Fantasy Football Draft Prep: Dalvin Cook, Patrick Mahomes and JuJu Smith-Schuster headline early breakouts
Heath Cummings looks at nine players who could give us the best performance of their careers and a head start to the Fantasy playoffs.
What sleepers should you snatch in your draft? And what big-name running back could ruin your season? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy Football cheat sheets from the model that called Alvin Kamara's huge breakout last season and find out.
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It's still too early in the offseason to get a good gauge for redraft ADP, but we've got a pretty good source for guessing who will be over- and undervalued -- the consensus rankings from Fantasy Pros.
They've compiled a consensus ranking from 57 Fantasy Football experts for anyone who wants to do early research. ADP in August won't match these rankings by any means, but this at least gives us an idea in what direction people will be led. It's also a great place to go searching for early sleepers.
I've compiled a list of 10 sleepers for 2018 who are outside the standard starting lineup (top 12 for quarterback and tight end, top 30 for running back and wide receiver) in terms of rankings. Yes, everyone has heard of these guys before (beat you to it, Mr. Commenter), and some of them have even been productive in the past. But if the consensus rankings from early June are any indication, they're being slept on in the Fantasy Football community.
Well that's because you didn't read last year's Paul Perkins being on that list. As Woodie Held once said, "Swing hard in case you hit it.". I'll give you a minute to recover from the giggling fit over
If you did hit it with Gurley, Goff, Allen or Zach Ertz last year, you were well on your way to the Fantasy playoffs. That's what hitting on one of the top breakouts can do for you. So who's it gonna be in be in 2018? Let's swing hard.
Let's get this out of the way early. Of course Patrick Mahomes is going to have the best year of his career. He played one game in 2017. If that bothers you, just know there's a rookie further down this list, so it doesn't get any better. But just how good could Mahomes be?
Alex Smith threw for more than 4,000 yards and finished as a top-five quarterback in 15 games last year. Mahomes inherits all the weapons Smith had plus he gets Sammy Watkins on the other side of the field. There is not a quarterback in the NFL who enters 2018 with a more complete set of weaponry. Mahomes himself has a cannon of an arm with a variety of releases and just enough mobility to avoid pressure. Images of Mahomes scrambling and launching balls 50 yards downfield to a wide open Tyreek Hill should be dancing in your head right now.
Enough of the imagery. What do the numbers say the ceiling is? A reasonable ceiling of 550 pass attempts seems fair. I don't think it's fair to ask Mahomes to match the 8.0 Y/A Smith did last year, so we'll lower it to 7.8. You shouldn't expect a touchdown percentage above five percent. But if we're taking ceiling with Hill, Watkins, Hunt and Kelce? Let's say 5.5 percent to be ambitious. That's 4,300 yards and 30 touchdowns. He'll throw more interceptions than most, but he'll also have a couple hundred yards on the ground. That's top-five upside from Mahomes, who will often be drafted outside of the top-12 quarterbacks.
If you told me Dalvin Cook was 100 percent healthy, I'd have him ranked second from his class in 2018. Ahead of Leonard Fournette, Alvin Kamara and Christian McCaffrey. He has that kind of upside. In a little more than three and a half games as a rookie, Cook totaled 444 yards from scrimmage and scored two touchdowns. He looked like a complete running back in every way, and so far the reports on his recovery have been encouraging.
The 2018 Vikings offense should be as efficient as any in the league. With Kirk Cousins under center and Cook back in the fold, it will be impossible to focus on stopping any one part of the offense. My expectation is that Cook averages about 20 touches per game, tops 1,600 yards and scores 10 touchdowns. But his upside is even higher. I'm talking 2,000 yards high. I'm talking No. 1 overall running back. It's all possible for a running back who is widely available in the second round.
You're probably thinking JuJu Smith-Schuster already had his breakout. But in the words of the immortal Bachman Turner Overdrive, "You ain't seen nothing yet." With Martavis Bryant out of the picture, I expect Smith-Schuster to top 100 targets, which would be a pretty enormous happening for a receiver who last year turned 79 targets into 58-917-7. It's not fair to expect the exact same efficiency, but it's okay to acknowledge that 106 targets this year (my expectation) would turn into 77-1,216-9. Is that enough of a breakout for you?
As ridiculous as that number sounds, it's not far from his 16-game pace from 2017 (72-1,128-9). Smith-Schuster, along with Cook and Mahomes, are the breakouts we should be expecting this season.
We've moved from the expected breakouts to those who should break out based on opportunity if nothing else. And yes, it's time for your Marlon Mack/Paul Perkins jokes. Mack sits atop the Colts depth chart at running back with very little competition that scares me in 2018. I'm not sure Mack is a long-term answer or anything close to a workhorse, but I do expect he'll be a quasi-feature back on an offense that should be much improved assuming Andrew Luck is back.
The Colts involved their running backs heavily in the passing game, and they've made massive improvements to their offensive line. I expect around 230 touches for Mack this year for just over 1,100 total yards. But that's expecting some contribution from rookies like Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins. If the rookies can't eat into his playing time, Mack could be a high-end No. 2 running back. Just keep DeMarco Murray away from the facility.
It might be hard to imagine that Allen Hurns is going to have a career year if you remember how good he was in 2015. It might also be hard to remember how good he was in 2015, because it feels like an eternity ago. That year Hurns caught 62 passes for 1,031 yards and 10 touchdowns. He caught 61 percent of his targets (from Blake Bortles!) and averaged 16.1 yards per reception. So no, I don't necessarily think Hurns can top all of those numbers, but he's going to break out in a big way from his two-year funk.
Hurns joined the Cowboys this summer, and is easily my favorite to lead the team in all receiving categories. This is a team that lost Dez Bryant and Jason Witten in the offseason, leaving Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley as their most accomplished pass catchers. Michael Gallup could develop into a good receiver, but he won't be on Hurns' level as a rookie.
I expect Hurns will lead the team with 110 targets, which should translate to something like 69-977-6, but that's trying to take a measured approach. He has the potential to top all those marks and set career highs in catches and yards.
When Hayden Hurst was first drafted by the Baltimore Ravens, I really wanted to make him a top-12 tight end. After all, the Ravens have averaged 133 targets to their tight ends over the past three years and just spent a first-round pick on the position. I wasn't even worried about the rookie tight end struggles because Hurst is a full grown man at age 25. Those same old-age jokes being made to dismiss his Dynasty value could be made to enhance his profile as a rookie.
There are a couple of things (mostly Mark Andrews) that have caused me to be slightly less optimistic about Hurst, but the hype jobs coming out of OTAs are trying to reel me back in. The Hurst breakout potential in this offense is immense, with a legitimate chance he gets 100 targets and is among the top-five at the position in PPR. Thankfully, you don't have to draft him anywhere close to that. Wait until the end of the draft and pair him with someone like Charles Clay.
For a short time this offseason it looked like Derrick Henry would fit into that expected breakout category. DeMarco Murray was gone and he was finally going to be unleashed as the feature back we all believed he was. Then the Titans gave Dion Lewis a four-year contract for near $20 million. Talk about throwing a bucket of ice water on a breakout candidate. Well, maybe.
Lewis will turn 28 this year and has exactly one season with 16 games played and the same number with more than 100 touches. I do not think he is any threat to relegate Henry to the same role he had behind Murray. What seems far more likely is that Henry is the primary early-down back with Lewis spelling him and handling most of the third-down work.
If that's the scenario, there is still breakout potential for Henry. He could get 220 carries with 25 catches and approach 1,200 total yards and double-digit touchdowns. With Lewis on the roster, those numbers are a little high for an expectation but they're well within his upside. And those numbers would be well worth a third- or fourth-round pick.
Go ahead and roll your eyes before your keep reading. Yes, we've been waiting on DeVante Parker to break out for at least two years. I know he's never healthy. I know his quarterback situation still isn't great. And most of all, I know I've been one to mock the Parker love in the past. Can we proceed now?
Parker has an enormous opportunity and every report we've heard this summer is that he's trying to take advantage of it. With Jarvis Landry gone there are 150-plus targets available, and I don't believe Danny Amendola or Albert Wilson are going to dominate those targets.
What it comes down to is if you give Parker 120 targets, which seems perfectly reasonable, you need to expect that he's going to be a borderline No. 2 receiver at worst. That's 71-972-4 at his career rates. If he takes the step forward we've all been waiting for? A top-15 season is absolutely possible.
I've been surprised that with all of the Jimmy Garoppolo hype this summer none of it seems to be rubbing off on his favorite target from 2017. With Garoppolo under center, Marquise Goodwin caught 29 passes for 384 yards in the final five games of 2017. Goodwin saw an enormous share of the team's targets and caught 67 percent of them. The only thing he was missing was the touchdowns, which could also be said of Garoppolo, but hasn't.
Early in the offseason the talk was that San Francisco had a ton of money to spend and they'd find someone better than Goodwin. They didn't. Now, the expectation is 32-year-old wideout Pierre Garcon will return and be the team's No. 1 receiver. I'm not ready to rule that out, but we're talking about an aging receiver who was hurt last year and has only topped 1,000 yards once in the last four years.
Goodwin is one of the fastest players in the league and last year developed as an intermediate route runner. He has already built rapport with Garoppolo and he's still just 27 years old. If the 49ers offense is going to be all it's being hyped to be, Goodwin is a good bet to be a major part of that breakout.
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