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August 13, 2021

How to find sleepers in your 2021 fantasy football draft

No one really thinks about luck at this time of year.

With fantasy football drafts starting over the next few weeks, and the NFL season kicking off in less than a month, no one is thinking about the possibility of their first round pick getting hurt, or of a waiver wire pick up taking the league by storm.

No, right now it's all about the draft — picking the right combination of players, in the right spots, to create a team on paper that you feel can win your league.

There are a lot of decisions that fall into the "no-brainer" category of things, like taking Dalvin Cook or Christian McCaffrey in the first round. But after your first two or three picks, it becomes a lot more difficult to pull the trigger on the right players. Having a personal inventory of sleeper picks — guys you think are undervalued by the rest of your league — is a key way to build a better team.

QB | RB | WR | TE | D/ST K 

All it takes is research.

So how do you find your own sleepers? Here are a few different ways to look at it, and different kinds of sleeper picks to be hunting for as you prep for draft day:

The new QB skill players

Such as: Tyler Higbee, TE, Rams; DJ Chark, WR, Jaguars; Brandon Aiyuk, WR, 49ers

Every offseason there is some kind of QB shake up. The most-noteworthy one this year was Matthew Stafford and Jared Goff switching offenses. The Jaguars will have the first overall pick under center, while the Niners should have better quarterback play in 2021. These and other developments will alter the fantasy value of the skill players these QBs will be throwing the ball to on offense.

It's very possible that ESPN or Yahoo have not caught up fantasy-rating wise with some of these guys, and perhaps it's worth going out of your way to have some piece of what will no doubt be a very high-powered Rams offense, or an improved Jacksonville passing attack. Pinpoint a new quarterback you have confidence in, and try and grab an undervalued member of that player's offense.

Second year leap

Such as: Antonio Gibson, RB, Was Team; JK Dobbins, RB, Ravens; Jerry Jeudy, WR, Broncos

This happens year after year. Christian McCaffrey nearly doubled his scrimmage yards and touchdown totals in Year 2. So did Derrick Henry. Identifying second-year players who have found solid footing in the NFL and who may be breakthrough candidates is a surefire way to get value in players who haven't made the leap yet, but will.

Take a swing on someone from the 2020 draft like Washington's Gibson or even Joe Burrow or Tee Higgins on the Bengals. Knowing when to take risks and minimizing bust picks is how to win your draft, and you'll be kicking yourself if a second year guy becomes an MVP candidate who you passed over.

If they stay healthy...

Such as: Mike Williams, WR, Chargers; Mecole Hardman, WR, Chiefs; Evan Engram, TE, Giants

These are the players who are undervalued because of injuries last season. And if they stay healthy, your fellow fantasy team owners will be wondering why they didn't see what you saw. Guys in this category include former superstars, like the Browns' Odell Beckham Jr. — who is ranked 32nd via ESPN. Julio Jones also missed time due to an injury last season, as did Joe Mixon and quarterbacks Dak Prescott and Jimmy Garoppolo. 

Just because your fantasy draft host site ranks a certain player in a certain slot doesn't mean that's how they'll perform in 2021.

Blocked off rookies

Such as: Mac Jones, QB, Patriots; Justin Field, QB, Bears; Trey Lance, QB, 49ers 

Every year, there is a huge impact in the skill position area from rookies. And quite often, they're players who were not on the fantasy radar at all, like Alvin Kamara was a few years ago, or like Justin Herbert was in 2020. The hindsight game says, 'We should have known, but really, it's a crapshoot.'

That being said, there's no reason not to fill out your roster with a few of these kinds of players, who if injuries and fortune provide them with a chance, they could break through as stars. The trio of rookie QBs above are all, right now, slated as backups. But drafting one late and holding on to him as long as you can might avail you of a starting caliber player who you don't have to empty your FAAB budget to acquire. The same goes for rookies buried behind veterans like Carolina's Chuba Hubbard or Arizona's Rondale Moore.

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