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
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:
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
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:
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
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:
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.
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