The NFL is one of the most volatile and unpredictable sports leagues in existence. An injury or surprise rise at one key position can heavily affect several others, both on a play-to-play basis and from week to week.
This is why it can be difficult to predict which players will become studs in fantasy football. An injury at quarterback will affect a wide receiver and vice versa. The sudden emergence of one running back can lighten the workload of another. And sometimes players emerge from seemingly nowhere to become full-fledged fantasy studs.
Why hello, James Conner. Have yourself 1,470 yards.
Trying to predict which players are going to break into stardom is a big part of what makes fantasy football so addictive. Who might be this year's surprise fantasy studs? Here are some predictions.
Nick Chubb, RB, Cleveland Browns
The Cleveland Browns have been one of the NFL's most heavily hyped teams this offseason—and for good reason. With an offense that features Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, David Njoku, Rashard Higgins and, of course, Baker Mayfield, they should have one of the most explosive passing attacks in the league.
We shouldn't overlook Cleveland's rushing attack or second-year back Nick Chubb, though. He didn't get a start until Week 7 in 2018, but he was special once he got his opportunity.
Despite not logging more than three carries over the first six weeks, he still finished with 996 yards rushing, 149 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns.
The 23-year-old should be much more productive in 2019. Though he didn't see a lot of receiving work out of the backfield last season, the trade of third-down back Duke Johnson Jr. makes Chubb a legit three-down workhorse.
To prepare for that role, Chubb spent the early portion of the offseason working out at his old high school.
"He's right in there with the kids, lifting weights, catching passes, working on the VertiMax, talking to players, cutting up with them," Cedartown High football coach Doyle Kelley said, per Tom Reed of The Athletic. "He was here almost every day. I wonder how many other NFL players are doing that?"
The one argument against taking the Georgia product near the top of fantasy drafts is the fact that the Browns should get 2017 rushing champion Kareem Hunt back from suspension in Week 9.
But if Chubb is one of the league's most productive players upon Hunt's return—which seems likely—Cleveland isn't suddenly going to make him the backup.
It's more likely Hunt will replace Dontrell Hilliard as Cleveland's change-of-pace back while Chubb will continue to carry the load.
Don't be shocked if Chubb vies for the rushing title this season.
T.Y. Hilton, WR, Indianapolis Colts
Indianapolis Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton has been a fantasy stud before. He led the league in receiving yards in 2016, and he racked up 1,270 yards last season to go with six touchdowns. However, he's largely being overshadowed by guys such as DeAndre Hopkins, Julio Jones and even Antonio Brown.
According to Yahoo Fantasy, Hilton's average draft position (ADP) is 27.7, which means he's trending as a third-round pick. This is too low for a receiver who racked up nearly 1,300 yards in 14 games last season and now has Devin Funchess and Parris Campbell to help take away defensive attention.
With last year's ankle injury behind him, the 29-year-old has had what he considers the best training camp of his career.
"I would think so, yeah," Hilton said, per Mike Chappell of Fox 59. "... The offseason I was finally able to get back healthy, train how I want to train."
There is a bit of risk involved with drafting the Florida International product high, though, and it's the fact that quarterback Andrew Luck is still not practicing because of a mysterious lower-leg injury. There's a chance the signal-caller will miss a game or two to start the season, which could lead to a slow start for Hilton.
A slow start won't be much of a problem as long as Luck doesn't miss extended time. Once he returns, watch out, because Hilton is primed to be one of the top fantasy receivers in all of football this season.
Tyler Boyd, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
Another wide receiver who is being woefully undervalued is Tyler Boyd of the Cincinnati Bengals.
With A.J. Green sidelined for seven games in 2018, the 24-year-old got his chance to shine, racking up 1,028 yards and seven touchdowns in 14 games.
Boyd should pick up where he left off as Cincinnati's No. 1 receiver too. Green underwent ankle surgery shortly after the start of camp and is expected to miss multiple regular-season games.
In Cincinnati's preseason opener, Boyd caught three passes on four targets in his lone series. In fact, Andy Dalton's first four passes (of nine total attempts) went to him.
Expect Boyd to be Dalton's go-to target early and often in 2019.
Yet, the Pittsburgh product isn't widely being valued as a No. 1 receiver. His ADP stands at 71.2, behind guys such as Jarvis Landry and Cooper Kupp. He should be in line for another 1,000-yard season—and potentially much more.
A lot will depend on how new head coach Zac Taylor is able to energize the Bengals passing attack. If the offense is more explosive than it was a season ago, Boyd will benefit greatly. Depending on when Green returns, he could easily rack up 1,200 yards receiving and double-digit touchdowns this season.
Vance McDonald, TE, Pittsburgh Steelers
We don't often think of tight ends as fantasy studs because those who are are few and far between.
Of the 20 players who topped 1,000 yards receiving last season, only three were tight ends: Zach Ertz, Travis Kelce and George Kittle. And you can expect all three to go early in your fantasy draft.
If you're not keen on taking a tight end within the first few rounds, you may find yourself a stud by using a mid-round pick on Vance McDonald of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The 29-year-old was solid in 2018, amassing 610 yards and four touchdowns. That was while splitting time with Jesse James, though. James is now a member of the Detroit Lions, though, and most of the 30 receptions, 423 yards and two touchdowns he produced last season could now belong to McDonald.
This already puts the Rice product in line for a potential 1,000-yard season, and that's not even factoring in the departure of No. 1 receiver Antonio Brown.
With Brown gone, JuJu Smith-Schuster slides into the No. 1 receiver role. That should work out nicely, but Pittsburgh still has to find a home for the 104 receptions and 15 touchdowns Brown had last season. Some will go to James Washington. Some will go to offseason acquisition Donte Moncrief. At least a few receptions and touchdowns are likely to go to the tight end position and to McDonald.
There's a good chance McDonald finishes the season as a top-five fantasy tight end. You should consider him more than just a fantasy sleeper. He's a potential stud.