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2018 NFL Predictions: 2nd-Year Players Set to Become Breakout Fantasy Stars

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistAugust 14, 2018

CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 04:  Joe Mixon #28 of the Cincinnati Bengals runs with the ball against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the first half at Paul Brown Stadium on December 4, 2017 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)
John Grieshop/Getty Images

Fantasy football owners know all about the sophomore slump. But the owners most likely to charge forward and win leagues in 2018 know some sophomores make superb value targets during fantasy drafts. 

A sophomore surge is more common than owners might think—look at Jared Goff's turnaround a year ago, both because of his own development and due to some smooth coaching decisions around him. 

While some candidates already broke out as rookies (think Deshaun Watson and JuJu Smith-Schuster), plenty remain as viable breakout candidates based on situations like Goff's, a general uptick in talent or simply more chances to make an impact. 

For fantasy owners on the hunt for breakout candidates, these are the guys with massive upside to target. 

            

Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs

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KANSAS CITY, MO - AUGUST 09:  Quarterback Patrick Mahomes #15 of the Kansas City Chiefs drops back to pass during the first half against the Houston Texans at Arrowhead Stadium on August 9, 2018 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Ima
Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

With Alex Smith now in Washington, fantasy owners should expect a big year from Patrick Mahomes. 

After all, the No. 10 overall pick in 2017 flashed potential when on the field for the Kansas City Chiefs. He didn't receive ample opportunities, but the old running back adage that "opportunity equals production" should apply here. 

Mahomes gets to hand the ball off to Kareem Hunt and dump off to him, one year removed from the running back hauling in 53 passes. He gets to pepper star tight end Travis Kelce, stretch the field with Tyreek Hill and throw to new arrival Sammy Watkins. 

Owners shouldn't be deceived about early reports from camp either: 

Adam Teicher @adamteicher

Patrick Mahomes threw another interception at Chiefs practice Thursday, with safety Daniel Sorensen making the pick. That’s eight in seven training camp practices for the Mahomes. Coach Andy Reid said he wasn’t concerned about the number of... https://t.co/XeD8YIEBd1

If a quarterback guru like head coach Andy Reid isn't concerned, fantasy owners shouldn't be either. Practice and preseason games are for learning, so turnovers will come with the territory. 

As a disclaimer, this isn't suggesting owners should go out and get Mahomes early. But as a week-to-week waiver add, Mahomes should have a huge season and cement a much higher average draft position for himself in the coming years. 

       

Joe Mixon, RB, Cincinnati Bengals 

CINCINNATI, OH - AUGUST 09: Joe Mixon #28 of the Cincinnati Bengals makes a move against John Timu #53 of the Chicago Bears on his way to a 24-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter of a preseason game at Paul Brown Stadium on August 9, 2018 in Cin
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Joe Mixon disappointed fantasy owners last year. 

They made the Cincinnati Bengals rookie an early-round pick because he not only has a versatile skill set and plays in a great-looking offense, but because he was arguably the most talented back in the class who took a fall on draft day. 

Rather than coming close to expectations, Mixon mustered only 626 yards and four scores on a 3.5 yards per carry. But context is key, as the offensive line that got an offensive coordinator fired after two weeks and derailed an entire season has received a makeover with Cordy Glenn arriving to man left tackle and first-rounder Billy Price taking over at center. 

With Jeremy Hill gone, director of player personnel Duke Tobin and coaches have preached all offseason that Mixon is the new workhorse: 

Geoff Hobson @GeoffHobsonCin

Duke: Mixon the bell cow running back mixing with Gio

In 12-team standard leagues, Mixon has an average draft position of 2.07, which is huge for a second-year back who hasn't erupted yet. 

But Mixon is worth it, as we have plenty of college film and flashes from a season ago to point to use as a predictor of usage and production during his sophomore year. If all goes well, it wouldn't be too much of a surprise to see Mixon outperform his ADP. 

          

Mitchell Trubisky, QB, Chicago Bears

CINCINNATI, OH - AUGUST 09: Mitchell Trubisky #10 of the Chicago Bears looks to pass the ball during a preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on August 9, 2018 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The way the NFL slowly brings along quarterbacks—and in Goff's case, adjusts to their needs—equates to a healthy number of sophomore fantasy breakouts. 

When it comes to Mitchell Trubisky, owners can expect the Chicago Bears to adjust and get him rolling. 

Trubisky was a dud as a rookie, but most quarterbacks in the league probably would have been with that Bears squad. They tried trotting out Mike Glennon as a sacrifice before letting Trubisky loose for 12 games, when a conservative offense and an adjustment period saw him put up 2,193 yards with seven touchdowns and interceptions apiece on a 59.4 completion percentage. 

Kidding or not, guard Kyle Long put it best as the Bears turned toward 2018: 

Madeline Kenney @madkenney

Asked @Ky1eLong how @Mtrubisky10 has grown this offseason (besides the scruff): "My little boy is becoming a man. Mitch—they've taken the training wheels off of Mitch's little bike. So he going to be able to do some things creatively and get to showcase his skills."

New Bears head coach Matt Nagy is the perfect man for the job. The elements of deep shots, run/pass options and West Coast style that let Trubisky improvise like he does so well is similar to what he ran in college and made him a high draft pick in the first place. He's got a power runner in Jordan Howard, one of the league's most explosive pass-catching weapons with Tarik Cohen, a breakout tight end candidate with Adam Shaheen and new arrivals Allen Robinson and second-round pick Anthony Miller. 

Trubisky is probably worth a stash. It's easy to drop him if he starts to fizzle out early. But everything seems like it's coming together to create a viable starter in 12-team leagues, especially with so many games of experience under his belt already. 

            

Honorable Mentions

Corey Davis, WR, Tennessee Titans

O.J. Howard, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 

David Njoku, TE, Cleveland Browns 

Adam Shaheen, TE, Chicago Bears 

Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota Vikings 

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