Cummings: Sleepers 1.0 | Breakouts 1.0 | Busts 1.0
It's not always easy finding breakout candidates. What you're asking players to do is take a significant step forward in their career and then hoping to cash in on that performance for your Fantasy team.
But I'm excited about the players on this list. And I was excited about most of the guys we used in Breakouts 1.0 back in early April, which you can see here:
- Tyrod Taylor, QB, Bills
- Marcus Mariota, QB, Titans
- Carlos Hyde, RB, 49ers
- Jeremy Langford, RB, Bears
- Matt Jones, RB, Redskins
- Jay Ajayi, RB, Dolphins
- Amari Cooper, WR, Raiders
- Golden Tate, WR, Lions
- DeVante Parker, WR, Dolphins
- Tyler Lockett, WR, Seahawks
- Coby Fleener, TE, Saints
- Ladarius Green, TE, Steelers
Some of my favorite players to draft this season already include Hyde, Jones, Ajayi, Cooper, Tate, Parker, Lockett, Fleener and Green. I've dialed it back a little with Taylor and Mariota in my rankings, especially Taylor because of the Sammy Watkins foot surgery, and Langford is someone to target at the right price, which is likely Round 5.
As for the players in Breakouts 2.0, I will gladly draft all of these guys with what they should bring to the field in 2016. There is plenty of upside here, and we definitely expect to cash in on their breakout performances this season.
I got the chance to see Winston this offseason at a charity golf event, and he appeared to be in great shape. He's spent the offseason working on his game, including plenty of time throwing to Mike Evans, who should also be considered a breakout candidate in his third year. Winston said Dirk Koetter being promoted from offensive coordinator to head coach was good for his continuity, and he loves his receiving corps with Evans, Vincent Jackson and Austin-Seferian Jenkins. "It's a blessing," Winston said. "When I look out on the field I see a bunch of tall guys, a bunch of athletic guys and I'm blessed to throw to those guys." We hope those receivers help make plays for Winston, who could emerge as a No. 1 Fantasy quarterback this year. He was the No. 14 quarterback in standard leagues last year, but he got off to a slow start with just three games of at least 20 Fantasy points in his first nine outings. He finished strong with at least 20 points in four of his final seven games, and that's something to build on. In total, Winston passed for 4,042 yards, 22 touchdowns and 15 interceptions and ran for 213 yards and six touchdowns, with his rushing scores second to only Cam Newton (10) among quarterbacks. Winston should continue to improve as a passer and develop into a solid Fantasy starter. He's worth drafting in all leagues with a late-round pick.
Carr took a nice step forward from his rookie season to his second year in 2015. His completion percentage rose from 58.1 to 61.1, his yardage improved from 3,270 to 3,987 and he threw 32 touchdowns to 21 from the previous year, while keeping his interception total about the same (12 in 2014 and 13 last year). The result was an increase of 102 Fantasy points in a standard league, and he finished as the No. 13 quarterback. Now, we hope Carr continues to progress this season, and he could become a consistent No. 1 option. He has a breakout receiver in Cooper, a sleeper tight end in Clive Walford and hopefully Michael Crabtree continues to provide a solid presence as a starting receiver, with Carr also playing behind a revamped offensive line. Last year, Carr had eight games with at least 21 Fantasy points and three games with at least 32. In his final 11 games, Carr scored less than 17 points just twice, so he was consistent on a low-end basis. The Raiders defense is better, which could hurt Carr, but we still expect another year of progression, which makes him a nice target with a late-round pick in all leagues.
It's always risky to trust rookie running backs - see Melvin Gordon and Ameer Abdullah from 2015 - but not many rookies fall into dream scenarios like Elliott did with the Cowboys. That offensive line is so impressive that it allows good running backs like Darren McFadden to be great and great running backs like DeMarco Murray to be exceptional. In 2014, Murray was the No. 1 Fantasy running back in standard leagues with 393 carries for 1,845 yards and 13 touchdowns and 57 catches for 416 yards. McFadden followed up that performance as the No. 14 running back in 2015 with 239 carries for 1,089 yards and three touchdowns and 40 catches for 328 yards. Elliott should fall somewhere in between those stats, and he should finish as a Top 10 Fantasy running back this season. He's worth drafting in the first 15 overall picks, but many owners will draft him in the first round just based on his upside alone. We still have to see what happens with McFadden and Alfred Morris, but the Cowboys didn't draft Elliott at No. 4 overall in the NFL Draft to come off the field much. He was a star at Ohio State with 3,961 rushing yards and 43 touchdowns on 592 carries (6.7 yards per carry) and 58 receptions for 449 yards and one touchdown as a two-year starter, and he should be a star with the Cowboys. He should be headed for greatness as early as this year.
Miller was the No. 9 Fantasy running back in standard leagues in 2014 and No. 6 last year. So how is he a breakout candidate? I expect him to have his best season to date, and he could finish as the No. 1 Fantasy running back this year with his move to the Texans. He should finally be used the right way under coach Bill O'Brien, who loves to run the ball. In two years under O'Brien, Houston has been first and fifth in rushing attempts in the NFL. Miami, by comparison, was No. 22 in 2014 and last in 2015. The Texans ran the ball 128 times more than the Dolphins last year even though Houston averaged 3.7 yards per carry and Miami averaged 4.3. That's where Miller comes in after averaging 4.6 yards per carry in his career, but he only has one season with more than 200 carries, which was 2014. It'd be shocking to see him get fewer than 200 carries with the Texans under O'Brien, who gave Arian Foster 260 carries in 2014 and Alfred Blue 183 last year. Miller also is a capable receiver with an average of 37 catches the past three seasons, and he's not expected to come off the field much even with Houston drafting Tyler Ervin in the fourth round from San Jose State. Miller is worth drafting in Round 2 in all leagues, and he could easily challenge Le'Veon Bell, Todd Gurley and the field for the No. 1 running back spot this season.
Murray had somewhat of a breakout season last year when he had 266 carries for 1,066 yards and six touchdowns and 41 catches for 232 yards. Every stat was a career high, and he was the No. 10 Fantasy running back in standard leagues. But this year should be even better for him based on what Oakland did with the offensive line. The Raiders signed guard Kelechi Osemele from Baltimore and brought back left tackle Donald Penn. Along with Rodney Hudson, Gabe Jackson and Austin Howard this could be one of the best offensive lines in the NFL - maybe even No. 2 behind Dallas. Oakland also didn't bring in someone of significance to challenge Murray with only fifth-round rookie DeAndre Washington added in the NFL Draft. While Washington can complement Murray, he won't be a huge threat to his overall touches. And the Raiders defense should be improved, which could lead to more clock-killing situations, which are valuable to running backs in good situations. Murray got off to a good start in 2015 with double digits in Fantasy points in a standard league in his first seven outings, but he reached that level just twice in his final nine games. We expect him to be more consistent this season, and he's worth drafting in Round 4 in the majority of leagues.
The Eagles traded Murray to the Titans this offseason and only drafted rookie Wendell Smallwood from West Virginia in the fifth round to add to their backfield. Darren Sproles remains on the roster, but he's not a threat to Mathews as the every-down back. And this should be a good situation for him if, as always, he can stay healthy. That's been the knock on Mathews his entire career, and it's a fair detractor since he's played 16 games just once in six years. He also had groin surgery in January, but he's expected to be fine for training camp and could see a hefty workload for new coach Doug Pederson. As the offensive coordinator for Kansas City, Pederson gave Jamaal Charles 18 touches a game in 2015, 16 touches a game in 2014 and 22 touches a game in 2013. Mathews also ran well last season while sharing time with Murray with 107 carries for 539 yards and six touchdowns and 20 catches for 146 yards and one touchdown in 13 games. The lone time Mathews did play 16 games was 2013 with the Chargers, and he had 285 carries for 1,255 yards and six touchdowns and 26 catches for 189 yards and a touchdown. He could reach those stats again this season if he stays healthy, and we would buy into him as a Top 20 running back based on his opportunity to start for the Eagles.
Chargers coach Mike McCoy had a big smile on his face when asked about Allen this offseason. He missed eight games due a kidney injury, but McCoy said Allen is ready to go this year. "He's doing great, and I expect him to come back and start off where he finished," McCoy said about Allen, who had 67 catches for 725 yards and four touchdowns before getting hurt. "He had an outstanding half of a season." Allen was having a third-year breakout season before the kidney injury in Week 8 ended his year. If you project his stats over 16 games he would have had 134 catches for 1,450 yards and eight touchdowns. This year, he gets an added bonus with Ken Whisenhunt back as his offensive coordinator. The two were paired together in 2013 when Allen was a rookie and finished with 71 catches, 1,046 yards and eight touchdowns, and we expect this to be the best year of his career. Allen is the No. 1 receiver for the Chargers and should soak up targets from Philip Rivers, and in 2015 he had double digits in targets in five of eight games. He should be a Top 15 receiver in all leagues, and he could challenge to be a No. 1 option in PPR formats this season. I would draft him in Round 3 in all leagues.
I spoke to Koetter this offseason about Evans, who struggled in his sophomore campaign in 2015 after a solid rookie year in 2014. Koetter said the adjustment to Winston was a challenge, but the two should be better this year. "I don't think he and Jameis ever really had great chemistry that you see a lot of top quarterbacks and receivers have in the league," Koetter said. "And how could they? They're both such young guys and have been together just one year. As they grow older together you'll see that chemistry improve." Reports this offseason had Winston and Evans working together quite a bit to get on the same page, and it should pay off in a big way in Evans' third season, which should lead to a breakout year. He went from 68 catches, 1051 yards and 12 touchdowns on 125 targets in 2014 to 74 catches, 1,206 yards and three touchdowns on 147 targets in 2015. As you can see, if he hits the average number of touchdowns from those two seasons he'll be in great shape, and Calvin Johnson was the No. 9 Fantasy receiver in standard leagues last year with similar stats at 1,214 yards and nine touchdowns. We have no doubt Evans can become an elite receiver with Winston, and he's worth drafting in the second round in the majority of leagues.
Benjamin suffered a torn ACL in training camp last season, but he's already been practicing for OTA workouts and should be fine this year. It's too bad we lost him in 2015 because he had plenty of positive moments as a rookie in 2014 with 73 catches for 1,008 yards and nine touchdowns, and he was the No. 17 Fantasy receiver in standard leagues. Panthers coach Ron Rivera said in an interview with CBS Sports this offseason that he's excited for his return. "We kind of liken it to getting another first-round pick," Rivera said. "We're excited to get him back on the field." The No. 1 receiver for the Panthers last season was Ted Ginn, who had 44 catches for 739 yards and 10 touchdowns on 97 targets, and he also was tied for second in the NFL with 10 drops. Now, Benjamin also had 10 drops as a rookie - can anyone catch for Newton? - but there's much more upside with Benjamin over Ginn. He might not have the natural third-year breakout after missing his second year, but he should have the chance for 80-plus catches, 1,100-plus yards and double digits in touchdowns this year. That should put him in the range of a Top 15 Fantasy receiver in standard leagues, and he will only enhance Newton's game with another elite weapon on the field.
When you look at the Cardinals receivers from last season, the order of finish was Larry Fitzgerald as the No. 11 Fantasy receiver in standard leagues, John Brown was No. 22 and Floyd was No. 32, but that doesn't tell the whole story. Floyd started last season coming off a broken hand in training camp and didn't look comfortable through the first five weeks of the year. But starting in Week 6 he began to play at a high level, and we expect that to carry over to this season, which happens to be a contract year. Over his final 10 games (he missed Week 10 with a hamstring injury), Floyd had double digits in Fantasy points in a standard league seven times. If you project his stats over that span for the entire season then Floyd would have finished with 70 catches for 1,192 yards and 10 touchdowns instead of his actual stats of 52 catches, 849 yards and six touchdowns. Now, he's had a hard time sustaining success, especially after a standout sophomore campaign in 2013 when he had 65 catches for 1,041 yards and five touchdowns. But we expect the motivation of a new deal to help Floyd this year, and he benefits playing alongside Fitzgerald and Brown, especially with a great quarterback in Carson Palmer and a tremendous playcaller in Bruce Arians. Floyd is a solid No. 2 Fantasy receiver worth drafting in Round 5, and he could easily finish as a Top 15 option this season.
We expect Moncrief to be fine coming off turf toe surgery earlier this offseason, but that's clearly something to monitor heading into training camp. If he's back on the field as expected then he could be in for a standout campaign in 2016. He's entering his third year, which is always a good time for a breakout performance, and he played well in 2015 when Andrew Luck was healthy, finishing the season with 64 catches for 733 yards and six touchdowns. Of the seven games Moncrief played with Luck, he scored five touchdowns and had at least nine Fantasy points in a standard league five times. Luck is expected to be fine following last year's kidney injury, and the Colts have to replace two significant contributors with Andre Johnson and Coby Fleener gone, with those two having combined for 162 targets, 95 catches, 994 yards and seven touchdowns. Phillip Dorsett should take on a bigger role, and T.Y. Hilton and Dwayne Allen will also get plenty of production. But so will Moncrief, and he should be a steal with a mid-round pick in the majority of leagues. He'll be one of my favorite No. 3 receivers to target this season, and he could easily finish as a Top 20 Fantasy option now that Luck is back under center in Indianapolis.
We hope the Ertz that showed up in the final four games of 2015 is here for all 16 games this season. If that happens then we might have the best tight end in the NFL. Over the final four games of last season, Ertz had 35 catches for 450 yards and a touchdown. If you project that over 16 games, he would have finished with 140 catches for 1,800 yards and four touchdowns. Now, clearly that's not realistic with the catches and yards (we hope he scores more than four touchdowns), and several things have changed in Philadelphia this season. Pederson has replaced Chip Kelly as the head coach, and there could potentially be a new quarterback with rookie Carson Wentz ready to challenge Sam Bradford for the starting job. We hope Bradford is the starter because he's the first quarterback to help Ertz play at a high level in his three-year career. He finished the season as the No. 10 Fantasy tight end with 75 catches for 853 yards and two touchdowns, but clearly he didn't start playing at a high level until the end of the year. We always knew Ertz was talented -- and the Eagles paid him a hefty five-year contract extension this offseason worth $42.5 million, including $20 million guaranteed - and now he needs to prove it for a full year. We have faith that he will, and he's an excellent tight end to target with a mid-round pick in all leagues.