Eisenberg: Sleepers 1.0 | Busts 1.0

Thomas Rawls has the chance to be a breakout candidate in 2016. He's slated for an expanded role in a potentially potent offense in Seattle and we got a glimpse of his upside last year when he started for an injured Marshawn Lynch.

As we know now, Lynch is retired and Rawls could be the starter depending on what the Seahawks do in the draft to provide competition. But if the job is his then Rawls could be a star. And that's what we're looking for in breakout candidates.

Rawls started seven games when Lynch was hurt and scored double digits in Fantasy points in five of them, including four with at least 100 rushing yards. If you take the six starts he was able to finish and project those stats over 16 games then he would have finished with 336 carries for 1,899 yards and 11 touchdowns and 16 catches for 181 yards. That's impressive and shows what Rawls is capable of in a perfect, injury-free world.

As for some other breakout candidates to consider, here is the first of three versions of this column leading up to the start of the season. We know the NFL Draft will change what happens with some of these players, but this is something to consider for your Fantasy draft this year.

Tyrod Taylor, QB, Bills

Tyrod Taylor
NYJ • QB • #2
2015 stats
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Taylor is working on a contract extension with the Bills, and he deserves it after the way he played in 2015. He finally got the chance to be a starter after four seasons as a backup in Baltimore, and he was excellent with 3,035 passing yards, 20 touchdowns and six interceptions and 568 rushing yards and four touchdowns in 14 games. The rushing total was second among quarterbacks behind just Cam Newton (636). Taylor had six games with at least 23 Fantasy points in a standard league, including five with at least 30, and he closed the season scoring at least 18 points in five of his final six outings. He seemed to click with Sammy Watkins over that stretch, and we hope the Bills add another receiver to help Robert Woods and Charles Clay. Buffalo is still a run-first team under Rex Ryan, but if the Bills defense continues to struggle as it did last season then Taylor could be playing in a lot of comeback efforts. He's a great quarterback to wait for on Draft Day with a late-round pick.

Marcus Mariota, QB, Titans

Marcus Mariota
2015 stats
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You have to like what the Titans are saying this offseason about wanting Mariota to run more, which will only enhance his Fantasy value. He rushed for 252 yards and two touchdowns on 34 carries as a rookie in 2015, but he had 2,237 rushing yards and 29 touchdowns on 337 carries in three seasons at Oregon. As a passer, Mariota had 2,818 yards with 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 12 games, missing four games with a knee injury. He played 10 full games and scored at least 20 Fantasy points six times, and we hope he can avoid getting hurt in his sophomore campaign. Tennessee will lean on the run more this year with the addition of running back DeMarco Murray, but the Titans have a developing receiving corps led by Dorial Green-Beckham and Delanie Walker. If Mariota can improve as a passer and start running more then his value will definitely start pointing up. He's a great quarterback to target with a late-round pick in all leagues.

Other potential breakout quarterbacks to consider: Derek Carr and Jameis Winston

Carlos Hyde, RB, 49ers

Carlos Hyde
JAC • RB • #24
2015 stats
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The offseason has been good for Hyde after a disappointing 2015 that ended with a foot injury in Week 7. The 49ers hired coach Chip Kelly, who has a good history of running the ball. And Hyde's foot appears to be fine, while he's slimmed down to 225 pounds. He should be a good fit in Kelly's system, and hopefully he stays healthy for 16 games. Hyde had two games with at least 15 Fantasy points in a standard league in his first five outings before his foot became a problem. San Francisco still has quarterback and offensive line concerns, but Kelly should be good for Hyde. He helped LeSean McCoy win the rushing title in 2013 and finish as the No. 2 Fantasy running back, and he was No. 12 in 2014. Last year, with Murray a bust, he still finished at No. 20, and Murray and Ryan Mathews had 11 games with double digits in Fantasy points combined. Hyde should be in line for a big season and is worth drafting in Round 4 in most formats.

Jeremy Langford, RB, Bears

Jeremy Langford
ATL • RB • #43
2015 stats
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The Bears are expected to add another running back in the NFL Draft but for now the job belongs to Langford. And when he replaced Matt Forte in 2015 when he was hurt we saw Langford play as a star. Forte missed three games with a knee injury, and Langford averaged 20 Fantasy points in a standard league over that span against San Diego, St. Louis and Denver. For the season, Langford had 148 carries for 537 yards (3.6 yards per carry) and six touchdowns and 22 catches for 279 yards and a touchdown. He had four games with at least 15 touches in 2015 and had at least eight Fantasy points in all of those outings. We'd like to see Langford improve his yards per carry, and he needs to be more consistent as a receiver. He had seven drops on 42 targets, but he also had four games with at least three catches, including seven catches against the Rams. The Bears improved their offensive line with the addition of Manny Ramirez and Ted Larsen, and Langford is fast, having run a 4.43-second 40-yard dash at last year's NFL Combine. If he remains the starter then Langford has the chance to be a solid No. 2 running back worth drafting in Round 4.

Matt Jones, RB, Redskins

Matt Jones
PHI • RB • #38
2015 stats
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Jones still has a lot to prove after an inconsistent rookie season in 2015 when he shared touches with Alfred Morris. He had 144 carries for 490 yards (3.4 yards per carry) and three touchdowns and 19 catches for 304 yards and a touchdown in 13 games, and he had a minor hip procedure in the offseason. He's expected to be fine, and Washington coach Jay Gruden is expecting him to have a big role with Morris gone as a free agent to Dallas. I asked Gruden about Jones at the NFL annual meeting in March, and he raved about his size at 6-foot-1, 231 pounds and ability to be a three-down back. "He's a big, strong, powerful back that can handle the workload," Gruden said. "Time will tell on that. We're taking a little bit of a gamble here, but based on our professional opinion we feel that he can handle it and can be very, very effective at it." Jones had four games with at least 14 touches last year, and he averaged 15 Fantasy points in a standard league over that span. We'll see if the Redskins add another running back in the NFL Draft to compete with Jones for the starting job, but if he's just sharing playing time with third-down back Chris Thompson then Jones is worth drafting in Round 5 in most formats.

Jay Ajayi, RB, Dolphins

Jay Ajayi
2015 stats
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It's clear the Dolphins aren't done adding to their backfield. Restricted free agent C.J. Anderson was signed to an offer sheet before the Broncos matched it to keep him, and Chris Johnson and Arian Foster were brought in for visits, with Johnson re-signing with the Cardinals. If Miami adds a prominent running back in the NFL Draft - like Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliott at No. 13 overall - then Ajayi's Fantasy value will suffer. But if the Dolphins are just looking for depth behind Ajayi then he could have a big season. Remember, his NFL Draft value suffered last year when it was revealed his long-term health could be in jeopardy because of his knee, but he's fine now and should still be productive in the short term for 2016. And he should benefit playing for new coach Adam Gase, who likes to use one running back as much as possible. In 2014 as the offensive coordinator in Denver, Gase gave his primary running back at least 17 touches 12 times in 16 games, and he did that as the offensive coordinator with the Bears 11 times in 2015. Ajayi didn't do much as the backup to Lamar Miller last year after he started his rookie season on short-term injured reserve with a broken rib, but he played the final nine games in 2015 and finished with 49 carries for 187 yards and one touchdown and seven catches for 90 yards. There should be a lot more production this year if he's the starter, and he's worth drafting in Round 5.

Other potential breakout running backs to consider: Ryan Mathews, Melvin Gordon and Ameer Abdullah

Amari Cooper, WR, Raiders

Amari Cooper
CLE • WR • #2
2015 stats
REC YDS1,070
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Cooper might seem like an obvious name on this list given his upside and the way he played as a rookie in 2015, but he wasn't even the best Fantasy receiver on his own team. Michael Crabtree actually posted better stats with 85 catches for 922 yards and nine touchdowns compared to 72 catches for 1,070 yards and six touchdowns for Cooper. Part of that had to do with Cooper playing through a foot injury, but Crabtree actually led Oakland in targets with 146 to 130 for Cooper. That should change this year, as Cooper should take a significant leap in production. With that in mind, he should improve from being the No. 26 Fantasy receiver in standard leagues to close to a Top 10 option in all formats. His route running should improve as a sophomore, he'll have a better rapport with Carr and he should have the chance for more big plays. It could have been the foot injury, but Cooper appeared to hit a rookie wall in 2015 when he scored double digits in Fantasy points in a standard league just twice in his final eight games. By comparison, he reached that total four times in his first six outings. He has all the tools to be a standout Fantasy receiver in all formats, and I would draft him as early as Round 3 in the majority of leagues.

Golden Tate, WR, Lions

Golden Tate
TEN • WR • #15
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Golden Tate was a bust in 2015, which was expected since he was playing with a healthy Calvin Johnson. As we saw in 2014 when Tate was a standout Fantasy receiver, the bulk of his production came when Johnson was out with an injury or used as a decoy. Well, as we know now, Johnson isn't playing in 2016 after he announced his retirement in February. That should allow Tate to be the No. 1 receiver for the Lions ahead of Marvin Jones, and he should have the best season of his career. In 2015, Tate had just four games with double digits in Fantasy points in a standard league, and 80 yards in Week 2 was his season high. But in 2014, he had four games with double digits in Fantasy points during a five-game stretch when Johnson was banged up. He averaged 15.2 Fantasy points over that span, and that shows you his upside. In two years with the Lions, Tate has 14 games with at least nine targets, and he's scored at least eight Fantasy points nine times. We're expecting a ton of targets for Tate (he had 143 in 2014 when he had 99 catches for 1,331 yards and four touchdowns), and this should be a big year for him. He's a solid No. 2 receiver to target in Round 5.

DeVante Parker, WR, Dolphins

DeVante Parker
PHI • WR • #1
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Gase is known for being great with quarterbacks from his work with Tim Tebow, Peyton Manning and Jay Cutler, but he also has an excellent track record with his receivers, which should help Parker and Jarvis Landry in 2016. He spent two seasons as the receivers coach for the Broncos in 2009-10, and Brandon Marshall (101 catches, 1,120 yards and 10 touchdowns) and Brandon Lloyd (77 catches, 1,448 yards and 11 touchdowns) each had huge seasons. He then took over as the offensive coordinator in Denver in 2013 for two seasons, and Demaryius Thomas (92 catches, 1,430 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2013 and 111 catches, 1,619 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2014), Eric Decker (87 catches, 1,288 yards and 11 touchdowns), Wes Welker (73 catches, 778 yards and 10 touchdowns) and Emmanuel Sanders (101 catches, 1,404 yards and nine touchdowns) all played well. And had Alshon Jeffery stayed healthy in 2015 he would have posted a stat line of 96 catches, 1,435 yards and seven touchdowns if you project his stats over 16 games under Gase as the offensive coordinator in Chicago. Parker dealt with a foot injury last year and didn't see extended action until Week 12, but he scored double digits in Fantasy points in a standard league three times in his final six outings and scored less than eight points once over that span. He could be the No. 1 receiver for the Dolphins this year and is worth drafting with a mid-round pick as a high-end No. 3 Fantasy option, who could emerge as a Top 15 receiver.

Tyler Lockett, WR, Seahawks

Tyler Lockett
SEA • WR • #16
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Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is excited about Lockett, and he wants to find more ways to put the ball in his hands this season. "He's a terrific football player," Carroll said to me at the NFL annual meeting. "To do all he did in his first year and make that kind of impact as a returner as well as a receiver is as much as a guy can do in his first year. I think we'll just appreciate what he can do. And he can do everything. He can run all the routes as an inside guy. He can run routes as an outside receiver. ... We hope that he'll catch more balls and be even a bigger factor this year." Lockett had seven games in 2015 with at least five targets, and he scored double digits in Fantasy points in a standard league in four of them. Seattle brought back Jermaine Kearse as a free agent, which will limit Lockett a little, and he could be impacted with the healthy return of Jimmy Graham (knee). But based on talent, Lockett is Seattle's best receiver, including Doug Baldwin, and he could take a significant step this year. He's an excellent No. 3 receiver to target in all leagues with a mid-round pick.

Other potential breakout receivers to consider: Kelvin Benjamin, Keenan Allen and Michael Floyd

Coby Fleener, TE, Saints

Coby Fleener
NO • TE • #82
2015 stats with Colts
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Saints coach Sean Payton raved about Fleener during the NFL annual meeting in March, and he watched every snap Fleener played for the Colts the past two seasons. What he saw was a tight end who had at least 50 catches in each of the past three seasons and should improve playing for Payton and Drew Brees. New Orleans has one of the most tight-end friendly offenses in the NFL, and over the past five seasons the Saints and Brees have targeted their No. 1 tight end at least 109 times. And that player has posted at least 74 catches, 825 yards and six touchdowns each year over that span. Those were Benjamin Watson's stats in 2015, and that should be considered the floor for Fleener this season. He would finish as a Top 10 Fantasy tight end with those stats, but we have higher expectations for him with his move to the Saints. He could easily finish as a Top 5 Fantasy tight end this year and is worth drafting with a mid-round pick.

Ladarius Green, TE, Steelers

Ladarius Green
PIT • TE • #89
2015 stats with Chargers
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Green was headed for a prominent role with the Steelers this season when he signed as a free agent to replace the retired Heath Miller. But now with Martavis Bryant suspended you could see Green step up as the No. 2 receiving option behind Antonio Brown. Coach Mike Tomlin said at the NFL annual meeting that he's been watching Green from afar during his entire career, but we've only seen glimpses of his potential. He got the chance for a featured role last season when Antonio Gates was suspended for the first four games. Green played in three of them and had 14 catches for 184 yards and two touchdowns over that span. If you project those stats over 16 games then Green would have had 75 catches for 981 yards and 11 touchdowns. That's elite level talent if he can do that in Pittsburgh this year, and he should be an upgrade over Miller in terms of production (Miller averaged just 64 catches, 676 yards and four touchdowns over the past four seasons). If you wait to draft a tight end with an early-round selection then Green and Fleener are two excellent targets with a mid-round pick in all leagues.

Other potential breakout tight ends to consider: Zach Ertz and Travis Kelce