Fantasy football's top breakout candidates

Fantasy football's top breakout candidates

Player Analysis

Fantasy football's top breakout candidates

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Several of these players could cross over into the realm of being sleepers. For the most part, each name has somewhat established himself as an up-and-coming fantasy football commodity. They’re now on the verge of going big.

(Kyle Terada, USA TODAY Sports)

Quarterbacks

Dak Prescott | Dallas Cowboys | ADP: 11:09

Sometimes you have to go against your gut and look at the facts. Prescott enters Year 4 of his career as a starter and has been remarkably consistent to date. The gains with his legs have kept him in the fantasy conversation as a fringe starter or matchup play, but what happens if he takes a step forward with his arm? When examining ways to ascend as a starting fantasy quarterback (Prescott ranked 12th last year), a player on the cusp has to leapfrog the status quo by his own merits, or the status quo falls out of favor. Looking at the latter, we have candidates for regression in Drew Brees (age), Russell Wilson (limited weapons) and Tom Brady (age, weapons).

Prescott has improved receivers with the addition of Randall Cobb and the return of Jason Witten at tight end. One has to imagine the game is slower for wideout Michael Gallup now. An upgraded offensive line, if for no reason other than a healthy Travis Frederick, will give Prescott more time to make plays. Nothing is a certainty here, but gamers can see a path to Prescott having his finest season to date.

Josh Allen | Buffalo Bills | ADP: 12:06

The rocket-armed Allen has upgraded weapons around him and will be in better command of the offense in Year 2. Always a threat with his legs, Allen’s gains will come in better understanding the defense pre-snap and making smarter decisions in relation to the speed of the game.

He has targets at every range of the receiving tree, and the Bills have nothing to lose. Being willing to open it up on offense could go a long way in his confidence-building (it also could end disastrously, but who wants to think like that?!?) … the point is, when constructing a fantasy roster, balancing safe players with upside-driven selections is the way to go. Too much of either rarely works out. Allen makes for a great complement to a safer midrange guy, like a Philip Rivers or Jared Goff.

(Thomas J. Russo, USA TODAY Sports)

Running backs

Marlon Mack | Indianapolis Colts | ADP: 3:07

What a difference a year can make … the Colts majorly upgraded the offensive line in the 2018 draft, and it paid immediate dividends. Mack saw his yards-per-carry average increase by almost a full yard to a healthy 4.7 per pop, and he plowed into the end zone nine times on the ground, adding one via his 17 grabs. He won’t be much of a factor in the passing game, suggesting greater worth in non-PPR. His touchdown prowess, in combination with an expected increase in touches, should push the third-year back into the middle of the No. 1 running backs.

Indy’s passing game is as strong as any, which also helps open lanes for Mack. The South Florida product scored five times over the final four regular-season contests (six if you include the first round of the playoffs). He ran for at least 119 yards in three of those outings. Previously listed among our sleepers, a “breakout” label is more appropriate. Mack legitimately has top-five RB potential, especially in standard scoring.

Kerryon Johnson | Detroit Lions | ADP: 3:11

Limited by an ankle injury to 10 games last year — nine if you remove Week 1’s eight-touch showing — Johnson flashed what made Detroit take him in the early second round of the 2018 draft. He is capable out of the backfield as a receiver and showed prowess making quick decisions around the line of scrimmage. Detroit’s line will be better, and the new system is catered to creating studly running back production. New OC Darrel Bevell delivered the goods in Seattle (Marshawn Lynch) and Minnesota (Adrian Peterson) before having his reputation tarnished by a brazen call that contributed to a Super Bowl loss.

While Johnson is not Beast Mode or AD just yet, we at least can point to the offensive system’s benefits for helping him get there. Bevell isn’t afraid to throw the ball, although he won’t abandon the ground attack like his predecessor did so many times. Johnson’s value skyrockets if Detroit indeed releases third-down back Theo Riddick. Fantasy gamers could be rewarded by Johnson’s versatility in what will be a balanced offensive approach.

Ito Smith | Atlanta Falcons | ADP: 10:08

Devonta Freeman is a talented back, no doubt about it, but he’s also proving to be built out of Papier-mache. Tevin Coleman chose to reunite with Kyle Shanahan in San Fran, leaving the second-year Smith to do battle with journeyman Kenjon Barber, Brian Hill and rookie fifth-rounder Qadree Ollison. Smith, like the others, must learn a new system. Dirk Koetter replaces Steve Sarkisian for his second stint in Atlanta as the play-caller.

Smith has a great opportunity to at least share a large portion of the work with Freeman, if not outright lead the backfield in touches, considering the vet’s injury history. In the 2019 draft, Atlanta beefed up the right side of the line, and left guard James Carpenter came over in free agency. While he struggled and was injured last year for the New York Jets, Carpenter previously played at a Pro Bowl level in a similar zone-blocking system. At any rate, when opportunity knocks ….

Kalen Ballage | Miami Dolphins | ADP: 14:07

The Dolphins are in a true rebuilding phase and will look to see what they have for the future in several young players, including Ballage. Starting back Kenyan Drake is a free agent after this season, which works in Ballage’s favor. He doesn’t factor in much for PPR owners, so note this recommendation is directed more toward standard scoring formats.

Little with which to work at wide receiver, and who knows what is going on at quarterback, the Dolphins may be a hot mess in 2019. The lone bright spot could be the second-year bruiser. Pretty much all of Ballage’s fantasy production came in one game in 2018. He wasn’t given many chances, however. It will be interesting to see what he can do with a consistent feed of double-digit touches.

(Kim Klement, USA TODAY Sports)

Wide receivers

Chris Godwin | Tampa Bay Buccaneers | ADP: 5:05

Bruce Arians’ offense is designed to push the ball down the field, and Godwin is capable of playing well on all three levels of the route tree. Mike Evans draws the majority of the doubles, which frees up Godwin to exploit mismatches. No more Adam Humphries and DeSean Jackson should inflate his targets in 2019.

Godwin started hot last year, posting double-digit PPR points in five of the first six games as Tampa rotated quarterbacks. Improving his consistency and target share from week to week will go a long way in establishing a breakout season. Given his lofty ADP, there won’t be much wiggle room for failure.

D.J. Moore | Carolina Panthers | ADP: 5:12

Truthfully, I’m not a big fan of Moore and his situation. However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t include him as a candidate to break out in 2019. There aren’t many weapons around him to steal looks in the passing game, and Moore flashed enough in 2018 as a rookie to at least present the idea that he’s capable of doing bigger things.

Christian McCaffrey will be his biggest threat for touches, and there’s also the concern about Cam Newton returning from shoulder surgery. Moore has the physical gifts to emerge as a quality WR2 in fake football, but not without considerable risk. His potential for volume and ability after the catch may take Moore a long way in fantasy, even if the cost is steeper than preferred.

Robby Anderson | New York Jets | ADP: 6:12

Anderson was a hot thing in fantasy circles entering 2018 but failed to stay healthy and had legal questions swirling much of the way. He was able to get right toward the final month, and in the last three weeks of fantasy, Anderson’s best was on display. He escalated his receptions in Weeks 15 and 16, while boosting his yardage output in four straight contests. Sam Darnold should be improved in Year 2, and the offense will be more balanced with Le’Veon Bell in the mix.

Don’t underestimate the value of an offensive system change, either. Adam Gase has been known to get more out of his quarterbacks, which obviously helps Anderson’s fantasy stats in that event. As we saw in 2017 and last year, Anderson’s style of play can be streaky. Figuring out how to become more efficient will take him far in fantasy.

Donte Moncrief | Pittsburgh Steelers | ADP: 11:10

The veteran wideout spent time in the offseason with Ben Roethlisberger to in an attempt to build chemistry. The presumption is the 25-year-old Moncrief will settle in as the opening No. 2 in the generic pecking order behind JuJu Smith-Schuster. He’ll see summer competition for action from a trimmed down James Washington and rookie Diontae Johnson. Eli Rogers will be worked in, as well. Following a promising second year with the Colts, Moncrief battled injuries in 2016 and ’17. He managed to play in every contest last year but was mired in the mishap that was Jacksonville’s season.

Greener pastures, with a bona fide quarterback again throwing his way, Moncrief going at the tail end of drafts is just the situation gamers look back at in six months and wonder how he wasn’t drafted earlier. Don’t get caught up on the past — he’s talented, healthy, and in a great situation in what will be only his age-26 season as a sixth-year vet. There’s tremendous ground to be made up with the trade of Antonio Brown, so looks shouldn’t be an issue. Moncrief is a roster-filler at this price point and legitimately could emerge as a WR2 some weeks.

Tyrell Williams | Oakland Raiders | ADP: 12:07

Inconsistency will be a factor, and barring an injury ahead of him, Williams will always play second fiddle to Antonio Brown. That is a double-edged sword, though, as it also means the former Los Angeles Charger will see single coverage all day long. The offense has potential to be better than many expect, and with a defense poised to bring up the rear of the league, throwing the ball with volume will amplify Williams’ chances for meaningful work.

Ideally, he is utilized in best-ball formats when gamers can take advantage of Williams’ strong efforts and not be penalized by the days he’ll inevitably ghost your lineup. Given his ADP, the risk is reasonably low as a WR4 in standard setups.

(Jake Roth, USA TODAY Sports)

Tight ends

Hunter Henry | Los Angeles Chargers | ADP: 6:01

Here’s the thing … after missing the entire 2018 season with a torn ACL, just getting back into his previous form is an accomplishment. The 24-year-old Henry should be 100 percent for Week 1 and has a chance to be so much more productive than his breakout-lite rookie season of 36-478-8. Well, the eight TDs may be tough to top, but Henry easily can double the other figures.

Double? Like 72 catches for 956 yards? Doable. More reasonable would be a line of 72 for 850, but you get the picture. Los Angeles has a stud receiver in Keenan Allen and a powerhouse running game. Hall of Fame-bound tight end Antonio Gates is no longer depressing Henry’s stats, and wideout Tyrell Williams is an Oakland Raidah. Mike Williams isn’t a volume target for Philip Rivers, and Travis Benjamin is soft. Henry is a fair investment for everything that he could be in 2019.

Vance McDonald | Pittsburgh Steelers | ADP: 7:11

Coming off of his best year as a pro, McDonald enters a more favorable situation, at least for volume. The loss of Antonio Brown’s 2.2 million targets a year opens the door for Ben Roethlisberger to incorporate the underrated tight end more in the aerial assault. Injuries have plagued the athletic McDonald throughout his career, making an uptick in targets a threat to his well-being.

Be aware of what he brings from both directions. The upside is nice, and the downside is real. McDonald has a chance to find his way into the top five spots at the position given the volatility of those around him.

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