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Sleepers are my joint. It's a by-product of studying tape in as much depth as I do. But the term "Sleeper" isn't just the unknown or lesser-known name. There are mid-range sleepers — the player whose potential value should be far higher than the current perception.
Peyton Manning's second year with the Broncos was a perfect example. I'm betting on Tom Brady making a run at this record-breaking season this year, and if you've been reading this column regularly, I've been touting this pick and stacking of Buccaneers receivers as much as I can.
I'll be doing more of that here, but I'll also be sharing my picks of players you can pick ahead of the curve of the label-givers.
As I told readers before the 2019 season in that rendition of this piece, "Mahomes is more mature than most portray him...If you want a great fantasy season, you can't write off stacking the Chiefs' offense because it's too risky...Believe in greatness before the label-givers do their job. They're always the last to recognize it.
This was also true of my recommendations of Lamar Jackson, Nick Chubb, A.J. Brown, and Justin Jefferson before each broke out — against the grain of the consensus thought in terms of talent, scheme fit, and upside.
As I said, sleepers are my joint. We all have our share of misses, but there's a reason I'm still writing these columns after all these years, selling draft publications, and doing podcasts — and it's not my sparkling personality.
Most of the players on this list will be drafted, but some will be on the waiver wire for the first 3-5 weeks of the season due to injury or a reserve role on the depth chart. As a proponent of making preseason waiver lists of players to monitor, the more you know about players before they earn an opportunity to emerge, the more time you can devote to creating a worthwhile plan to acquire them when they earn that shot.
Here's my list of sleepers for the 2021 All-Gut Check Fantasy Team: A squad of underrated and lesser-known options who may have your competition laughing now but congratulating you later. I'll have some obvious ones, but everyone and their dog is writing about players like A.J. Dillon, an excellent player who could deliver this year's Larry Johnson to Aaron Jones' Priest Holmes if injuries strike.
If you can get the likes of Dillon and players mentioned at the likes of BigSite.com, I'm not stopping you. I'd rather focus on sleepers based on failings of the herd mentality rather than depth chart obstacles.
YES! Tom Brady is slept on. He's underrated. I find it unbelievable.
We're in mid-August, and Tom Brady is still barely drafted among the top-10 quarterbacks in 2021 fantasy leagues. He has the best receiving corps in the league, a quality tight end, a new (and better) James White-level scatback, and last year he threw 40 touchdowns on a bum knee, with limited knowledge of the offense and several pivotal teammates playing through difficult injuries.
If this were Justin Hebert, fantasy drafters would be taking Herbert as a top-three option. But the herd mentality of fantasy football thinks Brady and his cohorts are too old to count on as top producers. Brady is a steal at his current value. His baseline is 4,500 yards and 40 touchdowns, but most see it as his ceiling.
This is his floor!
Tampa Bay will incorporate more pre-snap shifts and quick post-snap adjustments now that Brady and his teammates had the time to develop the necessary rapport for these details. These on-field adjustments that were largely missing will result in not only big-play mismatches but also quick chain-moving plays that put the offense in optimal down-and-distance situations. The Buccaneers were in a lot more long down-and-distance situations that limited the range of the playbook than what you'll see this year.
Expect higher red-zone efficiencies, fewer third downs, more big plays, and more time on the field. This should translate to gains in yardage, completion percentage, and touchdowns.
If drafted together, Tom Brady and his receivers may not just help win your league but also dominate it. Brady's ceiling this year is NFL records, and if you follow this column regularly, you don't see me claiming this, ever.
I've been touting Trey Sermons's talents for over a year. And as one of the few draft analysts that had him atop my running-back list this year, I was ecstatic to see him land in San Francisco. The 49ers have one of the best run games in the league, thanks to the offensive line that executes a diverse number of plays at a high level.
San Francisco also runs plays that are difficult for opposing coaches and players to diagnose, leading to big plays. I know of a prominent national beat writer with a strong X-and-Os background who was intentionally led astray by Kyle Jusczyck about the design of a running play so opponents wouldn't pick up on what they were actually doing.
The play disguises the actual blocking scheme, so it looks like one style of run blocking when it's actually another. If the defense knew what the play design was, it would significantly change how the unit would play it. You can only tell the difference with one key block inside, and it's a small detail that is hard to discern.
This is something former RSP writer, J Moyer, knew because of his decade-plus work as a running game football coach and deep study of this specific type of blocking that not all coaches have experience with. It was also verified by former NFL lineman Geoff Schwartz and Smart Football's Chris Brown, which countered what Jusczyck told the writer.
Misleading writers to keep a play viable isn't uncommon for players to do with the media. However, the real point of this story is that there are many details with the 49ers' ground game and Kyle Shanahan's offensive scheme that make a rookie's acclimation difficult. Sermon has proven a quick study, according to running backs coach Bobby Turner.
“He’s absorbing it all. I’m waiting for preseason, for the games, but right now, his head is not spinning. He’s comfortable. He’s a sharp young man. He’s what we thought. It may be different on Saturday when we get in those preseason games, just because of the extra pressure, but it’s not like he hasn’t been in big-time games (at Oklahoma and Ohio State) before.”
Sermon performed competently during his first preseason game and continues to split first-team reps with Raheem Mostert. According to Niners Nation, Sermon has earned the most first-team reps of any back on the roster other than Mostert, and he's showing off his contact balance and hands.
Niners Nation sees Sermon as the Devonta Freeman to Mostert's Tevin Coleman. This projection of roles makes a lot of sense this year and moving forward when Mostert's contract expires and speedster Elijah Mitchell has a year to acclimate to the system. If this projection of roles becomes reality, fantasy managers are drafting the complement, Mostert,10-15 spots ahead of the lead back, Sermon.
However, you're going to hear that Sermon will be the 1B to Mostert's 1A. This may appear due to experience, but Mostert is at his best with toss and gap plays, whereas Sermon excels inside and as a zone runner. Don't be surprised if Mostert is the Coleman 1B who gets high-impact touches, but the chain-moving back is Sermon.
Considering that the backs between picks 75-105 are mostly veterans in a timeshare where the roles haven't been fully determined or a talented rookie is biting their heels, Sermon is the most appealing option on the board. I liken Sermon's style of play to a Le'Veon Bell's peak years. If the Freeman/Coleman dynamic comes true, Sermon could easily be a top-10 fantasy back this year if Mostert gets hurt and still a strong candidate for top-15 production if the Freeman/Coleman dynamic comes true.
Seeking a late-round value with RB1 upside in PPR leagues that isn't getting drafted among the first 50 backs in fantasy leagues? Look no further than Bernard. I provide the Buccaneers coverage for our excellent training camp reports, and it's becoming apparent to the media that the Buccaneers are thrilled with their offseason addition of Bernard.
Bernard is one of the best scatbacks in the NFL because of his smart inside running, stellar pass protection, and excellent routes and hand. The Bengals wanted to be a big-back team, and their effort to optimize Bernard's talents within its scheme were infrequent, at best. Based on Jon Ledyard's excellent work at The Pewter Report, the Buccaneers are on a correction course during the final frame of Benard's career.
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