2017 Fantasy Football Draft Prep: Ranking the Breakouts 1.0 – CBSSports.com

This is one of the most fun articles of the year to write, but you’ve got to sell yourself on it.

The positive side of that is selling yourself on the feeling that anything is possible, and then convincing yourself to take a positive look at the upside of players who haven’t really done it before.. The negative side is the realization that you have a list of players you’re expecting to do something who haven’t really done it before.

Of course, there’s plenty of analysis and data that went into selecting these 12 breakout candidates. But in the end there’s a lot of psychology to it as well. Take a trip with me to the land of possibilities and let’s see if we can find some league-winners while we’re at it. 

1
It’s not hard to envision a new level of production for Abdullah because his two years in the NFL have been largely uneventful. His rookie campaign was derailed by problems holding on to the football, and an injury cost him most of 2016. But make no mistake about it, he’s the man for the Lions in 2017. Abdullah has a skill set that is unmatched in Detroit. You should set your expectation at 1,000 total yards and realize he has upside from there.
2
Brown, like Abdullah, was a popular pick in 2016 as a breakout. Unfortunately a sickle cell disorder and a cyst on his spine derailed those plans. All reports are that his those medical issues have been cleared up, so I’m giving him a free pass on last year. Brown will serve as the primary deep threat and No. 1 outside receiver for the Cardinals with Larry Fitzgerald working the middle of the field. Brown already has a 1,000 yard season under his belt sand could legitimately make the leap into the top 20 WRs. 
3
Crowell will be attempting the rare double-breakout after a career year that saw him total 1,271 total yards and seven touchdowns in 2016. Crowell’s breakout in 2016 came because of an increased efficiency (4.8 YPC) and more involvement in the passing game (40 receptions). His 2017 breakout will be because of more volume and more touchdowns. Hue Jackson has publicly lamented the number of times Cleveland ran the ball in 2016 and we have every reason to expect he’ll try to correct that. You should expect 250 touches while recognizing that if the Browns are even slightly improved, the number could be much higher.
4
I get the feeling people may not realize how productive Diggs was last year. His 84-903-3 line may not look like anything special, but his 16-game pace of 103-1,111-3.7 would have put him in the Demaryius Thomas/Amari Cooper range in PPR scoring. While low touchdown totals will be an issue for a receiver who runs the types of routes Diggs does, I don’t see any reason to suspect he’ll have less than five if he catches 90 passes. Diggs is like a free square in breakout bingo, and if he stays healthy he’s going to be something special. Remember, he’s still just 23 years old.
5
It feels like we’ve been waiting for an Ebron breakout forever, and then you notice he’s just 24 years old. He’s seen his targets, catches, yards and catch rate improve every year in his career. In fact, he may have broken out last year if not for missing three games and having some bad touchdown luck. Ebron scored five touchdowns on 70 targets in 2015. Last year he saw 85 targets and scored just once. He was tackled inside the 10-yard line on four occasions. What Travis Kelce did in 2016 is not out of the question for Ebron in 2017.
6
We’re expecting a lot of these guys to reach a new level of performance or at least health. For Hunter Henry, I’m just hoping the Chargers, in the words of Keyshawn Johnson, give him the damn ball. Henry was phenomenal as a rookie when given the opportunity, averaging 13 yards per reception and scoring eight times. That touchdown rate is unsustainable without more targets, and we’ve been fooled into thinking that Antonio Gates was going to give way before. For my money, Henry is the second-best option in the passing game behind Keenan Allen, and I’m hoping the Chargers make use of him even with Gates on the field. He has as much upside as anyone not named Rob Gronkowski. 
7
Mariota has his best set of weapons yet with the addition of Corey Davis and Eric Decker, and the fact remains that he’s been pretty remarkable with the sub-par weapons he had. There’s a volume issue the prevents Mariota from joining the likes of Brees and Luck with his arm, but the 300 rushing yards and scores on the ground help bridge that gap. I’m expecting he will continue to improve as a passer, and that improvement will be further highlighted by his improved receiving corps. A season with 4,000 passing yards and 30 touchdowns is well within the range of possibilities now. 
8
There are a lot of people getting excited about Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones. I have a hard time seeing them top Ty Montgomery‘s outstanding 2016. With all of the talk about how the Packers could not run the ball last year, you might not realize Montgomery averaged nearly 6 yards per carry. Sure, some of that was the element of surprise, but we shouldn’t act like Montgomery struggled running the ball. I expect a timeshare in Green Bay, with Montgomery receiving around 10 carries and 4-6 catches per game. That’s at least 1,100 total yards if he’s anywhere close to last year’s efficiency.
9
Usually with breakout candidates you have things like usage, health, efficiency or regression to help your argument. Sometimes you’re left with faith. This is one of those times. Parker has all of the physical tools required to be a top 25 Fantasy wide receiver. His quarterback and situation are plenty good as well. He’s a third-year breakout candidate who took strides in his sophomore year. It’s not hard to see it happening, but Parker is going to have to stay healthy and in the good graces of the coaching staff.
10
I’ve been acquiring Perkins any way I can so far in 2017, and I don’t plan on slowing down any time soon. Rashad Jennings is gone, and there is no one on this roster who should stand in Perkins’ way. The Giants have said as much. They’ve even talked about his improvement in pass protection, and I’m beginning to think there’s a chance he’s a legitimate three-down back. I believed in Perkins talent last year, and now he looks like a quasi-workhorse with legitimate top ten potential. 
11
Perriman is a lot like Parker in that we haven’t really seen it yet. I don’t believe he’s as physically talented but it’s hard to argue against his opportunity. The Ravens have lost over 300 targets from last year’s team and replaced them with Danny Woodhead and Jeremy Maclin. Both Perriman and Mike Wallace have a shot at 125+ targets and are going to fall to the late rounds on draft day. I don’t expect Perriman to become a complete receiver this year but he should succeed based on volume if nothing else. 
12
I called Diggs a free square above, and Winston would be the second who fits that category. I’m not sure there’s a quarterback outside of Tom Brady who has better weaponry. I’m not sure the Buccaneers will be able to run the football at all. Winston could throw it 600 times and have a season that mirrors Andrew Luck’s 2016. A healthy DeSean Jackson and anything at all from O.J. Howard gives Winston legitimate top-five potential.

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