2016 Fantasy Football Draft Prep: Breakouts 2.0
Focusing on some of his favorites from the summer and four who could establish themselves as elite at their positions, Heath Cummings delivers the latest version of Breakouts.
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About once a month we have a conversation in the office about what constitutes a breakout. Is it a new level of play? Their best finish in Fantasy scoring? A surprise performance? I decided to give you a little bit of everything in Breakouts 2.0.
The first section includes four players who I think could make the leap to elite at their positions. Most of these guys have already shown elite skills at one point or another, but they've never put it together for an entire season. None of them are being drafted as elite options either.
The second group are players who aren't being drafted as starters on your Fantasy team but could be mainstays in your lineup by the time we get to Week 5. These are the most important types of sleepers in my opinion because they help cover for injuries and provide you with good trade bait.
Finally, I've listed my four favorite breakouts from the summer. You've likely read plenty about these guys this season, but as we get into the thick of draft season I don't want you to forget about their opportunity.
You might think that Alshon Jeffery has already broken out. Well, he started to in 2015, but injuries derailed that. Jeffery's 16-game pace last year was 96-1434-7. That would have been good enough for No. 9 at WR in standard scoring. This is while playing through injuries. Now, those injuries are why Jeffery isn't being drafted like a top-six WR. But is that a good reason?
Jeffery played 16 games (and finished as a top 12 WR) in both 2013 and 2014. Remember, those are both seasons when Marshall was in Chicago. Not just that, but the team also had Martellus Bennett and Matt Forte. This year the Bears are worse at every skill position.
Jeffery is being drafted as a borderline No. 1 WR in CBS drafts at the beginning of the second round. That's the floor he's exhibited through three seasons with a much more talented cast around him. Jeffery should be a target-hog on a team that is trailing for a majority of its season. If he plays 16 games like he did in 2013 and 2014, it should surprise no one if Jeffery jumps into the top five at his position.
Much like Jeffery, if not for injuries we might be arguing for Amari Cooper as a first-round pick. Cooper didn't actually miss time in 2015, but he did battle injuries down the stretch and saw his production plummet. Through 10 weeks Cooper was on pace for 80-1171-6. And that's as a rookie with a developing quarterback.
You might have noticed the one hole in Cooper's game was in the red zone. Cooper only saw seven targets in the red zone in 2015, compared to 13 for teammate Michael Crabtree. I'm not saying that Cooper will definitely be the go-to in 2016, but I would expect the split to narrow. I would also expect the Raiders to have more red zone opportunities.
As a rule we expect players to improve after their rookie year, and I think most of us agree that Derek Carr hasn't peaked as a quarterback yet. If either or both of them improves in 2016, you could see Cooper join Jeffery in the young receivers crashing the top five.
You could see Watkins name and assume I'm again talking about another player who was injured last year and just needs to play 16 games to "break out." I could confirm that by posting his 16-game pace of 74-1289-11. We're not going to do that though, because this has less to do with health and more to do with volume.
Watkins has a unique place as an elite receiver with a good quarterback (more on this later) on a team with few other targets. The big problem for Watkins was volume, largely because his coach loves to run the ball and his defense was exceptional. The first part hasn't changed, but there's a good chance the second part has. If the Bills' offseason is any indication, this may be a team that needs to throw the ball much more often. If they do, Watkins has a chance to challenge just about any wide receiver with the efficiency he's shown early in his career.
The three receivers above I'm projecting as having a chance to join the top five at their position. For Kelce, that wouldn't be enough to be considered a breakout candidate. Kelce has finished in the top eight each of the past two years. A breakout for him would look like a top-three season, which is absolutely plausible.
Everyone agrees that Kelce has the talent to finish in the top three, and that's why he was being drafted as the No. 4 TE in 2015. After a spectacular Week 1, Kelce was a disappointment based on his ADP, largely because of touchdowns. While some degree of that comes from having Alex Smith as a quarterback, more comes from from the variability that comes with touchdowns.
By no means do I think a tight end entering his third year has shown us his best, whether it be in the touchdown department or any other. Kelce is one of the safer tight ends you can draft because of volume and yardage. If you're looking for a solid No. 1 TE who isn't touchdown-dependent, Kelce is your guy. At the same time, if he gets the touchdowns he'll be one of the best tight ends in Fantasy Football.
Breaking in to starting lineups
Crowell has surprisingly finished as a top-30 RB each of the past two seasons. He's done it in a different fashion, with more touchdowns in 2014 and more yardage last year, but he's also done it in some pretty terrible circumstances. I guess that makes it all the more surprising that Crowell is being drafted as the 41st running back off the board.
That late selection would typically make Crowell a sleeper, but with Hue Jackson in town I truly do believe that Crowell could see a breakout into the top 20 running backs. What would that look like? A slight bump in workload from 2015 with 2014's efficiency and touchdowns would do it. That's a pretty simple equation for a 23-year-old running back being drafted in the 10th round.
Jones is quickly moving up draft boards to the point to where he went for the same amount ($5) as Golden Tate in our recent staff auction. While that has sapped some of the value that Jones had earlier in the summer, I have little doubt that he has the potential to put up numbers like he never has. To qualify that statement, remember Jones finished as a borderline No. 2 WR and scored 10 touchdowns in 2014.
While it's not likely, I do think it's possible for Jones to match those touchdown numbers in the high-volume Lions' passing attack. What I do think is likely is that Jones could break last year's career highs in receptions (65) and yards (816). While I'd still take Tate first in PPR leagues because of expected target volume, Jones would now be my pick in standard leagues.
Ertz fits the Kelce profile from above. He definitely had the reception and yardage totals of a starting tight end, but his touchdowns were dreadful. Ertz has scored just nine touchdowns on 257 career targets, and 2015 was his worst year with only two touchdowns. If you've read me before you know I think that touchdowns are the least predictable statistic in Fantasy Football.
Ertz is being drafted as the 14th tight end off the board in CBS Sports leagues. If he can just repeat what he did last year I would expect more touchdowns and a borderline top-five finish. Maybe it's not so much a breakout as a natural regression, but that seems like the most likely outcome. A less likely, but still possible outcome sees Ertz becoming the primary receiving option for Sam Bradford and jumps into the argument as a top-three tight end. Either way he's a huge value at his current ADP.
West is obviously lower profile than the three listed above, but he does have some opportunity. I'm no believer in a 31-year-old Justin Forsett, and at this point I think it's pretty clear that Javorius Allen is more suited as a change of pace back. While Kenneth Dixon may be the most talented back in Baltimore, I'm not sure he gets a chance at a feature role before Forsett and West have failed.
West has reportedly matured after a tumultuous first two years in the league. He has looked good in training camp and the preseason. Most importantly, he is exceptionally cheap and still has the upside that made him a Round 3 pick in 2014. If any RB drafted in the late teens is going to break out, West is the most likely.
My Favorite Breakouts
I've written thousands of words about the four players below, but they're also my favorite breakouts. I'll keep this short, but if you're looking for breakouts in 2016, these are your best bets.
Taylor has a high floor provided by rushing production and efficient passing. He has an elite wide receiver and the possibility of a bump in volume due to a deteriorating defense. He's a borderline top-12 quarterback who has top-eight upside and is being drafted as the 18th QB off the board in CBS leagues. At the very least, draft him as your backup if you draft Tom Brady, and please draft him ahead of Blake Bortles.
It has become popular to mock Murray for how inefficient he was last year. There are plenty of people who think he was only a top-10 running back because of volume. Even if that's true, the Raiders sound intent on giving Murray even more work in 2016. I would expect no less than 260 attempts on the ground with a 1,000 yards seeming like a lock. That's the floor. With a better offensive line and a better defense, no one should be surprised if Murray has an even better year in 2016. In fact, that should be the expectation.
Lockett has No. 1 WR talent with No. 2 WR opportunity at a low-end No. 3 WR cost. I expect the Seahawks pass volume to increase and Lockett's share of those targets to increase as well. He has already posted one of the most efficient rookie seasons ever. If he maintains that in 2016, he's a surefire breakout. If the Seahawks actually start treating him like their most talented WR (and I think he is), Lockett could be a league-winner.
The preseason performance of Jeremy Hill has lowered the chances that he continues to struggle, but that doesn't preclude a breakout from Gio Bernard. The Bengals' 4th year back had his most efficient year in 2015, setting career highs in YPC (4.7) and Y/C (9.6). Where the real opportunity comes is in both touchdown regression (Bernard scored 15 from 2013-14) and opportunity in the passing game. The Bengals lost both Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu and it's looking more like they'll start the season without Tyler Eifert. Bernard has an opportunity to catch 60+ passes for the first time in his career and could challenge 1300 total yards. If the touchdowns bounce back that will be good enough for a top 10 finish in PPR.
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