It took some time for the Rams to figure out that Cam Akers was their best running back in 2020. But once that happened he became a star. And he should be even better this season, which is why he's getting the spotlight here.
Akers closed last year on a tear for the Rams, and he was their best offensive player in the postseason. Heading into this season, he's put himself in a position to be a Round 2 pick in most Fantasy leagues.
Against Seattle in the wild-card round he had 28 carries for 131 yards and a touchdown, along with two catches for 45 yards. He followed that up against the Packers with 18 carries for 90 yards and a touchdown, as well as one catch for 6 yards.
Now, Darrell Henderson (ankle) was out for those two games, and he will remain a factor in the Rams backfield this season. But Akers had at least 19 total touches in five of his final six games, including the playoffs, and scored at least 16 PPR points in three of them. I thought he could be a star coming out of Florida State in 2020, and he looks the part heading into his second year.
He should benefit with the addition of Matthew Stafford at quarterback, and the Rams losing Malcolm Brown as a free agent will only help. If Akers can increase his role in the passing game -- say anything above 35 receptions -- he could be a top-10 Fantasy running back this season.
Akers is part of an amazing class of running backs from 2020. Jonathan Taylor, Akers, Antonio Gibson, D'Andre Swift, J.K. Dobbins and Clyde Edwards-Helaire should all be drafted in the first 30 overall picks in all leagues. I would draft all of them in Round 2 based on their upside.
Jamey's 2021 Sleepers 2.0 | Busts 2.0
Not all of them will be successful. But the potential for them to be top 15 Fantasy running backs is there, and it's worth the risk to trust them, including Akers.
He could be the best running back of that group for 2021. And he's among my favorite breakout candidates for this year.
Now, let's examine the rest of my Breakouts 2.0.
Jalen Hurts QB
PHI Philadelphia • #1
Age: 25 • Experience: 4 yrs.
Hurts has the chance to be a top-five Fantasy quarterback this season, and he's someone to target in all leagues now that Carson Wentz was traded to the Colts. Hurts looked the part of Fantasy star last year when he scored 20, 43 and 19 Fantasy points in his first three starts against New Orleans, Arizona and Dallas, and he was on pace for 4,517 passing yards, 27 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, as well as 1,269 rushing yards and five touchdowns over 16 games. That's likely not realistic, but his rushing potential gives him a huge advantage over most quarterbacks. If he improves as a passer -- and the Eagles gave him a nice weapon with DeVonta Smith with the 10th overall pick in the NFL Draft -- Hurts has the chance to be special this year. He's someone you can draft with a mid-round pick in all leagues, but he has top-five upside based on his sample size in 2020.
Joe Burrow QB
CIN Cincinnati • #9
Age: 26 • Experience: 4 yrs.
Burrow is expected to be fine following last year's torn ACL and MCL, which ended his rookie campaign in Week 11. Prior to going down, he showed you flashes of his upside as a weekly Fantasy starter in all leagues. His 268.8 passing yards per game was No. 7 in the NFL. He had at least 21 Fantasy points in four of nine complete games, and he had two games with at least 300 passing yards where he failed to top 20 Fantasy points, which is some poor touchdown luck. He got an upgrade at receiver with former LSU teammate Ja'Marr Chase with the No. 5 overall pick in the NFL Draft, and Chase joined Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd to give Burrow elite weapons. You should be able to draft Burrow as a bargain on Draft Day, but he has the potential to be a top-10 Fantasy quarterback this season -- if not higher -- as long as he's healthy by training camp.
WAS Washington • #24
Age: 25 • Experience: 4 yrs.
I find myself drafting Gibson a lot in mock drafts this offseason because I take him in Round 2 or early in Round 3. I love his upside, and he could be a top-10 Fantasy option this year. Last season, he scored at least 12 PPR points in eight of his first 11 games. A toe injury in Week 13 slowed him down over the final five games of the season, but he should be healthy coming into training camp. He will share passing-downs work with J.D. McKissic, but Gibson is a converted receiver from Memphis and had 36 receptions on 44 targets as a rookie. The Washington offense should improve with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center and Curtis Samuel joining Terry McLaurin, and Gibson should have increased scoring opportunities. There's plenty of room to grow for Gibson, and I'm excited about his potential in his sophomore campaign.
Age: 24 • Experience: 4 yrs.
Things are looking good for Swift heading into his second year. Even though Jared Goff is likely a downgrade from Stafford at quarterback, Swift got an upgraded offensive line when Detroit selected right tackle Penei Sewell at No. 7 overall in the NFL Draft. And while Jamaal Williams was brought in as a free agent, Kerryon Johnson was also let go, which is a positive. The coaching staff for the Lions features offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn and running backs coach Duce Staley, which should help Swift given their history. And a lack of proven receivers should help Swift in the passing game. His 16-game pace as a rookie in 2020 had him at 57 catches for 439 yards and two touchdowns. And he showed his upside to close last season with his 16-game pace over his final nine games, which would have been 181 carries for 852 yards and 12 touchdowns. He's a strong pick in Round 2, with his value slightly higher in PPR.
Najee Harris RB
PIT Pittsburgh • #22
Age: 25 • Experience: 3 yrs.
The Steelers made Harris the first running back selected in the NFL Draft this year when they picked him at No. 18 overall in the first round. He should be the first rookie drafted in all Fantasy leagues, and he has top 15 upside in 2021. I would draft him in early Round 2 in seasonal leagues. Pittsburgh has a tremendous history of leaning on one running back under coach Mike Tomlin, and Harris should be that guy. He's a dual threat after what he accomplished at Alabama with 251 carries for 1,466 yards and 26 touchdowns, along with 43 receptions for 425 yards and four touchdowns. The offensive line for the Steelers might not be as stout as in previous years, but it should hold up enough to help Harris succeed. He has star potential, and the workload we covet, to be the next great Fantasy running back in the NFL.
J.K. Dobbins RB
BAL Baltimore • #27
Age: 24 • Experience: 4 yrs.
I'm excited about Dobbins this season, and he has the chance to be a special Fantasy asset in all leagues. Mark Ingram is gone, and Dobbins will share work with Gus Edwards, which is annoying but not something to fear. Dobbins is the leader of this backfield, and his role should expand with a full offseason. And the lead running back for the Ravens has been an excellent Fantasy option over the past two years. Going back to 2019, there have been 23 times where a Ravens running back had at least 13 carries. The average for those games for that running back was 14.7 PPR points. And eight times over that span that running back had more than 15 PPR points. In 2020, 14.7 points per game would have been the No. 15 PPR running back -- and No. 16 in 2019. Over his final five outings in the regular season, Dobbins averaged 16.2 PPR points per game, and he had three games with at least 13 carries. He also had no game under 13 PPR points over that span. I plan to draft Dobbins in Round 2 in any non-PPR league and early Round 3 in any PPR format.
WAS Washington • #17
Age: 28 • Experience: 5 yrs.
McLaurin could be a top-five Fantasy receiver this year with the addition of Fitzpatrick. Since 2010, in stops with the Bills, Titans, Texans, Jets and Dolphins, Fitzpatrick has eight seasons with at least nine starts. Over that span, his No. 1 receiver -- Steve Johnson (three times), Kendall Wright, Andre Johnson, Brandon Marshall (twice) and DeVante Parker -- had at least 128 targets on the year. There were seven times where the No. 1 receiver had at least 72 catches, six times where the No. 1 receiver had at least 1,000 yards and three times where the No. 1 receiver had at least 10 touchdowns. McLaurin was solid as a rookie with 58 catches for 919 yards and seven touchdowns on 93 targets in 14 games in 2019. In 2020, he had 87 catches for 1,118 yards and four touchdowns on 134 targets in 15 games. I'm expecting this to be his best season yet, and he's worth drafting as early as Round 3 in all leagues.
CeeDee Lamb WR
DAL Dallas • #88
Age: 24 • Experience: 4 yrs.
Lamb getting a full season of Dak Prescott (ankle) should make him a star Fantasy option, and Lamb was on his way toward making that happen as a rookie before Prescott was injured in Week 5. In his first five games, Lamb averaged 16.2 PPR points per game, and he averaged eight targets per game over that span. Only once without Prescott did Lamb top 16.0 PPR points per game for the rest of the year, and it will be fun to see Lamb improving in his second season with better quarterback play. Amari Cooper will still have a prominent role in the passing game, and the Cowboys are loaded with talent with Michael Gallup, Ezekiel Elliott and Blake Jarwin also needing the football. But Lamb should end up as a weekly Fantasy starter in all leagues, and he's worth drafting as early as Round 4.
CIN Cincinnati • #1
Age: 23 • Experience: 3 yrs.
The last time Burrow and Chase played together was at LSU in 2019. All Chase did was catch 84 passes for 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns. No big deal. Now, that's not close to realistic to expect from Chase as a rookie, especially since he opted out of LSU in 2020. But it's fun to think of how good this duo can be in Cincinnati, especially knowing how much the Bengals will throw the ball and how many targets should go in Chase's direction. At worst, Chase should replace A.J. Green, who was third among targets behind Boyd (110) and Higgins (108) with 104. Green only managed to catch 47 passes for 523 yards and two touchdowns, but that's why the Bengals went looking for an upgrade with Chase. He's worth drafting as a No. 2 Fantasy receiver in Round 5, and hopefully he can perform close to what he did with Burrow in 2019.
SF San Francisco • #11
Age: 25 • Experience: 4 yrs.
The best part of Aiyuk's rookie season came with Nick Mullens and not Jimmy Garoppolo, who was limited to just six games due to injury in 2020. Aiyuk and Garoppolo will have to get on the same page in 2021 -- if Jimmy G remains the quarterback for the 49ers ahead of rookie Trey Lance. But no matter who starts at quarterback this season, I expect Aiyuk to be successful. Aiyuk also battled injuries last season, but in his final five healthy outings he scored at least 20 Fantasy points each time. Now, he also benefited with George Kittle out or at less than 100 percent, and Deebo Samuel was also banged up, so we'll see how this entire 49ers offense looks when healthy to determine how good Aiyuk can be. But I love his potential in Kyle Shanahan's offense, and Aiyuk has the chance to be a star. I'm looking for him to become a potential top-20 Fantasy receiver in 2021, and he's worth drafting in Round 6.
PHI Philadelphia • #88
Age: 28 • Experience: 6 yrs.
Ertz is almost certainly gone from Philadelphia, and the Eagles receiving corps is undergoing a makeover with DeVonta Smith as the new leader of the pack, which also features Jalen Reagor and Travis Fulgham. Goedert is in position to be the best option in the passing game for Hurts, and that's great for Goedert's Fantasy outlook. Similar to Hockenson, he should be able to dominate targets and has top-five potential. Goedert played four games in 2020 with Ertz injured, and Goedert scored at least 18 PPR points in two of those outings. And in two full games with Hurts he saw 14 targets. Goedert was the No. 10 PPR tight end in 2019, so he's already proven he can be a legit Fantasy option, and he did that in tandem with Ertz. Now, with Ertz expected to be gone, Goedert should be considered a breakout star in 2021. He's worth drafting as early as Round 6 in all leagues.
MIN Minnesota • #87
Age: 26 • Experience: 5 yrs.
Some of the best tight ends in recent years have come from guys who were the best receivers in their respective offenses with little competition for targets, including Kittle, Darren Waller, Mark Andrews and Zach Ertz. Hockenson could be that guy for the Lions this season when looking at their receiving corps, which features Breshad Perriman, Tyrell Williams, Amon-Ra St. Brown and Quintez Cephus. Goff should lean on Hockenson quite a bit, and hopefully we get similar production from him like Goff got from Tyler Higbee to close 2019 for the Rams when Higbee had five games in a row with at least eight targets, seven catches and 84 yards, along with two touchdowns. Last season with Stafford, Hockenson had 11 games with at least five targets, and he scored at least 13 PPR points in seven of them. While Hockenson still has plenty to prove to justify drafting him as a top-five tight end in all leagues, the potential is there given his role in this offense. He's worth drafting as early as Round 5.
So which sleepers, breakouts and busts should you target and fade? And which QB shocks the NFL with a top-five performance? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy cheat sheets for every single position, all from the model that called Josh Allen's huge season, and find out.