As you’ve hopefully done before and during your fantasy football drafts, identifying sleepers is as important on a week-to-week basis as it is preseason. Everyone possesses stud players at the top of their roster, so finding the under-the-radar gems is the way to separate yourself and win your matchup. The names on these kinds of lists are rarely flashy, but if they help you bring home a W in Week 1, they’ll be plenty valuable to you. Since it’s Week 1, some of these guys will emerge to become flashy names, like James Robinson and Antonio Gibson from last year’s Week 1 sleepers did. Ty’Son Williams, Laviska Shenault, and Trevor Lawrence (though he’s already pretty flashy) are some our favorite candidates to turn breakout Week 1s into big 2021s.
The most obvious indicator of a sleeper comes with a great matchup against a bad defense. Another thing to look at is a temporary uptick in opportunity that your leaguemates may not be privy to. This week, we see Jimmy G, Jamaal Williams, and Chris Herndon included in our list. No, they won’t be relied on for much of the course of the year, but each week is its own mini-season, and all three are in good spots this week.
Without further ado, we dive into our top sleepers candidates for Week 1.
Week 1 Fantasy Sleepers: Running backs
Jamaal Williams, Lions vs. 49ers (Jackson Sparks). The matchup with San Francisco isn’t ideal, but he’s in line for a decent workload this week whether D’Andre Swift (groin) is active or not. There’s a chance Williams gets goal-line work, and in PPR leagues, he looks even better thanks to his target potential in a bad Detroit offense. If Swift doesn’t play at all, Williams is a lock to make your lineup. Don’t be expecting an all-world performance, but rather a solid, flex-worthy outing.
Ty’Son Williams, Ravens @ Raiders (Vinnie Iyer). This is a deep-league flex play alert, as for now he’ll be the guy cleaning up for Gus Edwards in positive game script after Lamar Jackson sets up a big lead on Monday night.
Phillip Lindsay, Texans vs. Jaguars (Matt Lutovsky). We’ll be honest — we’re trying to speak this one into existence. No one knows what’s going to happen in the Texans backfield on Sunday, but someone figures to emerge as at least the 1A. Perhaps surprisingly, it sounds like it won’t be David Johnson. That leaves Mark Ingram and Lindsay. One just turned 27, the other is almost 32. Maybe Ingram’s experience wins out, but we simply think Lindsay is better. If he gets even 12 touches against a Jacksonville defense that allowed the third-most fantasy points per game (FPPG) to RBs last year, he can post flex-worthy stats.
Week 1 Fantasy Football Sleepers: Quarterbacks
Kirk Cousins, Vikings @ Bengals (Sparks). Another year of football marks another year of playing guys against the Bengals’ defense. Last season, the Bengals were a middle-of-the-pack defense against QBs, but that was often the result of positive game scripts for the opposing offenses. The Bengal’s offense should be better this season, so as an effect, the Vikings shouldn’t be able to merely pack it in and run the ball all game. If Cousins reaches a respectable number of attempts, he should have a nice fantasy outing with Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen, and the rest of Minnesota’s receivers.
Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers @ Lions (Iyer). Jimmy G will continue to have the keys to this dynamic attack with him and his key weapons healthy to attack a tame Detroit defense.
Trevor Lawrence, Jaguars @ Texans (Lutovsky). Normally we shy away from NFL debuts, but Lawrence is no ordinary rookie. The Texans were seemingly built to be bad, so why shouldn’t we load up on Jaguars? Lawrence has underrated receiving weapons and a coach who likes to score, so get him in your lineups and reap the rewards.
Week 1 Fantasy Football Sleepers: Wide receivers
Russell Gage, Falcons vs. Eagles (Sparks). The Eagles’ secondary struggles have been well documented over the last few seasons, and we can expect much of the same this year. This game has the potential to be a real shootout, and Gage could be No. 2 in the pecking order after Calvin Ridley. Yes, Kyle Pitts is there, but he’s a tight end in his first-ever NFL game. There will be plenty of fantasy points to go around in this matchup.
Robby Anderson, Panthers vs. Jets (Iyer). Anderson needs to be in your lineups as an upside WR3 or flex reuniting with Sam Darnold and facing an overmatched secondary in the ideal “revenge game” scenario.
Laviska Shenault, Jaguars @ Texans (Lutovsky). We’re going back to the Jags well with Shenault, who’s been Jacksonville’s healthiest receiver all camp and will benefit from Travis Etienne’s season-ending foot injury. As disappointing as it was to see Etienne lost for the year, Shenault will likely pick up more opportunities as a runner and gadget guy now. Against the Texans, he’ll rip off chunk yards no matter how he gets the ball.
Week 1 Fantasy Football Sleepers: Tight ends
Chris Herndon, Vikings @ Bengals (Sparks). For many of the same reasons Kirk Cousins is featured this week, Herndon takes a place on the list, too. Sure, he was just acquired a little over a week before the start of the season, but with much of the focus on Jefferson and Thielen, even the Bengals’ defense may be sleeping on him. Cousins is the best QB he’s ever played with, so let’s see if they build chemistry early on.
Austin Hooper, Browns @ Chiefs (Iyer). Hooper will settle in better with their passing game this season with Baker Mayfield being a more effective distributor playing off the wideouts. This matchup also calls for working the middle of the field.
Zach Ertz, Eagles @ Falcons (Lutovsky). Remember this guy? Even last year at this time it would’ve been crazy to call Ertz a “sleeper,” but that’s how far he’s fallen in the fantasy world. He probably is still better than people are giving him credit for, though, and against a Falcons defense that remains suspect, both Ertz and Dallas Goedert can have fantasy-relevant days, especially in PPR leagues.
Week 1 Fantasy Sleepers: Defenses
Seattle Seahawks @ Colts, (Sparks). The LOB Seattle defense is far in the rearview mirror, but they are a sneaky play against a questionable Colts offense. Carson Wentz and Quenton Nelson will suit up, but how sharp will they be after missing a ton of preseason time? T.Y. Hilton is out with a neck injury, so there’s a chance Seattle will be able to simply load the box and shut down the Colts run game.
Green Bay Packers vs. Saints (Iyer). The odds of Jameis Winston throwing a pick-six in his first Saints start is high given he will have high volume trying to play catchup against a tough pass defense.
Denver Broncos @ Giants (Lutovsky). Denver has a great pass rush and retooled secondary. The Giants have human turnover Daniel Jones at QB. Put it together and you get a big fantasy day for the Broncos D/ST.