Who is the 2021 Fantasy Football Sleeper of the Year? Championship contending rosters are built on value. Being able to successfully recognize players that are in a position to exceed their average draft value can make all the difference between a contending roster and an elite one.
For the 2021 season, there is a player routinely going in the middle rounds of drafts that we are excited about. In fact, we can’t leave a draft without him and have anointed him as our must-have player this season.
FullTime Fantasy’s 2021 Sleeper of the Year is San Francisco 49ers RB Trey Sermon.
Kyle Shanahan’s Offense
Like his father’s offenses in Denver and Washington, Kyle Shanahan’s attacks are generally predicated by a strong rushing attack. Over his last nine seasons as an offensive coordinator and head coach, Shanahan’s teams have averaged 1,988 rushing yards and 17 rushing scores annually.
Six of those nine clubs ranked above average in rushing and only twice in 13 seasons has a Kyle Shanahan-coached offense ranked below average in overall offense. Even last year, when San Francisco was decimated by injuries on both sides of the ball, Shanahan coached his squad to six wins and a solid offensive showing.
Shanahan has always been one of the most aggressive play-callers in the league and he has excelled at finding ways to adjust and adapt his scheme to fit his personnel. That flexibility has led to success on the field and generated plenty of impressive fantasy football stats.
Track Record of Success
In 13 seasons as an NFL play-caller, Shanahan has coaxed solid fantasy showings out of some unheralded players. Steve Slaton, Alfred Morris, Devonta Freeman (twice), and Carlos Hyde have all had top-10 fantasy campaigns under Shanahan’s watch, while players like Roy Helu, Isaiah Crowell, and Matt Breida became solid weekly RB2 options.
In order to post elite numbers like that, a running back needs to command a majority of the touches out of the backfield. In San Francisco, Shanahan has restored to more of a committee approach but Raheem Mostert has still been a quality option, and even Jeff Wilson posted top-30 numbers last season after Mostert and Tevin Coleman got hurt.
Mostert has averaged 85 scrimmage yards and scored a dozen touchdowns in 17 games as a starter, but Mostert is undersized and has struggled with nagging injuries. Shanahan has stated he plans to use multiple backs but the list of contenders for those touches has changed.
Wilson will miss at least half of the 2021 season with a torn meniscus and Coleman, who logged a 49% snap rate in Week 2 before getting hurt, is in New York.
That opens up 2021 third-round draft pick Trey Sermon for a significant role immediately and the rookie has already turned heads in San Francisco this summer, just like he did at Oklahoma and Ohio State.
Sermon shared the backfield in Oklahoma for three seasons but displayed a solid nose for the end zone and excellent receiving chops. In 2020, Sermon transferred to Ohio State and really came into his own even though he battled injuries. In the final three games of his collegiate career where Sermon received double-digit carries, he rushed for 636 yards.
In all, Sermon averaged 7.5 yards per carry for Ohio State, snagged 12-of-15 targets, and earned a top-20 RB grade from Pro Football Focus. At the Buckeyes’ Pro Day, Sermon measured a solid 6-feet and 215 pounds while posting a 79th-percentile agility score and 81st-percentile agility score.
Sermon regularly displayed a three-down skill-set that clearly stood out to Shanahan, who has a history of finding excellent NFL-caliber running backs in the mid-to-late rounds of NFL drafts. In fact, Shanahan was so impressed with Sermon that he traded up into the third round to grab him.
Not only does that tell us that Sermon impressed Shanahan, but it also says that he’s going to have an immediate role with a coach who has a track record for producing young fantasy stud running backs in a scheme catered to Sermon’s strengths.
2021 Fantasy Forecast
Mostert only surpassed a 50% snap rate once in 2020. Other backs will be involved often in San Francisco’s offense and the door is wide open for Sermon to seize those touches ahead of Wayne Gallman.
49ers’ running backs coach Bobby Turner implied that Sermon will open the season as the team’s No. 2 back behind Mostert. Sermon’s three-down ability won’t preclude him from any situation, especially near the goal line where Mostert has struggled.
Kyle Juszcyk, Jeff Wilson, and Jerrick McKinnon all received more rushing attempts than Mostert when the 49ers needed 1-yard to score or keep a drive alive. Overall, Mostert received just six carries all season inside the 5-yard line, where he produced (-2) yards and zero scores.
Sermon has the power and frame to succeed in this area and also can factor in as a receiver. Even if he opens the season with just one-third of San Francisco’s snaps, Sermon is the favorite for short-yardage work for an offense that has averaged 16 rushing scores annually under Shanahan.
It seems like it’s only a matter of time before Sermon gets the opportunity to take over as San Francisco’s leading fantasy back and when he does, he’s going to offer weekly RB1 upside.
Sermon is one of our most-coveted mid-round picks in all formats and we feel the potential is so high, that we’ve named the exciting rookie our 2021 fantasy football sleeper of the year.
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