Capitalizing on breakout stars is the ultimate way to ensure that you'll win your upcoming fantasy football league.
Anything can happen in fantasy football. First-round stars might get injured, rookies often falter and sometimes older players go through rather rapid declines right in front of your eyes. That's why capitalizing on players in good position to succeed is key.
Oftentimes a player's situation will create more success than his talent would indicate. A middling running back with full-time carries will perform better than a reserve back with the talent to start elsewhere, for instance.
There are several players primed for breakout seasons this year, and you'd be wise to pick up at least one of them in your draft.
Montee Ball, RB, Denver Broncos
Montee Ball has already made strides in improving his game. After a disappointing rookie campaign that saw the Wisconsin product yield carries to Ronnie Hillman and Knowshon Moreno, Ball is now primed to be the No. 1 guy in the backfield for the Denver Broncos.
Training camp has only just begun, but the Broncos have already seen big-time improvements from their young rusher:
"The Broncos have seen vast improvements in [Montee Ball's] work as both a receiver and blocker in the passing game." http://t.co/dP46VT93Mx— Adam Levitan (@adamlevitan) July 17, 2014
While blocking won't help you in fantasy, the fact that he'll be a weapon in the passing game as well should make your mouth water.
Most impressive catch of the day was by Montee Ball. Manning threw sideline pass perfectly, 15 yards downfield, with Trevathan in tight covg— MileHighReport (@MileHighReport) July 25, 2014
We all saw last season what this offense can do with a dynamic running back. Moreno broke out in a big way last season, rushing for 1,038 yards and 10 touchdowns. Peyton Manning utilized him as a receiver as well, with the 27-year-old hauling in 60 balls for 548 yards and three more touchdowns. This led to a new contract with the Miami Dolphins during the offseason.
Ball had issues catching the football last season, but the fact that he has improved in that area suggests that he's ready for a Moreno-like breakout. Manning loves to check the ball down to his running backs—regardless of who happens to be in the backfield.
Ball has the skills as a runner to rip a few catches in the flat off for big yardage. This home run mentality makes Ball a player that fantasy players need to target by Round 6 or 7.
It might sound like a stretch, but you don't want to wait on him and then watch him go to someone else. You won't regret taking him there.
Charles Clay, TE, Miami Dolphins
Charles Clay is a borderline breakout star, mostly because he already had a mini-breakout last season. In 16 games (15 starts), Clay racked up 759 yards and six touchdowns on 69 receptions.
The 25-year-old tight end became a favorite target for Ryan Tannehill as the season progressed. The numbers he posted were because of chemistry established several weeks into the season. Give the pair a full season to work with, and Clay could become a top-tier tight end in fantasy.
The NFL already pegged Clay as one of its top 100 players:
Clay is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses because of his speed, size and hands. He plays like a wideout as tight end, making him a difficult assignment for linebackers and undersized corners. The Dolphins know this, and they will exploit it.
The likes of Jimmy Graham, Vernon Davis and Rob Gronkowski will likely go off the board by Round 4. Clay represents one of the next best options, but you could probably wait until Round 6 to scoop him up.
By that point, most fantasy owners will already have a quarterback, top running back and a wideout or two. Clay would be the icing on the cake.
Don't let a mid-level quarterback like Tannehill scare you away from taking one of the league's best up-and-coming tight ends.
Bishop Sankey, RB, Tennessee Titans
The Tennessee Titans were confident enough in Bishop Sankey's ability to step in right away and produce to take him as the first running back in the 2014 NFL draft.
They won't regret the decision.
Chris Johnson leaves big shoes to fill, but Sankey had a successful collegiate career that will translate to the pros. He is a major back who runs well and knows how to find holes. He has a clear path to the starter's job because Shonn Greene has absolutely no upside.
The expectations are already pretty high for the young rusher. ESPN's Kyle Bonagura provided early Rookie of the Year odds via Twitter:
Sankey is a guy you should feel comfortable taking near Round 5 and placing right into your starting lineup. Jeff Haseley of FootballGuys.com agrees:
Bishop Sankey should easily get 200+ carries and usually that means Top 20 ranking. If you go WR/TE in one of 1st two picks, he's a good RB2— Jeff Haseley (@JeffHaseley) July 25, 2014
As the featured runner in an offense that isn't going to pass the ball a ridiculous amount, Sankey is poised to become a consistent contributor to your fantasy squad.
Follow Kenny DeJohn on Twitter: @KennyDeJohn_BR