5 Deep Rookie Sleepers for 2021
After all the rookie dominoes have fallen and rookie mini camps have come and gone, let’s take a look at some names who could make a lasting impact on the team depth charts and should be worth a look in leagues with deeper benches and dynasty league drafts in the middle to late rounds.
Rhamondre Stevenson – Patriots
It’s always tough navigating the backfield in New England and who is going to take the majority of the carries. But in the case of Stevenson, I believe the Patriots selected him with a specific purpose in mind. New England finished in the top 5 of rushing yards per game two out of the last three seasons. Having the 4th best graded offensive line according to Pro Football Focus in 2020, Damien Harris has shown flashes of potential but has only played 12 games total in his brief pro career. While Sony Michel has never topped 7 touchdowns or one thousand rushing yards in a single season. Stevenson was selected in the 4th round of this year’s draft and possesses a big strong frame coming in around 6 feet and above 230 pounds. He has an opportunity to become the main goal-line back similar to LeGarrette Blount from a few years ago. By showing the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield at Oklahoma he has versatility and should have ample opportunity in training camp to impress coaches to carve out a key role in the offense for 2021.
Chris Evans – Bengals
Evans hasn’t played much of the past two seasons due to an academic issue in 2019 and the shortened Big Ten season in 2020. But Evans after being selected in the 6th round of this year’s draft he has a good chance to work up the depth chart quickly. As of this moment, the only players above Evans on the Bengals running back depth chart are Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine. As we remember Mixon only played six games last year and Perine played sparingly in 2020. The Bengals should look to take some of the pressure off of second-year QB Joe Burrow after coming off an ACL surgery from a year ago with having an improved rushing attack. Evans could wrestle away the second spot on the depth chart away from Perine in training camp and the preseason. Which could allow him to be the third-down back for Cincinnati and at times spelling Joe Mixon in the early downs.
Amon-Ra St. Brown – Lions
The Lions began a new era this offseason with the departures of key players like Matthew Stafford, Kenny Golladay, and Marvin Jones to name a few. They overhauled the receiving core by bringing in veterans like Tyrell Williams, Breshaud Perriman, Kalif Raymond, and others on short-term deals. Brown was a 4th round selection out of USC this past draft and could be a beneficiary of the new-look Lions offense. New quarterback Jared Goff will be looking for a new WR1 in Detroit and Brown’s skillset helped him lead the Pac-12 in receptions and receiving touchdowns last season. New Head Coach Dan Campbell is looking to bring a new identity to Detroit by establishing a physical brand of football. I believe Coach Campbell will love the physicality St. Brown plays with and could make an early impact for the Lions’ new receiving core.
Nico Collins – Texans
Another Michigan alum Nico Collins was a 3rd round selection for the Texans who similar to the aforementioned Lions have an underwhelming receiving core. Aside from Brandin Cooks and aging veteran Randall Cobb, the Texans will be looking for someone else to take a big step up and grab the number two role for the team. Collins never posted any eye-popping stats in his college career but did finish second in the Big Ten in yards per reception with 19.7. He comes in at 6’4 215 pounds and shows great ability to win contested catches making him an immediate red zone threat. It will be intriguing to see how Collins develops early in training camp and if he can build a rapport with DeShaun Watson or the other quarterbacks the Texans have if Watson gets moved.
Pat Freiermuth – Steelers
I’m not sure if the man nicknamed ‘Baby Gronk’ counts as a deep sleeper but with the Tight End landscape being so thin nowadays Freiermuth could form a role in the Steelers offense in 2021. After being selected in the 2nd round by Pittsburgh, Freiermuth will be in an early competition for first-team snaps with veteran Eric Ebron. He will look to progress his blocking skills more in training camp to give him a better chance to see the field early in the year. Over his career, at Penn State, he finished in the top eight in the Big Ten in receiving touchdowns in 2018 and 2019 showing he has a nose for the end zone. Even if Freiermuth can’t become the TE1 for Pittsburgh in 2021 his dynasty outlook is great in 2022 after Ebron’s contract runs out at the end of next season.