Once you get out of the first five rounds in your fantasy draft, taking risks can be the great separator between winning a championship and bringing up the rear and being subjected to endless ribbing from your friends.
Anyone can tell you what to do in the first round—Adrian Peterson is the best player available, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees will throw for a lot of yards and touchdowns—but depth is just as important to winning a championship.
Even though there is plenty of time to prep for your fantasy draft—seriously, if you have one before preseason games start, you might need to be treated for addiction—these are the players to keep in your mind as breakout candidates at quarterback, running back and wide receiver/tight end for the 2014 season.
Breakout Quarterback: Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins
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I have been championing Ryan Tannehill as an NFL quarterback since he was drafted two years ago. While there have been some natural growing pains, he's thrown for 7,207 yards and 36 touchdowns in 32 games.
Yet no one seems to be paying attention to Tannehill, whether it's because Miami isn't a sexy team or he's thrown 30 interceptions or some unknown reason. He's so underrated that Johnny Manziel is going ahead of him, according to FFToolBox.com's average draft rankings.
Manziel isn't even assured of being Cleveland's starter in Week 1 and No. 1 receiver Josh Gordon is awaiting word on a potential season-long suspension. Other than that, the former Heisman winner is aces!
Omar Kelly of the Miami Sun Sentinel noted on Twitter how much better Tannehill was getting at releasing the ball in training camp:
Ryan Tannehill is getting a lot better at throwing to his targets before they become open in 7-on-7. That's progress for him.— Omar Kelly (@OmarKelly) July 26, 2014
The saying goes that you can judge a quarterback after three years. Tannehill increased his completion percentage, yardage totals and touchdowns from 2012 to 2013. He has to tone down the interceptions (17 last year) to become a No. 1 fantasy option, but all the ingredients are there for at least 4,000 yards with 25-plus touchdowns.
If you need more definitive reasons to draft Tannehill, Miami's new offensive coordinator is Bill Lazor, who served as the quarterbacks coach in Philadelphia last year when Nick Foles had a breakout campaign.
Breakout Running Back: Toby Gerhart, Jacksonville Jaguars
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At what point do we talk about a guy being underrated so much to the point where he actually becomes overrated? I fear that's what is happening with Toby Gerhart, who was recently the subject of an article by Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman.
In the piece, Freeman quotes an NFC executive who had some pointed remarks:
Toby has always been a good running back in this league. He'll help that Jacksonville team. He'll make them better. He's always been better than some people perceived. If he were black, you f-----s (in the media) would be talking about how good he is.
That's not entirely fair since Gerhart has never been asked to carry an offense, unless you count five starts he made in 2011 when Peterson was injured. He did play well that year, averaging 4.9 yards per carry and scoring four total touchdowns (three receiving, one rushing).
Now, with a fresh start in Jacksonville, Gerhart will get a chance to prove he can be a No. 1 running back. Maurice Jones-Drew is gone and Blake Bortles, if he is the Week 1 starter, is a rookie quarterback, so there will be carries to go around.
That's the best reason to bet on Gerhart, because there's no one else on Jacksonville's roster to bet on yet. Cecil Shorts is a quality wide receiver, but Bortles will need time to adjust. Marqise Lee has potential but is still a rookie wide receiver.
Gerhart also has the benefit of being a veteran running back without a lot of wear on his tires. The Stanford product has never had more than 109 attempts in a season and a total of 86 the last two years.
The only concern with Gerhart is he will be relied on so heavily and the passing game could be a struggle, so the touchdowns won't be easy to come by. He can find a handful on long runs and goal-line situations, but defenses can gear up to stop the run and force Bortles to beat them.
Breakout Wide Receiver/Tight End: Justin Hunter, Tennessee Titans
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When you are a rookie wide receiver playing with an unstable quarterback and still manage to average 19.7 yards per reception, you have the attention of fantasy owners everywhere.
Which breakout candidate will be the biggest bust in 2014?
Justin Hunter saw his stock take a hit prior to the 2013 NFL draft after posting, by his standards, a less-than-exceptional junior season at Tennessee. He had 73 catches for 1,083 yards and nine touchdowns, but the average yards per catch of 14.8 was nearly four yards fewer than his 2011 total (18.5).
However, Hunter showed his NFL moxie at the combine by running a 4.44 40-yard dash and possessing tremendous size at 6'4". He's still slight at 196 pounds but has the ability to overcome the lack of power with length and speed down the field.
If Jake Locker could be a consistent quarterback, Hunter would be a lock for 1,000 yards and a handful of touchdowns. Instead, the 23-year-old is a deep sleeper because of his ability to break big plays despite who is throwing him the ball.
With just 18 catches last year, Hunter managed to turn four of them into touchdowns. That's a special, unique talent who will only get better with seasoning.
Stats courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com.
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