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2018 Fantasy Football: Breakout Players

Finding value is what it’s all about come Fantasy Football draft time and you can do that by projecting breakout players. Maybe it’s a new coach, a new system or an upgrade in the offense that helps certain players take the next step forward. Maybe it’s just the simple fact this will be year two in the NFL and that’s an adjustment period in itself.

Everybody is looking for sleepers, but more importantly, we are all looking for breakout players. Finding those players who are poised to breakout can be the difference in winning your league. Nelson Agholor, Devin Funchess and Robby Anderson were all considered breakout players in 2017. All three finished in the Top 25 at their position and all were late-round draft picks last season. The same can be said for breakout players such as Carson Wentz, Jared Goff, and Deshaun Watson before the injury. None were taken in single-QB leagues on average, and all three were on their way to QB1 status’. In fact, Wentz and Goff did just that.

It’s always nice to hit on the breakout players before you have to pay for them the following year. If you can land one or two of them, it’ll go along way in locking down the trophy. Below you’ll see a list of breakout players at each position. Some will cost you early picks, others won’t cost a thing.

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Breakout Players for Fantasy Football 2018


Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans

Marcus Mariota was drafted in the Top 10 last season in just about every Fantasy league out there. Owners paid for his strong finish in 2016 and projected him as one of the prime breakout players in 2017. Mariota took a step back instead, throwing for 200 fewer yards (3,232), 13 fewer touchdowns (13) and six more interceptions (15). He had three more rushing touchdowns (five), but 37 fewer rushing yards on the same amount of carries (60). The Titans’ QB had nine 20-point Fantasy games in 2016 compared to just three in 2017. He wasn’t blowing anybody away with his 215 passing yards per game either.

So why should this season be any different? The new Titans’ coaching staff has a lot to do with it. Mike Mularkey took Tennessee to the playoffs, won a game on the road and was let go. That’s almost unheard of. The Titans are a talented bunch, but it’s clear the offense was stalled due to Mularkey. In comes Mike Vrabel who has won three super bowl rings as a player, but more importantly he brings with him new Offensive Coordinator, Matt LeFleur. LaFleur worked wonders with Jared Goff and was with Matt Ryan in his MVP season. The Titans have also added Dion Lewis who is phenomenal in open space and should help Mariota’s game significantly. The chemistry with Delanie Walker and Rashard Matthews is already there. Plus, he has a weapon in Corey Davis that he hardly used last season.

Mitch Trubisky, Chicago Bears

It’s hard to knock Mitch Trubisky’s rookie season due to the lack of weapons in the passing game. Rookie running back Tarik Cohen’s 53 catches were second on the team in 2017, just six behind Kendall Wright. Josh Bellamy, Dontrelle Inman, Markus Wheaton and Benny Cunningham aren’t exactly the best group of weapons for a rookie QB. Think of Trubisky’s potential progress the same as what we saw with Carson Wentz or Jared Goff in 2017. All three were taken high in their respective draft years and all three showed potential in their first season but didn’t have a lot to work with.

The Eagles and Rams upgraded their offense significantly in year two, just as the Bears have. Chicago signed Allen Robinson, Trey Burton, and Taylor Gabriel. They also drafted Anthony Miller in the second round. Maybe the biggest move of all was the hiring of Matt Nagy who took over the play calling for Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs toward the end of the season and into the playoffs.

It was pretty easy for teams to stack the box against Jordan Howard when there was no real threat in the passing game. Robinson is a big-time player who has a 14-TD campaign on his resume and 20 total TDs in the two seasons prior to his knee injury. Burton performed admirably in Philadelphia as noted below. Chicago has a solid offensive line and two running backs in Cohen and Howard who can play. This Bears offense will be better and Trubisky will play a big part in that.

Trubisky also has an added bonus to his Fantasy upside and he offers it with his legs. Trubisky’s 20.7 rushing yards per game ranked ninth among QBs with at least 12 games played. It’s also slightly more than what Blake Bortles finished with and he had the seventh most rushing yards (322) at the QB position. Trubisky also chipped in with two rushing touchdowns. He won’t be on anybody’s radar in 12-team standard leagues, but he makes for a solid QB2 in super-flex formats. He’s one of my favorite projected breakout players and is a great keeper. If you like streaming the position, he’s your guy. Come midseason, I think you’ll see him flirt with top 15 status.

Others to consider: Jimmy Garoppolo, Pat Mahomes

Running Backs

Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals

Joe Mixon only had two games with 20-plus carries last season, and he only found the end zone four times. In fact, the Bengals scored a league-low six rushing touchdowns in 2017. Cincinnati just couldn’t run the football. They lost Andrew Whitworth through free agency and it showed as the team ranked 24th in Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Line Yards. They actually stopped trying to run the rock as they finished 31st in rushing attempts. To no surprise, the Bengals finished dead last in total offense.

Mixon had an underwhelming 3.5 yards per carry and only one 100-yard game. He did, however, have two 90-plus yard games in his last four contests where he finished with a 5.0 YPC total. Mixon had a 165 total-yard showing in the span to go along with 96 rushing yards on 18 carries in a Week 17 game in Baltimore that knocked them out of the postseason.

Mixon reportedly slimmed down after playing at 230 pounds last season. The offensive line should be improved with the additions of Cordy Glenn and first-round pick Billy Price. A full season with Bill Lazor should also help this offense. Expect north of 270 touches for Mixon, and if you were burned last season don’t let that shy you away. He has RB1 upside, but is a safe RB2.

Corey Clement, Philadelphia Eagles

It’s hard to imagine Corey Clement being anything more than a FLEX play in a deep league or a bye week replacement in PPR formats. That’s OK, because he’s getting drafted in the 10th round as RB45. There’s this notion in the Fantasy community that the Philadelphia Eagles will give the ball 20-plus times a game to Jay Ajayi. While it’s logical to think that given this is the last year on Ajayi’s contract, it’s not something Doug Pederson has done since becoming a head coach with the Eagles two seasons ago. Although, Ajayi is expected to be the lead back in this offense, Pederson has a history of spreading the touches around. Ajayi also has a workload/injury concern that has plagued him throughout his short career. Even so much, that he sat out multiple practices last season.

Clement had an impressive 4.3 yards per carry mark in his rookie season, but he only ran the ball 74 times. He only had three games with double-digit carries and only scored four rushing touchdowns. Clement caught 10 balls on 14 targets, but his attempts, targets, and catches were the second most in the backfield. He led all Eagles RBs with six total touchdowns. I’m aware that Ajayi only played 10 games with the Eagles, which includes three playoff games. Even still, that’s impressive stuff for the undrafted free agent out of Wisconsin to hang around with Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount. Even more impressive that Clement had more touches and targets in the red zone than Ajayi from Week 9 on when he was acquired.

Perderson showed trust in Clement throughout the postseason as he racked up 10 catches in three games, including four for 100 yards and a touchdown in the Super Bowl. He showed a ton of faith and confidence in Clement on the game’s biggest stage. Blount signed with the Detroit Lions. Darren Sproles is coming off a forearm fracture and ACL tear in what will be his final season in the NFL.

Other candidates: Jerick McKinnon, Derrick Henry, Aaron Jones, Matt Breida

Wide Receivers

Corey Davis, Tennessee Titans

Corey Davis had a pretty disappointing rookie season as he frustrated owners by only suiting up for 11 games. Davis had 34 catches on 65 targets and 375 yards. He made highlight reel catches throughout the season, but finished with zero touchdowns. I think we are all expecting him to be one of the more obvious breakout players this season, because he’s just so talented. 

Davis had a season-high six catches and 91 yards in his second to last regular season game and showed us his true potential in the playoffs when he racked up nine catches, 98 yards and two touchdowns in two games. Rishard Matthews may be the safer pick a couple rounds later, but Davis has the higher ceiling which is WR2 potential. The former fifth overall pick remains a great buy-low in dynasty leagues and is a great target in round six of your draft. 

Will Fuller, Houston Texans

Will Fuller exploded onto the scene last season catching seven of his 13 passes for touchdowns with Deshaun Watson as his quarterback. The duo piled up 279 yards over four games together compared to 144 yards and zero touchdowns in Fuller’s six without Watson. Obviously Fuller won’t catch 28 touchdowns over a full season with Watson, but that doesn’t mean he can’t flirt with 10 while topping 800 yards. He’s a deep threat with speed on a very potent offense with a healthy Watson. Fuller finished with the fourth highest average targeted air yards (15.6) according to Next Gen Stats

Fuller has been very inconsistent in his two years in the NFL and has only caught 75 of the 142 balls thrown his way. He’s very boom or bust, but the ceiling is high and he will make up for the quiet weeks. Fuller won’t have a touchdown every four catches (or two with Watson), but this offense should be productive which will help eliminate long slumps. The 24-year-old is a great standard league wideout to target in the mid rounds.

Other candidates: Cameron Meredith, Kenny Golladay, Josh Doctson, Geronimo Allison, Tyler Lockett

Tight Ends

Trey Burton, Chicago Bears

Trey Burton is one of a few tight ends that switched teams this offseason. He has 63 career catches in his three NFL seasons — all with Philadelphia. He totalled 60 catches on 91 targets for 575 yards in his last two seasons playing behind Zach Ertz and Brent Celek. Burton had seven catches for 110 yards and three touchdowns in two games without Ertz in the lineup last season, and he really showed his potential in a Week 13 win in Los Angeles when he came away with five receptions for 71 yards and two touchdowns.

Burton will get every opportunity to play in Chicago in what will be a pass-happy offense led by new head coach Mike Nagy, and one that will be familiar to Burton having played in a similar scheme with Doug Pederson over the past two seasons. As you’ll recall, it’s a system that Nagy and Pederson used together in Kansas City, and one that Nagy will adopt in Chicago. Ultimately, it’s a big reason why the Bears spent as much as they did on this potential breakout candidate.

It’s no secret that Burton is one of the more popular breakout players heading into the 2018 Fantasy season. When he signed with the Bears, he was outside the Top 12 in terms of TE ADP. He’s since crept inside the Top 12 and will now cost you an eighth-round pick. I have no problem with waiting it out at the position and grabbing him as the eighth or ninth tight end off the board, but reaching will take away any value he has. Burton does, however, have Top 10 upside. It’s not a stretch to think Burton could be second in line for targets behind Allen Robinson, and he may just emerge as Trubisky’s favorite red-zone option.

George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers

If you miss out on Burton, George Kittle will be sitting there about a round or two later. Keep in mind, he’s also starting to gain a lot of traction in the Fantasy community. Kittle had 40-plus yards in just two of his first 10 games as a rookie and then came Jimmy Garropollo. Kittle hit the 40-yard mark in his final three games of the season and had three-plus grabs in three of his five games with Jimmy compared to only twice without him.

Kittle found the end zone in his second to last game of the season and finished with 100 yards in his final game of 2017. He’s a prime breakout candidate in his second year in the NFL with Garropollo as his full-time quarterback. At 6’4″, Kittle will likely be Garrapollo’s number one target in the red zone in what should be a much-improved offense.

Kittle and Burton are perfect examples of mid-to-late tight end targets if you like to wait it out at the position. The top tier of Rob Gronkowski, Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz are nice to have, but you’re better off drafting a back or wideout at that part of your draft.

Other candidates: David Njoki, O.J. Howard, Ricky Seals-Jones

Take advantage of some of these breakout players when you head on over to Fantrax to start or join a league today!

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