Predicting the NFL's Biggest Breakouts of 2018 Fantasy Football

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistJuly 25, 2018

Predicting the NFL's Biggest Breakouts of 2018 Fantasy Football

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    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    Typically, top fantasy league owners sit atop the standings with rosters that feature consistent premier performers and breakout assets. Based on roster makeup and roles, some players have a better 2018 outlook than others. 

    Fantasy standouts no one saw coming often put managers in championship contention. Beyond the top rookie contributors, we saw other players take a major step in production during the 2017 season.

    Quarterbacks Carson Wentz and Jared Goff made huge splashes with more than 260 points in standard Yahoo leagues. Tyreek Hill listed fourth among wide receivers in scoring with 1,183 yards and seven touchdowns. Running back Dion Lewis finished in the top 12 at his position. 

    To avoid overlap with the top fantasy rookies to target, we'll focus on the biggest breakouts expected to make a significant leap in value. The list includes second-year players and multiyear veterans who could take advantage of new opportunities on offense.

    Average draft position ranks from Fantasy Football Calculator estimate when a player may come off the board in standard 12-team leagues.

        

QB Deshaun Watson, Houston Texans

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    ADP Rank: 4.01

    If not for a torn ACL in Week 8, Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson could've challenged New Orleans Saints running back Alvin Kamara for Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.

    Watson immediately sparked the Texans offense, tossing 19 touchdown passes and rushing for 269 yards and two scores through seven games. He became a popular early-season acquisition but didn't even appear in half his team's games, which is why he still qualifies as a potential full-year breakout candidate. 

    For those concerned about Watson's recovery from an ACL tear, "the knee is doing good," the Texans signal-caller told reporters, per John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.

    He'll return to an offense that features wideout DeAndre Hopkins, who led the league with 13 touchdown receptions in 2017. Will Fuller V flashed his potential, scoring seven touchdowns. With the added bonus of being able to reach paydirt with his legs, Watson could finish within the top five in total fantasy points.

QB Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    ADP Rank: 7.11

    Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo doesn't have star wide receivers on the perimeter, but he flashed once head coach Kyle Shanahan decided to start him in December. The former New England Patriot threw for 250-plus yards in four out of five starts and had two multi-touchdown games in 2017.

    Garoppolo also tossed five interceptions, but he's coming into the campaign with a full offseason in Shanahan's offense. More familiarity should equate to improved efficiency in the pocket.

    The 26-year-old built an immediate rapport with speedy wideout Marquise Goodwin, who logged 24 catches for 319 yards in a three-game span. Savvy veteran Pierre Garcon had a career-high 113 receptions under Shanahan during the 2013 campaign with the Washington Redskins. He'll return from a neck injury as a key component in the aerial attack. 

    The front office also added running back Jerick McKinnon, who caught 51 passes for 421 yards and three touchdowns in 2017. Garoppolo has the offensive weapons to go downfield or carve up defenses underneath.

    Most importantly, don't doubt Shanahan's schemes. As a play-caller, his passing attacks have ranked ninth or higher in yardage in six out of 10 seasons.

QB Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    ADP Rank: 10.05

    Chiefs signal-caller Patrick Mahomes makes the list as the second breakout quarterback because of head coach Andy Reid's track record.

    Under Reid as a leap skipper, quarterbacks Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick and Alex Smith have led top-10 passing offenses in yards and touchdowns. Yes, Reid gave up play-calling duties to Matt Nagy late last season, but Smith started the year with 16 touchdown passes and zero interceptions in eight games, including three 300-yard performances—not bad for a conservative signal-caller. 

    As for the on-field personnel, the front office set Mahomes up to succeed with wideout Sammy Watkins joining two pass-catchers in Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce who finished with 1,000-plus yards in 2017. The Texas Tech product will also have a reliable receiving threat out of the backfield in running back Kareem Hunt. 

    Expect Mahomes to play through growing pains in his second season and first as a full-time starter, but he's in a situation that breeds major fantasy upside.

RB Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    ADP Rank: 2.01

    Running back Dalvin Cook made a statement in his NFL debut with 22 carries for 127 yards. He ranked third in rushing behind Kareem Hunt and Todd Gurley with 354 yards through four weeks before an ACL tear landed him on injured reserve. 

    According to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero, Cook handled a full workload at practice before the team's summer intermission. The second-year running back also told the reporter to expect "something special" in Week 1. 

    Take heed, fantasy owners. Cook should have a breakout year as the home run ball-carrier in the backfield after Jerick McKinnon's departure. Expect Latavius Murray to handle the grind as the bigger back pushing through piles between the tackles.

    Cook will turn on the jets to beat defenders and see a decent amount of looks as a receiver in the short passing game. The Florida State product racked up 488 yards as a pass-catcher during his junior year at the collegiate level. He's in the conversation as a first-round choice in fantasy leagues.

RB Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals

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    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    ADP Rank: 2.08

    Running back Joe Mixon's ADP sits at 2.08, but he deserves first-round consideration for those who draw a late pick. The Oklahoma product started seven contests and split the workload with Giovani Bernard in the previous season, finishing with 913 yards from scrimmage.

    The 22-year-old's 3.5 yards per carry may give fantasy owners pause, but he moved the ball in chunks when given a heavier workload toward the end of his rookie campaign. In Weeks 12 and 17, he logged a combined 41 rushing attempts for 210 yards, putting him at 5.1 yards per carry.

    Furthermore, the Cincinnati Bengals upgraded their offensive line. First-rounder Billy Price will man the pivot with a mean streak, and Cordy Glenn takes over for Cedric Ogbuehi at left tackle.

    Mixon also serves as a comparable receiving threat to Bernard out of the backfield. He logged an 88.2 catch rate with 9.6 yards per reception in 2017. The Bengals still need a reliable pass-catcher other than wideout A.J. Green. If John Ross and Tyler Boyd underwhelm in that role, the second-year running back could see more looks in the short passing game.

RB Jerick McKinnon, San Francisco 49ers

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    Uncredited/Associated Press

    ADP Rank: 2.10

    Jerick McKinnon decided to sign with the 49ers for a larger workload, but he'll share touches with Matt Breida and possibly Joe Williams, pending their performances through the preseason.

    Nonetheless, it's an ideal landing spot for the fifth-year tailback looking to put a bigger stamp on an offensive unit. He's yet to eclipse 1,000 yards from scrimmage, but that should change in the upcoming season as the lead ball-carrier and receiver out of the backfield. McKinnon's touches should come close to Carlos Hyde's total (299) with the 49ers in 2017.

    In 16 contests, Hyde logged 240 rushing attempts and caught 59 passes. San Francisco added two pass-catchers in the draft, Dante Pettis and Richie James, but Kyle Shanahan will optimize McKinnon's skill set as a receiver. We saw that with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman during his tenure as the Atlanta Falcons play-caller between the 2015-16 seasons. 

    The 49ers' lead running back holds RB1 value, and he's going to crush his previous numbers with the Vikings.

RB Kenyan Drake, Miami Dolphins

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    Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

    ADP Rank: 4.08

    Don't allow Frank Gore's arrival to sway you from running back Kenyan Drake in the early rounds. The 35-year-old won't cast the same shadow over the Alabama product as he did with Marlon Mack in Indianapolis last year.

    Drake already proved he could handle the majority workload through the final five weeks of the previous season. In that span, the 6'1", 211-pound tailback logged consecutive 100-yard games and averaged 4.88 yards per carry.

    Despite Gore's 261-carry workload with the Colts in the previous term, he only reached the end zone three times on the ground and tied a season low with 3.7 yards per carry. 

    Expect the Dolphins to see what they have in their 2016 third-rounder, who looked the part of a lead ball-carrier last season. Similar to the three preceding running backs listed, Drake offers owners in point-per-reception leagues more value with his receiving ability. He caught 32 passes for 239 yards and a touchdown in 2017.

WR Corey Davis, Tennessee Titans

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    Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

    ADP Rank: 6.11

    Wideout Corey Davis' hamstring injury took the fizz out of what could've been a strong rookie campaign. He appeared in 11 games but struggled along with the Tennessee Titans' entire offense through the regular season.

    Davis reached the end zone twice in an AFC divisional playoff loss to the New England Patriots and carried that momentum into the offseason, per Jim Wyatt of the team's official website, who called the 2017 No. 5 overall pick "one of the stars" during practices.

    Wyatt also mentioned the team will count on Davis to take a major step in 2018. The focus on the development of the top-five pick suggests he'll get a high number of targets.

    After missing every game in October last year, Davis received the second-most targets (52) through the last nine regular-season contests behind tight end Delanie Walker, whose touchdown totals dropped from seven to three over the past two terms. And in six seasons, wideout Rishard Matthews has scored more than four touchdowns only once.

    Quarterback Marcus Mariota needs a consistent red-zone threat, and he could take advantage of Davis' 6'3", 209-pound stature in one-on-one opportunities on the perimeter. Furthermore, the Titans' running back duo of Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis could open space for the big-body pass-catcher in play-action scenarios.

WR Mike Williams, Los Angeles Chargers

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    ADP Rank: 11.04

    Similar to Corey Davis, an injury, specifically a herniated disc in the lower back, posed an early obstacle for Mike Williams' rookie campaign. He suited up for 10 contests but only saw 23 targets.

    Williams proclaimed he's 100 percent healthy and ready for a big step forward this year, per Ricky Henne of the team's official website. "I wasn’t capable of doing what I can do last year because of the injury. This offseason, I feel 100 percent. I'm ready to go out there and dominate."

    The Chargers lost tight end Hunter Henry for the season with an ACL tear. As a result, quarterback Philip Rivers could look to Williams' 6'4", 220-pound frame in the end zone. Los Angeles has a deep wide receiver corps, but the second-year pass-catcher's size should elevate his touchdown numbers and fantasy value. 

    Furthermore, just like Davis, he's a Top 10 pick with high expectations, which likely means increased opportunities to establish himself as a go-to option in the aerial attack.

WR Ryan Grant, Indianapolis Colts

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    ADP Rank: N/A

    So far, so good for quarterback Andrew Luck's surgically repaired shoulder that's not causing him pain through the offseason. Assuming he's back under center for the upcoming campaign, the entire offense benefits, especially the receivers.

    Behind No. 1 wideout T.Y. Hilton, fifth-year pass-catcher Ryan Grant should claim the No. 2 spot over rookies and unestablished talents at the position. He also comes off his best season with 45 receptions for 573 yards and four touchdowns through 16 games and seven starts. 

    As the potential secondary option to Hilton, who will draw the opponent's top cover man, Grant could reach the 1,000-yard mark, beating his defender in one-on-one situations downfield. He flashed reliable hands during his final year with the Washington Redskins, logging a 69.2 percent catch rate. 

    In 2016, five pass-catchers saw at least 50 targets with Luck at the helm. Grant will have opportunities to produce in Indianapolis. If the 27-year-old continues to secure passes at a rate close to 70 percent, he's a late-round steal with breakout upside. 

         

    ADP ranks calculated by fantasy football calculator.