As the NFL races towards the start of the 2021 regular season on Sept. 9 between the Dallas Cowboys and defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, fantasy football takes a front-row seat of everyone’s attention as drafts near.
Football Outsiders, one of the premier analytics websites out there, recently profiled a handful of fantasy football sleepers ahead of drafts. Two prominent Steelers were featured on the sleeper list put together by FO’s Scott Spratt, who is one of the top fantasy football analysts in the industry.
Steelers’ tight end Eric Ebron and second-year receiver Chase Claypool were listed as sleepers by Spratt, who expects the two to perform well in the Steelers’ new-look offense under first-year coordinator Matt Canada.
According to FO’s KUBIAK rankings, which are similar to ESPN’s average draft position and positional rankings, Claypool comes in at No. 17 overall at receiver, which is significantly higher than ESPN’s and Yahoo Sports’ rankings.
“This pick seemed unique before Claypool made a spectacular diving catch in the Hall of Fame game. Here’s hoping that no one watches preseason football,” Spratt writes. “…His 62 catches and 873 yards may not stand out next to the best veteran receivers, but they nearly matched the totals of a similarly built DK Metcalf in his rookie season (58 and 900). Claypool could enjoy a corresponding jump to superstardom in his second season. And at 6-foot-4 and 238 pounds, Claypool should continue to pace the position in touchdown-scoring. His nine rookie scores only slightly outpaced his 7.2 expected touchdowns estimated by the location of his targets. If any Steelers wideout is likely to see a decline there, it’s JuJu Smith-Schuster, who doubled Claypool’s surplus with nine touchdowns versus just 5.4 opportunity-adjusted scores.”
Claypool continues to get a ton of love in fantasy football circles, and rightfully so, especially after the fantasy highs he experienced in 2020 during an eight-week stretch that saw him take a star-turn. Though we still don’t fully know what the offense will look like from a target distribution perspective, Claypool continues to rocket up boards and should be a guy that emerges as a key fantasy football receiver.
Along with Claypool, Ebron is also considered a sleeper at the tight end position by Spratt and Football Outsiders. Ebron joined Dallas’ Blake Jarwin and Carolina’s Dan Arnold as sleeper tight ends. Ebron currently ranks No. 10 in FO’s KUBIAK rankings, which is a bit higher than ESPN’s (18) and Yahoo Sports’ (15).
“Ebron is the second Steelers receiver on my sleeper list, but his surplus value may say more about the public perception of teammate Pat Freiermuth and less about Roethlisberger,” Spratt writes. “Freiermuth, a second-round rookie, has sparked optimism from reporters and coaches, but one shouldn’t overrate what career potential will likely mean in Year 1 for a tight end. Since 2009, Tony Moeaki is the only tight end drafted in the second round or later with more than 70 targets in his rookie season. Only five tight ends from Round 2 or later had even 60 targets, and eventual fantasy stars Rob Gronkowski, Zach Ertz, Mark Andrews, and Jimmy Graham had modest totals of 59, 56, 50, and 44 targets in their rookie seasons. Ebron had 91 targets in his first year with the Steelers in 2020. That was ninth-most at the position and for me portends a similar fantasy finish in 2021.”
After Freiermuth’s big night against the Detroit Lions at Heinz Field Saturday night, Ebron’s stock may drop significantly with the Steelers when it comes to the redzone usage and overall target share. Though he finished third on the Steelers in 2020 in targets, I personally expect Ebron’s usage to decline significantly in 2021 with more of an emphasis on running the ball, along with the inclusion of Freiermuth and another year of JuJu Smith-Schuster in the slot.