Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Kenyan Drake
- Fantasy football seasons are won each year by those one or two breakout stars. Which young players have the best chance to shine in 2018?
- Using the Action Network projections and rankings, I identify 10 breakout candidates this season you should be targeting in your fantasy drafts.
With the fantasy football season rapidly approaching, let’s take a look at 10 fantasy breakout candidates this season.
To compile this list, I factored in The Action Network’s rankings and projections, as well as general ADP. For all of our rankings, projections and player profiles, follow the links below:
Check out more fantasy football rankings:
PPR: Top 200 | QB | RB | WR | TE | D/ST | K
Standard: Top 200 | QB | RB | WR | TE | D/ST | K
Player Projections: QB | RB | WR | TE | D/ST | K
Printable PDF Cheat Sheet: Download now!
Player Profiles: Top 200 | QB | RB | WR | TE | D/ST | K
Trey Burton, TE, Chicago Bears
After hiring coach Matt Nagy this offseason, the Bears promptly dropped $32 million to acquire Burton. The Bears are hoping Burton develops into their version of the Chiefs’ Travis Kelce. Incumbent tight end Adam Shaheen suffered an ankle injury in Week 2 of the preseason, which is good news for Burton’s short-term opportunity with quarterback Mitch Trubisky.
Shaheen will likely be OK, but Burton’s preseason rapport with Trubisky may pay dividends for his regular-season target share. He has shown he can thrive in a featured role:
Corey Davis, WR, Tennessee Titans
Davis, the fifth pick of the 2017 draft, is primed to take over as Tennessee’s go-to receiver in 2018. A persistent hamstring injury forced Davis to miss five regular-season games last year, contributing to his disappointing rookie campaign.
However, Davis showed his potential in the playoffs against the Patriots, hauling in five receptions for 63 yards and two touchdowns. Standing at 6-foot-3 and clocking a 4.38 unofficial 40-yard dash time in college, Davis has the physical tools to excel in Matt LaFleur’s offense. Having an offseason to develop chemistry with QB Marcus Mariota could be huge.
Kenyan Drake, RB, Miami Dolphins
After the Dolphins dealt Jay Ajayi to the Eagles at the trade deadline last season, Drake showcased his lead-back potential in Adam Gase’s offense. In six games as the Dolphins’ starter, Drake earned 120 touches for 641 total yards and three touchdowns.
Gase has a nice track record of producing top-10 running backs in his offense. Based on Gase’s history, Drake may be in line for huge volume this season.
At RB21 in current ADP, he offers big fantasy upside in his first full year as the Dolphins’ featured back.
Will Fuller, WR, Houston Texans
Deshaun Watson and Will Fuller have a special connection, albeit in a limited sample. In just four games together in 2017, the pair connected on 22 receptions for 279 yards and an eye-popping seven touchdowns. Fuller averaged a ridiculous 21.0 PPR points per game during that time.
Fuller has elite field-stretching ability due to his 4.32-second 40-yard dash time. With Watson at quarterback, opposing defenses have to account for his scrambling ability while still trying to bracket DeAndre Hopkins. As a result, Fuller’s route tree hits larger-than-typical soft spots in opposing secondaries. Barring injury, 16 games of Watson-to-Fuller offers league-winning upside.
Kenny Golladay, WR, Detroit Lions
Golladay opened the Lions’ regular season last year with an impressive 4-69-2 performance in Week 1. Then, just like fellow rookie Corey Davis, Golladay missed five games due to a nagging hamstring injury. Golladay is tall (6-foot-4) with long arms, above-average hand size and a 4.50-second 40-yard dash. Golladay’s size and athleticism have drawn comparisons to former Lions receiver Calvin Johnson, aptly earning him the nickname “Babytron.”
Golladay definitely has great physical tools, but stealing targets from incumbent wide receivers Golden Tate and Marvin Jones won’t be easy. Fortunately, the exit of Eric Ebron this offseason leaves significant target market share for Golladay to capitalize on in his second year with the Lions. He was second in market share of Air Yards (23%) when active last season.
Marquise Goodwin, WR, San Francisco 49ers
Goodwin is an exceptional athlete. He was a track star in high school and college, and he ran a blazing-fast 4.27-second 40 time at the NFL combine in 2013. In five games with Jimmy Garoppolo last season, Goodwin totaled 29 receptions for 384 yards and one touchdown; he averaged an impressive 15.1 PPR points per game during that time.
The Garoppolo-to-Goodwin connection has also carried over into this year’s preseason, pulling in three targets for 61 yards in the first two drives. In total, Goodwin posted a 962-yard, two touchdown stat line in 2017. Goodwin offers big upside if he and Garoppolo can develop a red-zone rapport this season.
Pat Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs
Mahomes has earned some well-deserved hype after the Chiefs parted ways with Alex Smith this offseason. He is surrounded by weapons, including Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Kareem Hunt and new addition Sammy Watkins.
On top of that, Mahomes has world-class arm strength, which he showed off in his Week 2 preseason game against the speedy Falcons secondary. Mahomes out-threw triple coverage downfield to hit Hill for a 69-yard touchdown.
The arm combined with dual-threat ability on the ground is a recipe for fantasy excellence. He is dripping with big-play potential; could he show off a Deshaun Watson-like ceiling?
Joe Mixon, RB, Cincinnati Bengals
Mixon has elite physical tools as a running back: As a rookie, he weighed 230 pounds and still clocked a 4.50-second 40-yard dash. At Oklahoma, Mixon averaged 6.8 yards per carry and 447 receiving yards per season.
He’s the Amari Cooper of running backs — an uber-talented, athletic freak limited by the rest of his offense. Encouragingly, the Bengals upgraded their poor offensive line by drafting Billy Price and adding Cordy Glenn in a trade with the Bills.
If the Bengals play up to their potential, Mixon’s athleticism should thrive in Year 2 under offensive coordinator Bill Lazor.
>> Sign up for The Action Network’s daily newsletter to get the smartest NFL conversation delivered into your inbox each morning.
David Njoku, TE, Cleveland Browns
Njoku seems to have every success indicator pointed in the right direction. As a rookie, he proved himself as a reliable target in the passing game and as an effective run blocker. It’s not saying much, but he did lead the Browns last season with four receiving touchdowns.
First-round tight ends also tend to improve their production in their second season. I’m stealing this from fellow Action Network writer Ian Hartitz; here’s how first-round tight ends have progressed since 2000:
- 14 of 18 — including the last 11 — received more targets in their second season. On average, they received an additional 19 targets in Year 2.
- 14 of 18 increased their PPR points in Year 2, and the average increase was 39.9 PPR points.
- 14 of 18 scored more touchdowns the second time around, and overall they’ve averaged an additional 2.4 touchdowns in Year 2.
Most importantly, Njoku now has Tyrod Taylor throwing him the ball rather than DeShone Kizer. Considering Taylor’s rapport with Charles Clay during his time in Buffalo, Taylor may develop a similar connection with Njoku. With new offensive coordinator Todd Haley, Njoku could take a big step forward in 2018.
Mitch Trubisky, QB, Chicago Bears
Last season, No. 2 overall pick Mitch Trubisky played with one of the worst receiving corps in the NFL. This offseason, the Bears invested in Trubisky’s development by adding Allen Robinson, Trey Burton, Taylor Gabriel and rookie Anthony Miller.
The Bears also hired former Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy, whose scheme should breathe life back into the stale Bears offense.
Trubisky has the physical tools to excel in the NFL and has shown good play-making skills as a mobile, dual-threat quarterback. With a greatly improved supporting cast and an offensive-minded coach, Trubisky could blossom in his second year with the Bears.
The following veteran players are also poised to break out in 2018 due to new opportunities in lead roles in their offenses: