terry-mclaurin-4-1400.jpg

Breakouts articles are by far my favorite of the sleepers, breakouts, and busts trio. For one thing, it's all positive. It's also not dependent on ADP, like sleepers and busts. Finally, there's usually not much debate about what makes a breakout. I may challenge that a bit with the first breakouts list of 2021.

In some people's minds, A.J. Brown and Terry McLaurin may have already found too much success in their careers to be breakouts. As a rookie, Brown was the No. 5 wide receiver in Fantasy over the second half of the season. In 2020, both Brown and McLaurin finished the season as top-20 receivers despite the fact that neither played more than 15 games. But to be clear, even Brown's No. 7 finish on a per-game basis in 2020 fails to highlight his true upside.

Since the start of 2019, 67 NFL players have seen at least 150 targets. Brown's 11.19 yards per target ranks first by more than a half of a yard. Stefon Diggs and Chris Godwin are the only pass catchers within a yard of Brown's mark. His yards per reception (17.43) ranks second only to Mike Williams. Brown also owns a 10% touchdown rate, scoring 19 times on 190 targets. Only Tyreek Hill (9.8%) and Mark Andrews (9.1%) are even close to that.

Heath's BestBall Sleepers | Busts

It's true that Brown's career sample size is still small enough that we should expect some regression. No receiver averages 11 yards per target or scores once every 10 targets for their entire career. At least no one has so far. 

What can combat some of that likely regression is an increase in targets, which looks to be in the cards. For one thing, Corey Davis, Jonnu Smith, and Adam Humphries are all currently free agents. That trio accounted for 40% of the team's targets in 2021. The Titans will replace one or two of them, but with their needs on defense and the offensive line, it's hard to see them paying too much for pass catchers. It's also very unlikely Tennessee maintains its extremely low pass rate (49.72%) from 2020. Only the Ravens and Patriots threw less often last year and Tennessee doesn't have Cam Newton or Lamar Jackson.

It's rare to have a projected career year, especially for a player that has been as efficient as Brown in his first two seasons. But even a boost up to 129 targets puts him at WR4 with 83 catches, 1320 yards, and 11 touchdowns. 

McLaurin has not been as wildly efficient as Brown has, but he's been awesome nonetheless, averaging nine yards per target, 14 yards per reception, and 70.2 yards per game despite catching passes from Alex Smith, Dwayne Haskins, Kyle Allen, Case Keenum, Colt McCoy, and Heinicke. We don't know who his quarterback will be in 2021 but there is a much better chance he has an upgrade at quarterback than a downgrade. 

Like Brown, McLaurin's competition for targets doesn't look very stiff, but unlike Brown, McLaurin has already earned 130 targets in a season. I expect his touchdown fortune to regress in 2021, as I would with more any receiver who posts a touchdown rate below three percent. There's also an excellent chance McLaurin's efficiency bounces back as well if Washington gives him anything at quarterback or No. 2 receiver. 

Those hopes lead me to a projection of 94 catches for 1,315 yards and six touchdowns. It's a different type of breakout than Brown's, but it's good enough to put McLaurin inside my top 10 wide receivers. 

Speaking of different types of breakouts, you'll notice two different lists below. The first five players are more traditional breakout candidates. The last three have already logged phenomenal seasons, but I don't want you to discount the possibility they can be even better in 2021.

Traditional Breakouts
Projections powered by Sportsline
PHI Philadelphia • #1
Age: 22 • Experience: Rookie
Fantasy Breakdown (PPR)
OVERALL RNK
83rd
QB RNK
9th
PROJ PTS
395.2
2020 Stats
PAYDS
1061
RUYDS
357
TD
9
INT
4
FPTS/G
8.1
There is plenty of reason for concern about Hurts' passing production, but this is not the article for that. Let's talk about "if" he can be even slightly below average. Hurts had at least eight carries in every start last year. That includes Week 17 when he was pulled early so the team could get a look at Nate Sudfeld. If we assume he averaged five yards per carry (he averaged 5.6 last year) you're looking at 640 rushing yards, which would have trailed only Lamar Jackson and Kyler Murray in 2020. He scored once every 20 rush attempts, which is probably not a fair projection, but it's lower than Murray's career touchdown rate. You should expect at least five touchdowns on the ground, which means a floor rushing projection of 94 Fantasy points. A meager 500 pass attempts at least year's mediocre efficiency would give Hurts 3,600 passing yards and 20 touchdowns. That's a floor of a borderline QB1 if he plays 16 games. But since this is a breakout article, let's have some fun with upside. Start with his rushing pace as a starter last year (1,088 yards and 12 TD) with 520 pass attempts and a 10% improvement in efficiency. That's 4,108 passing yards and 23 touchdowns. That's 2019 Lamar Jackson territory, although in a different form. Most rookies quarterbacks improve their passing efficiency in their second year. If Nick Sirianni and Shane Steichen fully embrace Hurts as the starter and he makes the typical second-year improvement, we'll have another elite Fantasy option.
DET Detroit • #32
Age: 22 • Experience: Rookie
Fantasy Breakdown (PPR)
OVERALL RNK
13th
RB RNK
9th
PROJ PTS
281.8
2020 Stats
RUYDS
521
REC
46
REYDS
357
TD
10
FPTS/G
14.6
Swift may just be in every single breakout article published this year. I'm certainly not going to get left out. In fact, my current PPR projections still have Swift ahead of Jonathan Taylor this season. Why? A combination of what he did in the passing game as a rookie and his new offensive coordinator. Swift earned at least four targets in 11 of 13 games as a rookie and was targeted five times in his final six games. Furthermore, he was slightly above average on those targets, averaging 6.3 yards per target. Work in the passing game is one of the toughest roles to carve out for a rookie. Swift did it and did it well. And it just so happens Swift's new offensive coordinator, Anthony Lynn, absolutely loves throwing to his running backs. Lynn's Chargers were one of four teams to throw at least 25% of their passes to backs in 2020. In 2019, Lynn's offense led the league with a 31% target rate for running backs. Swift was an elite prospect as a runner, and justified that hype last year, averaging 4.6 yards per carry (teammates Adrian Peterson and Kerryon Johnson were below four yards per carry). He should see an increase in workload with Adrian Peterson gone and he has a legitimate shot at a top-five finish in 2021.
WAS Washington • #24
Age: 22 • Experience: Rookie
Fantasy Breakdown (PPR)
OVERALL RNK
25th
RB RNK
18th
PROJ PTS
225.5
2020 Stats
RUYDS
795
REC
36
REYDS
247
TD
11
FPTS/G
14.9
You could justify putting most of the 2020 running back class in a breakouts article, but Gibson is one who continues to grow on me. His midseason 2020 breakout is obscured by an injury that cost him most of three games. From Week 7 on, he averaged 17.3 touches and 91.1 yards per completed game. Gibson has already shown a nose for the end zone, with 11 touchdowns last year and his receiving prowess was what got him drafted in the first place. J.D. McKissic may put a cap on Gibson's upside, but McKissic played a lot of his snaps in the slot last year. As long as Gibson stays healthy, he has an excellent shot at 1,400 total yards and double-digit touchdowns in his second year.
BAL Baltimore • #15
Age: 23 • Experience: 3 yrs.
Fantasy Breakdown (PPR)
OVERALL RNK
71st
WR RNK
29th
PROJ PTS
217.3
2020 Stats
REC
58
TAR
100
REYDS
769
TD
8
FPTS/G
13.5
How many years does Brown get a spot in this article? At least one more. Like the two receivers highlighted above, Brown enters his third year primed for a potential breakout. His production in his second season, while not what we'd hoped for, was about a 20% improvement in yards over his rookie season with a similar increase in targets. Growth isn't linear, but a similar jump in 2021 would put Brown close to 1,000 yards. That type of yardage with the touchdown rate that comes from playing with Lamar Jackson, could make Brown a solid No. 2 receiver in non-PPR. There's still room for growth for Jackson as a passer, and for his No. 1 receiver. Hopefully, free agency doesn't change the last few words in that sentence.
DEN Denver • #87
Age: 23 • Experience: 3 yrs.
Fantasy Breakdown (PPR)
OVERALL RNK
86th
TE RNK
6th
PROJ PTS
157.2
2020 Stats
REC
62
TAR
93
REYDS
673
TD
3
FPTS/G
10
The Broncos receiving corps is crowded and their quarterback situation is questionable at best, but there's plenty of reason to be excited about a third-year breakout from Noah Fant. The former first round pick just put up 673 receiving yards in 15 games as a 23-year-old. That might seem like a low bar, but he was just the seventh tight end in the past 10 years to earn 80 targets and average 40 yards per game before his 24th birthday. It's all the more impressive because Fant left two games early due to injury, one of which he only played five snaps. Tight ends are notoriously slow developers when it comes to Fantasy production. But Fant's pedigree and early success should make you optimistic. Especially if the Broncos upgrade at quarterback.
Three Who Could Be Even Better
Projections powered by Sportsline
DAL Dallas • #4
Age: 27 • Experience: 6 yrs.
Fantasy Breakdown (PPR)
OVERALL RNK
63rd
QB RNK
5th
PROJ PTS
403.4
2020 Stats
PAYDS
1856
RUYDS
93
TD
13
INT
4
FPTS/G
30.7
I'll be short with these three, because I expect eye rolls. Dak Prescott has been absolutely phenomenal with Kellen Moore calling plays, he has arguably the best receiving corps in the NFL, and Moore has been one of the pass-happiest coordinators in the league. Prescott's 2019 was incredible, but it's not his ceiling. That year his rushing touchdown rate was a career low and his passing efficiency actually improved in 2020. There's absolutely 5,500-total yard, 40-touchdown, overall QB1 potential in Prescott, assuming the contract situation gets worked out.
IND Indianapolis • #28
Age: 22 • Experience: Rookie
Fantasy Breakdown (PPR)
OVERALL RNK
7th
RB RNK
8th
PROJ PTS
262.8
2020 Stats
RUYDS
1169
REC
36
REYDS
299
TD
12
FPTS/G
17.9
Yes, I have Taylor ranked lower than he finished last year. Projections can do that. But just looking at upside, Taylor could legitimately outscore anyone's best effort but Christian McCaffrey in PPR. In his final six games of 2020 he was on pace for 2,232 total yards and 22 touchdowns. I believed he was a generational talent coming out of Wisconsin and he looked like one in his final six games. If he does that over a full season it won't be possible to reach too high for him.
SEA Seattle • #14
Age: 23 • Experience: 3 yrs.
Fantasy Breakdown (PPR)
OVERALL RNK
33rd
WR RNK
8th
PROJ PTS
258.3
2020 Stats
REC
83
TAR
129
REYDS
1303
TD
10
FPTS/G
18.6
I almost included Metcalf in the lede with A.J. Brown and Terry McLaurin. But I actually have them projected for breakouts, whereas Metcalf needs a little help to improve on 2020. Still receivers make leaps in Year 3 because they fix flaws in their game. Metcalf's biggest flaw has been disappearing against great corners. That's understandable at his age and experience level. It's also something he could grow out of. He had five games last year where he was held below 50 yards, four of them in the division. Patch that hole in the game and we may just be looking at the best receiver in Fantasy. Hopefully the Seahawks changes to their staff and game plan help and don't hinder Metcalf.