There are plenty of things to love about breakouts. The most important is that they have the ability to win you your league a la Lamar Jackson in 2019. In Fantasy Football, it doesn't get any more important than that.
But my second favorite thing about breakouts is that they aren't dependent on anything else. With busts you kind of need to choose players that other analysts like. With sleepers you have to choose players being overlooked by at least some of the industry. With breakouts, we're free to all agree, like we mostly did with Chris Godwin last year.
I don't know for sure who that guy is going to be in 2020, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's Courtland Sutton. Sutton is entering the famed third year for a receiver (so are three more receivers below) just like Godwin was in 2019. He made a leap last year, but through the development of Drew Lock and the implementation of a new offense there's certainly room for more growth.
Sutton has averaged 8.7 yards per target in his first two seasons in the league. If he maintains that and sees a 15% increase in targets from last year you're looking at 1,235 receiving yards on 142 targets. He's scored once every 20 targets, so seven scores should be the expectation with that type of volume. The question then becomes if he can earn that type of volume.
He already did.
In five games with Lock, Sutton saw 25.6% of the team's targets. In 2020, I have the Broncos projected for 573 pass attempts (league median in 2019 was 575). That brings Sutton to a projection of 143 targets. And like Godwin, that brings Sutton into a projected breakout status, which is generally a signal that everyone is going to predict it. In 2019, that meant people were taking Godwin in the third round and eyebrows were raised. Godwin was worth every bit of that cost and Sutton should be too.
Here are the rest of my early breakouts:
MIA Miami • #31
Age: 27 • Experience: 4 yrs.
Pat Shurmur, the Broncos new offensive coordinator, has already spoken about how he believes Lindsay can do more in the passing game, and Shurmur's history suggests a running back will be heavily involved catching the ball. The last time a running back in a Shurmur offense didn't catch 50 passes was 2016 in Minnesota. That year, Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata combined for 75 grabs. Lindsay has been a very efficient runner, averaging 4.9 yards per carry his first two years in the league, and just a small boost to his target volume (along with an improvement to his yards per target) could make Lindsay a borderline No. 1 running back. He caught 70 passes across his first two seasons and I've currently got him projected for 55 catches in 2020.
CHI Chicago • #8
Age: 29 • Experience: 7 yrs.
In fairness, Damien Williams has broken out each of the past two years. He just hasn't done it for anything close to a full season yet. While I do expect the Chiefs to address the position this offseason, I don't believe they're bringing in someone to replace Williams. That means he'll get one more chance to do what he does over a 16 game season. If he does, that's a league winner. In his final six games of 2018, Williams posted 602 total yards and 10 touchdowns. In his last seven complete contests in 2019, he was even better — 773 total yards and 10 scores. It is not unrealistic at all to hope for 1,500 total yards and double-digit scores if Williams plays even 15 games.
WAS Washington • #29
Age: 24 • Experience: 3 yrs.
The injuries are troubling but Guice is still a very talented back as he showed with his 129-yard, two-touchdown game against the Carolina Panthers in Week 13. If he can just stay healthy this year he has a very good chance to be a top-20 back and a value based on where he'll be drafted.
D.J. Moore WR
CAR Carolina • #2
Age: 24 • Experience: 4 yrs.
Wait, D.J. Moore could break out again? Absolutely. At 22 years old, he was a top-15 receiver in 15 games despite scoring just four touchdowns and playing with one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL. There is room for Moore to improve as a player, there's certainly room for his quarterback play to improve and I'd anticipate touchdown regression leads to an increase in scores of approximately 50%. I have Moore projected as the No. 8 receiver in PPR this season but his upside is as high as anyone.
ATL Atlanta • #18
Age: 26 • Experience: 4 yrs.
Calvin Ridley has been very efficient early in his career and started to show us what a third-year breakout could look like once the team dealt Mohamed Sanu. In the six games after Sanu was traded, Ridley caught 34 of 49 targets for 493 yards and three touchdowns. He was even better in the three games Austin Hooper missed, which seems relevant because the Falcons are allowing Hooper to test out free agency. They will do something to replace him but it seems pretty clear they're ready to let Ridley be the No. 2 to Julio Jones. Both Falcons receivers could be top-12 options in 2020.
ARI Arizona • #13
Age: 25 • Experience: 4 yrs.
Last year was pretty disappointing for Christian Kirk, but I'm not ready to give up on him yet. Like Sutton, Moore and Ridley, Kirk is heading into his third year in the NFL and we should expect everything around him to improve. I expect the Cardinals to run more plays, I expect Kyler Murray to be more efficient and I expect the offense to function better in the red zone. Kirk is still the No. 1 receiver on the team, and if those things happen he'll be a top-20 Fantasy receiver this season.
WAS Washington • #17
Age: 26 • Experience: 3 yrs.
Much was made of how much better McLaurin was with Case Keenum than Dwayne Haskins. That's mostly because Haskins was terrible as a rookie passer. That shouldn't be that surprising and we should expect Haskins will improve. He showed signs of it late in the year, and McLaurin was much better in his final three games because of that. Like Kirk, McLaurin will benefit from Haskins' development and from Bill Callahan not calling 30 runs per game any longer.
Noah Fant TE
DEN Denver • #87
Age: 24 • Experience: 3 yrs.
If Sutton is the consensus breakout at receiver, I expect Fant to be that guy at tight end. Fant is currently the second-best option in the Broncos' passing game, and Shurmur has a long history of involving tight ends as well. The pedigree is there and Lock should be improved in his second year. Fant is still just a low-end starter in the projections, but there is top-five upside here if everything goes right.