2021 NFL Predictions: 2nd-Year Players Set to Become Breakout Fantasy Stars

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistAugust 17, 2021

2021 NFL Predictions: 2nd-Year Players Set to Become Breakout Fantasy Stars

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    Because of COVID-19 restrictions, rookies didn't experience a full offseason program in 2020. However, with a campaign under their belts and time to go through the basics this summer, several upstart talents may blossom into fantasy football stars in their second seasons. 

    In most cases, managers can easily spot a prime breakout candidate. Typically, these players have starting roles or a pathway to more snaps because of injuries or the departure of a former teammate.

    Because dual-threat running backs have so much value in point-per-reception leagues, managers should focus on budding talents at that position to build the foundation of their rosters. With that said, don't lose sight of other players with star potential. 

    Let's take a look at two running backs and a wide receiver with the opportunity to become second-year fantasy studs.

WR Henry Ruggs III, Las Vegas Raiders

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    Henry Ruggs III had an underwhelming rookie campaign, hauling in just 26 passes for 452 yards and two touchdowns in 13 outings. He ranked fifth among Las Vegas Raiders' pass-catchers in targets (43), which raises questions about head coach Jon Gruden's play calling.

    During the offseason, Ruggs added 13 pounds to his body frame, and quarterback Derek Carr made note of the speedy wideout's improved routes. 

    "Man, he’s been impressive," Carr said to reporters. "The way he’s running routes. He’s being violent in his cuts. I think something clicked in his head." 

    Perhaps Ruggs' added bulk and crisp routes lead to more opportunities in the passing attack. He could see plenty of action with the departure of wide receiver Nelson Agholor, who ranked second on the team in targets (82) last season. 

    Furthermore, according to The Athletic's Vic Tafur, Gruden wants to prove he made the right choice with his top pick from the 2020 draft.

    "Gruden hears the criticism of the Ruggs pick, so he is the one receiver we can lock in for a lot of targets," Tafur wrote.

    As a big-play receiver, Ruggs doesn't need a ton of targets to make a major impact. Averaging 17.4 yards per reception, he should eclipse 1,000 yards as a secondary pass-catcher behind star tight end Darren Waller.

RB J.K. Dobbins, Baltimore Ravens

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    In January, the Baltimore Ravens released Mark Ingram II, who suited up for 11 games, which included nine starts, with the club in 2020. He logged 72 carries for 299 yards and two touchdowns.

    After Week 6 of last season, Ingram had a reduced role. Meanwhile, J.K. Dobbins saw an uptick in carries, logging double-digit rush attempts in eight of the last 10 contests.

    As a rookie, Dobbins averaged six yards per carry. Slated to lead the Ravens' backfield for the upcoming term, he's in a position to break out in 2021. The Ohio State product could reach 250 touches with an expanded role in the passing game.

    According to The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec, the Ravens want to use Dobbins as an every-down back.

    "The Ravens believe he's capable of more and would like to get him more involved in the passing game," Zrebiec wrote in July.

    Dobbins will give up rush attempts to fellow running back Gus Edwards and quarterback Lamar Jackson, but his potential role as a receiver could push him over 1,500 scrimmage yards.

RB Antonio Gibson, Washington Football Team

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    Antonio Gibson came into the league with an intriguing skill set. At Memphis, he played wide receiver for two terms, hauling in 44 passes for 834 yards and 10 touchdowns. In addition, the dynamic playmaker ran for 369 yards and four scores. 

    Last season, Gibson served as the Washington Football Team's lead running back, logging 795 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. He doesn't have strong competition for carries. Expect Peyton Barber and J.D. McKissic to maintain their complementary roles out of the backfield.

    According to The Athletic's Ben Standig, head coach Ron Rivera has big plans for Gibson.

    "Washington wants to see how it can further deploy the versatile threat," Standig wrote. "Rivera anticipates more third-down work, along with some different personnel groupings in which Gibson can start a play in the backfield and then shift outside." 

    Gibson shouldn't have an issue with an expanded role in the passing attack. He has experience as a wide receiver and caught 36 passes for 247 yards in 2020.

    Last year, McKissic saw the most targets (110) among Washington's running backs. He'll likely share more of that workload with Gibson in 2021. 

    As of Tuesday, Gibson's average draft position (ADP) lists at 2.04 for 12-team PPR leagues, but one can make the case to take him at the end of the first round.


    Average draft positions are current as of Tuesday and courtesy of Fantasy Football Calculator.