When it comes to breakout picks for Fantasy Football, what you're looking for is upside. Upside can come in many different shapes and forms, but there are a few things to look for across the board when looking for upside.
With quarterbacks, it's all about rushing production. You don't have to run to be a high-end starter at QB, of course – Tom Brady was QB2 with 81 rushing yards, Matthew Stafford was QB5 with 43, etc. – but you have to be one of the best passers in the league to manage that, and that's a tall ask of anyone, especially the kind of younger QBs we're usually looking for in this context. Joe Burrow is probably the best bet among the non-rushers, though you could make a case for Derek Carr as well, but the simple fact is that rushing production makes a Fantasy QBs margin for error so much smaller.
With the other positions, pass-catching volume is the closest thing we have to a stand-in for upside. Wide receivers and tight ends derive nearly all of their production from targets, so that's obvious, but it's also just as pivotal for running backs, in the same way rushing is for quarterbacks. It's not that you can't break out and be an elite performer without catching passes – Jonathan Taylor was the No. 1 overall RB last season, after all – but every pass you catch makes your margin for error that much wider – even in 0.5-PPR and non-PPR scoring formats.
So, you'll notice consistent themes across my breakout picks. We're still at the point in the offseason where situations can change, either via the remaining free agents and trades or with the upcoming NFL Draft, so all of these are subject to change. But for now, here's who I'm highlighting as my breakout picks for 2022.
- Chris' 1.0 Series: Sleepers | Breakouts | Busts
- Dave's 1.0 series: Sleepers | Breakouts | Busts
- Jamey's 1.0 series: Sleepers | Breakouts | Busts
- Heath's 1.0 series: Sleepers | Breakouts | Busts
CHI Chicago • #1
Age: 23 • Experience: 2 yrs.
Fields' rookie season was ultimately pretty forgettable, unfortunately. He started out on the bench behind Andy Dalton, and when he did get the chance to start, the Bears were frustratingly hesitant to make use of his legs, as Matt Nagy rarely called designed runs for much of the first half of the season. And Fields just wasn't great as a thrower either, with seven touchdowns to 10 interceptions. However, even in that context, his Fantasy upside was hard to miss: Over the final four full games he played, Fields averaged 22.2 points per game in six-point-per-pass-TD scoring despite just five touchdowns and four interceptions (and three lost fumbles) in those four games. Fields has to get better, but there's obvious room to grow. This is a heck of a floor to start from.
Trey Lance QB
SF San Francisco • #5
Age: 22 • Experience: 2 yrs.
Lance is the other big-time rushing QB breakout candidate, and it's fair to wonder if his upside might not be even higher than Fields'. That might be giving a bit too much credit to the unknown quantity, but it is worth noting that he rushed for 120 yards on 24 carries in his two starts last season, so we can be pretty confident he's going to have a significant role as a rusher. And, the 49ers offense is designed to put the quarterback in a position to make easy, safe throws that their plethora of incredible playmakers can turn into big chunks of yardage. It looked like a pretty awesome landing spot for Lance as a rookie, and though Jimmy Garoppolo ultimately ended up starting the entire season when healthy, this is Lance's team now. And there's a lot to get excited about if you're looking for upside.
James Conner RB
ARI Arizona • #6
Age: 27 • Experience: 6 yrs.
It was interesting to see how the Cardinals split work so evenly last season at running back, with Conner handling the running work and Chase Edmonds seeing the bulk of the passing downs, since Conner's career suggested he wasn't much of a downgrade as a pass-catcher from Edmonds at all. Conner proved as much in the five games Edmonds missed as he caught 25 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns, and it's fair to wonder how much of his showing there convinced the Cardinals to invest in Conner over Edmonds this offseason. I would imagine they'll add a complement to Conner at some point, either via the draft or later in the offseason, but as of now Conner seems slated for a three-down role, and you have to get excited about that. After all, he averaged 23.1 PPR points per game in those five without Edmonds last season. Staying healthy has been an issue for Conner, who is entering his age-27 season, but he's entering the season with what looks like a very valuable role, and that's worth getting excited about.
Josh Jacobs RB
LV Las Vegas • #28
Age: 24 • Experience: 4 yrs.
Jacobs has settled in as a pretty middling Fantasy RB – a decent guy to have around, but more of an RB2 than anything else. Which has made him pretty forgettable. But that could change in 2022. We saw the Raiders start to lean on him more as a pass catcher in the second half of last season, and the addition of former Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels as offensive coordinator could leave him in a similar role, making his career-high 54 catches a decent target. But what really makes Jacobs an interesting breakout candidate is the addition of Davante Adams via trade, a move that will hopefully serve as a tide that lifts all boats for the Raiders offense. Jacobs had nine touchdowns in 2021 despite the Raiders ranking just 18th in scoring, so double-digit touchdowns feel like a pretty reasonable expectation in what should be an even better offense. 1,000-plus rushing yards, 50-plus receptions, double-digit touchdowns … I'm viewing Jacobs' 15.3 PPR points per game last season as a floor.
BUF Buffalo • #26
Age: 24 • Experience: 4 yrs.
For a few hours there, it looked like Singletary's breakout hopes were going to be dashed, but when J.D. McKissic opted to change his mind and return to the Commanders, Singletary's prospects brightened once again. In the Josh Allen era, the Bills have been one of the least production situations in the league for running backs in Fantasy, and that didn't really change in 2021, as they had just the 22nd-most PPR points by RB among all teams. What changed was how they distributed opportunities, as Singletary forced his way into a true No. 1 RB role down the stretch, playing at least 68% of the offensive snaps in the final seven games, including the playoffs. In that span, Singletary averaged 19.7 PPR points per game on 15.1 carries and 3.7 targets per game. It seems like the Bills have soured on Zack Moss, who just doesn't provide much that Singletary can't. If he can sustain that kind of role in 2022, he's got top-12 RB potential.
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ARI Arizona • #2
Age: 25 • Experience: 4 yrs.
I bet there are more than a few Fantasy players who are done with the Marquise Brown breakout talks, and with Rashod Bateman entering his second season – hopefully fully healthy from the start – Brown should have more competition for targets than ever before. But I'm still a believer in Brown's talent and his fit with Lamar Jackson, even if the two couldn't get on the same page often enough last season. The problem for Brown last season was that he just couldn't connect on deep balls often enough, as he caught just five of 30 targets over 20 yards down the field for 188 yards – 6.3 yards per target; in his first two seasons, Brown caught 14 of 41 such targets for 512 yards or 12.5 yards per target. I'm willing to bet on regression to the mean there, and if that happens, we're going to see Brown's game go to another level, even if he can't necessarily match last year's 146 targets.
IND Indianapolis • #11
Age: 24 • Experience: 3 yrs.
Pittman already broke out a bit in 2021, but there's room for more where that came from with the Colts trade for Matt Ryan. Ryan probably isn't going to dramatically transform this Colts offense or anything, but I'm pretty confident he's going to be an upgrade on Carson Wentz, who collapsed in the second half, helping lead to a drop to 53 yards per game and just one total touchdown in Pittman's final eight games. With more consistency at the QB position and still very little competition for targets, Pittman should have a chance to put up even better numbers than he did a year ago.
NO New Orleans • #13
Age: 29 • Experience: 7 yrs.
It's going to be interesting to see what the Saints offense looks like in 2022. It'll be their second without Drew Brees and their first without Sean Payton, however there is quite a bit of continuity here, as most of the principles in the coaching staff are back, as are both Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill at QB. Now, whether that is a good thing for Thomas remains to be seen, because this was not an offense that was particularly conducive to passing production last season. The Saints had the third-fewest pass attempts in the league in 2021, and that wasn't just because of Hill's rushing abilities; Winston averaged just 25.2 pass attempts per game in his six full starts. Maybe that reflected a lack of faith in Winston's ability to avoid mistakes, but I think Thomas' absence had a part to play there as well. Thomas figures to be the focal point of the passing game and should be among the league leaders in target share if healthy, and even in a low-volume offense, that should lead to plenty of targets. If he's right, Thomas could get back to the 100-catch range, and if Winston is healthy and looks for him down the field more than Brees used to, it could even lead to better efficiency than we've seen. Thomas clearly still has top-10 upside in this offense.
Elijah Moore WR
NYJ N.Y. Jets • #8
Age: 22 • Experience: 2 yrs.
The Jets offense needs to take a step forward as a whole for Moore to really have a chance to break out, and that will be tied to second-year QB Zach Wilson. However, we did see Moore produce at a high level for a six-game stretch last season, catching 34 passes for 459 yards and five touchdowns before missing the final five games with an injury. He was drawing Antonio Brown comparisons as a prospect and in Jets camp last summer, and while that's always an unreasonable sort of comp to expect, it does help highlight how big the upside is. Moore has flashed difference-making potential already at the NFL level and their offseason additions signal that wide receiver is one spot in the lineup where they don't feel they need an upgrade. Moore has the skills to make them look smart.
Evan Engram TE
JAC Jacksonville • #17
Age: 27 • Experience: 6 yrs.
Don't laugh. Engram has turned into a bit of a punchline in Fantasy circles, but I just can't totally give up on a tight end with wide receiver skills like Engram has. Sure, he wasn't particularly good in New York, but that's been true of just about every pass catcher over the past few years. We've seen flashes of strong production from Engram in the past – he had an 88-catch, 934-yard, six-touchdown pace in 2019. The hope is that Jacksonville's offense will be more competent, freed from Urban Meyer's influence, and while the Jaguars did add a bunch of pieces this offseason, there are still few players here who figure to be target hogs. Plus, let's not forget how much Doug Pederson used his tight ends in his time in Philadelphia, where Zach Ertz had his best seasons. Irv Smith, Albert Okwuegbunam and Noah Fant could also be breakout candidates – and I would have picked Kyle Pitts if the Falcons hadn't just traded Matt Ryan with no replacement in-house – but Engram is an interesting one you're possibly overlooking.