This isn’t your typical sleeper article for the NFL 2021 season. You won’t find Terry McLaurin, Clyde Edwards-Helarie, Brandon Aiyuk, or CeeDee Lamb in the following list. Everyone knows those guys have an opportunity to pop off.
Let’s dig a little bit deeper than that.
The following players resemble something similar to a “deep cuts” Spotify playlist. You’ll surely jam out to a few songs, skip over a couple, and maybe open your ears to a few new melodies.
Just to be clear, there’s no music in this article. It’s a metaphor. Or is that a simile? I never know the difference.
Either way, feel free to utilize the following breakout list however you see fit. Maybe you’ll draft a few onto your fantasy football squad. Committing them to memory for daily fantasy purposes isn’t a bad idea either. Heck, some players have excellent value in the prop bet market (more on that later).
Whatever the case, now is the time to “buy the dip” on these players:
1. Jerry Jeudy – WR – Denver Broncos
Rookie receivers (not named Justin Jefferson) were pretty bad last season. Perhaps we need to cut them some slack, as the COVID schedule with limited practice and no preseason put them in a precarious spot.
On top of that, Jeudy fell victim to some terrible QB play (cough, cough, Drew Lock). The Broncos signed Teddy Bridgewater to compete for the starting job, and I believe he’ll get it. Bridgewater is a poised, accurate signal-caller with the ability to consistently feed Jeudy the football.
Jeudy recently mentioned in an interview that college training camp is more difficult than the NFL. His college coach, Nick Saban, probably smiled for the first time in two years after reading that.
2. Mike Williams – WR – Los Angeles Chargers
Go ahead, call me a hypocrite.
I typed a 200+ word introduction talking about how this article won’t have any run-of-the-mill sleepers. Then I turn around and talk about everyone’s favorite “underrated” receiver: Mike Williams.
If you listen to a fantasy football podcast, you’ll hear Mike Williams’ name at least four times every 10 minutes. I’m pretty sure he’s buying up ad space at this point. His mom probably produces the shows.
Mike Williams WILL live up to the hype in 2021. I didn’t want to put him in this article, but the situation is too good to ignore. People will see his stats from last season and let out an audible “meh” while moving their eyes onto the shiny receiver on their fantasy draft board.
I’m going to add to the hysteria and take out a billboard of Mike Williams. The slogan will be “Common Name: Uncommon Air Yards that Should Translate to Steady Production” It’s a work in progress. As is Mike Williams, in now his fifth NFL year out of Clemson.
3. Laviska Shenault Jr. – WR – Jacksonville Jaguars
The same thing outlined earlier with Jerry Jeudy holds true for Shenault. He was essentially thrown to the wolves without much of an adjustment period. However, Shenault did it while playing for a terrible team with some cringy quarterbacks.
Now, the supposed savior of the franchise, Trevor Lawrence, will throw Shenault tight spirals into tight windows. As mentioned in our 10 Best Offensive Rookies list, Lawrence was one of the better college QBs in the last 20 years. With apologies to Gardner Minshew, this is a major upgrade for Shenault and the other Jacksonville WRs.
On top of that, the Jaguars now have a head coach (Urban Meyer) who knows how to use Shenault to the best of his ability.
If you are more of a visual person, then check out this video of Lawrence to Shenault in training camp. Isn’t it a thing of beauty?
4. Mecole Hardman – WR – Kansas City Chiefs
Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill get all the love as Patrick Mahomes’ top pass-catchers. However, the Chiefs’ QB puts up enough numbers to get at least one more receiver involved. With Sammy Watkins out of town, that guy could be Mecole Hardman.
Hardman is lightning-quick, running the 40-yard dash in 4.22 seconds this summer. For the sake of comparison, Tyreek Hill ran a 4.29 in 2016 for comparison.
Mecole has all the tools to make a giant leap in 2021, and he could finally get the opportunity to make that happen.
Remember Mecole. It rhymes with… well, nothing actually.
5. Darnell Mooney – WR – Chicago Bears
I’m convinced that Darnell Mooney is out for blood.
Prior to getting drafted, an NFL scout mentioned that Mooney “has the body type of a kicker with poor muscle definition and play strength.” Damn. NFL scouts can be savages, huh?
Mooney showed promise at times in 2020, and a better QB would give him a dramatic boost this time around. Speaking to that, Mooney’s breakout ability is more than likely tied to rookie QB Justin Fields.
If Fields unseats Andy Dalton for the starting job, then Mooney’s stock could take off dramatically. That assumes the young QB can live up to a fraction of his potential. You have to believe Dalton is on the clock starting Week 1. Like a pitcher who’s given the rope to stay in the game until he gives up another baserunner. Fields is the guy. It’s when not if.
6. Henry Ruggs III – WR – Las Vegas Raiders
Surely you can see the angle now? Talented sophomore receivers are poised to take a step forward in 2021. We outlined this with Jeudy, Shenault, and Mooney. The same holds true for Henry Ruggs III.
The Raiders made a curious move when they drafted Ruggs 12th overall in 2020. Surely Jon Gruden had big plans for the speedy receiver while investing that type of draft capital in him? Not really.
Instead, Ruggs primarily ran deep routes while drawing coverage from over the top. He was mostly used to stretch the field to open up space for the short-to-intermediate routes.
The Raiders need to feed Ruggs in better situations while trying to utilize his speed. Think Tyreek Hill in Kansas City. Put the ball in his hands and let him use speed to get to the perimeter.
If Jon Gruden gets on board with that game plan, then Ruggs could be an outstanding player. If the Raiders stick with the same old, same old, then Ruggs will look more and more like another super speedy receiver draft bust. The thing about 40-times at the NFL Combine, nobody gives a hoot once you’re actually playing on Sundays.
7. Rondale Moore – WR – Arizona Cardinals
Okay, now we are getting into the deeper cuts of this article.
This is a pure speculative pick. Rondale Moore was an outstanding receiver at Purdue when healthy. Only three players have been named to the All-American team as a freshman: Herschel Walker, Adrian Peterson, and Rondale Moore.
Arizona runs a wide-open offense that provides an atmosphere for him to thrive. However, here’s the holdup: there’s not a clear path to playing time for Moore.
I have a feeling that Moore will see more and more snaps as the season goes along, proving his ability while carving out a heightened role.
That being said, you’ll need to have patience while seeing this one through.
8. Elijah Moore – WR – New York Jets
Elijah Moore: no relation to Rondale Moore. Though both are better athletes than all of us.
Elijah is another outstanding talent out of college, but nobody knows how the Jets are going to use him. If this was Madden 22 and I was coaching the Jets, I would pair Moore as WR1 with QB Zach Wilson and ride things out for the next few years, bumps and all.
Moore’s fantasy success depends on playing time and the proficiency of his QB, Zach Wilson. As mentioned in the 10 Best Offensive Rookie Players article, Wilson has some intriguing upside, so don’t sleep on this rookie duo. But it’s the Jets! C’mon, voices, get out of my head. It’s only been 52 years since they won it all.
9. Adam Trautman – TE – New Orleans Saints
Trautman is the starting TE in New Orleans. What does that mean? Drew Brees is out of the picture, and the offense will undoubtedly look different in 2021.
However, QB Jamies Winston (I’m presuming he’ll win the starting job) always loved throwing to his tight ends in Tampa Bay. At least when not throwing to the opposing team’s defense. On top of that, WR Michael Thomas will miss some time to begin the season, so Trautman could fill in as a reliable target.
Trautman is largely unknown to casual fans at the moment. He could legitimately turn into a household name as a top-five TE before Thanksgiving.
10. Russell Gage – WR – Atlanta Falcons
Let’s consider the following situation:
Julio Jones has been traded to the Titans. The Falcons are not going to be very good this year. Teams that are not very good tend to pass the ball more than usual because they are often behind in games.
WR Calvin Ridley proved that he could assume an All-Pro role with his breakout 2020 season. Rookie TE Kyle Pitts expects to pick up some of the targets vacated by Jones. However, Gage is poised for an uptick as well, given that he’s firmly entrenched as the Falcons’ WR2.
I’m really liking him to go OVER 700.5 Receiving Yards – as listed on DraftKings Sportsbook.