Wide receiver has rarely looked deeper than it does entering the 2021 season. Still, players at the position see production spikes every year, and identifying those players before your fantasy competitors can make or break your team’s chances.
Looking for sleepers for fantasy football doesn’t mean uncovering players no one knows — that doesn’t happen anymore. Rather, finding sleepers in the modern sense involves highlighting players that should outplay their average draft position (ADP). Accordingly, instead of using the term “sleeper,” we instead use “value” to underscore the point.
Tee Higgins, Cincinnati Bengals
Despite playing nearly 40% of last season without Joe Burrow under center, wideout Tee Higgins delivered an impressive rookie campaign, catching 67 passes for 908 yards and six touchdowns. In most cases, such a season would lead to massive hype heading into the following year, but the Cincinnati Bengals have largely become an afterthought due to Burrow’s injury.
But just as Burrow seems well positioned for a big 2021, Higgins should also produce well in his second NFL season. The arrival of rookie Ja’marr Chase should help Higgins more than late-career A.J. Green did in 2020, and Higgins has already earned Burrow’s trust as a pass catcher. Those factors should combine to help Higgins finish as a solid WR2, above what his current ADP suggests.
Gabriel Davis, Buffalo Bills
Gabriel Davis didn’t see a ton of targets as a rookie, but he did a lot with the ones he received. The former UCF standout turned his 62 targets into 35 catches for 599 yards and seven touchdowns, suggesting a promising future as a vertical threat. After the Buffalo Bills parted ways with veteran speedster John Brown this offseason, Davis steps into a de facto starting role and should see his workload rise accordingly.
Strangely, that role improvement hasn’t factored greatly in Davis’ ADP (currently 58th at the position). If he stays healthy, Davis should easily provide production commensurate with a receiver selected much earlier.
Will Fuller, Miami Dolphins
Will Fuller has a few marks against him entering the 2021 season. The wideout will miss the first week of the season due to a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs. He also joins a new team with an unproven second-year quarterback.
However, Fuller enters the season healthy and will step into a bona fide No. 1 role, something in which he thrived last year with the Houston Texans. Moreover, the Miami Dolphins have more weapons on offense to draw attention away from Fuller which should help his cause. Given Fuller finished in the top 10 at his position in average points, he stands a good chance of doing better than his current ADP (31st).
Deebo Samuel, San Francisco 49ers
After a lost 2020 season, Deebo Samuel returns as one of the key weapons on the San Francisco 49ers offense. Despite apparent interest in acquiring Julio Jones, the 49ers largely return the same group from last year, a decision that benefits Samuel’s fantasy outlook. The wideout can serve in a number of roles within head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense and, health permitting, might nearly double his career total for touches this season.
Despite this, Samuel’s ADP sits outside the WR2 range. Certainly, his injury history weighs against him, but he appears primed for a breakout campaign regardless of which quarterback the 49ers place under center.
Darnell Mooney, Chicago Bears
The Chicago Bears’ passing game looked like a mess for much of the past two seasons thanks in large part to the inconsistent play under center. However, 2020 rookie Darnell Mooney managed to carve out a nice role for himself around the midway point of last season and, impressively, became the team’s most reliable pass catcher after Allen Robinson from that point forward.
The Bears offense probably will not take off with Andy Dalton starting at quarterback, but it has the potential for more explosive players whenever No. 11 overall pick Justin Fields replaces him. Mooney looks well-positioned to cash in as a vertical threat for Fields and build on last year’s admirable debut.