Fantasy Football 2018: New NFL Situations That Could Produce Breakout Seasons

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistJune 18, 2018

Fantasy Football 2018: New NFL Situations That Could Produce Breakout Seasons

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    It's never too early to start planning for the 2018 fantasy football season. As post-minicamp reports circulate, potential breakout candidates come to light.

    It's important to lock up your running backs, especially in PPR leagues. A productive dual-threat asset can propel your squad to a championship—just ask owners who picked up Todd Gurley last year.

    There are three tailbacks expected to handle major roles in their respective backfields who should be on your radar heading into the season. 

    Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz, Jimmy Graham and...? There's a tight end on a new team who landed in an opportune spot to become a top-10 producer.

    Which receivers could be in for a breakout campaign after the departures of former teammates?

    And finally, which quarterback will see the biggest fantasy spike after a change in scenery? Let's go through all the names to add to your queue on draft day.

QB Tyrod Taylor, Cleveland Browns

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    Tyrod Taylor is in a good spot to see the biggest increase in fantasy production at the quarterback position. Cleveland Browns pass-catchers Josh Gordon and Jarvis Landry have touted their wide receiver corps as the best in the league, per Zac Jackson of The Athletic. They'll have a chance to prove it on the field.

    As the projected starter in Cleveland, Taylor inherits a better group of receivers compared to those he worked with in Buffalo over the past three seasons. Wideout Sammy Watkins stands out as the only WR1/WR2-type fantasy talent with the Bills in that span. In 2015, Watkins finished with 1,047 yards and nine touchdowns.

    Gordon led the league in receiving yards five years ago, but he also flashed the ability to stretch the field just last season, averaging 18.6 yards per catch. Landry, meanwhile, doesn't leave a lot of balls on the ground. The 25-year-old eclipsed 100 receptions in two of the last three campaigns to go along with catch rates above 65 percent all four years of his career.

    The Browns signal-caller will also have an exceptional receiver out of the backfield in Duke Johnson, who led the team in receptions (74) and yards (693) in 2017. Add in tight end David Njoku's upside, and Taylor should produce his best season yet.

RB Jerick McKinnon, San Francisco 49ers

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    Running back Jerick McKinnon previously expressed his desire for a bigger role in the backfield, and now he'll get his chance as a major factor in the San Francisco 49ers offense. The 26-year-old will split carries with Matt Breida, who ran for 465 yards and two touchdowns last year, and Joe Williams, to a lesser extent.

    Nonetheless, McKinnon's workload as a ball-carrier and receiver should elevate his fantasy production for the upcoming season.

    NBC Sports Bay Area reporter Matt Maiocco tweeted his observation of the fifth-year pro during minicamp: "Of course, no pads, no tackling, but Jerick McKinnon looks crisp. He has been a standout in practices as a runner/receiver."

    McKinnon's receiving production could pay off for fantasy owners looking for a solid RB2, particularly in PPR leagues. If he handles more than half the carries, there's borderline RB1 potential.

RB Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings

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    It's the easiest breakout projection on the list. Despite Latavius Murray's presence, McKinnon's absence opens the door for Dalvin Cook as an RB1.

    At 6'3", 230 pounds, Murray profiles as a bigger ball-carrier who's fit to run between the tackles. He's averaged four yards per carry or less in the last three seasons, putting Cook in the perfect position to act as the Minnesota Vikings' explosive rusher in the backfield.

    The Florida State product burst on to the NFL scene with 22 carries for 127 yards in Week 1 against the New Orleans Saints last year. He was averaging 4.8 yards per carry before suffering a torn ACL in Week 4 vs. the Detroit Lions.

    For those concerned about Cook's recovery, he handled a full workload at practice during mandatory minicamp, per NFL Network's Tom Pelissero. According to the report, the Vikings running back wore a brace on his knee but doesn't plan to use it during games.

RB Marlon Mack, Indianapolis Colts

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    There's a lot of buzz surrounding Indianapolis Colts fourth-rounder Nyheim Hines' versatility as a receiver and kick returner during team workouts.

    New head coach Frank Reich also highlighted running back Robert Turbin as a key part of the backfield, per the Indianapolis Star's Stephen Holder. "What I like about him is not only has he shown that size and power and strength, he’s smart, he’s good in protections and he’s good enough of a route runner that he can be a three-down back," Reich said.

    Both running backs had a head start in the offseason program over tailback Marlon Mack, who's recovering from shoulder surgery. Last year he broke out for long runs, but he also gave some yardage back on losses. The South Florida product logged 583 yards from scrimmage during his rookie campaign in a backup role. 

    Without running back Frank Gore—who signed with the Miami Dolphins over the offseason—handling the majority of carries, the addition of left guard Quenton Nelson and the Colts' decision to select a smaller tailback in Hines (5'8", 198 pounds), Mack should have an opportunity to lead the backfield. He's yet to practice due to injury, but consider him a sleeper pick with upside.

WR DeVante Parker, Miami Dolphins

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    It's time for wideout DeVante Parker's breakout season. The Dolphins exercised his fifth-year option during the offseason, so they clearly feel he can reach another level.

    Quarterback Ryan Tannehill will return under center after missing all of the 2017 season. The last time he commanded the huddle during the 2016 campaign, Parker recorded two 100-yard games. The Louisville product didn't have one such performance with Jay Cutler and Matt Moore quarterbacking the team. 

    The Dolphins traded Jarvis Landry to the Browns in March, which creates more opportunities for Parker. Thus far, he's approached the offseason with a renewed focused on detail, per the Palm Beach Post's Joe Schad:

    "Dolphins coaches say few if any players have spent more time in the building than Parker since last season ended. He’s been focused on managing his health as well as studying film. The national and local expectations for Parker have been lowered based on disappointing 2016 and 2017 seasons, which is a good position for him to be in. I did notice Parker running extra routes with Tannehill at a recent practice."

    It may be a now-or-never situation for Parker as a breakout player. Nonetheless, there's intrigue with more targets to go around and Tannehill also under a microscope in 2018.

WR Tyler Lockett, Seattle Seahawks

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    The Seattle Seahawks decided to allow wideout Paul Richardson to walk during free agency. On top of that, receiver Tyler Lockett is heading into a contract year, which is a recipe for a big season.

    Lockett broke his fibula and tibia in Week 16 of the 2016 season. He managed to suit up for all 16 contests last year, starting eight, but head coach Pete Carroll suggested the wideout wasn't fully up to snuff.

    However, the Seattle Times' Bob Condotta reported there's reason for optimism going forward: "Lockett returned to play all of last season, but Carroll said it was obvious Lockett wasn’t quite 100 percent. But he is now, Carroll said, which could give the team’s receiving corps a significant boost." 

    The Seahawks signed 34-year-old wideout Brandon Marshall, who's coming off toe and ankle surgeries, to a one-year deal in May. In addition to injury concerns, his production has plummeted over the past two seasons. He could serve as a red-zone threat after tight end Jimmy Graham left for the Green Bay Packers, but Lockett should comfortably slide in the WR2 spot in Seattle.

WR Chris Hogan, New England Patriots

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    Wideout Chris Hogan led the league in yards per reception with 17.9 in the 2016 season, during which he started 14 games.

    Hogan's breakout campaign might have come to fruition in 2017, but the New England Patriots acquired Brandin Cooks from the New Orleans Saints in a trade. The 24-year-old went on to lead the wide receiver unit in catches (65), yards (1,082) and touchdowns (seven) last season.

    The Patriots continued to shuffle the deck at the position and traded Cooks to the Los Angeles Rams in April.

    Coming into their first year in New England, wideouts Jordan Matthews and Cordarrelle Patterson will need time to build chemistry with quarterback Tom Brady. Meanwhile, Kenny Britt only played 40 snaps with the team last year, and Malcolm Mitchell has yet to practice this offseason after missing the entire 2017 campaign due to a chronic knee ailment.

    Regardless of the league's verdict on wideout Julian Edelman's appeal of a four-game suspension stemming from a performance-enhancing drug violation, Hogan has a good shot at putting together his best season going into a third year with Brady.

TE Virgil Green, Los Angeles Chargers

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    In a June 13 appearance on 97.3 The Fan, Los Angeles Chargers general manager Tom Telesco confirmed the team has remained in contact with free-agent tight end Antonio Gates.

    Gates, the franchise record-holder in receptions (927), yards (11,508) and touchdowns (114), would fill the tight end void with Hunter Henry out for the 2018 season due to a torn ACL.

    Nonetheless, it's not a done deal. In the meantime, the Chargers could look to tight end Virgil Green as a receiving threat. The eighth-year veteran didn't have a prominent role in the Denver Broncos offense during Peyton Manning's four-year stint with the franchise between 2012-15. However, he emerged as a consistent starter over the past two seasons—a period featuring Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler and Paxton Lynch.

    With quarterback Philip Rivers under center, Green has an opportunity to finally eclipse 250 receiving yards and score multiple touchdowns in an offense that knows how to utilize big-body targets in the passing game.