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Well, here it is -- Gordon is a breakout candidate for 2016.
He was awful last year with 184 carries for 641 yards (3.5 yards per carry) and 33 catches for 192 yards in 14 games, and he failed to score a touchdown. He also needed microfracture surgery on his knee after getting hurt toward the end of the season.
But all the reports this offseason have been positive and he looked solid in the preseason opener against the Titans, including a 44-yard touchdown reception. We hope more positive momentum continues to build over the next few weeks and you should feel confident drafting him in Round 5.
Continue to monitor his health and the offensive line, which used 24 different combinations in 2015 and was a big part of Gordon's failure. If the line stays intact, especially with Ken Whisenhunt back as the offensive coordinator, Gordon could be headed for a big year.
He's one of several breakout candidates I'm targeting in 2016, and we're going to highlight my favorite options here. We've done two previous breakout lists in early April and in mid-June, and Breakouts 3.0 is my all-star list of these players.
These are guys either headed for stardom for the first time or have the chance to take a dramatic leap in production because of better circumstances for them or the team. Hopefully, if you believe in these players as well, your Fantasy team will be dominant this year.
When I first wrote about Taylor in April, he was waiting for a new contract and had no health concerns in regard to receiver Sammy Watkins. The positive news since then was Taylor got a significant raise with a six-year deal worth $92 million, but we found out in May that Watkins had offseason foot surgery. We're waiting for Watkins to be back to 100 percent, but he's on track to play in Week 1. And Taylor could be asked to do plenty of heavy lifting with a defense minus several key players due to injury (Shaq Lawson and Reggie Ragland) and suspension (Marcell Dareus and Manny Lawson). Taylor earned his contract extension with his performance last season with 3,035 passing yards, 20 touchdowns and six interceptions and 568 rushing yards and four touchdowns in 14 games. The rushing total was second among quarterbacks behind just Cam Newton (636). Taylor had six games with at least 23 Fantasy points in a standard league, including five with at least 30, and he closed the season scoring at least 18 points in five of his final six outings. At the time of writing this story, I have Taylor ranked No. 13 in leagues where passing touchdowns are worth six points, and he's a Top 10 option in leagues where passing touchdowns are four points.
Can a rookie be considered a breakout? In this case, yes. And Elliott has the chance to be a star, mostly because of that Dallas offensive line. DeMarco Murray was amazing behind that offensive line in 2014 (393 carries for 1,845 yards and 13 touchdowns and 57 catches for 416 yards), and Darren McFadden had an exceptional season last year (239 carries for 1,089 yards and three touchdowns and 40 catches for 328 yards) because of the guys in front of him. Elliott should follow suit, and he's worth drafting in the first round in all leagues. I know we've been burned by rookie running backs before (see Montee Ball, Bishop Sankey and Gordon the past three years), but Elliott's circumstances are different because of how Dallas will use him and the blockers he'll run behind. It's also easy to handcuff him with Alfred Morris, who should be considered a sleeper, but we hope Elliott doesn't 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.
Mike Freeman, my former colleague who covers the NFL for Bleacher Report, recently wrote that Miller could lead the NFL in rushing. That seems far-fetched, but it could happen given Miller's talent level and Texans coach Bill O'Brien's love for running 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. But you would have expected the Dolphins to lean more on Miller since he's averaged 4.6 yards per carry in his career, including 5.1 yards per carry in 2014 and 4.5 yards per carry last year. Thankfully, the lack of rushing didn't crush Miller as a Fantasy option with the Dolphins. He finished as the No. 9 running back in standard leagues in 2014 with 216 carries for 1,099 yards and eight touchdowns and 38 catches for 275 yards and a touchdown, and he was No. 6 last year with 194 carries for 872 yards and eight touchdowns and 47 catches for 397 yards and two touchdowns. If you plug his workload in with the Dolphins in 2014 (54 percent of the team's rush attempts) for the same work with the Texans that year he would have had 1,520 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. Only DeMarco Murray in Dallas had more rushing yards, and only Murray and Marshawn Lynch in Seattle scored more touchdowns. Do the same in 2015 (63 percent of Miami's carries) then he would have had 1,337 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns with Houston. Only Adrian Peterson and Doug Martin had more rushing yards, and Miller would have led all running backs in rushing touchdowns. The potential is there, and Miller should be drafted in the first round.
When you talk about Elliott and the Dallas offensive line, you can also apply the same sentiment to Murray and the Raiders offensive line, which should be No. 2 in the NFL after they signed guard Kelechi Osemele from Baltimore and brought back left tackle Donald Penn to join Rodney Hudson, Gabe Jackson and Austin Howard. They should help Murray go from good last year to great this year, and he's worth drafting toward the end of the third round. Murray actually finished as the No. 10 Fantasy running back in standard leagues with 266 carries for 1,066 yards and six touchdowns and 41 catches for 232 yards. Every stat was a career high, but I have higher expectations for him this season, especially since coach Jack Del Rio said he wants Murray to get more carries. Rookie DeAndre Washington could play a role, and I like him as a sleeper. But if Murray stays healthy for 16 games behind that offensive line then he should be a star. His situation is also improved by a better defense in Oakland, and game flow should help his chances throughout the year. He is definitely a running back on the rise.
If Hyde stays healthy he's going to be in line for a big season. But injuries have plagued him for each of the past two years, including 2015 when he was the starter in San Francisco for the first time and played well through five games with at least 15 Fantasy points in a standard league in two of them. New coach Chip Kelly has a good history with running backs, and he helped LeSean McCoy win the rushing title in 2013 and finish as the No. 2 Fantasy running back. McCoy was also the No. 12 running back in 2014. DeMarco Murray was a bust last year, but he still finished as the No. 18 running back in standard leagues. And the combination of Murray and Ryan Mathews combined for 11 games with double digits in Fantasy points in standard formats. The 49ers offensive line should be improved this season with the return of Anthony Davis from his brief retirement and first-round pick Josh Garnett. Hyde also reported to the offseason program in great shape, and his injured foot from last year doesn't appear to be an issue. In the preseason opener against Houston, Hyde had five carries for 27 yards, including a 22-yard run, and he had two targets out of the backfield. I love drafting Hyde in Round 4 in the majority of leagues.
Here's some full disclosure with Langford. He was on my breakouts list in April, and I was excited about him prior to the NFL Draft. Then the Bears added Jordan Howard, and things looked a little dicey since Chicago spent most of the offseason and the early part of training camp talking about a committee, including Ka'Deem Carey and Jacquizz Rodgers. But Langford appears to have a firm grasp on the featured role through the first two preseason games, and he played well in the second outing against the Patriots with eight carries for 55 yards and a touchdown. His stat line was overinflated by a 34-yard carry, but it's hard to overlook the volume he could get in this offense. Langford did well in a starting job last year when he replaced an injured Matt Forte for three games, and he averaged 20 Fantasy points in a standard league over that span against San Diego, St. Louis and Denver. For the season, Langford had 148 carries for 537 yards (3.6 yards per carry) and six touchdowns and 22 catches for 279 yards and a touchdown. He had four games with at least 15 touches in 2015 and had at least eight Fantasy points in all of those outings. We'd like to see Langford improve his yards per carry, and he needs to be more consistent as a receiver. He had seven drops on 42 targets, but he also had four games with at least three catches, including seven catches against the Rams. He's far from a polished running back on a team that could be trailing a lot, but if you can draft him in Round 6 or later he could deliver as a No. 2 Fantasy running back with Top 20 upside just based on total workload alone.
Third-year receivers are players I often gravitate toward, especially when there's talent in a good situation. And we saw Evans play at a high level in 2014 when he had 68 catches, 1051 yards and 12 touchdowns on 125 targets. He took a step backward last season with his touchdowns with 74 catches, 1,206 yards and three touchdowns on 147 targets, but he should find the end zone again this year on a regular basis, especially with a better rapport with second-year quarterback Jameis Winston, who is a potential breakout candidate as well. The two spent a ton of time together this offseason, and their chemistry should be evident on the field. Evans also improved his conditioning and lost almost 15 pounds this offseason, which should help in his production. The nice thing is if he just hits the average number of touchdowns from his first two seasons (seven) with the same production from last year then he'll be in great shape. For example, Calvin Johnson was the No. 9 Fantasy receiver in standard leagues last year with 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. I have him ranked in my Top 10 because I'm counting on a breakout performance this year.
We talk a lot about the potential for Antonio Brown and Julio Jones to break Marvin Harrison's single-season catch record of 143, which was set in 2002. Brown and Jones are tied for second in the record books with 136 catches, but we could see a scenario where Allen also challenges Harrison's mark. Last year, Allen was having a third-year breakout season before a kidney injury in Week 8 ended his year with 67 catches, 725 yards and four touchdowns on 89 targets. If you project his stats over 16 games he would have had 134 catches for 1,450 yards and eight touchdowns, and he might be even better in 2016. Since we first wrote about Allen in June, teammate Steve Johnson (knee) was lost for the season. While that helps Travis Benjamin, Antonio Gates, Danny Woodhead and potentially Tyrell Williams, who is a sleeper in deeper leagues, you can also expect more targets for Allen. I also like the return of Whisenhunt as the offensive coordinator, and the last time the two were paired together in 2013 was when Allen was a rookie and finished with 71 catches, 1,046 yards and eight touchdowns. If Allen plays 16 games then this will be a career season, and he's worth drafting in Round 2 in all leagues, especially PPR formats where he's a Top 10 option.
A lot of times we get pegged as having a certain player we like more than others. Sometimes it works out like last year with Tyler Eifert. Other times it doesn't with someone like Ameer Abdullah. This season, Moncrief is one of my guys, along with Coby Fleener. And I'm perfectly fine with that given Moncrief's upside entering his third season. Moncrief might have been a breakout player last year had Andrew Luck (kidney) not got hurt because he was great when his quarterback was healthy. 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. Now, it didn't work for Moncrief after Luck went down, and he only finished the season with 64 catches for 733 yards and six touchdowns. But I'm expecting him to shatter those stats, and some reports out of Indianapolis expect him to be better than T.Y. Hilton. We'll see if that happens, but the Colts have to replace two significant contributors with Andre Johnson and 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 Hilton and Dwayne Allen will also get plenty of production. But so will Moncrief, and I plan to draft him as early as Round 4 in all formats. He's a Top 20 receiver for me coming into the year. See, I told you he's my guy.
There's a lot to like about all three Cardinals receivers in Floyd, John Brown and Larry Fitzgerald under coach Bruce Arians and with quarterback Carson Palmer. And all three had positive moments last year, and Fitzgerald was the best as the No. 11 Fantasy receiver in standard leagues, followed by Brown at No. 22 and Floyd at No. 32. This year, Floyd should be the best of the bunch, especially if he stays healthy for 16 games. He got off to a slow start last season because of a broken hand in training camp, but 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, 1,192 yards and 10 touchdowns instead of his actual stats of 52 catches, 849 yards and six touchdowns. I expect him to be closer to his projected numbers, and he's someone I plan to target in Round 4 in the majority of leagues. He's also in a contract year, so that motivation should push him to another level in 2016. And Brown is dealing with a concussion, which hopefully won't limit him early in the year, but if it does then Floyd could be a superstar.
Lockett still has a lot to prove to Fantasy owners, but there's also a ton of upside for the second-year receiver, which is why he's someone to target with a mid-round pick. Whereas his teammate Doug Baldwin is being overvalued with a Round 4 ADP, Lockett is someone you can draft in Round 6 or 7. The production could be close, especially if the targets increase for Lockett, which is what we'd like to see this year. Last season, Lockett had seven games with at least five targets, and he scored double digits in Fantasy points in a standard league in four of them. He finished the season with 51 catches for 664 yards and six touchdowns, but he played in just over 60 percent of the snaps. More work is definitely coming this season, and one report from Seattle suggests Lockett could have 900 yards and eight touchdowns with the potential for more. Now, we could see a drop-off in production for Lockett and Baldwin if Jimmy Graham (knee) somehow returns to form following last year's brutal injury, but there's a better chance this passing attack runs through the receivers. And based on value, I'll gamble on Lockett in all leagues whenever possible with a mid-round pick.
The criticisms against Fleener this year are somewhat understandable. There are a lot of mouths to feed in New Orleans with Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead, Michael Thomas and Mark Ingram. And Fleener has never played like an elite Fantasy tight end despite playing in an explosive offense with the Colts. But when you dig a little deeper you realize that when he's the featured tight end, which is the case with the Saints, he has the chance to be dominant. In Indianapolis, Allen was a co-starter with Fleener, and Luck spread the ball around to all his targets. However, in a small sample size, we saw what Fleener could do when Allen missed four games due to injury in 2014. Over that span, Fleener had 18 catches for 355 yards and four touchdowns, and he scored at least 14 Fantasy points in a standard league in three of those outings. That's closer to the player I'm expecting in New Orleans, especially since the Saints have never targeted their No. 1 tight fewer than 109 times (Fleener's career high is 92). Last year's starting tight end, Benjamin Watson, had 74 catches, 825 yards and six touchdowns, and he finished as the No. 8 tight end in standard leagues. I'm counting on more production from Fleener, who I have ranked as the No. 4 tight end, and I would draft him in Round 6. It wouldn't shock me if Fleener is the No. 2 tight end this year behind Rob Gronkowski.