What is a breakout? An easy explanation would be that it is a player who is expected to have a career year and establish a new level of production.
We all want that on our Fantasy team, right? And we're here to give you some of our Fantasy staff's favorite breakout running backs at the early part of training camp.
Unlike sleepers, who are typically late-round selections, breakouts can be first- or second picks. These should be the players you love — and in some cases can't be without.
Think of them as league winners. And make sure you get as many of them on your roster as possible.
Here's who you'll be hearing from:
- Jamey Eisenberg, CBS Fantasy Senior Writer
- Dave Richard, CBS Fantasy Senior Writer
- Heath Cummings, CBS Fantasy Senior Writer
- Ben Gretch, CBS Fantasy Editor
- Chris Towers, CBS Fantasy Senior Editor
I liked Johnson before Detroit released Theo Riddick, but now I can't contain my excitement. I would draft Johnson in Round 2 as a top-10 Fantasy running back. The Lions have said they want to commit to the ground game under new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, and Johnson should be the catalyst of that attack. Johnson also benefits in the passing game with Riddick gone since he had 74 targets last year. There were already reports that Johnson had the chance for at least 50-plus catches this season, and he was actually on pace for 51 receptions in the 10 games he played in 2018 before getting hurt. If Johnson stays healthy, he could be a monster in 2019.
TB Tampa Bay • #7
Age: 26 • Experience: 5 yrs.
I'm excited for Fournette to bounce back this season after he was a bust in 2018. He's someone to target in Round 2 in all leagues. He's healthy, the offensive line should return to full strength — along with the addition of rookie Jawaan Taylor — and Nick Foles is an upgrade over Blake Bortles at quarterback. Fournette was good as a rookie with 286 carries for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns, along with 36 catches for 302 yards and one touchdown. I see him doing more this season, and Jacksonville should be among the league leaders in rushing attempts. You should feel confident to buy back in to Fournette this year.
Cook just has to stay healthy. That's his biggest obstacle right now since he's missed more games (17) than he's played (15) in two seasons, but now it's time for him to deliver. If he can stay healthy, I expect Cook to have a career year. In the 15 games he's played over the past two seasons, he's scored at least 11 PPR points 11 times. And last year, once Kevin Stefanski took over as the offensive coordinator for the final three games of the season, Cook averaged 16.7 PPR points over that span. He's primed for a big year, and you should plan on drafting him in Round 2 in all leagues.
Simply put, Williams is in the right place at the right time. A generational talent he's not, but his skill-set meshed with what should be a lot of opportunities in Andy Reid's offense should yield some career-high numbers. Williams thrived late last year as the centerpiece back in the Chiefs offense, averaging 114.4 total yards per game with a touchdown in his final five. It takes some faith to trust Williams, but Reid's offense has produced a rusher with 10-plus Fantasy points (non-PPR) in 25 of 32 games — a 78 percent success rate!
NYJ N.Y. Jets • #23
Age: 28 • Experience: 7 yrs.
Admittedly, it will take a lot for Coleman to exceed the 11 total touchdowns he set as a career-high in 2016, but his 1,076-total-yard watermark should fall. Coleman is the healthiest, most versatile, most goal-line-likely running back the 49ers have. His familiarity with Kyle Shanahan's system from when the two worked together in Atlanta should help him assimilate into the offense. The best part? Coleman's finished as a top-24 running back each of his last three seasons. His fourth should be his best.
ATL Atlanta • #45
Age: 25 • Experience: 4 yrs.
Every report out of Houston says Foreman looks more ferocious and quicker, not to mention leaner, since his rookie year. All the way back from an Achilles injury, Foreman not only has a shot to work in tandem with Lamar Miller, but to unseat the 28-year old and become the Texans' top running back. Given Houston's incredibly deep receiving corps and dangerous dual-threat quarterback, it makes for easy run lanes for Foreman to glide through. Once it's clear he's a better player, he'll begin eating into Miller's workload.
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. The addition of Darrell Bevell and the departure of Theor Riddick could fix two of those problems. Bevell wants to run the ball a ton and now Johnson only has C.J. Anderson to share touches with. There's legitimate top-five upside if everything goes according to plan.
Cook was one of our favorite breakout candidates in 2018. And a change in offensive coordinator could help make that a reality in 2019. After Kevin Stefanski took over, the Vikings ran the ball on nearly 50% of their offensive snaps. Cook ran 46 times for 258 yards in those final three games. He also caught eight passes for 83 yards. With the Vikings defensive prowess and offensive game plan, it's easy to see how Cook could earn 300 touches in 2019, as long as he can stay healthy. The absence of Latavius Murray could mean he gets into the end zone more often as well.
SEA Seattle • #20
Age: 25 • Experience: 4 yrs.
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 signs of regret about that gameplan. 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. There is top-12 upside if that happens.
I've been told my biggest weakness as an analyst is a penchant for blowing past red flags. What can I say? I'm an optimistic person. There are concerns — if Williams isn't productive, his leash isn't likely to be long, while a preseason hamstring injury reminds us he hasn't had to hold up as a lead back for a full NFL season — but when you have a fit as perfect as Williams in an offense like Kansas City's, it's a hard thing to ignore.
With the release of Theo Riddick, Johnson's ceiling became a lot more attainable. Already a remarkably efficient runner in his rookie season, Johnson now looks poised to see legitimate target numbers; my updated projections put him at 72 for the season. The talent was already there and we knew this offense wanted to feature the running game, but that clarity of his receiving role makes him a clear target as high as the late second round.
Ronald Jones RB
TB Tampa Bay • #27
Age: 24 • Experience: 4 yrs.
Jones is another back with red flags, and they are plenty. A hamstring injury he dealt with last offseason seemed to linger into the year. He was so bad when he did play that he couldn't beat out Peyton Barber, the first 250-touch back to fail to reach 1,000 yards since 2013. But Jones was the youngest back in his class, an elite producer in college, and a second-round pick, suggesting the team will give him more chances. Guys like Melvin Gordon and Devonta Freeman remind us Jones wouldn't be the first back to break out in year two.
BAL Baltimore • #34
Age: 29 • Experience: 8 yrs.
I don't think Freeman is going to be the No. 1 back again, like he was in 2015, but he certainly can be a No. 1 back. It's just a question of whether the Falcons will give him the touches, and whether he can hold up to that workload. When Tevin Coleman was around, it was pretty easy to take Freeman off the field, knowing you wouldn't lose much. When the options are Ito Smith and Qadree Ollison? It might be a better tougher to justify. If Freeman gets back to around 18 touches per game, he's going to be a must-start Fantasy option yet again.
This is almost entirely about the situation Williams finds himself in, though it's a little bit about the player, too. Andy Reid's offense just churns out No. 1 running backs, and Williams played like that in his time in the starting lineup after Kareem Hunt's dismissal from the team. Despite his journeyman status, Williams is actually a better athlete than you might think, and his familiarity with the offense and status as the incumbent makes him the No. 1 option from Day One. You want as much of this offense as you can get, so go get Williams.
WAS Washington • #29
Age: 24 • Experience: 3 yrs.
A year ago, Derrius Guice was one of the most popular breakout candidates in the game, before a torn ACL ended his rookie season before it began. There may be some bumps in the road as he makes his way back from the injury, though he's already over an offseason hamstring issue and has been cleared for practice, so there doesn't seem to be any doubts about his availability. This offense won't blow anyone away, but it wasn't any good last season either and Adrian Peterson was a viable Fantasy option. If Guice is as talented as we thought a year ago, he's a steal as a third running back for Fantasy.
So which Fantasy Football breakouts should you be all over? And which rookie running back is set to explode? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy Football cheat sheets from the model that has simulated the season 10,000 times, and find out.