rookie in 2019 averaged 4.8 yards per carry behind a stellar line. That dipped to just 3.9 yards per carry as the team’s offensive line underwent massive changes.

Rookies

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Another place you can find good value is with rookies. While there are bound to be highly drafted rookies that receive a ton of hype and go high in drafts, there are equally many who go under the radar and slip in drafts.

Get to know which rookies fit offensive schemes well and have a legitimate chance of contributing. You might end up with a fantasy football sleeper like Chase Claypool or Antonio Gibson late in your draft.



Don’t shy away from a rookie just because he was a late-round pick. These days, teams are adept at finding players that fit their schemes and will be ready to produce right away. Patience is sometimes key. If you are able to maintain your bench to hold a potential rookie without discarding him on waiver day with the other deadwood for as long as feasible, you should attempt to do so.


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About Kevin Huo

Kevin is a fantasy football writer for Fantasy Six Pack. He considers every angle - whether statistical or theoretical - when weighing his options and isn't afraid to be a contrarian. You can follow him on Twitter: @KevinMHuo

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