How do I define a breakout player in Fantasy Football? Easy. It's someone who I expect to post career-best numbers yet can be drafted at a relative bargain. It's not just players who were sort of good last year and will be better this year. It's the fellas who should be counted on to help carry your squad like never before.
That means my breakout lists will include plenty of names you've heard of before. If you want a list of names you may not have heard of before, give the sleeper list a glance. But you should be interested in reading about anyone who can help you win no matter the category.
Here's the first look at players I expect to post career-best numbers in 2022, and thus be better than their Average Draft Position suggests.
- 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
Joe Burrow QB
CIN Cincinnati • #9
Age: 25 • Experience: 2 yrs.
Burrow took a big step forward in his second season, so calling him a breakout candidate is kind of ... strange? Obvious? How about this? It's appropriate. For all the headlines and big plays he made late in 2021, he still finished as the eighth-best quarterback in total Fantasy points and ninth in Fantasy points per game (six-point passing touchdown leagues). Forgotten after the Bengals' big playoff run is Burrow's skid from Week 9 through 15 when he had one 20-plus-point outing over six weeks. Ja'Marr Chase hit a dry spell during those matchups while Joe Mixon carried the Cincinnati offense for half of those games. You have to figure those two will be in better position to sustain success over the whole year (Chase better be ready if he's going to be a top-15 pick), and you should also expect the Bengals offensive line to become a strength to further help Burrow. The 4,611 passing yards and 34 total touchdowns from last year are high, but beatable given what this offense might look like against a not-horrible schedule in 2022. No one would be surprised to see Burrow finish as a top five Fantasy quarterback, yet you can draft him after at least six passers go off the board.
DEN Denver • #33
Age: 22 • Experience: 2 yrs.
Williams is the most obvious breakout Fantasy running back on the planet. As a rookie he flashed his potential via his efficiency, finishing among the top 12 among qualifiers at running back in rushes of five-plus yards (76), top-10 in rushes of 12-plus yards (16) and top-15 in avoided tackle rate (36.5%), all of which helped him finish 13th in rush yards with 903. Imagine what he'd be capable of doing if he had more than 11.9 carries per game? Actually, don't imagine -- we already know. Pressed into the full-time role at the Chiefs last December, Williams turned 23 carries and seven targets into 102 rush yards and a 6-76-1 receiving line. That's the makings of an elite Fantasy running back. A new coaching staff in Denver means a philosophical change in how they use their backs is going to happen. Williams should be in the driver's seat to lead this backfield, a big positive considering Nathaniel Hackett's history. When he has called plays, his run game has ranked top-12 in attempts three out of four years and top two in rushing yards two out four years.
BUF Buffalo • #26
Age: 24 • Experience: 4 yrs.
Singletary flourished when finally given the consistent opportunity to be the Bills lead back late last season. Over five regular-season games and two more in the playoffs, Singletary averaged 17.7 touches and 88.1 total yards while scoring nine times. He also averaged 18.7 PPR points. Was this enough to cement him as the Bills' lead runner going into 2022? It was noteworthy how Bills coach Sean McDermott said Singletary "energized our offense and gave us an identity and some great momentum, some great energy in certain games, in particular," adding that he expects another big season from him. The only free agent the Bills brought in was Duke Johnson, who could emerge as a possible part-timer in the Buffalo offense, but he might be there to compete with Zack Moss, not Singletary. That means if the Bills do not add another rusher in the draft (they haven't in each of the past two years), Singletary has a path to being a No. 1 Fantasy running back. That means his upside is way beyond the career-high 1,098 total yards and eight total touchdowns he had in 2021.
Tony Pollard RB
DAL Dallas • #20
Age: 25 • Experience: 4 yrs.
If you like advanced data, then you'll love Pollard's chances to take a step forward in Dallas. Last year, Pollard was statistically better than Ezekiel Elliott in yards per carry, rush EPA, yards before contact per rush attempt, yards after contact per rush attempt, yards per carry versus eight defenders in the box, percentage of carries going 5-plus yards, percentage of carries going 12-plus yards, percentage of carries going 0 or fewer yards, third/fourth-down conversion rate, avoided tackle rate, targets per route run, yards per route run, yards after catch per reception and success rate running the ball or catching the ball. Whew, that was a lot, but you get the idea -- Pollard was more efficient in just about every category except usage. If the Cowboys are wise, they'll see that Pollard offers much more explosiveness than Elliott at this point and adjust their usage accordingly. Despite giving Elliott 16.7 touches per game compared to Pollard's 11.2, Elliott only outgained Pollard by 5.4 total yards per game -- and Pollard played two fewer games. I love the idea of committing to Pollard all season with a Round 7 pick. He would be a league-winning dynamo if given the lion's share of touches in that backfield.
Russell Gage WR
TB Tampa Bay • #17
Age: 26 • Experience: 5 yrs.
Gage strikes me as a safe-floor PPR Fantasy bench receiver. The Buccaneers probably liked Gage because he has good size, hands and versatility. He can play anywhere on the field and will never draw serious coverage as long as the Bucs have their usual crew of receivers. But that's where some of the upside for Gage lies: Chris Godwin is coming back from a torn ACL -- if he's slowed in his recovery, Gage could take his place and be a high-volume receiver to begin the year. And if anything were to happen to Mike Evans (29 years old when the season starts) or Rob Gronkowski (33 years old when the season starts IF he's there when the season starts), then Gage's targets would be drool-worthy. But even if he spends the majority of the year as the Bucs' No. 3 receiver, Gage should still hit over 75 catches, 800 yards and five scores, both of which would be career-highs.
DEN Denver • #14
Age: 26 • Experience: 5 yrs.
Sutton's career-high marks are 72 catches for 1,112 yards and six scores. That came in 2019 with Joe Flacco and Drew Lock at quarterback for most of the year. The change to Russell Wilson is undoubtedly a plus, but it's how and where Wilson has thrown the ball that makes Sutton so appealing. Sutton has seen at least 20% of his targets on deep throws (20-plus Air Yards) since 2019 with zero drops and a lot of off-target throws. Wilson has ranked in the top-10 in deep pass attempt rate each of the last three seasons with an adjusted completion rate on those bombs between 44% and 50% from 2018 through 2020; he was at 38.7% in 2021 but 43.8% before hurting his finger. Now healed and with a new playcaller who will let him rip, Wilson should take plenty of downfield shots. Sutton should not only thrive on those but also remain a big red-zone target. I'm OK drafting him with No. 2 receiver expectations.
NYG N.Y. Giants • #89
Age: 23 • Experience: Rookie
We all saw just enough of Toney to be intrigued by his game. His 13-target, 10-catch, 189-yard explosion at Dallas was wild but it counted toward Toney's 68.4% catch rate, 5.85 yards after contact per reception (11th best!) and lucrative 29.1% target per route run rate (fifth-best!). No one should expect the latter stat to remain that high in 2022, but he could fall back to, say, 22% and still be a valuable asset in Fantasy. He also should be a fun talent for clever coach Brian Daboll to experiment with. Daboll really never had anyone as shifty as Toney with the Bills, so getting him in space to make plays after the catch figures to be a priority. With a chance to have some of the best numbers of his entire career, Toney figures to be a top-100 pick with potential to finish as a top-30 receiver.
Allen Lazard WR
GB Green Bay • #13
Age: 26 • Experience: 4 yrs.
Somebody's got to help pick up the 214 targets left over from Davante Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling's departures. Lazard isn't the longest-tenured receiver on the Packers (that would technically be Randall Cobb), but he's in the best position to see his role grow. Lazard has been decent thanks to his size and physicality, picking up a catch on 68.6% of the 159 career targets he's seen since 2018 with a 13.3-yard receiving average. He could easily serve as a possession receiver for Aaron Rodgers to lean on as well as a primary red-zone target (he had 14 such targets last year; Adams had 27). With a late pick, Lazard could ascend to No. 3 status quite easily on your Fantasy team.