As we head closer to the start of the NFL season, draft season shifts into high gear. To help get you ready, I’ve broken out some of my favorite sleepers for this year. Let’s get to it!
Trey Lance, QB – San Francisco 49ers
With Kyle Shanahan trading three first rounds picks for QB Trey Lance in the 2021 draft, expectations rightfully sit sky high for the rookie signal caller. Given the expended capital, incumbent QB Jimmy Garappolo presents but a speed bump to the 49ers starting QB gig. In other words, let’s be real here…Lance will take over starting QB duties this season, with the only question being when. Expect that date to arrive sooner than later. Lance’s game translates quite well to fantasy, with a cannon of an arm, good accuracy, and most importantly, a terrific rushing game to boot. Watching Lance this preseason, he could use a bit more touch on his throws, and will need to improve at working through his progressions. But those traits often find themselves on the to-do list for rookie QBs. Shanahan will design plays smartly tailored to accentuate Lance’s strengths. Lance sits at QB15 on the RealGM quarterback board, while the public is drafting him as QB21.
Javonte Williams, RB – Denver Broncos
Javonte Williams posted monster numbers last season at North Carolina, scoring 22 TDs while catching the attention of NFL scouts. Drafted by the Denver Broncos, Williams represents the future of the Broncos rushing game. While incumbent Melvin Gordon currently sits atop the RB depth chart, look for Williams to wrestle that designation away as the season develops. Williams runs violently, securing extra yards as he falls downhill. Importantly, Williams also has good hands and will factor into the passing game. Gordon’s contract expires after this season, so the team won’t think twice about making the future the present. Williams occupies the RB25 slot on the RealGM running back board, but he’s apt to continue to rise from there.
Trey Sermon, RB – San Francisco 49ers
We dip back into the 49ers well one more time here, this time with 2021 third round pick Trey Sermon. Here’s what we know about the 49ers’ running back situation: 1) Shanahan prefers to highlight one primary back in each game, 2) current starter Raheem Mostert has trouble staying healthy, and 3) Sermon has the build to be an every down back in the NFL. Sermon brings physicality to the position, and could very well beat out Mostert during the season for the lead role, sans an injury-caused ascension. With Shanahan preferring one lead back per game, this also increases the chance that Sermon will have some RB1/RB2 caliber games this year. Sermon’s currently falling off the draft board as RB39, while he’s RB35 on the RealGM running back board.
Michael Gallup, WR – Dallas Cowboys
While second year WR CeeDee Lamb has gotten the lion’s share of the attention from the Cowboys’ wide receiver group, he will cost you a pretty penny in terms of draft compensation. Veteran WR Amari Cooper’s price sits only slightly cheaper. Dropping to the third member of the Cowboys’ troika, Michael Gallup remains a bargain. Defenses will need to devote heaps of attention to Lamb and Cooper, which will give Gallup single coverage most of the way. Don’t be surprised to see Gallup push 1,000 receiving yards and 6-8 TDs. Another way to view Gallup’s situation – he’s a known commodity, but not getting the respect he deserves. Per ESPN, Gallup currently sits as the 39th WR taken off the board, while serving as WR34 on the RealGM wide receiver board.
Corey Davis, WR – New York Jets
The New York Jets hit the reset button this offseason, bringing in a new coaching staff, while drafting a new franchise QB in Zach Wilson and new skill position players in RB Michael Carter and WR Elijah Moore. But perhaps their most valuable fantasy player will be free agent signee Corey Davis. The Tennessee Titans took Davis with the fifth overall pick in 2017, with the hope that he would develop into their franchise WR. While Davis hasn’t met those expectations, nevertheless he has developed into a solid, steady WR with good hands. With Davis now on his new team, Zach Wilson has targeted him early and often this preseason. Elijah Moore will make hay this year, but Corey Davis is the top receiver to target from the Jets. Currently WR48 per ADP, Davis resides at WR39 on the RealGM wide receiver board.
Tyler Higbee, TE – Los Angeles Rams
Rams’ TE Tyler Higbee has mostly lived outside of fantasy relevancy, except for a tantalizing stretch during his last five games of the 2019 season (sitting out game 16), in which Higbee averaged 104 yards per game while finding the end zone twice in that span. At that same time, fellow Rams TE Gerald Everett was inactive in several of those games, and otherwise had minimal snaps in the games where he played. So, with Everett having moved on to the Seahawks, can Tyler Higbee revert back to his stretch run in 2019? He should be QB Matt Stafford’s third target after the WR duo of Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp. As such, the bet here is that Higbee busts out even, if not quite to the level of his 2019 stretch run. Higbee sits as TE8 on the RealGM tight end board, while dropping all the way to TE14 per ADP.
* All ADP stats per ESPN as of August 23, 2021.