BATSBY Sports identifies 10 ideal sleeper candidates for the 2021 fantasy season (PPR scoring), with each player likely lasting until the beginning of Round 8 (or pick 85 in 12-team leagues).
For the sake of uniformity, we’ll work exclusively off Fantasy Football Calculator’s Average Draft Position chart with PPR leagues.
It’s also worth noting: This column will solely be devoted to veteran assets; and if you’re looking for a rookie player to covet in the mid-to-late rounds … the line starts with Eagles wideout (and reigning Heisman Trophy winner) Devonta Smith, who should be a top-25 draftee this time next year (among receivers).
Oh, and in case you’re wondering … Bills QB Josh Allen and Steelers wideout Diontae Johnson headlined last year’s eminently draftable deep sleepers.
WR JUJU SMITH-SCHUSTER, STEELERS
FANTASY FOOTBALL CALCULATOR ADP: 89th overall (Round 8)
BATSBY SPORTS RANKING: No. 17 wide receiver
2020 STATS: 97 catches, 128 targets, 832 yards, 9 TDs
REASONS TO SNAG SMITH-SCHUSTER IN THE MIDDLE ROUNDS
a) Last season, Smith-Schuster was one of 20 wideouts to collect a minimum of eight games with eight-plus targets.
b) Digging deeper, Smith-Schuster was one of only five NFL receivers to cross the PPR-elite threshold of seven catches, 95 yards and/or one touchdown at least 12 times last year. The others: Stefon Diggs (14 games), Davante Adams, Tyreek Hill and Calvin Ridley (12).
c) When logging at least 14 outings (2017-18, 2020), Smith-Schuster boasts robust seasonal averages of 89 catches, 124 targets, 1,058 yards and eight TDs.
d) At best, Smith-Schuster is a top-15 fantasy wideout. At worst, when healthy, JuJu’s the highest-ranking third wideout on a prolific passing team.
Either way, fantasy owners should run — not walk — to possess the Steelers star in Round 8 or 9.
WR BRANDIN COOKS, TEXANS
FANTASY FOOTBALL CALCULATOR ADP: 108th overall (Round 10)
BATSBY SPORTS RANKING: No. 33 wideout
2020 STATS: 81 catches, 119 targets, 1,150 yards, 6 TDs
REASONS TO GRAB COOKS IN THE MIDDLE ROUNDS
a) Cooks needed only 15 games last season to post career highs in targets (119).
b) The Oregon State product owns healthy averages of 72 catches, 111 targets, 1,055 yards and 6.2 touchdowns over the last six years; and that includes a lackluster 2019 of 583 receiving yards and two TDs.
c) Cooks redoubtably stands as the Texans’ best receiving option, now that Will Fuller (five-game suspension to start the season) has taken his talents to South Beach (Dolphins).
d) If the embattled Deshaun Watson sticks with Houston this season (presumably as the QB1), Cooks could be a surreptitious bet for 75-plus catches, 110-plus targets, 1,000 yards receiving and 5-6 touchdowns. A potential heist in Round 10 or 11.
DRAFT PREP MATERIALS
TOP 60 PPR TAILBACKS
TOP 75 PPR WIDE RECEIVERS
TOP 35 PPR TIGHT ENDS
TOP 125 PPR PLAYMAKERS
THE ANNUAL PPR SPECTACULAR: How to dominate your August draft
SLEEPER CELLS: 10 preferred PPR gems to target for Round 8 or higher
FREE MONEY ALERT: BATSBY’s initial picks for ‘NFL Survivor Pools’
HURRY UP AND PICK! The results of three simultaneous mock drafts (No. 9 slot)
MOCK DRAFT SIMULATION: #4 SLOT
MOCK DRAFT SIMULATION: #11 SLOT
RB JAMAAL WILLIAMS, LIONS
FANTASY FOOTBALL CALCULATOR ADP: 113th overall (Round 10)
BATSBY SPORTS RANKING: No. 31 tailback
2020 STATS: 741 total yards, 3 TDs (with Packers)
REASONS TO DRAFT WILLIAMS IN THE LATTER ROUNDS
a) We might be extremely bullish on D’Andre Swift in Year 2 (top-20 overall PPR ranking), but there’s no guarantee he’ll collect the, uh, lion’s share of touches, compared to Williams.
b) The 2021 Lions could have a bottom-5 receiving corps, but also a top-5 offensive line. What does that mean? Even if Swift assumes the Alpha Back role, Williams might be a good bet to equal or surpass his recent three-year average of 116 carries per year.
c) For what it’s worth, Williams has developed a cool pattern of notching six touchdowns during odd-numbered seasons.
Well, it’s 2021 now.
RB TEVIN COLEMAN, JETS
FANTASY FOOTBALL CALCULATOR ADP: 122nd overall (Round 12)
BATSBY SPORTS RANKING: No. 38 tailback
2020 STATS: 87 total yards, zero TDs
REASONS TO TAKE COLEMAN IN THE LATTER ROUNDS
Coleman deserves his current standing as a deep sleeper, thanks to last year’s porous numbers. That said, we’re not prepared to throw the baby out with the bathwater just yet, citing two reasons:
**With the Niners and Falcons, Coleman averaged 917 total yards and 8.8 touchdowns from 2016-19 … while never accumulating 200 touches in a given season.
**New Jets head coach Robert Saleh used to be the defensive coordinator in San Francisco, meaning he had a front-row seat at observing Coleman’s running talents, daily practice habits and overall work ethic over the last two seasons.
Best guess: There’s a built-in trust factor, at least in the early stages of the season.
WR MARQUISE BROWN, RAVENS
FANTASY FOOTBALL CALCULATOR ADP: 138th overall (Round 12)
BATSBY SPORTS RANKING: No. 31 wide receiver
2020 STATS: 58 catches, 99 targets, 769 yards, 8 TDs
REASONS TO SNAG BROWN IN THE LATTER ROUNDS
a) Brown has stealthily earned eight red-zone touchdowns over the last two seasons — matching the output of Saints star Michael Thomas … and trailing Tyreek Hill (No. 2 wideout in fantasy) and DK Metcalf (No. 8 receiver) by just one red-zone score during the same span.
b) In 2020, his second year in the league, Brown incurred sizable bumps in catches (58), targets (100) and receiving yards (769).
c) Brown has already notched 15 career touchdowns (all receiving).
d) With Sammy Watkins and rookie Rashod Bateman (currently battling a leg injury) now in the Ravens’ receiving mix, it’ll be more difficult for opposing defenses to double-team the lightning-fast Brown in obvious downfield situations.
WR MARVIN JONES JR., JAGUARS
FANTASY FOOTBALL CALCULATOR ADP: 156th overall (Round 13)
BATSBY SPORTS RANKING: No. 30 wideout
2020 STATS: 76 catches, 115 targets, 978 yards, 9 TDs
REASONS TO STEAL JONES IN THE LATTER ROUNDS
a) Thanks to the annual ‘PPR Spectacular’ (click here), we already know Jones has been an under-the-radar stud in multiple categories. For instance …
**Covering the last two seasons, Jones ranks fifth among wideouts in red-zone touchdowns (12) and 11th in inside-the-20 targets (28).
b) Jones has amassed nine receiving touchdowns in three of the last four years (with Detroit).
c) Fellow Jaguars wideouts DJ Chark and Laviska Shenault might have more ‘upside’ in fantasyland, but Jones could easily be Trevor Lawrence’s go-to option this season. After all, since 2015, Jones has collected 90-plus targets five times.
d) Put it all together, and it’s absolutely laughable that Jones will likely be availble at Round 13.
TE MIKE GESICKI, DOLPHINS
FANTASY FOOTBALL CALCULATOR ADP: 157th overall (Round 13)
BATSBY SPORTS RANKING: No. 12 tight end
2020 STATS: 53 catches, 85 targets, 703 yards, 6 TDs
REASONS TO SNAG GESICKI IN THE LATTER ROUNDS
a) Charting four (admittedly hand-picked) outings last year, against the Bills, Niners, Bengals and Chiefs, Gesicki enjoyed all-world averages of seven catches, 8.5 targets, 96 yards and one touchdown.
If the 25-year-old can bring a similar A-game to the field 7-8 times in 2021, he’ll more than justify a Round 13 selection.
b) Covering the last two seasons, Gesicki owns super-tight averages of 52 catches, 87 targets and 5.5 TDs.
QB KIRK COUSINS, VIKINGS
FANTASY FOOTBALL CALCULATOR ADP: 167th overall (Round 13)
BATSBY SPORTS RANKING: No. 12 quarterback
2020 STATS: 4,265 yards passing, 36 total TDs
REASONS TO COLLECT COUSINS IN THE LATTER ROUNDS
a) It’s crazy, huh? Waiting until Round 13 for a quarterback who’s a healthy lock for 4,000 yards passing, 30-plus touchdowns … and has two top-15 fantasy wideouts at his disposal (Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen).
b) Cousins caught fire in the final 11 games of last season, posting superb averages 285 yards passing and 2.6 touchdowns; and that includes a clunker of 160 yards passing/1 TD against the Packers.
c) The Vikings QB significantly boosted fantasy teams (in head-to-head leagues) for half the season last year, accounting for 300 yards passing and/or three touchdowns eight times.
TE JARED COOK, CHARGERS
FANTASY FOOTBALL CALCULATOR ADP: 170th overall (Round 14)
BATSBY SPORTS RANKING: No. 13 tight end
2020 STATS: 37 catches, 60 targets, 504 yards, 7 TDs
REASONS TO ADD COOK IN THE LATTER ROUNDS
a) Cook racked up 16 touchdowns with the Saints over the previous two seasons (2019-20).
b) Citing the last three years (Raiders, Saints), Cook boasts a robust catch-to-target rate of 65.4 percent.
c) Last season, Cook tallied touchdowns in back-to-back weeks on two different occasions.
d) Cook seamlessly goes from the retired Drew Brees in New Orleans … to dark-horse MVP candidate Justin Herbert in Los Angeles. For his rookie campaign, Herbert amassed 4,336 yards passing and 36 total touchdowns.
QB DEREK CARR, RAIDERS
FANTASY FOOTBALL CALCULATOR ADP: 202nd overall (Round 16)
BATSBY SPORTS RANKING: No. 19 quarterback
2020 STATS: 4,103 yards passing, 30 total TDs
REASONS TO CORRAL CARR IN THE LATTER ROUNDS
a) Counting active players only, Carr is just one five NFL quarterbacks to eclipse 4,000 yards passing for each of the last three seasons (2018-20), along with Patrick Mahomes, Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady.
b) In his age-29 season, Carr posted a career-best three rushing touchdowns.
c) Last year, Carr registered 300 yards passing and/or multiple TDs 11 times.
d) Against the Chiefs last season, Carr enjoyed supreme averages of 307 yards passing and three scores.
e) For Patrick Mahomes owners looking for a backup QB, the Chiefs’ bye comes at Week 12 … the same weekend in which Carr encounters the Cowboys — the NFL’s fifth-worst scoring defense last season.