Fantasy Football 2019: Predicting the Biggest Breakouts
As NFL teams open training camps, we'll begin to see how position battles and player roles sort out over the next several weeks. Fantasy football managers can get an early jump on breakout candidates before news reports point the masses in the direction of an asset on the rise for the 2019 season.
Last year, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes became an easy choice for a standout season as a first-time starter under head coach Andy Reid, who favors throwing the ball downfield. On the flip side, San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle unexpectedly rose to fantasy football stardom even without his starting quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, for most of the year.
Going into the 2019 campaign, several upstart players should grab your attention—mainly because they will take on new starting roles or come off injury-riddled seasons with significant upside.
We'll highlight eight players fantasy managers should add to their queues for standard Yahoo point-per-reception leagues. Using the Fantasy Football Calculator, their adjusted draft position (ADP) is listed to give viewers an estimate as to when a player could come off the board.
QB Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns
ADP Rank: 6.06
In 2018, Baker Mayfield finished as QB16 in standard Yahoo leagues, throwing for 3,725 yards, 27 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Typically, fantasy managers should lean toward dual-threat quarterbacks who can add significant boosts as ball-carriers, but the Cleveland Browns signal-caller will have a loaded pass-catching group.
Of course, we have to start with Odell Beckham Jr., who made New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning a viable starting option for some matchups in recent years. Now, the star wide receiver will catch passes from a quarterback who can extend plays with his pocket mobility, though he's not a frequent ball-carrier at the position.
Assuming Beckham stays healthy, he could eclipse 1,300 receiving yards and log 10 touchdowns as he did in each of his first three seasons. That bodes well for Mayfield's fantasy numbers.
Beckham's presence takes some coverage pressure away from Jarvis Landry, Antonio Calloway and especially David Njoku because of the safety help needed over the top. Mayfield will have an elite talent and several opportunities to pick on favorable one-on-one matchups with secondary pass-catchers.
Fantasy Prediction: 4,538 passing yards, 34 touchdowns, 13 interceptions
QB Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills
ADP Rank: 13.11
As we discuss the value of dual-threat quarterbacks, Josh Allen ranks atop the list of breakout candidates.
The Buffalo Bills added an influx of talent at wide receiver and tight end, signing John Brown, Cole Beasley, Tyler Kroft and Lee Smith in addition to selecting Dawson Knox and Tommy Sweeney in the third and seventh rounds of this year's draft, respectively.
Kroft broke his foot during organized team activities, but Allen will have Brown as a deep threat and Beasley, who's played with reliable hands for seven seasons in Dallas, registering a career 70.9 percent catch rate. Smith hasn't shown much of his pass-catching skill at tight end, but Knox and Sweeney have upside as big-play options in the seam areas.
Allen's accuracy may raise some concern; he completed just 52.8 percent of his passes last year. But his big arm leaves room for a huge play on any given passing down. The 23-year-old's late-season chemistry with Robert Foster could also blossom into a solid connection. The undrafted wide receiver out of Alabama logged three 100-yard games during the second half of the 2018 season.
If defenses clamp down on the passing attack, Allen isn't afraid to tuck the ball and run for an easy first down. He led the Bills in rushing yards (631) and touchdowns (eight) last year. That won't happen again in the upcoming season because of a loaded backfield featuring LeSean McCoy, Frank Gore, Devin Singletary and T.J. Yeldon. Nonetheless, the athletic signal-caller should have opportunities to rack up yards on the ground to fill in any rough patches for the aerial attack.
Fantasy Prediction: 3,467 passing yards, 23 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, 507 rushing yards, 7 touchdowns
RB Damien Williams, Kansas City Chiefs
ADP Rank: 2.08
The Chiefs have a new full-time lead ball-carrier going into the 2019 campaign. Damien Williams started the last three games of the 2018 regular season and two playoff games. He only recorded more than 13 rushing attempts in one of those outings but produced with efficiency, registering 362 rushing yards and five touchdowns along with 24 catches for 210 yards and three scores in that stretch.
Kansas City signed Carlos Hyde to a one-year deal and selected Darwin Thompson in the sixth round of this year's draft, but offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy dismissed the idea of a running back by committee for the upcoming season, per Matt Derrick of Chiefs Digest.
Veteran fantasy managers in standard leagues know running backs can make or break a roster. Williams isn't a truly notable name, but he shouldn't slip past the second round of your draft. As we saw at the end of last year, the 27-year-old will also see targets out of the backfield, which makes him a high-upside option in PPR formats.
Fantasy Prediction: 926 rushing yards, 9 touchdowns, 31 catches, 315 receiving yards, 3 touchdowns
RB Kenyan Drake, Miami Dolphins
ADP Rank: 4.12
The Miami Dolphins traded Jay Ajayi to the Philadelphia Eagles two years ago, Frank Gore signed with the Buffalo Bills in March and Adam Gase now coaches the New York Jets. What's stopping Kenyan Drake from breaking out this year?
According to head coach Brian Flores, Drake must show he deserves extra touches with solid performances on the practice field, per the Miami Herald's Adam H. Beasley:
"But I think, and I'll say this to all of the players, they're going to make the most of their … The opportunities they get on the field will be up to them. Period. If they practice well, if they're smart, they work hard, they're tough, they block, they catch the ball consistently, they hit the hole correctly, then they're going to play. That's all of the backs."
In a backup role, Drake has shown the ability to do everything Flores talked about by blocking, hitting running lanes and catching out of the backfield. He eclipsed 1,000 yards from scrimmage for the first time in his career last season.
Now, with an advantage in experience over Kalen Ballage and Myles Gaskin, Drake has to put his skill set on display for Flores and offensive coordinator Chad O'Shea. Assuming he does, the Dolphins running back holds second-round value in PPR leagues.
Fantasy Prediction: 956 rushing yards, 7 touchdowns, 51 catches, 497 yards, 5 touchdowns
WR Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
ADP Rank: 5.01
In his last two years as the head coach for the Arizona Cardinals, Bruce Arians ran an offense that became pass-heavy. That was with an aging Carson Palmer under center until he went down with a broken arm midway through the 2017 campaign.
Under Arians, the Cardinals' passing offense ranked third and fifth in attempts during the 2016 and 2017 terms, respectively. Now, he'll take over a unit featuring Jameis Winston, a 25-year-old quarterback who has a lot to prove in a contract year, and a plethora of pass-catching options.
Based on Arians' track record, he's going to optimize the wide receiver and tight end talent on the Tampa Bay roster. Two-time Pro Bowl wideout Mike Evans will likely see the most targets, but Chris Godwin should have a fair share of looks, as well.
The Buccaneers traded DeSean Jackson to the Philadelphia Eagles, opening up more targets to go around in the offense. Godwin lined up for 64.3 percent of the offensive snaps last year; he'll see an uptick in workload as the starter opposite Evans for the upcoming season.
The 23-year-old logged 59 receptions for 842 yards and seven touchdowns last year, and those numbers should rise with more opportunities.
Fantasy Prediction: 73 catches, 981 yards, 8 touchdowns
WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Green Bay Packers
ADP Rank: 9.05
Some fantasy managers may be hesitant to take a pass-catcher on the Green Bay Packers roster other than wideout Davante Adams because of the uncertainty with a new offensive scheme under head coach Matt LaFleur.
Don't fret. Instead, roll the dice on wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who's generated a considerable amount of buzz this offseason. According to ESPN's Rob Demovsky, he's "probably" the No. 2 wideout behind Adams based on what transpired at mandatory minicamp.
Adams himself also thinks LaFleur's offense suits Valdes-Scantling's skill set.
"I think this offense is really catered for a guy like him," he said, per Demovsky. "I think he's seeing that, and he's recognizing it. We've had conversations about it, and I think he's really starting to understand how this thing works. He's come in, and he's made some plays."
In 2018, Valdes-Scantling played 64.3 percent of the offensive snaps and registered 38 receptions for 581 yards and two touchdowns. If he opens the season as the No. 2 option behind Adams, his rapport with quarterback Aaron Rodgers could see growth and yield a sophomore breakout for the 2018 fifth-rounder out of South Florida.
Fantasy Prediction: 61 catches for 890 yards, 6 touchdowns
TE Hunter Henry, Los Angeles Chargers
ADP Rank: 6.04
The Los Angeles Chargers offense took a big offseason hit when tight end Hunter Henry went down with a torn ACL in 2018. He logged 45 catches for 579 yards and four touchdowns during the 2017 campaign and seemed like a solid breakout candidate before last year's knee injury.
Henry may not have a year comparable to George Kittle in San Francisco last season, but quarterback Philip Rivers will look in his direction with decent frequency. In 2017, he saw a little more than four targets per outing and 62 in total.
The Chargers allowed wideout Tyrell Williams to walk in free agency; he received 65 targets last year. Henry will have a chance to soak up those looks in the passing game, and he seems ready to do so, per Ricky Henne of the team's official website.
"I'm feeling good," he said. "I'm just still trying to get strong and make sure everything is good. I'm excited. [My knee] is feeling really good. ... It's been a long process. This thing is crazy how long it takes. I'm just excited to get back out with the guys and get going."
Henry played 14 snaps in the AFC divisional round against the New England Patriots. With a slight taste of action in January and a fully healed knee, he should have a smooth return to a starting role with a crucial contract season ahead of him.
Fantasy Prediction: 59 catches, 779 yards, 7 touchdowns
TE Darren Waller, Oakland Raiders
ADP Rank: N/A
Darren Waller didn't hit the ADP radar, which indicates he's not only a breakout candidate but also a fantasy football sleeper.
The Oakland Raiders allowed tight end Jared Cook to walk in free agency after he earned his first Pro Bowl invite by logging 68 catches for 896 yards and six touchdowns in 2018. Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams will see the bulk of receiving targets, but Waller could fill Cook's role as the pass-catching tight end capable of lining up in the seam areas or on the outside.
Waller should feel comfortable matching up against cornerbacks; he played wide receiver for three terms at Georgia Tech, notching 51 receptions for 971 yards and nine touchdowns. The 6'6", 255-pounder also listed as a wideout during his rookie season with the Baltimore Ravens before transitioning to tight end in 2016.
Head coach Jon Gruden liked what he saw in Waller as a tight end last year and during spring practices, per NBC Sports Bay Area's Scott Bair.
"Since he's been here, he's been one of our most impressive players," Gruden said. "He played a key role last year when he got here."
With experience at two offensive positions, Waller may look like an oversized wide receiver because of his frame and role in the offense. The Raiders seem invested in his growth at tight end, and we can expect Gruden to utilize his pass-catching skills.
Fantasy Prediction: 52 catches, 645 yards, 5 touchdowns
All stats, unless otherwise indicated, courtesy of Pro Football Reference.