There are always players who we know are in line for good seasons. But what about career-best seasons? Wouldn't that list be a little more of interest?
Naturally, pegging players for a career year is lofty. You can't even do it with rookies (some of whom are on this list). Point is, even early-round players are worth reading up on as guys who may not outperform their ADP but simply do you the favor of help you win your Fantasy league.
Call them breakouts, or career-year candidates, or plain ol' great players to target. Just try to call as many of these guys your own on Draft Day.
Note: players are listed in order of Dave Richard's PPR rankings as of late July.
Jonathan Taylor, RB, Colts
Maybe the easiest breakout call of the decade, Taylor should pick up where he left off last season and run away with massive stats. In his final six regular-season games, Taylor totaled over 800 yards and eight scores, offering a 17-game pace that equates to over 2,200 total yards and 22 touchdowns. Fine, it's silly to expect him to do that, but at the very least it's a small chunk of evidence that Taylor has top-3 upside. Indianapolis' O-line is fantastic, their offense's dedication to the run is good, and the team's upgrade to Carson Wentz at quarterback shouldn't be a negative at all (if Wentz rebounds it'll be a positive). Nyheim Hines is sure to take certain passing downs, and Marlon Mack is still on the team, but there is zero doubt over who the Colts' top rushing option is like there was a year ago. Expect his best numbers once Indy's schedule opens up beginning in Week 6.
Late July NFC ADP: 6.07
I'd take him: Fifth overall in PPR, fourth overall in non- and half-PPR
Najee Harris, RB, Steelers
Yeah, yeah, yeah, the offensive line stinks. You know it, I know it, the Steelers know it. But, the Steelers also know they must do a better job at utilizing their run game after last year. Pittsburgh led the NFL in pass attempts with 41 per game, a by-product of an ineffective run game and scheme too dependent on quick-strike throws. New offensive coordinator Matt Canada may still preach those easy targets, but an edict from ownership suggests there will be more rushing, and Harris is the one who will do it. A true three-down workhorse, Harris should fit in nicely with a Steelers offense that has preferred a feature back for as long as coach Mike Tomlin has been in town. In Tomlin's 14 seasons, a running back has averaged 15-plus carries per game 11 times and has finished as at least a top-22 Fantasy RB 10 times. Obviously, Harris' ceiling is much higher than that after he ripped through top-notch collegiate competition for two years at Alabama and was the best running back prospect coming out of high school. He's also proven to be durable, suffering two minor injuries while at Alabama. If the name of the game is finding good running backs with the potential for over 15 touches per game with goal-line opportunities, then why shy away from Harris with an early pick just because his offensive line is unproven?
Late July NFC ADP: 15.64
I'd take him: Fourteenth overall in PPR, 10th overall in non-PPR
Robert Woods, WR, Rams
Woods already has a couple of 1,000-plus seasons under his belt, but he's never been a huge touchdown guy. With Matthew Stafford as his quarterback, and especially with the Rams run game a question mark following Cam Akers' injury, I think Woods has potential for his best season ever. You can tell by the way the Rams have utilized Woods -- over 120 targets per season and plenty of rush attempts -- that they think the world of him. He stands out as L.A.'s best overall wide receiver, even if he doesn't have DeSean Jackson-like speed or Cooper Kupp-esque red-zone prowess. The upgrade to Stafford at quarterback is pretty obvious as Jared Goff's average throw depth shrunk over each of the past three seasons. Stafford is a more confident and accurate thrower, making Woods a candidate to see more catchable targets and be more efficient with them. Assuming he keeps up the high target volume, there's a real chance he finds over 100 catches, 1,300 yards and seven scores, each of which would be career-highs. That would also put him in contention as a No. 1 Fantasy receiver.
Late July NFC ADP: 39.17
I'd take him: Top-30 in PPR, top-35 in half- and non-PPR
CeeDee Lamb, WR, Cowboys
As receiver breakout candidates go, Lamb is one of the most popular. And for good reason -- when he played with Dak Prescott last year, he caught 73% of his targets, nailed at least 16 PPR points in three of five games and had at least 10 PPR points in every single game. That all came with Lamb getting a mere 16.7% target share from Prescott, which was still second-best among Cowboys but not as high as you might think, or as high as it will be in 2021. There is ample room for a second-year leap in targets for Lamb, and with defenses forced to abandon man coverage because of the deep Dallas passing game, he should continue his dominant efficiency and help you accrue Fantasy points. But don't just take it from me -- Prescott has already said Lamb will "be big time" and "definitely have a breakout season."
Late July NFC ADP: 33.56
I'd take him: Late Round 3
T.J. Hockenson, TE, Lions
Hockenson was already close to breaking out last year, scoring nine PPR points in 12 of 16 games. That was on a diet of 6.3 targets per game, a number we're all expecting to rise in 2021 thanks to a lackluster group of receivers in Motown. So it's pretty clear that if his targets go up, his grabs will follow, making him a candidate for over 80 receptions. And if he's catching that many footballs, then his yardage will also see a boost, which is kind of mandatory if we're predicting a breakout year. Hockenson has just three career games with over 70 yards -- that's in line to change. Touchdowns should follow but he already ranked in the top-10 among tight ends in red-zone targets (15), targets inside the 10-yard line (9) and touchdowns from inside of 10 yards (5). As for his quarterback situation, the move to Jared Goff may actually help. Goff proved to be a conservative, short-area focused passer over his past two years with the Rams. If that tendency continues, or if the Lions simply want to keep things easy on offense, Hockenson should be the primary target on the regular. A tough schedule might make things harder, but the chance to be his team's No. 1 receiver pushes Hockenson ahead of everyone not named Kelce, Waller or Kittle in PPR leagues.
Late July NFC ADP: 62.23
I'd take him: Early Round 5 in PPR, late Round 5/early Round 6 in non- or half-PPR
Michael Carter, RB, Jets
Have you actually looked at the Jets depth chart?! After the rookie, it reads like a Fantasy roster decimated by injuries: Tevin Coleman, Lamical Perine, Ty Johnson and Josh Adams. If Carter can't beat these guys out for an impactful role in the Jets' offense, then he shouldn't be in the league. But early reports from New Jersey suggest Carter is indeed showing out and proving to be "the eventual 1A." That's likely due to his excellent vision, patience, lateral agility, elusiveness, good speed and receiving skills. Once the Jets see him break out of lower-body tackle attempts like Alvin Kamara, they'll be convinced he's their best runner. That said, he won't be their only runner -- much of the Jets' current coaching staff came from San Francisco, where their running backs always worked in a rotation. That will happen here, especially when it comes to pass protection (Carter wasn't a good pass blocker at UNC) and potentially short-yardage work (Carter didn't overpower defenders in college very often). But there should still be enough opportunities for Carter to work his way into 15 touches per game behind an improved offensive line, and that could lead to some outrageous rushing stats. Provided he stays healthy as he did in 2019 and 2020, Carter should flirt with 1,300 total yards.
Late July NFC ADP: 80.08
I'd take him: Round 6 in all formats
Marquise Brown, WR, Ravens
Brown's last eight games, including the playoffs, were so dramatically different from his first 10. His catch rate was up by over 10%, he had more red-zone targets, he had nearly 2.0 more yards after the catch per reception and he had fewer drops. What changed? The Ravens started using him as a short- and mid-range target for Lamar Jackson, including on crossing routes near the goal line. Defenses couldn't match up with his elusiveness. Expect the Ravens to keep Brown moving around the formation and not necessarily running deep downfield. The addition of Sammy Watkins and rookie Rashod Bateman, along with the continued presence of tight end Mark Andrews, means Brown won't top any target-volume lists. But in those final eight games, he saw 7.1 targets per game and still posted 12-plus PPR points in every single matchup (and 15-plus in four). Not that the Ravens will suddenly become the 1999 Rams, but their offseason moves suggest they will try throwing a little more in hopes of keeping defenses off-balance. That should give Brown a realistic shot at matching that target average. You can draft Brown as a No. 3 (or 4) WR, but he has the potential to finish in the top-24.
Late July NFC ADP: 99.36
I'd take him: Late Round 7 or early Round 8
Jalen Hurts, QB, Eagles
You know he has a strong arm, and you know he can run. But you also know his accuracy was a liability in 2020 -- Hurts finished with an ugly 52% completion rate. Though rare, we have seen quarterbacks spend an offseason improving their craft and become more accurate (Josh Allen is a recent example). Sometimes it's the addition of a well-rounded receiver and sophisticated play-calling that can help a quarterback out. Both of those are possible in Philly with DeVonta Smith coming aboard and the Eagles' offense changing under new coach Nick Sirianni. A healthy, deeper offensive line is another big plus as Hurts was pressured on 37.8% of his dropbacks last year. The accuracy, while a massive issue, is literally the only thing keeping Hurts from becoming a Fantasy machine. Obviously, Hurts wouldn't be worth drafting early (or at all) if the Eagles made it an open competition between Hurts and Joe Flacco (or if they acquired a better quarterback). But short of that, his potential for over 1,000 rush yards absolutely qualifies him as a risk worth taking. An easy early-season schedule is a perk.
Late July NFC ADP: 88.39
I'd take him: Beginning of Round 8
Jonnu Smith, TE, Patriots
The Patriots' passing offense was so bad last year that they restocked nearly the entire unit. But the guy they raced to pay the most money to in free agency was Smith, a sign that the franchise is desperate to return to their mismatch-dominating ways. Smith is a perfect fit for that lineup-everywhere mismatch-advantage role as a receiving tight end. He did plenty of that with the Titans, culminating in a career-high eight touchdowns and 448 yards in 2020. There's major room for improvement; Smith only saw 4.3 targets per game last season, a number that should easily blossom. In fact, Smith has a very real chance to lead the Patriots in targets this year, something we can't quite say the same about for tight ends like Noah Fant and Logan Thomas. Not only did he dominate in the red zone in 2020 thanks to finishing fourth among tight ends in red-zone targets (17) and second in short-yardage touchdowns (eight), but he also flashed efficiency with 5.8 yards after catch per reception (eighth-best among tight ends) and 1.49 yards per route run (18th best). Thing is, he was better in both of those categories in 2019, hinting at a rebound in efficiency. Cam Newton and Mac Jones both could use a big, rangy target who's tough to cover, and Smith should benefit from what appears to be an easy schedule for the Patriots passing game. Fantasy managers should be comfortable using the 26-year-old as an early-season starter who has potential to finish as a top-5 Fantasy tight end.
Late July NFC ADP: 142.97
I'd take him: Round 10
Parris Campbell, WR, Colts
I'll sound like a fan of a baseball team that loses year after year, but this is the year for Campbell. It has to be. For two years, Campbell has been waylaid by freak injuries that have kept him off the field for 23 of a possible 32 games. But he's healthy now and should re-emerge as an easy slot option in the Colts offense. There's a disconnect between his talent and his stats, largely caused by him missing time and playing through injuries through some of the games he actually did play in. But what stands out as a big-time positive is Carson Wentz's career targets to slot receivers. In each of his past four seasons with the Eagles, at least 30.6% of Wentz's throws went to slot receivers. So if Wentz were to pass, say, 550 times, roughly 165 of them would go to the slot based on this average. Campbell won't be the only slot target in Indy, but he figures to play there a bunch and see a lot of those targets, provided he stays healthy. A speedy catch-and-go receiver with a chip on his shoulder, Campbell is a no-brainer late-round draft-and-stash pick in PPR leagues.
Late July NFC ADP: 170.72
I'd take him: Round 11 in PPR, Round 13 in half- or non-PPR