2019 Fantasy Football Draft Prep: Eleven career-year breakouts

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Every year I look for players who I believe can put up the best numbers of their career. These are truly breakout players, names you usually know already, but with expectations that make them desirable, particularly at their Average Draft Position. Instead of focusing on early-round dudes like Nick Chubb, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Joe Mixon, I figure it's more helpful to you if we hone in on players with an ADP in Round 4 or later. Hopefully this gives you a shopping list to help you through the early and middle parts of your draft. 

Career-Year Breakouts by Position
Career-year breakouts
running backs
CHI Chicago • #32
Age: 22 • Experience: Rookie
2019 Preseason Stats
RUATT
3
RUYDS
16
REC
3
REYDS
30
TD
1

Last year the Bears gave Jordan Howard 250 carries with 15-plus handoffs in eight games (five in the second half of the season). Montgomery is the best suited rusher to do that for Chicago already — he's a punisher who broke over 100 tackles in each of his last two seasons at Iowa State. He also rated as Pro Football Focus' most elusive running back since 2014, juking defenders and forcing missed tackles on the regular. Montgomery also brings receiving chops to the field, as evidenced not just by his three catches in his first preseason game but also by his 71 receptions in college. That's an element Howard could never offer the Bears.

Tarik Cohen's presence might be a concern, but he averaged 10.6 touches per game last year and through two seasons has five games with 15-plus touches and 16 games with 10 or fewer. Mike Davis, another new Bears runner, could also get into the mix, but Montgomery is a brighter prospect. The team seemingly rallied around Montgomery during his preseason debut, complete with a big hug from his head coach after scoring a touchdown in which he created yards when the backup O-line he ran behind failed to follow through with the initial play. Reports from training camp provide lots of optimism, the starting offensive line is very good, and the Bears own a top-10 favorable schedule according to my projected strength of schedule analysis. You might prefer to draft him in Round 5 as a No. 3 running back, but he'll be good enough to finish as a No. 2.  

SF San Francisco • #26
Age: 26 • Experience: 5 yrs.
2018 Stats
RUYDS
800
REC
32
REYDS
276
TD
9
FPTS/G
12.1

Numbers to beat for a career year: 1,076 total yards, 11 total touchdowns

There isn't a 49ers running back better suited to handle every down and distance than Coleman. In Atlanta, he averaged over 4.4 yards per carry and 11.0 yards per catch over four seasons. He scored 18 rushing touchdowns (seven from three yards or closer) and 11 receiving touchdowns. No one would tell you he's elusive, but many would suggest he's physical with plenty of tread left on the tire thanks to only 620 career touches over four seasons. He only has 13 career games with 15-plus touches, notching double-digit non-PPR Fantasy numbers in eight of them.

Coleman reunites with Kyle Shanahan; the two worked together for the runner's first two years in Atlanta. That familiarity should pay off when he leads the charge behind a better-than-expected 49ers offensive line. No doubt he will lose touches to Matt Breida (and eventually to Jerick McKinnon, maybe), but the whole point of him coming to the 49ers is to be their best back. In a timeshare for most of his games in Atlanta, Coleman still managed to finish as a top-24 running back for three straight seasons. The goal in 2019 is to finish close to the top-12 with over 1,200 total yards on his stat sheet. A top-3 favorable run schedule will only help his case. He's a good value in Round 5 and a steal in Round 6 or later.

LAC L.A. Chargers • #30
Age: 24 • Experience: 3 yrs.
2019 Preseason Stats
RUATT
5
RUYDS
40
REC
3
REYDS
29
TD
0
LAC L.A. Chargers • #22
Age: 23 • Experience: 2 yrs.
2019 Preseason Stats
RUATT
5
RUYDS
22
TD
1

Ekeler's numbers to beat for a career year: 958 total yards, six total touchdowns
Jackson's numbers to beat for a career year: 341 total yards, two total touchdowns

Melvin Gordon's absence is Ekeler and Jackson's gain. The sentiment is that Ekeler leads the Chargers' run game, with Jackson getting about 10 touches per game (which is about how many the secondary running back got in all Chargers games in 2018). Last year, Ekeler averaged over 17 touches per games when starting in place of Gordon. That's enough to make him a bargain if you're taking him in Round 6 or later, provided Gordon remains a holdout.

So what's the deal with Gordon? He could show up at any time and be back in the mix for the Chargers. The longer he waits, the more likely he'll be eased into action since he missed all of training camp. That helps Ekeler retain some good value. If Gordon wants any credit for free agency in 2020, he'll report before the Chargers' Week 11 game against the Chiefs. That would help both backs offer something for Fantasy managers for the first 10 weeks of the season. And if Gordon gets bitter and stays home all year, it's obviously a coup for whoever drafts Ekeler and Jackson. The Chargers' projected strength of schedule ranks in the top-6 in terms of ease against the run. Gordon's presence would take Ekeler and Jackson's values down several notches in a snap, but until it seems like a real possibility, the risk is worth taking after 60th overall for Ekeler and 90th overall for Jackson.

Career-year breakouts
Wide receivers
LAR L.A. Rams • #18
Age: 26 • Experience: 3 yrs.
2018 Stats
TAR
56
REC
40
REYDS
566
TD
6
FPTS/G
16.8

Numbers to beat for a career year: 62 receptions, 869 receiving yards, six touchdowns

There's not much trepidation with Kupp even though he's coming off a torn ACL. I think it's because the Rams aren't showing much concern about him, keeping him off the PUP list to begin camp and using him on a regular basis in practice. Before he got hurt in 2018, he had 17-plus PPR points (12-plus in non-PPR) in 5 of 7 games where he played at least 30 snaps. Kupp served as the Rams' primary slot receiver and was outstanding with a 14.2 yard per catch average and six touchdowns (half coming in the red zone, the other half from 40-plus yards out).

He'll return to the Rams' crowded receiving corps, which spreads targets around evenly — but not equally. In the first four games of the 2018 season when Kupp, Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods were healthy, each guy had at least 31 targets (Kupp) and at most 34 targets (Woods). However, Kupp not only led the trio in red-zone targets overall (10 to Cooks' seven and Woods' six) but also had as many or more than Woods and Cooks combined in three of the four games. Those high-leverage opportunities combined with a potent pass offense facing what's projected to be a middle-of-the-road group of pass defenses should yield some excellent numbers for Kupp. Round 5 is preferred but Round 4 isn't too rich.

TB Tampa Bay • #12
Age: 23 • Experience: 3 yrs.
2019 Preseason Stats
TAR
2
REC
2
REYDS
20
TD
1

Numbers to beat for a career year: 59 receptions, 842 yards, seven touchdowns

Godwin is locked into a full-time role on a team that has no sustaining run game and a below-average defense. It's the perfect formula to get a ton of targets, especially since quarterback Jameis Winston has been told over and over again by his coaches to take the safe play and check the ball down instead of throw it deep. Godwin's wheelhouse is short- and mid-range routes — only six catches last year went for 21-plus yards — so volume is mandatory and a good catch rate seems likely (he dropped one pass last year and has three in two seasons).

Concerns about Winston's ability to stay on target are valid, and a tougher-than-average projected slate of pass defenses won't help, but Godwin's situations is as good as it gets for a non-No. 1 receiver. Following a season with only six games with seven-plus targets, expect Godwin to see at least that many every single week. Late Round 4 is not too soon for Godwin, particularly in PPR. 

ARI Arizona • #13
Age: 22 • Experience: 2 yrs.
2018 Stats
TAR
68
REC
43
REYDS
590
TD
3
FPTS/G
10.3

Numbers to beat for a career year: 43 receptions, 590 yards, three touchdowns

Reaching new career-highs should be a cinch for Kirk. But what if he doubled what he did last year?! It might be toward the high side of expectations, but it's not impossible given the situation he's found himself in. The Cardinals' new offense is a perfect fit for Kirk, complete with an accurate thrower in Kyler Murray and a scheme that is tailored to receivers who are fast, run routes well and can make plays after the catch.

Perhaps the best part is that Kirk shouldn't leave the field. He shouldn't be short on targets either — receivers get plenty of work in Kliff Kingsbury's system, and the pace of play should also be in the favor of the air game. Kirk has the most experience in the scheme going back to his college days, and Arizona has the second-easiest projected pass defense schedule this season. He's worth taking the plunge on in early Round 6.

JAC Jacksonville • #12
Age: 25 • Experience: 3 yrs.
2018 Stats
TAR
101
REC
66
REYDS
717
TD
5
FPTS/G
10.8

Numbers to beat for a career year: 66 receptions, 717 yards, five touchdowns

Westbrook is the right man in the right place at the right time. Recent history supports that slot receivers in offenses aided or coordinated by new Jaguars playcaller John DeFilippo are primed for strong seasons — think back to Adam Thielen last year, Nelson Agholor in 2017, Jordan Matthews in 2016. Westbrook ran 88% of his routes from the slot last season. He also led Jaguars receivers in targets, catches, yards and touchdowns. Spinning it forward, the Jaguars found an upgrade at quarterback in Nick Foles, who was coached by DeFilippo in Philadelphia for two seasons including his Super Bowl MVP year. Foles' most targeted receiver in 2017 and 2018? Agholor, who he hit for four touchdowns in the seven games he started and finished.

Don't bank on Jacksonville suddenly ditching the run, but at the very least they'll be open to the forward pass with Foles and DeFilippo on board. And if they're still a conservative thinking team, they'll take check-downs and easy throws over deep lobs to the likes of Chris Conley and D.J. Chark. Not only can Westbrook work as an extension of the run game with a bunch of high-percentage completions, but if anything happens to Leonard Fournette, he'd see an uptick in targets. The projected strength of schedule says the Jaguars will benefit from a top-12 slate of pass defenses. He should go significantly before his early-August ADP of 98th overall.

CAR Carolina • #10
Age: 23 • Experience: 3 yrs.
2018 Stats
TAR
65
REC
39
REYDS
494
TD
7
FPTS/G
10.5

Numbers to beat for a career year: 39 receptions, 494 yards, seven total touchdowns

We started to see Samuel move toward being a more complete receiver last year when he averaged nearly as many PPR Fantasy points per game as D.J. Moore over the Panthers' last seven games. Touchdowns played a role in that, but it seems like that's all Samuel's doing in training camp this summer, be it in intra-squad scrimmages or joint practices. He's lit up social media with deep, highlight-reel receptions from Cam Newton and seems like a cinch to translate those plays into actual in-game production. Four of his 2018 touchdowns were from 25 yards or closer, so any deep-ball scores will help his profile — and it's that speed potential that separates him from Moore.

But not many folks realize he had two rushing touchdowns last year on top of the five he caught. Not that he'll see a lot of rush attempts in 2019 but it is in his repertoire and adds to his value. The real improvement must come in his yardage. In those last seven games he averaged seven targets, 3.9 receptions and 52.9 yards with three touchdowns. The 16-game pace of that would yield 112 targets, 62 receptions, 846 yards and seven receiving touchdowns. If Samuel genuinely improved his route-running this offseason, he should hit those numbers provided he plays 16 games. Carolina's pass defense schedule is projected to be among the easiest in football and Newton seems fully rehabbed from offseason shoulder surgery. Frankly, I'm most inclined to draft whichever Panthers receiver I can get later on Draft Day. As of early August, that's Samuel.

Career-year breakouts
tight ends
NYG N.Y. Giants • #88
Age: 24 • Experience: 3 yrs.
2018 Stats
TAR
64
REC
45
REYDS
577
TD
3
FPTS/G
11.4

Numbers to beat for a career year: 64 receptions, 722 yards, six touchdowns

With Odell Beckham gone, Engram is the closest player the Giants have to a field-stretching playmaker (sorry Sterling Shepard fans, he's a close second). In 15 career games without Beckham, Engram averaged 59.1 yards per game and has delivered seven-plus non-PPR points/10-plus PPR points a startling 10 times. But that's just the beginning — in his second season he improved his catch rate from 55.7% to 70.3% and had three drops after bobbling 11 as a rookie. He even boosted his yards per target from 6.3 to 9.0.

There seems to be little reason to expect Engram's target average of 7.8 per Beckham-less game is going to dwindle. It should even go up in the Giants' first four games without Golden Tate around to siphon off some looks. The Giants quarterback situation isn't quite the detriment it once was — Eli Manning is still serviceable and rookie Daniel Jones has looked good since training camp kicked off. It helps that the Giants' schedule is projected to be among the 12 best in pass defense matchups. Best yet, the Giants will be in their fair share of point-chasing games and their opponents will have trouble finding defenders who could match up with Engram's size and speed. You'd prefer to get him in Round 5, but drafters who value tight ends should look for him in late Round 4.

Career-year breakouts
quarterbacks
PHI Philadelphia • #11
Age: 26 • Experience: 4 yrs.
2018 Stats
PAYDS
3074
RUYDS
93
TD
21
INT
7
FPTS/G
21.3

Numbers to beat for a career year: 3,782 passing yards, 33 touchdowns

All Wentz has to do is stay healthy. If he does that, he's a virtual lock to benefit from playing behind one of the best offensive lines in football and throwing to one of the deepest receiving groups in the league. That's saying something since Wentz had plenty to work with when he was on his way to an MVP-type season in 2017 and was nearly as effective in 2018. Over those two seasons, he hit 22-plus Fantasy points in 17 of 24 games.

Could the Eagles run more? They've been among the most pass-happy teams in football since Doug Pederson's been in charge and don't seem to be changing in that regard, even if Miles Sanders shines. Could tough opponents trip them up? Unlikely —the Eagles schedule ranks in the top-5 of easiest projected pass defense matchups. Truly, the only problem Wentz could have is missing time because of an injury, but that's not even close to enough of a deterrent to wait for him to fall into your lap on Draft Day as soon as late Round 7.

So which Fantasy Football breakouts should you target in your draft? And which rookie running back is a must-have RB2? Visit SportsLine now to get 2019 Fantasy Football cheat sheets from the model that called Tevin Coleman's breakout season, and find out.

Senior Fantasy Writer

Dave Richard has spent nearly his entire career covering the National Football League. Beginning with NFL.com at the boom of the Internet, Richard was that site's first Fantasy Football writer before transitioning... Full Bio

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