Now that we’ve finished our 2021 Player Profiles, it’s time to take a look at the top sleepers at each position. Today, we cover sleeper wide receivers. This is my favorite series to do every year, since hope springs eternal. In order to stave off people who say “hey that’s not a sleeper!” I have set criteria: the players have to go as “backend backups.” To determine this, I multiplied the number of players taken in a standard 1QB/2RB/3WR/1TE draft, and multiplied that number by 1.5. This means this series will cover players I believe have a chance to finish as weekly starters for you, who are currently ranked outside the top-18 at quarterback, top-36 at running back, top-54 at wide receiver, and top-12 at tight end. This way I am only looking at players going as backups. To find these numbers, I used FantasyPros.com’s half-PPR Expert Consensus Ranking (ECR).
Today, we continue with the 2021 sleeper wide receivers. Again, these are wide receivers ranked outside the top-54 who I believe will return weekly fantasy football value.
Sleeper Wide Receiver #1: Darnell Mooney, Chicago Bears
(ECR WR55, Pick 136)
The Chicago Bears will have their best quarterback under center since Jay Cutler this year, whether it’s Andy Dalton or Justin Fields chucking the football. Darnell Mooney is a hot sleeper candidate because the offense running exactly like it did last year with just a competent quarterback means beaucoup fantasy football points for Darnell Mooney. The Bears ranked top-ten in pass plays per game, and Mooney benefitted from this, notching nearly 100 targets last season.
Unfortunately, the Bears’ QBs and Mooney could not end up on the same page. That’s why he ranked top ten in unrealized air yards, as well. That puts him on the shortlist for 2021 breakout candidates alone. But, add the increased level of QB play this season for the Bears, as well as a focusing of the passing game into Allen Robinson and Mooney, and you have someone with 120 target, 80 catch, 1,000-yard potential going around kickers and defenses.
Sleeper Wide Receiver #2: Gabriel Davis, Buffalo Bills
(ECR WR60, Pick 157)
If you can’t get Darnell Mooney, can I interest you in his little brother, Buffalo Bills’ wide receiver Gabriel Davis? I like Davis as a player for a lot of the same reasons as Darnell Mooney. Except, Davis plays in a passing offense that we already know is good. If Cole Beasley continues his assault against science, then it’s entirely possible that Gabriel Davis is the #2 target for Josh Allen this season.
The Buffalo Bills let John Brown walk and replaced him with Emmanuel Sanders. Sanders has an average depth of target under ten in three of his last four destinations over the last three seasons, which means I don’t fear him taking away from Gabriel Davis. Instead, I expect more from Davis’ top-ten average depth of target (15.4 yards downfield), which should help with his paltry 37.4 yards per game last year. Gabriel Davis was a chunk play, and a touchdown, waiting to happen. He finished with 2.2 fantasy points per target last year, which sat just outside of the top-ten at the position.
Sleeper Wide Receiver #3: Rashod Bateman, Baltimore Ravens
(ECR WR61, Pick 160)
Rashod Bateman is an interesting case because I don’t buy this sudden explosion from the Ravens’ passing game that a lot of people think will happen this year. Instead, I see a transference of targets, which will help Bateman immensely. Bateman, the Ravens’ first-round pick at wide receiver, should soak up all the Willie Snead (48) and Dez Bryant (11) targets, and most of the Miles Boykin (33) and Devin Duvernay (26) targets. He should also lop about 10% off of Marquise Brown’s 100 targets last year. Jam all of this together and you get somewhere around 95 targets as a floor for Bateman in his rookie year.
At pick 160, near the very last round in most 12-team, 15-round drafts, that’s someone I’ll definitely slap onto the backend of my roster, just to see what happens.
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[Image Source: Darnell Mooney on Twitter]