Just as the term “sleeper” has changed meanings over the years, so has the related term “deep sleeper.” To many, the latter now means what the former once did: an off-the-radar player with the potential to become relevant in fantasy.
At the quarterback position, finding a useful deep sleeper requires more than one approach. In some cases, a signal-caller dismissed due to age and/or performance could return to relevance in a new team or offense. In other instances, a rookie not expected to see much action could take the field earlier than most anticipate.
Carson Wentz, Indianapolis Colts
UPDATE: Wentz’s status for Week 1 is uncertain due to a foot injury. He was expected to miss the opener, but now might be available.
Three seasons have passed since the Philadelphia Eagles made their Super Bowl run largely on the back of Carson Wentz. While Wentz didn’t finish the ride due to an ACL tear, he performed at an MVP level, setting up expectations for a decade-plus of high-level play for the former No. 2 overall pick. Instead, Wentz gradually declined into one of the league’s least effective passers, hitting his nadir in 2020 during the final season of Doug Pederson’s reign as head coach.
After extracting himself from Philly via trade, Wentz now reunites with the offensive coordinator from his best season as a professional and a high-quality offensive supporting cast. While the floor remains low given Wentz’s struggles, the possibility of a return to something grander remains on the table. Given Wentz’s current ADP (19th among quarterbacks) he merits some discussion in deeper leagues.
Justin Fields, Chicago Bears
When asked about the Chicago Bears’ quarterback dilemma, head coach Matt Nagy insists that Andy Dalton will serve as the starter rather than No. 11 overall pick Justin Fields. However, when asked about the rookie’s performance during OTAs and minicamp, Nagy painted a far different picture, describing a player already taking command of the offense and showing off his talents in practice.
Even if Dalton opens the season as the starter, Fields should take the reins soon thereafter. Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace have little time left to show proof of concept, and Fields should give the Bears their best chance to win before the end of the year. With an ADP of 27 among QBs, the roster spot represents the biggest investment in Fields fantasy managers need to make.
Cam Newton, New England Patriots
Prior to his post-COVID statistical collapse, Cam Newton had set a pace to break the NFL’s single-season record for touchdown runs by a quarterback. Perhaps that decline would have occurred regardless of the context given Newton’s age and wear, but the former MVP still can produce from a fantasy perspective in the right situation.
Healthy again and playing with a superior supporting cast, Newton has the inside track for the New England Patriots’ starting job. While Mac Jones could replace him during the season, Newton can provide a high ceiling as long as he holds onto the job.
Sam Darnold, Carolina Panthers
It remains entirely unclear how much of the blame Sam Darnold should shoulder for his shortcomings with the New York Jets. Adam Gase’s putrid offensive, along with the Jets’ undermanned offensive roster, left Darnold basically unable to show what he can do against NFL defenses.
That ambiguity has limited Darnold’s fantasy hype (currently 30th among QBs by ADP) but has also given some reason for optimism with the Carolina Panthers. The roster features multiple big-play weapons (Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore, and Robby Anderson), a superior offensive line, and a system directed by offensive coordinator Joe Brady that should make life much easier for Darnold than in the past.
Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins gave their strongest vote of confidence in second-year signal-caller Tua Tagovailoa when they traded away the No. 3 overall pick in a QB-laden draft. Of course, that doesn’t mean Tagovailoa will ultimately establish himself as a franchise quarterback, but the team appears committed to giving him every chance in 2021.
Combined with the Dolphins’ improved supporting cast — the offense added wideouts Will Fuller and Jaylen Waddle and added meaningful competition along the offensive line — Tagovailoa has enough around him to deliver better numbers. The changes at offensive coordinator probably won’t hurt his play either. He still looks like a longshot to become an every-week fantasy starter, but the path is there.