Fantasy Football 2020: Predicting This Year's Biggest Breakouts

Chris Roling@@Chris_RolingFeatured ColumnistJuly 21, 2020

Fantasy Football 2020: Predicting This Year's Biggest Breakouts

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    Don Wright/Associated Press

    The most successful fantasy football owners efficiently juggle a multitude of factors on a weekly basis to win leagues. 

    While in-season juggling acts include the waiver wire, trades and more, predraft happenings permit those owners to narrow the focus to one important thing: finding value in drafts. 

    And there is arguably no bigger value in fantasy drafts than unearthing breakouts. 

    Breakouts are players who project to significantly outplay their current average draft position (ADP). They can be rookies bursting onto the scene or merely players trending toward bigger roles thanks to an improved team, their developmental arc or something else entirely. 

    Here are some of the current breakout players to nab in drafts while the ADP getting is good. 

Joe Burrow, QB, Cincinnati Bengals

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    The Joe Burrow hype hasn't exactly translated to massive fantasy football attention. 

    Savvy owners will capitalize. 

    Burrow just came off one of the best seasons ever by a collegiate passer and enters a good situation, yet he sits on a 14.03 ADP (14th round, third pick) as the 24th passer off the board. 

    Typically, leaning into rookie quarterbacks is scary. But Burrow is going to a cushy environment littered with big-play artists after the catch. He'll presumably have A.J. Green, a top-10 wideout when healthy. He'll have consistent 1,000-yard slot man Tyler Boyd and the field-spacing threat of John Ross (who briefly led the league in receiving last year with long scores of 55 and 66 yards). 

    Burrow should also have Tee Higgins, the first pick of the second round, as well as a talented running back duo capable of catching passes in Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard. A normally bad line should improve with Jonah Williams, a first-rounder in 2019, debuting at left tackle. 

    Like another quarterback to come, Burrow is an immense value who could flirt with top-10 positional play as his skill positions do most of the heavy lifting after the catch. 

    Stat projection: 3,300 yards, 27 touchdowns, 11 interceptions

Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB, Kansas City Chiefs

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    There's nothing shaky about investing in a rookie running back given the relatively seamless transition for the position. 

    Last year, for example, Miles Sanders of the Philadelphia Eagles didn't have many issues registering as a top-15 scorer at his position. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, the 32nd pick by the Kansas City Chiefs this year, could do something similar—if not better. 

    Edwards-Helaire has an ADP that makes him the 24th running back taken in drafts (4.09), perhaps because he has some perceived competition on the depth chart from Damien Williams and Darwin Thompson. 

    But there's historical precedent with Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, who has squeaked massive seasons out of rookie rushers like LeSean McCoy and Kareem Hunt. Edwards-Helaire could merely be the next man up in a historic offense led by Patrick Mahomes that fed two running backs 34 or more targets last year.

    Balanced as a prospect, Edwards-Helaire could soak up a ton of targets and put an end to the committee approach in Kansas City. 

    Stat projection: 900 rushing yards, six scores, 350 receiving yards, three scores

Diontae Johnson, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    The return of Ben Roethlisberger to the Pittsburgh Steelers is bound to have a massive impact on at least one of his weapons. 

    While the popular notion might center on JuJu Smith-Schuster, three seasons of work from the veteran shows his biggest season was an outlier with 166 targets. 

    Target Diontae Johnson as the breakout instead.

    The 2019 third-round pick got his feet wet last year, catching 59 passes for 680 yards and five scores on an average of 11.5 yards per reception. Not only was that good for 104.1 total points, but he also put up five showings of double-digit points, with three rising north of 14. According to ESPN's Matthew Berry, he was the 12th-best wideout in fantasy last year from Week 14 on. 

    Now add in the removal of Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges from under center and project 600-ish attempts for Big Ben (down from his 675 in 2018), and it's hard to understand Johnson's 10.05 ADP, which ranks 46th among receivers. Even in a spread-it-around attack, Johnson flashed WR1 traits last year and should boom in 2020. 

    Stat projection: 1,000 yards, six touchdowns

Drew Lock, QB, Denver Broncos

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    It isn't too hard to see why Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock could be a 2020 breakout.

    Lock went 4-1 down the stretch as a starter last year, posting 12 or more fantasy points in three of his five games. That doesn't sound like much, but we're now talking about a second-year passer with a much-improved situation who's sitting on an ADP of 13.04 as the 22nd quarterback off the board. 

    Keep in mind that not only should Lock be more comfortable going into 2020, but new offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur is also a great arrival to squeak out the most of his talents. The Broncos added Melvin Gordon III to pair with Phillip Lindsay and make the running game more lethal, and they drafted first-round wideout Jerry Jeudy and second-round receiver KJ Hamler. 

    Grabbing Lock before his current ADP means getting an explosive second quarterback instead of wasting time on bigger names, enabling better value picks at more important positions. Given how Lock can let his playmakers go to work after the catch, he's got the potential to sub in and win fantasy owners games, too. 

    Stat projection: 3,500 yards, 20 touchdowns, 13 interceptions

Terry McLaurin, WR, Washington

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    Terry McLaurin was quietly one of the most dominant wideouts in football last year. 

    How quiet? The Washington star is still the 26th wideout off the board with an ADP of 6.02. 

    McLaurin put up 919 yards and seven touchdowns last year, averaging 15.8 yards per catch and registering 133.9 points. He hit double digits in six of his 14 appearances, scoring 18 or more three times. 

    Keep in mind all this occurred on a putrid Washington team that fired a head coach a few games into the season and gave snaps to guys like Case Keenum and Colt McCoy before admitting first-rounder Dwayne Haskins was ready to go. 

    Year 2 for Haskins with a stable presence like Ron Rivera should mean more production for the passing attack. And since Washington still looks like a significant rebuilder, McLaurin should see more than the 93 targets from a year ago.

    He should also catch at a more efficient rate given the added stability, which should mean more than just 58 catches. He's a top-tier No. 1 receiver, and with things improving around him, he'll see more looks as defenses stretch thinner and have to throw attention elsewhere. 

    Stat projection: 1,200 yards, 11 touchdowns

DJ Moore, WR, Carolina Panthers

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    Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    A wideout trending upward going into his critical third year of development and getting an upgrade at quarterback? 

    All aboard the DJ Moore train. 

    The Carolina Panthers' first-round pick in 2018 had a ho-hum rookie season but jumped to 1,175 yards and four scores on 135 targets in 2019, drumming up 143.5 points with six trips to double digits in the process. That's positioned him with an ADP of 6.05 (27th among wideouts). 

    Yet there's reason to believe a bigger breakout is on the way. 

    Carolina, after all, just got a massive upgrade under center with Teddy Bridgewater. Moore won't have to make the best of catching passes from a Kyle Allen-Will Grier tandem anymore, which means he could end up hauling in more than 87 of those 135 targets from a year ago if given a similar opportunity.

    Moore is already efficient, but new offensive coordinator Joe Brady figures to feature him as a WR1 in an offense that fed three players 100-plus targets last year. A rebuilding Carolina team should also be chasing points often, and a better-schemed offense with more consistent play under center could mean a leap in touchdowns, if not across the board. 

    Stat projection: 1,300 yards, eight touchdowns

Jonnu Smith, TE, Tennessee Titans

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    The time is now for Tennessee Titans tight end Jonnu Smith. 

    Likewise, the time is now for fantasy owners to grab Smith as often as possible given his 14.05 ADP, which makes him the 21st-ranked tight end. 

    Smith didn't grab a ton of attention last year, but the details matter. He played (and still will) in a run-first offense and cobbled together just 439 yards and three scores, but he hit double digits three times, going for at least 11.7 points in each of those outings. 

    With veteran Delanie Walker gone, Smith figures to be a massive safety net for quarterback Ryan Tannehill, with whom he's already been working out this offseason. In 11 games with Tannehill under center, Smith tallied 350 of his yards and all three of his touchdowns. 

    On paper, Smith could see an uptick in targets with Walker's 31 over seven games out of the way, never mind Tannehill improving with consistency in his surroundings and defenses continuing to focus on the running game. 

    Stat projection: 625 yards, seven touchdowns

Jonathan Taylor, RB, Indianapolis Colts

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Shift your focus to the Indianapolis Colts, where second-round pick Jonathan Taylor could end up being a massive workhorse for a fresh-feeling offense led by Philip Rivers. 

    Such potential hasn't seemed to sway fantasy owners, not with Taylor sitting on an ADP of 6.07, which hardly keeps him among the top 30 running backs. 

    No sweat for breakout hunters, though.

    Taylor is the guy who rushed for a minimum of 1,977 yards in each of his three seasons at Wisconsin, totaling 50 rushing scores on 6.7 yards per carry. He's not widely billed as a pass-catcher, but keep in mind he caught 26 passes for 252 yards (9.7 yards per reception) with five scores in 2019, too. 

    The cause for concern is the presence of Marlon Mack and Nyheim Hines on the depth chart. But the Colts aren't drafting a borderline top-40 back to sit him on the bench, and he's not getting compared to Nick Chubb without reason. His talents should have him breezing past all other names on the depth chart for early-down work, if not third-down work alongside Rivers, too. 

    Stat projection: 1,200 rushing yards, 10 scores, 200 receiving yards, one score 

         

    Stats courtesy of ESPN non-PPR (point per reception) leagues. ADP info courtesy of Fantasy Football Calculator