Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Christian Kirk
- Our experts identify potential fantasy football breakouts for 2019.
Who are the players who could catapult themselves into the top tiers of their positions this season? Which Year 2 wide receivers are primed for big years?
Our panel of seven analysts highlight the potential fantasy football breakouts for 2019.
Chris Raybon: Christian Kirk, WR, Arizona Cardinals
There is no better strategy for unearthing sleepers than targeting Year 2 breakout WRs, and Kirk fits the bill.
The 2018 second-rounder out of Texas A&M hauled in 43 grabs in Year 1, putting him among a cohort of just more than 50 drafted wide receivers since 2008 who have topped 40 catches as rookies. In Year 2, those players collectively averaged 60 catches, 818 yards and 5.5 touchdowns.
When Kirk went down in Week 13, he ranked second among all rookie wide receivers in targets (68) and catches (43), as well as third in receiving yards (590). No rookie wideout finished with a higher target market share than Kirk’s 19%, and only D.J. Moore bested Kirk in Air Yard share among rookies (24% per AirYards.com). Not bad for a receiver who had to suffer through quarterback play that earned it the fourth-worst passer rating of the past half-decade.
Kirk ran a 4.47 40-yard dash and has the makings of the ideal top target for Kyler Murray in Kliff Kingsbury’s spread, quick-hitting attack. Taken along with his aforementioned Year 1 success, Kirk’s pedigree as a former college prospect — 73rd-percentile in college dominator (i.e. share of college yards plus touchdowns) (36.8%), 93rd0percentile breakout age (18.8), PlayerProfiler comp of Stefon Diggs — all help to paint the picture of what Kirk is destined to become: A very good NFL receiver.
Justin Bailey: Dante Pettis, WR, San Francisco 49ers
Pettis could be in store for a Year 2 breakout after starting to emerge following San Francisco’s 2018 bye. From Week 12 through the end of the season, he averaged an outstanding 2.26 yards per route run while finishing second on the team in Air Yards (28%) and target share (18%), trailing only George Kittle over that span.
Having Kyle Shanahan calling plays with a presumably healthy Jimmy Garoppolo under center should only improve Pettis’ chances of breaking out.
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Matthew Freedman: Damien Williams, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
It’s easy to doubt Williams: He entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent, and he’s had fewer than 4.0 yards per carry in four of his five NFL seasons. He’s never had even 500 scrimmage yards in any year.
But he’s big (5-foot-11 and 222 pounds), fast (4.45-second 40 time) and is slated to be the starter in the Chiefs’ explosive offense. In his five games as the lead back last season (including playoffs), Williams totaled 572 yards and eight touchdowns on 69 carries and 28 targets.
Going back to his days with the Eagles, Andy Reid has tended to give a large share of the backfield workload to his starters, including Brian Westbrook, LeSean McCoy, Jamaal Charles, Spencer Ware and Kareem Hunt, all of whom have had RB1 fantasy campaigns under Reid.
Given that the 0.64 and 0.17 market shares of carries and targets that Williams saw in his brief stint as the lead back is comparable to the workload numbers enjoyed by previous Reid backs, it’s not unreasonable to project Williams for similar usage in 2019.
It’s not a small “if,” but if Williams stays healthy and keeps his job as the lead back for the supermajority of the season, he seems likely to finish as a top-12 back.
Jonathan Bales: Mike Williams, WR, Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers again have the looks of one of the better offenses in the AFC, and they have some unaccounted for targets after Tyrell Williams took his talents to Oakland.
Enter Mike Williams, who joins Antonio Gates as the only players to have caught double-digit touchdowns from Philip Rivers in a single season. Williams has posted 4-81-2, 7-76-2 and 5-68-0 lines in his only career games with more than six targets, meaning he’s demonstrated the ability to maintain efficiency with an increase in volume to this point.
Tyrell’s field-stretching threat will be replaced by incumbent backup Travis Benjamin, so Mike is now expected to work as the offense’s undisputed No. 1 outside receiver.
A WR1 season isn’t out of Mike’s range of potential outcomes considering his potential for enhanced opportunity if anything were to happen to Keenan Allen, Hunter Henry and/or Melvin Gordon, each of whom have battled injuries throughout their respective careers.
Ian Hartitz: O.J. Howard, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Howard might already be the NFL’s most-physically talented tight end, and 2019 has the makings of his breakout campaign.The 6-foot-6, 251-pound tight end runs the 40-yard dash in 4.51 seconds and graded out with a SPARQ-x score in the 88th-percentile of all tight ends at the 2017 NFL combine. Howard’s NFL production has hardly been disappointing to this point, as his average of 2.06 yards per route run since entering the league trails only Rob Gronkowski (2.1), Travis KElce (2.2) and George Kittle (2.22) among 100 tight ends that have run at least 100 routes over the past two seasons.
Howard largely functioned as one of the league’s best tight ends before suffering a season-ending sprained foot and ankle in 2018:
- Targets: 48 (12th among all tight ends in Weeks 1-11)
- Receptions: 34 (T-10th)
- Yards: 565 (fifth)
- Yards per target: 11.8 (second)
- Touchdowns: 5 (tied for third)
- PPR: 120.5 (sixth)
Howard fully deserves to be the No. 4 tight end drafted in fantasy formats of all shapes and sizes inside of the Buccaneers’ new-and-improved 2019 offense.
Peter Jennings: D.J. Moore, WR, Carolina Panthers
I believe Moore is poised to take the leap this year. The departure of Devin Funchess is sure to create increased opportunity for Moore, who made the most out of relatively limited touches during his rookie season.
Moore is a freak athlete who demonstrated elite speed and yards-after-catch ability last season. Along with this, he showed an ability to compete with and excel when matched up against elite competition.
Another point in Moore’s favor is the offense he’s in; Norv Turner’s creative play calling is perfectly suited to Moore’s versatility and will continue to put him in positions to succeed in 2019.
Sean Koerner: Marquez Valdes-Scantling, WR, Green Bay Packers
Valdes-Scantling is the first name that comes to mind here.
It’s still a bit unclear as to which WR will step up to be Aaron Rodgers’ No. 2 target behind Devonte Adams this season. Right now, it appears MVS is the favorite to become that guy, so we need to take him seriously.
MVS is being drafted as the WR50, surrounded by potential No. 2 or 3 options on much weaker offenses in that range, so why not invest in the Packers’ passing game here? If he doesn’t pan out, it’s not like you spent significant draft capital to get him and you can cut bait at any time. Geronimo Allison is likely to man the slot, but is going about two rounds earlier, so I prefer taking MVS at his current ADP instead.