2019 Fantasy Football Breakouts: Kerryon Johnson, Kenyan Drake and Chris Godwin ready to fulfill their potential

More Fantasy preview: Heath's Busts 2.0 | Heath's Sleepers | Top 150 Players   

The most fun article in this series to write is the breakouts article. First, you're talking about exciting players, generally young, who may just have league-winning potential. Second, you can pretty much pick whoever you want. 

With busts you have to choose someone being drafted high enough that people will care. With sleepers you have to choose players who are being overlooked, either by the industry or by drafters. But breakouts can be former first-round picks or guys that have accomplished almost nothing in the league. In fact, I have a few of both of those below. 

The only real qualification for this list is that they're going to do something positive they haven't done before. Oh, and that you should do whatever you can to get them on your team this season.

Quarterback

View Profile
Deshaun Watson HOU • QB • 4
CMP%68.3
YDs4165
TD26
INT9
YD/Att8.25

It's hard to imagine Deshaun Watson could do something better than he's done already. If it wasn't for Patrick Mahomes, we'd be talking about Watson having one of the best starts to a career we've ever seen from a signal caller. Among quarterbacks with at least 700 attempts in their first two seasons, here are Watson's ranks:

8.3 Y/A (2nd)
66.4% completion percentage (1st)
103.1 passer rating (2nd)
6.3% TD% (3rd)

The only quarterbacks ahead of him on any of those lists? Dan Marino and Russell Wilson. The one thing we saw from Wilson was a slow build up in the number of passes he was allowed to throw. We saw that same small increase in Year 2 with Watson, as he topped 30 passes per game for the first time. I expect another small increase in 2019, and that coupled with his production on the ground makes Watson the No. 1 contender for Mahomes' throne.

The realistic upside:

540 pass attempts, 4,536 pass yards, 36 pass touchdowns
100 rush attempts, 650 rush yards, six rush touchdowns

Running Back

View Profile
Leonard Fournette JAC • RB • 27
Att133
Yds439
TD5
FL0

We've been talking about the theoretical upside of Leonard Fournette since Jacksonville took him fourth overall in the 2017 NFL Draft. While he's given us glimpses, we still haven't seen it over a full season. Part of that has been Fournette's own fault and some of it's been dumb injury luck. But if he's ever going to show it, 2019 looks like the year.

The Jaguars added a more creative offensive coordinator (John DeFilippo) and a more competent quarterback (Nick Foles). Their offensive line should be healthier, and better. Their defense should bounce back as well. Maybe most importantly, the team let T.J. Yeldon walk in the offseason and didn't replace him with an adequate third-down back. That could mean more work for Fournette and more mystery for opposing defenses when he's in the game.  

Any Fournette breakout starts with him staying healthy for 16 games. If he does, I project him to be amongst the league leaders in touches. Any improvement in efficiency that comes courtesy of improved circumstances would make him a top-five back. 

The realistic upside: 

300 rush attempts, 1,320 rush yards
64 targets, 51 receptions, 450 receiving yards
13 total touchdowns

View Profile
Kenyan Drake MIA • RB • 32
Att120
Yds535
TD4
FL1


As happy as Dolphins fans were to see Adam Gase gone, I can't imagine any of them were as happy as Kenyan Drake. Drake has been remarkably efficient in his three years in Miami, but outside of a five-game stretch to end 2017, he hasn't been rewarded with a heavy workload. He is one of eight backs (minimum 350 touches) to average better than 4.5 yards per carry, 8.0 yards per catch and catch more than 70% of passes since he entered the league. 

It's worth remembering what Drake did the one time he was handed a feature role. In the final five games of 2017 he averaged 21.6 touches and 118.8 total yards per game. It wouldn't be fair to expect that effort over a full season, but it does show you the star potential. 

The Dolphins may be too bad for Drake to be elite on the ground, but he should see another heavy dose of targets playing from behind. He has legitimate top-10 upside in PPR as long as Brian Flores gives Drake the touches he deserves.

The realistic upside:

240 rush attempts, 1,152 rush yards
88 targets, 66 receptions, 567 receiving yards
12 total touchdowns

View Profile
Kerryon Johnson DET • RB • 33
Att118
Yds641
TD3
FL1

Kerryon Johnson came about as close to breaking out as you can as a rookie without it actually counting. He averaged 5.4 yards per carry, caught 82% of his targets, and averaged 85.4 total yards per game. He ran for 101 yards against the Patriots, totaled 179 yards against the Dolphins and caught six passes for 69 yards against the Seahawks. So what was missing? Touches, touchdowns and good health.

Johnson was given fewer than 10 carries in three of his first four starts. He only scored four touchdowns on the season, including one in his first eight games. He missed six games due to injury. But it's not hard to see the upside. In his final eight games, he scored four touchdowns and averaged more than 90 yards per game. From Week 3 through Week 11, he was a top-15 back in both formats on a per-game basis. And his upside is even higher. 

The Lions hired Darrell Bevell to run the offense and he's been clear about his desire to run the ball. If Bevell realizes his goals and Johnson stays healthy, the second-year back will have an enormous season.

The realistic upside:

250 rush attempts, 1,250 rush yards
64 targets, 51 receptions, 408 receiving yards
10 total touchdowns

View Profile
Rashaad Penny SEA • RB • 20
Att85
Yds419
TD2
FL0

Outside of Ronald Jones, there may not have been a bigger rookie letdown than Rashaad Penny in 2018. The former first-round pick struggled to get on the field and then didn't really perform once he got there. In the first three weeks of the season he had 20 carries for 43 yards and caught four of seven targets. Chris Carson ran away with the starting job, though Penny did flash at times, including a 12-carry, 108-yard performance against the Rams in Week 9. 

But as disappointing as he was, there's still plenty of reason to hope for him in 2019. The Seahawks were one of the three teams to run the ball more than they passed it in 2018, and they've shown no regret. Even if Carson keeps the job all year, I'd expect 150 touches for Penny. But there's also a considerable chance by midseason he takes the job from Carson. 

The difference between Penny and Jones, at least for now, is that Penny showed signs late in the year of understanding what the team wanted him to do and found success. He's a more talented back than Carson, and if he learns to run with the authority Carson does, this shouldn't be much of a competition at all. 

The realistic upside:

192 rush attempts, 960 rush yards
70 targets, 52 receptions, 442 receiving yards
Eight total touchdowns

Wide Receiver

View Profile
Chris Godwin TB • WR • 12
TAR95
REC59
REC YDs842
REC TD7
FL1

Chris Godwin may just be the most popular breakout pick in Fantasy Football this season. In two seasons in the NFL, Godwin has caught 62% of his targets and averaged 14.7 yards per reception. The Buccaneers lost DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries in the offseason and have 234 targets to replace from last year's team. They added no one of significance to the offense.

It just all fits too perfectly. A third-year receiver who has already had some success, on a pass-heavy team, with Bruce Arians running the offense, and very little competition for targets. You couldn't write a better script for a breakout receiver if you tried. I can't imagine you need more convincing as to why Godwin is a breakout candidate, so let's get to the upside. 

The realistic upside:

132 targets, 84 receptions, 1,221 receiving yards, eight touchdowns

View Profile
Sammy Watkins KC • WR • 14
TAR55
REC40
REC YDs519
REC TD3
FL0


One of the most difficult things about establishing projections and rankings for 2019 is the uncertainty surrounding Tyreek Hill and the Kansas City Chiefs. As of mid-June, Hill is still not with the team or allowed to participate in team activities, but the sense around the industry does seem to be shifting from "he may not play for the Chiefs again" to "how many games will his suspension be?" I've settled on six for my current projections, which leaves Sammy Watkins plenty of room to break out.

Watkins was actually close to a breakout in 2018, with Hill. In the eight games Watkins started and finished for the Chiefs, he caught 39 of 53 targets for 515 yards and three touchdowns. On a per-game basis that would be the second best season of Watkins' career. For whatever time Hill misses, I would expect a larger target share with the increased efficiency that comes from playing with Patrick Mahomes. As long as Watkins is healthy and Hill is inactive, expect the former to perform like a No. 1 receiver.

The realistic upside:

120 targets, 84 receptions, 1,176 receiving yards, eight touchdowns

View Profile
Dede Westbrook JAC • WR • 12
TAR101
REC66
REC YDs717
REC TD5
FL2


Like Godwin, Dede Westbrook is a third-year receiver who is primed for a breakout. He's not been used as a downfield threat as much as Godwin, but he's also dealt with the quarterback play of Blake Bortles and Cody Kessler. In 2019, things figure to look different for the Jaguars offense.

Out is Nathaniel Hackett as offensive coordinator and in his place is DeFilippo. Yes, the same coach who was fired midseason by the Minnesota Vikings seemingly because he wouldn't agree to coach Mike Zimmer's desire to implement a run-heavy offense. The Jaguars never ranked in the top half of the league in passing yards under Hackett; and that may just change under DeFilippo.

With a new offensive coordinator came Foles. These two worked together during the Eagles' Super Bowl run in 2017, and Foles provides a clear upgrade over Bortles and Kessler. Combine a talented third-year receiver with more targets and a quarterback upgrade, and you can find plenty of upside.

The realistic upside:

132 targets, 89 receptions, 1,062 receiving yards, eight touchdowns

View Profile
Geronimo Allison GB • WR • 81
TAR30
REC20
REC YDs303
REC TD2
FL0

Geronimo Allison was supposed to have his third-year breakout last year, but injury cut it short. Still, if you look at his first four games you can see what might have been. He caught 19 of 29 targets for 289 yards and two scores. He had the second most targets on the Packers and at least 64 yards in all four games. 

With Randall Cobb gone, there's very little competition left for Allison as the No. 2 receiver in this offense. An extrapolation of the numbers above doesn't seem at all unrealistic. In fact, they give us a pretty good baseline for a realistic upside.

The realistic upside:

120 targets, 79 receptions, 1,106 receiving yards, nine touchdowns

Tight End

View Profile
O.J. Howard TB • TE • 80
TAR48
REC34
REC YDs565
REC TD5
FL0


It's pretty ridiculous how efficient O.J. Howard has been his first two years in the league. He's caught 69% of his passes and averaged 16.6 yards per reception. Those are numbers even Gronk would be envious of. In fact, Howard's 11.46 yards per target is the best in the NFL over the last two seasons (minimum 50 targets). Yes, even better than Tyreek Hill.

The problem of course has been the number of targets, not what Howard has done with them. But with all of the targets available in Tampa Bay, there's plenty of room for both Howard and Godwin to break out. He definitely deserves to be in that second tier below the big three, but all three of these breakout tight ends have the upside to make the big three a big four-plus. 

The realistic upside: 

90 targets, 61 receptions, 915 receiving yards, nine touchdowns

View Profile
Evan Engram NYG • TE • 88
TAR64
REC45
REC YDs577
REC TD3
FL0


Evan Engram should be the consensus No. 4 tight end by the time draft season gets here, which might make him the second-most popular breakout pick behind Chris Godwin. While it might look like he took a step back last season, that's simply not true. He just got hurt. Engram's catch rate (70.3%) was much better, his yards per catch (12.8) was considerably better and even his yards per game (52.5) improved. That's even more impressive considering he left two games early with injury. 

Plenty of people have written about Engram's splits without Odell Beckham, and they are very impressive no doubt. But if you just take out those two games he got hurt last year, you see another remarkable pace; 75 catches, 875 yards, five touchdowns. Things could get even better without Beckham in the picture.

The realistic upside:

115 targets, 81 receptions, 999 receiving yards, eight touchdowns

View Profile
Hunter Henry LAC • TE • 86
2017 stats - DNP in 2018
TAR62
REC45
REC YDs579
REC TD4
FL0


Hunter Henry was a consensus breakout pick before 2018... at least until he tore his ACL. But all the reasons we loved him last summer still exist. He still has a quarterback who has historically targeted tight ends at a high rate, and he still owns a career 9.2 yards per target which is great for tight ends not named Howard or Gronkowski. The Chargers lost 111 targets off last year's squad, so there's plenty of room for Henry as well. His floor is still well below that of Howard or Engram, but the upside is elite.

The realistic upside:

93 targets, 65 receptions, 874 receiving yards, eight touchdowns 

So what 2019 Fantasy Football breakouts should you be all over? And which rookie running back is set to explode? Visit SportsLine now to get 2019 Fantasy Football cheat sheets from the model that has simulated the season 10,000 times, and find out.

Senior Fantasy Writer

Heath Cummings is a Senior Fantasy Writer that covers Daily Fantasy Sports of all types. Before coming to CBS Sports he was a staff writer for Footballguys and the host of The Fantasy Football Show on... Full Bio

Fantasy Football Today Podcast

Our Latest Stories