One easy way to put together a breakout article is to just list as many second and third-year wide receivers as you can. The plan is not foolproof, and you will certainly have some misses, but that's also been where a lot of the big hits have come from as well. Last year, four of the top 15 wide receivers in terms of PPR FPPG were second-year receivers and two more were in there in their third year. The year before, a third of the top 15 were in their second or third year. And the 2022 draft class looks primed to continue the trend.
There are seven excellent breakout candidates from last year's crop of rookies. Some, like Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave, and Christian Watson will be on everyone's breakout lists. Drake London likely will be too. Others, like Treylon Burks, Jahan Dotson, and George Pickens face longer odds but possess immense upside. Here is my optimistic case for all seven, as well as the earliest I would draft them in a PPR redraft league. And don't worry, at the bottom of this article, I have seven more breakouts who do not play wide receiver. At least not officially.
Breakout case for second-year WRs
Wilson was WR31 per game last year with 83 catches for 1,103 yards and four touchdowns in 17 games. But his 12.8 FPPG ballooned to 17.3 in games he played without Zach Wilson. That mark would have made him WR9, one spot behind CeeDee Lamb.
If the Jets land Aaron Rodgers and Wilson connects with Rodgers, the sky is the limit. When I say the sky, I mean a top-five PPR finish and a No. 3 ranking in Dynasty wide receiver rankings behind only Justin Jefferson and Ja'Marr Chase. Start looking for Wilson at the two-three turn in redraft drafts. I'm not opposed to him in Round 2 in a full PPR league that requires you start three receivers.
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Olave's 13.3 FPPG was tops amongst this class in 2022 and like Wilson, he has a new starting quarterback. While the jump from Andy Dalton to Derek Carr isn't insignificant in most people's eyes, it is not as big as the jump Wilson would be making if Rodgers lands in New York. There's also the matter of Michael Thomas returning, assuming Thomas can ever get to 100% again.
While my projection and mean expectation for Olave is lower than it is for Wilson, Watson, or London, his upside is as high as anyone's, maybe higher. If Olave and Carr hit it off, the Saints pass volume increases, and Thomas does not make a full recovery, it is easy to see top-five upside for Olave as well. I will still take Olave in Round 3 for now, but he'll fall to Round 4 or later if Thomas gets a clean bill of health in camp.
If you get really creative with Watson's splits, you could make the case for him as the best rookie receiver. He averaged 11.7 PPR FPPG despite playing less than half of the offensive snaps in five of six games. From Week 10 on, he was the No. 10 WR in Fantasy, thanks largely to the eight touchdowns he scored on 35 touches.
Watson's upside case starts with Jordan Love being nearly as good as Rodgers was last year. While Watson will not likely match last year's touchdown rate, if he can remain a high-touchdown rate guy and stay healthy, he could be looking at double-digit scores and a top-15 season at wide receiver. Start looking for Watson at the end of Round 3.
London was the first receiver drafted in last year's draft but poor quarterback play and low pass volume held him to just 10.7 FPPG. His best stretch came in the final four games of the season with Desmond Ridder at QB and Kyle Pitts off the field. In those games, London averaged nine targets and 13.5 Fantasy points per game despite scoring zero touchdowns.
London's realistic upside requires a step forward from Ridder and London earning No. 1 targets over Kyle Pitts. In that instance, he could possibly crack the top 10. I say realistic, because the biggest thing holding London back is the low number of passes in Arthur Smith's offense. Realistically, we cannot expect that to change as long as Smith is there. Like Watson, London should come off the board around the three-four turn.
Doston's 10.7 FPPG last year tied him with London, but it was a tale of three seasons for the Washington Commander. In the first month of the season he only topped 50 yards in a game once, but scored four times in four games. He then missed five games and only earned four targets in his first three games back from injury. In the final five games of the season he matched Terry McLaurin in target share and produced 21 catches for 344 yards and three TDs. His 14.7 FPPG ranked third in 18th over that stretch.
Dotson's upside involved him staying even with, or passing McLaurin in the pecking order and Sam Howell taking a step forward to average quarterback play and clicking with new offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy. If that happens, Dotson could be the best receiver in Washington and a top 20 Fantasy option. I'm happy taking him in Round 6 on that chance.
Honorable mentions: Treylon Burks and George Pickens can be combined. Partially because I think they're both longer shots to breakout than the top five. Partially because they both need to show the ability to earn targets at a higher rate than they have. Because I do believe both have the skills to perform as top-20 wide receivers if they can just earn more targets. Burks' challenge is the Titans run-heavy offense and his own injury history. Pickens needs to learn something from teammate Diontae Johnson about getting open. Like Doston, both Burks and Pickens should be targeted in Round 6.
And the non-WR breakouts
CHI Chicago • #1
Age: 24 • Experience: 3 yrs.
Like Wilson, Watson, and Olave, I would anticipate Fields being a consensus breakout candidate. He flashed his upside last year when he averaged 36.2 FPPG from Week 8 through Week 11. Fields projects as the No. 1 rusher at quarterback and now that he has D.J. Moore, we'd expect a big leap in his passing numbers as well. We saw the difference A.J. Brown made for Jalen Hurts, what Stefon Diggs did for Josh Allen, and what DeAndre Hopkins did for Kyler Murray. It wouldn't be fair to expect that from Fields, just acknowledge it is possible, and it could lead to him finishing this season as QB1 overall.
JAC Jacksonville • #16
Age: 24 • Experience: 3 yrs.
Lawrence doesn't have the same upside as Fields, because he doesn't run as much. But there are some similarities. Lawrence also had an elite four-game stretch (Week 12-15) where he averaged 29.9 FPPG. He also added a potential new No. 1 wide receiver, in Calvin Ridley. If Lawrence continues his progression in Doug Pederson's offense and Ridley is the same guy he was two years ago, top-five season is well within reach for Lawrence.
Tony Pollard RB
DAL Dallas • #20
Age: 26 • Experience: 5 yrs.
Pollard finished last 2022 as RB9 sharing with Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott has been replaced, and so far the Cowboys haven't replaced him. Unless they replace him with a Day 1 or Day 2 running back in the NFL Draft, we'll all be projecting a career year for Pollard. While I don't think Pollard will ever see 20 touches per game consistently, his efficiency means he doesn't have to. There's a real chance to him to justify a first round price as the Cowboys squeeze all they can out of him on the franchise tag.
TB Tampa Bay • #1
Age: 24 • Experience: 2 yrs.
With Tom Brady and Leonard Fournette gone, the Buccaneers appear ready to hand the feature role off to Rachaad White. The team has talked about White being a three-down back and so far the only back they've added is Chase Edmonds. If Baker Mayfield or Kyle Trask dump the ball off to their running backs as often as Tom Brady did, then White has some serious PPR upside. Like Pollard, he needs to dodge landmines during the 2023 NFL Draft, if he does he's worth a look as early as Round 4 in Fantasy drafts.
Kyle Pitts TE
ATL Atlanta • #8
Age: 23 • Experience: 3 yrs.
You've heard of the post-hype sleeper, how about the post-hype breakout? The argument for Pitts has nothing to do with what he did last year and everything to do with the fact that he's still just 22 years old, still an insane athlete, and tight ends are notoriously bad their first few years in the league. Is it possible for both him and London to break out? Yes, if they dominate target share like they did at times last year. At 500 pass attempts (a very low number) the duo could combine for 250 targets at a 50% target share. That's enough for both to be league winners with their athletic upside and skill. They just need Desmond Ridder to be average.
PIT Pittsburgh • #88
Age: 25 • Experience: 3 yrs.
Freiermuth may be the biggest obstacle to the George Pickens breakout because he earned 14 more targets than Pickens in one fewer game. One of the prerequisites for a TE breakout in past years has been finishing the year first or second on your team in targets, Freiermuth did that last year and could do it again. If he could just put his 2022 season with his 2021 touchdown rate, he'd be a top-five tight end and a surefire breakout. The only way he and Pickens can both break out is if Diontae Johnson takes a step back.