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Jamey Eisenberg's: Sleepers 3.0 | Breakouts 3.0 | Busts 3.0
Heath Cummings': Sleepers 2.0 | Breakouts 2.0 | Busts 2.0
The final installment of this column may very well be the highlight of the NFL preseason for me. It's hard to have more fun than picking 12 guys that are going to do something they've never done before and then telling you why...or in this case, how.
That's right, instead of just giving you the why on this year's sleepers (if you've been paying attention I've likely already told you for most of these guys) I'm going to give you the what and the how. We'll talk about each player's upside and how they reach it.
If you want to check out Breakouts 1.0, you'll find a few holdovers from June and a few guys who fell off (but I still believe in). Devante Parker and Hunter Henry still have breakout potential for sure. John Brown and Breshad Perriman have been derailed by injuries, and Jameis Winston is now more of a bust candidate at his price.
But for now, let's get to my favorite breakout candidates for the 2017 season.
Marcus Mariota Tennessee Titans QB
| Reasonable upside: 366 Fantasy points, No. 3 QB |
How he gets there: It all starts with health for Mariota. He was on pace for 328 Fantasy points through 14 games last season, and that was with Rishard Matthews as his No. 1 receiver. With the addition of Corey Davis and Eric Decker, Mariota has 4,000-yard, 30-TD upside through the air. On the ground he's averaged 22 yards-per-game so far in his career. I wouldn't be surprised if that drops a little, but 300 rushing yards still seems reasonable. The strange thing is, Mariota has never had a season with more than two rushing touchdowns. His upside includes him having a season like Jameis Winston in 2015 or Dak Prescott in 2016, where he tops four rushing touchdowns.
Jared Goff Los Angeles Rams QB
| Reasonable upside: 312 Fantasy points, No. 15 QB |
How he gets there: Listen, being a top 15 quarterback doesn't sound like much, right? Well for Goff it would represent an enormous leap. The Rams threw 609 passes in 2016, so for starters you can give him 600 attempts. I don't know that he has the upside to get to seven yards per attempt, but with Sammy Watkins and Cooper Kupp in the fold, a jump to 6.7 Y/A seems reasonable. That translates to a 4,000 yard season already. Goff probably won't become a good Fantasy quarterback overnight, but the weapons are there for him to become a good streamer, especially early in the season.
Isaiah Crowell Cleveland Browns RB
| Reasonable upside: 201 Fantasy points, No. 5 RB in non-PPR |
How he gets there: Just give the man the rock. Crowell was one of the most efficient running backs in football last season, rushing for 4.8 YPC, while also catching more than 75 percent of his targets and averaging eight yards per reception. The problem was that he only received 198 carries. Hue Jackson has hinted that he wants to change that. Crowell breaks out with 250 attempts and 40 receptions, giving him a shot at 1,500 total yards. If the Browns want to be respectable, that should be their game plan.
Todd Gurley Los Angeles Rams RB
| Reasonable upside: 209 Fantasy points, No. 3 RB in non-PPR |
How he gets there: Gurley is the anti-Crowell. He already has all the volume he can handle, he just needs some room to run. As you can probably guess, I believe Jared Goff and Watkins give it to him. Gurley doesn't have to rebound all the way to 4.8 YPC from his rookie year -- and he probably won't. But 4.4 seems reasonable and that will put him near 1,300 yards on the ground alone if he repeats last season's workload. I would also expect Gurley to be more involved in the passing game with near 40 receptions.
Ty Montgomery Green Bay Packers RB
| Reasonable upside: 232 PPR Fantasy points, No. 8 RB in PPR |
How he gets there: Like Mariota, this starts with staying healthy. But Montgomery should have 10-12 carries a game, to go along with five targets, giving him the potential to top 1,200 total yards. The key to fully reaching his potential will be how many times he gets into the end zone. Jamaal Williams hasn't shown me enough yet to say he's locked down all of the red zone work, and Montgomery has the ability to score from outside the 20. There's an upside of eight touchdowns here, which would guarantee him a top-10 season with his work in the passing game.
Paul Perkins New York Giants RB
| Reasonable upside: 150 Fantasy points, No. 16 RB in non-PPR |
How he gets there: Could somebody please block for Paul Perkins? Please? There are actually a couple of different paths to greatness (or at least adequacy) for Perkins. One would be that he just rams his way to 900 rushing yards at an inefficient pace, and falls into the end zone five or six times. The other is if Shane Vereen goes down again and Perkins exceeds what looks like 30-catch upside. Of course, the Giants could just start blocking better too, because Perkins has the talent to be a top 20 back if his offensive line was just average.
Keenan Allen Los Angeles Chargers WR
| Reasonable upside: 252 PPR Fantasy points, No. 10 WR in PPR |
How he gets there: Let's be clear, Allen's pace in 2015 (134-1,450-8) was much better than than I'm prescribing here, but I'm trying to be reasonable. There's a reasonable path to 130 targets in 2017, and if he matches the 75 percent catch rate from 2015 that's 98 catches. Eight touchdowns seems perfectly reasonable at that volume, especially with Philip Rivers having thrown 29 or more in four straight seasons.
Stefon Diggs Minnesota Vikings WR
| Reasonable upside: 264 PPR Fantasy points, No. 8 WR in PPR |
How he gets there: Diggs wasn't far away from these numbers in 2016 on a per-game basis. His biggest flaws were his middling yards per reception and low touchdown numbers, but his 13.8 YPR in 2015 is a sign that, if nothing else, there's some ceiling to work with here. It should also help that the Vikings are moving him outside more often this season. While Diggs is viewed as a pure slot receiver, he was actually more productive outside in 2016 per ProFootballFocus.com. Diggs just needs his touchdown rate to rebound and he'll be a star in PPR.
Sammy Watkins Los Angeles Rams WR
| Reasonable upside: 165 Fantasy points, No. 10 WR in non-PPR|
How he gets there: I think I laid this out pretty well in the Goff section. But if you give Watkins 20 percent of Goff's 600 targets, you're looking at 70-75 catches. Watkins has a career average of 16.1 YPR but you don't need to give him all that; let's be reasonable and project him for 15.5. His career high in touchdowns is nine, on only 96 targets. At the very least you would think he has the upside to match that if not exceed it, especially if Goff really is at least competent this season.
Eric Ebron Detroit Lions TE
| Reasonable upside: 191 PPR Fantasy points, No. 6 TE in PPR |
How he gets there: Yes, Ebron is battling hamstring concerns this preseason, but for the purposes of this exercise we'll assume he gets healthy by Week 1. Ebron had a breakout already last season, you just didn't notice it. That's because Anquan Boldin stole all his touchdowns. Boldin's gone, and while people are ready to give Kenny Golladay all his touchdowns, that's unlikely. Ebron just needs to maintain last year's 6.5 targets per game, while seeing his touchdown rate normalize, and he'll be a steal at the back end of the draft.
Zach Ertz Philadelphia Eagles TE
| Reasonable upside: 120 Fantasy points, No. 4 TE|
How he gets there: Ertz is in a very similar spot to Ebron, with fewer health concerns and a longer track record. He also looks a lot like Travis Kelce, last year's No. 1 tight end, at this point a year ago. Kelce is the only tight end I expect to have more receptions than Ertz after the Eagles traded Jordan Matthews. He breaks out with just a slight increase in touchdowns and another year of huge volume from Carson Wentz.