Third Year Breakouts (2021 Fantasy Football)
Updated: Jul 2
The 2019 draft year brought us a very mixed bag of nuts. The number one pick in many non-super flex formats was N’Keal who? Darwin Thompson and Justice Hill shot up rookie draft boards with their landing spots but are not even considered handcuffs. Dwayne has been, I mean Dwayne Haskins, is now a 3rd string QB. There is a big list of names that have already broken out from this group. We have two top-five dynasty WR’s in A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf. Terry McLaurin has jumped up in dynasty rankings and is considered a top 15 WR. David Montgomery, who finished last year off strong and ended up as RB 6 in standard and 4th in PPR formats. Josh Jacobs finished last year as a top 10 RB in standard and PPR leagues. Murray is a top 5 QB and Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson have both “broken out” at their positions. Let's have a look at a few names from this class who have a chance to make their mark this year and up their production.
Here are my top year three breakout candidates...
QB - Daniel Jones
First off, let’s talk about what the Giants have done to help Daniel Jones in year three. Free-agent acquisition Kenny Golladay gives Jones a true number one WR and the Giants didn’t stop there in adding weapons. They also added first-round WR Kadarious Toney, who may or may not excite you, but he adds to a group that already consisted of underrated pass catchers in Sterling Shepard, Evan Engram, Saquon Barkley out of the backfield, and another 2019 draftee Darius Slayton. With Barkley back taking away some of the attention, Jones should be given more time to find his targets. Although the offensive line ranked 30th overall by PFF in their year-end review, they were young and hopefully have learned a lot and can keep Jones upright in the pocket more often this year. Jones can run a bit, but hopefully with the combination of new weapons, Barkley back healthy, and another year of growth for a young offensive line, Jones can break out.
RB - Miles Sanders
We have seen both David Montgomery and Josh Jacobs put up a top 10 RB seasons, so overall what we have seen from Sanders so far has been disappointing. As a rookie, he had flashes of what we all hoped for when we drafted him early in our rookie drafts, but health issues and just overall horrible team play last year left many of us frustrated. He had two big games against tough defenses, the Steelers in week 5 and the Saints in week 14, but both were on the backs of long TD runs. One positive from that, at least he has the speed to break those big plays. However, the negative is what would those games have looked like without them? What will make this year different? For starters, he has a favorable schedule to start the year. Jalen Hurts brings excitement to the offense and the threat to run, which could keep the defenses guessing. The offensive line dealt with its own injuries and will hopefully come back healthy and more able to open holes for Sanders. He averaged about four receptions in the 12 games he was healthy. If he can get any bit of an uptick or at least maintain it, that would only help his chance to improve his stock. Of course, Gainwell is a threat to any hope of that happening. If Gainwell becomes the Hines of Nick Sirianni offense, then theoretically Sanders becomes Jonathan Taylor. Taylor only averaged 2.6 targets a game, but hopefully, Sanders gets the bulk of the carries. He is flying under the radar right now, I picked him up in the early fifth round of a startup draft in early May. I will put some caution on him, if he starts hot see if you can flip him because he has two matchups against the Washington Football team in the fantasy playoffs.
RB - Myles Gaskin
(Photo Credit: Lynne Sladky / AP)
The argument could be made that Gaskins already broke out last year, which is probably true. He wasn’t on anyone’s radar last year and put up an RB28 season in only 10 games. However, we could see even more out of him this year! He is currently going as RB25 in the latest Sleeper ADP. The Dolphins didn’t bring anyone in during free agency and they didn’t draft anyone of significance. He received 5 or more targets in 6 of the 10 games he played. He also had more than 65% snap share in all except 2 of his healthy games. If he continued his pace from last year, he should be able to easily put up a top 15 RB season on an offense that should see improvements as Tua develops more in his second year. He is still going later in drafts. Ahmed played well in the games he was given the full workload and Brown is a threat to steal goal-line work. However, even still, Gaskin was very productive as a pass-catcher, so even if he splits carries with Ahmed, his pass-catching should keep him in the top 20 range for the year, with the potential to be higher!
Two other names to mention are Damien Harris and Darrel Henderson. Damien Harris should get the bulk of the carries for the Patriots this year, but with Rhamondre Stevenson and Sony Michel both built the same, it’s anyone's guess who will be totally fantasy relevant. Harris had a few decent games last year, but won’t help you much in any PPR formats, 5 career catches, this number is likely not going to increase if Newton keeps his job and with James White still on the roster. Darrel Henderson started the year well and could still fight for carries, if not he will be a good handcuff to Akers.
WR - Mecole Hardman
Hardman was drafted in the second round in the NFL draft, which at the time everyone thought was a reach. Hardman was seen as a speedster, in a similar mold as Tyreek Hill, but was not one of the household names in the draft class. I mean D.K. Metcalf, Dionte Johnson, and Terry McLurain all went after him, yikes! We need to remember that Hill was going through some legal issues when this pick was made, so why not draft a player with some similar qualities. So, the argument is, does Hardman become the number 2 WR for the Kansas City Chiefs or does he continue in a part-time role and act as an injury replacement for Hill? Demarcus Robinson, Byron Pringle, and recently drafted Cornell Powell are his competition. These names are not highly drafted or bring a lot of excitement, but they are a different build than Hardman. Teams typically don’t like to spend day two draft capital on a player and not use him. Look for Hardman to expand his role and use his speed and skill a bit more now that Sammy Watkins is out of the picture. Watkins averaged 5.8 targets in his healthy games over his three seasons with KC, with his healthiest season coming in at 6.4 targets a game. If Hardman can take over this target share, he has a chance to be productive in a high-flying offense.
WR - Parris Campbell
Can he ever just stay healthy? He started the year out perfectly, with nine targets, six receptions, 71 yards, and one rush attempt for 9 yards. However, he barely played the next game before landing on IR the rest of the year. His rookie season wasn’t much different, six games where he barely saw 50% snap share in those six games. So why Parris Campbell? Colts used a second-round pick on him back in 2019, he has track-like speed, running a 4.31 40-yard dash. They want to get the ball in his hands and see what he can do. He has 6 career rush attempts that have gone for 50 yards. If he can stay healthy, he should dominate the slot for the Colts, meaning he will get jet sweeps, screenplays, and chances to use his athleticism to produce on slants and even the long bomb! He’s got the green light, now that he is 100% healthy, and he will have time to build chemistry with Wentz all off-season. I see him as being in the middle of Cole Beasley and Jarvis Landry. These two have been some of the most underrated PPR WRs over the last few years. I don’t think he has as much upside as some of the finishes that Landry has had, but he has more upside than Beasley’s finishes of 33 and 27 the last two years. Because of the injury history, he is being picked last of the three Colts WRs but could easily be the leading WR for them in PPR formats for years to come.
WR - Marquise Brown
The Ravens definitely wanted to address the WR room this offseason. They brought in free agent Sammy Watkins and then drafted Rashod Batemen in the first and Tylan Wallace in the fourth. So, what does this mean for Marquise Brown? I am one who believes it helps. Why? While since the day he was drafted, he has been the guy, the only guy. The WR room in Baltimore has been pretty shoddy, there was no one to take pressure off Brown. Rather than having Willie Snead, Miles Boykin, and a washed-up Dez Bryant as the other WRs, now the defenses need to be aware of Batemen, Watkins, and or Wallace lining up opposite of him. Brown doesn’t need a big target share; he just needs quality targets, and he will make them count. Look at the last 6 games of last year, he averaged 16.3 points per game, in three of those games he had 4 or fewer catches. Let me repeat this again, he doesn’t need quantity, he needs quality! They drafted him in the first round, they are not just going to forget about him. I think he can get more quality targets with less attention on him, which will result in big games. Probably better in standard and half PPR leagues but he will hold his own in full PPR as well. I have him projected to still lead the Ravens in WR targets for this year. I think two years of building chemistry with Lamar Jackson will help him still be favored over Bateman for at least this year. If there has been a dip in Brown’s value by the owner in your league, I would suggest making an offer, I don’t think you will regret it.
One other name to keep an eye on is Olamide Zaccheaus. With Julio leaving the Falcons someone will need to step up out of the WRs, Zaccheaus had some productive games last year. He is on the smaller side, so will probably see slot work, but a guy who could go on the end of your bench in deeper leagues. Deebo Samuel is another name to consider, but he put up some good numbers in his rookie year, I was going to put him on this list and probably should have, but with that stretch in his rookie year, like Gaskin, I would argue he already broke out, just needs to stay healthy.
TE - Irv. Smith Jr.
(Photo Credit: Travis Ellison / Minnesota Vikings)
You either hate him or love him. Let’s look at the pros, looking over the last few weeks of the season he was given a red zone target in 4 of the last five weeks. In week 16 Smith had 4 red-zone targets alone, he scored 2 TDs that week. The Viking's tight ends had red-zone looks in all but 5 games last year. Thielen is likely to have some TD regression this season, if some of those red-zone targets make their way to Smith he can be productive. He is likely to be the fourth target on a run-heavy team and the latest coach talk doesn’t help pump up any hype, but with the Vikings running two tight end sets nearly 40% of the time, Irv. Smith will be on the field. Kyle Rudolph is gone, which should open up the opportunity for Smith to get the targets needed to move up and produce like a TE 1. We can’t sit here and believe Tyler Conklin is as talented as Rudolph. Smith will be the one on the field more often in single TE sets and even possibly getting time in the slot. He is athletic enough to get down the field and make plays if he is given the larger role. We have seen Kyle Rudolph put up top 10 TE seasons in a Zimmer offense. It doesn’t take much to break into the top 12, he will rely more on TD production than yardage, but if he can get a few more catches in the middle of the field, he will break out and be a guy you can rely on.
Another name to keep an eye on is Dawson Knox. He ended the year in the last five games getting 4 or more targets, two of the games he had 7 and 8. He scored a touchdown in three of the last 6 games. TEs tend to take more time to develop and Knox is a weapon in a lethal passing offense.