With so many fantasy players putting so many hours of research into their drafts, identifying sleepers that are on very few people’s radars are hard to find without it ending up becoming a hot take, which really isn’t my style. In my mind, a sleeper is simply a player who I believe will outperform their ADP to an extent that means they’re both brilliant value at their current draft price, and likely to be in your lineup every week.
When we consider the wide receiver position, because the position is so deep, there are a ton of reasons why a player may outperform their ADP and be classed as a sleeper. With this in mind, I’ve identified three players who I have ranked significantly higher than their current ADP and will be value fantasy pieces for your team in 2021.
The Breakout Second Year Receiver
Brandon Aiyuk, San Francisco 49ers
I loved watching Aiyuk as a rookie. His athleticism jumped off the screen and he was pretty productive considering that he dealt with an ever changing quarterback position. Aiyuk caught 60 balls for 748 yards and 5 touchdowns as a rookie, finishing with the fifth most fantasy points for rookie receivers. More importantly, his 12.9 points per game were second amongst rookies, behind only Justin Jefferson. From Weeks 8 to 15 (Aiyuk got injured in Week 16), he averaged 17.2 points, and outscored all rookies and even his own teammate Deebo Samuel in the games they played together. This gives me confidence that Aiyuk can continue on that upward curve, especially with more consistent quarterback play, be that a healthy Jimmy Garoppolo or rookie Trey Lance.
Related: Breakouts and Busts Based on NFL Strength of Schedule
Aiyuk is the current WR27 going at the back end of the sixth round in drafts, whereas I have him as my WR17 with a fourth round grade. I’ve been happy to reach for him in drafts so far, but if you’re getting him in the sixth then you have some serious upside at a low cost.
The Veteran Who Proves He Can Still Do It
T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts
Now Hilton is a true sleeper pick as he is currently the WR52 in drafts, with an ADP of the 12th round. On paper I can understand why as 2020 was not a great year for Hilton as he finished as the WR42 with just 56 catches for 762 yards and 5 touchdowns. Where Hilton is intriguing is that he finished as the WR10 in fantasy in his last six games of 2020, showing there is still plenty of juice going into his 10th season.
The switch from Philip Rivers to Carson Wentz at quarterback could and should be an upgrade assuming Wentz can recover some of his pre-2020 form, and this bodes well for Hilton’s field-stretching ability. There is competition for targets, but it comes in the form of younger and unproven players, and a veteran presence should mean Hilton will thrive with Wentz looking for someone who is where they’re supposed to be.
I project a strong bounce back year coming for Hilton and feel he can push to be a top 30 receiver again. Taking Hilton as your fourth or fifth receiver feels like an easy pick to make as you move into the double digit rounds.
The Guy Who Leaps Due to Vacated Targets
Russell Gage, Atlanta Falcons
With all the noise around the drafting of Kyle Pitts and the trade of Julio Jones to the Titans, Russell Gage is getting very little notice despite him sliding into the No. 2 receiver spot and poised to see a jump in volume in 2021. With Julio Jones in and out of the lineup in 2020, Gage saw 110 targets last season, totaling 72 catches for 786 yards and 4 touchdowns, which made him the WR41 in .5PPR scoring.
Even if Kyle Pitts lives up to his draft stock and becomes the No. 2 in terms of targets, Gage still has his place as the second receiver locked in and could see more looks outside of the slot where he has primarily worked since coming into the team. If he does move outside more, even without seeing a huge increase in volume, his yardage should rise and could push for his first 1,000 receiving yard season.
Gage is currently available in the 13th round of drafts as the WR57, but I have him with a late 7th round grade as my WR41. If I’m approaching the double digit rounds, I’m hitting that draft button and loving having a player with serious upside like Gage on my roster.