Now our staff is making its predictions for this season’s breakout stars, starting with a running back who flashed star potential in Super Bowl 52.
Note: Average Draft Projection (ADP) for 12-team PPR leagues courtesy of Fantasy Football Calculator (as of Aug. 23).
Corey Clement, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
ADP: 118.1 (RB46)
It’s notable that Clement excelled in areas of the field where Jay Ajayi struggled from an efficiency standpoint, despite the small sample.
Clement was an asset in the receiving game according to my Rushing Expectation methodology — which adjusts running back efficiency based on offensive line quality — with an overall receiving expectation score in the 95th percentile on 26 targets, which is impressive given how high of an expectation the Eagles offensive line provides. – Joe Holka
Corey Davis, WR, Tennessee Titans
ADP: 60.1 (WR27)
The 2017 draft’s fifth overall pick didn’t find the end zone until the divisional round of the playoffs, but his two-touchdown performance against the Patriots demonstrated the type of raw ability that helped him find the end zone an absurd 52 times over four seasons at Western Michigan.
Former Rams offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur is tasked with upgrading the Titans’ previously fantasy-averse exotic-smashmouth scheme, which should include a faster tempo: The Titans ranked just 28th in situation-neutral pace last season while the Rams ranked first.
This should be good news for the team’s No. 1 WR, as Davis out-targeted Rishard Matthews 72-63 in their 11 games together last season (including playoffs). – Ian Hartitz
Royce Freeman, RB, Denver Broncos
ADP: 33.7 ADP (RB18)
Freeman’s ADP has been climbing, but he’s the type of player who could be taken in the first round next year. Coordinator Bill Musgrave has a history of feeding his backs (see C.J. Anderson’s usage down the stretch last season). Freeman was a workhorse in college with 1,026 touches for 6,435 scrimmage yards and has been separating himself from the other Broncos backs.
I can see Freeman leading all rookies not named Saquon Barkley in touches. – Kyle Dvorchak
Kenny Golladay, WR, Detroit Lions
ADP: 141.6 (WR58)
A hamstring injury put Babytron in a fantasy corner last season, but he still proved to be a playmaker, ripping off plays of 30-plus yards in 6-of-11 games.
With his size (6-foot-4, 218 pounds) and athleticism (4.50 second 40-yard dash), Golladay has WR1 upside, which he exhibited in his 2017 NFL debut (4-69-2 receiving). Only Randy Moss, Anquan Boldin, Allen Hurns and Stephen Hill have been as productive in their first professional games over the past 20 years. And like Moss and Boldin (not Hurns and Hill), Golladay was productive in college with 1,100 yards receiving and 10-plus scrimmage touchdowns in each of his two seasons at Northern Illinois.
Playing ahead of Golden Tate in two-wide sets with the starters in Week 2 of the preseason, Golladay is entrenched in the Lions’ offense and poised for a big Year 2 campaign. – Matthew Freedman
Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs
ADP: 125 (QB15)
For those waiting to draft a signal-caller, Mahomes should be one of your top targets. He has a cannon for an arm — as evidenced by his tremendous preseason touchdown pass to Tyreek Hill that traveled almost 70 yards in the air — and will be throwing to one of the most talented groups of pass-catchers in the NFL.
He can also do damage with his legs, which is always a big plus for fantasy: Six of the eight quarterbacks who rushed for at least 300 yards last season finished among the top 16 options at the position. Andy Reid was able to coax a QB4 season out of game-manager Alex Smith in 2017, which shows the kind of upside Mahomes has in 2018. – Matt LaMarca
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Ricky Seals-Jones, TE, Arizona Cardinals
ADP: 138.8 (TE26)
*in 14-team PPR leagues
Seals-Jones is basically free at his current ADP. Jermaine Gresham (Achilles) has health concerns heading into the season, and the Cardinals don’t know when he’ll come off the PUP list to start practicing.
Through two preseason games, Seals-Jones has played 18-of-22 first-team snaps, which is a clear sign that he’ll be a full-time starter when the season kicks off. The former wideout will be part of a more TE-friendly offense under new coordinator Mike McCoy, who has worked with Hunter Henry and Antonio Gates.
Additionally, Sam Bradford has been known to pepper his tight ends, targeting Kyle Rudolph 83 times in 2016 and Zach Ertz 75 times in 2015. – Justin Bailey
Tre’Quan Smith, WR, New Orleans Saints
The last two wide receivers the Saints spent Day 1 or 2 picks on (Michael Thomas and Brandin Cooks) became immediate contributors, and Smith is trending in the same direction.
Ted Ginn is 33 years old and has had a rough camp, while Cameron Meredith has missed much of camp as he tries to return from an ACL injury. Meanwhile, Smith has been lighting it up with a 7-108 line through two preseason games.
He’s a 6-foot-2, 210-pound receiver who runs a 4.49-second 40, and with Drew Brees as his quarterback and a realistic path to the No. 2 WR role, Smith is exactly the type of high-upside flier you want to invest in. – Chris Raybon