It is that time of year where we start looking at NFL Players that are going to bust and NFL Players that are going to produce in fantasy football in 2017. The way we have typically presented you with that information is through Top-10 list that predict which players will be productive and which ones will be the opposite of productive.
Over the next couple months, we will release Top-10 list of overrated, underrated, rebound candidates, breakout, sleeper and super sleeper players that you should be watching for in your fantasy football drafts. The first list we are going to release in 2017 is the Breakout Player List.
A breakout player is a younger player that has not been an elite fantasy performer, but rather a backup or a streamer in fantasy that is going to take on a bigger role in 2017. It is not someone that struggled in 2016 and is going to rebound this year, such as Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton. It is not someone that is a rookie that has never been in the league prior to this year. These are players that have either been middle of the pack or spot starters that are going to take on a bigger role this year.
1) Tennessee Titans QB Marcus Mariota – It could be argued that Mariota was a breakout player last year and had he not suffered a broken leg in Week 16, he would have finished as a Top-10 fantasy quarterback. In 15 games, he had 3,426 yards passing, 26 passing touchdowns, 349 yards rushing and two rushing touchdowns. However, he was not a prolific passer last year, he had only one game where he threw for more than 300 yards and he had four games where he failed to throw a touchdown pass. His production was very volatile, which is frustrating for fantasy owners that do not want to have to think about their starting quarterback each week.
I think this is the year he puts everything together and finishes in the Top-10 and does not have those four games with no touchdown passes. They drafted Western Michigan WR Corey Davis, who should be able to produce immediately and they have a ton of young players on the offensive line and at the skill positions that should continue to develop. Mariota is going to be a great player to draft in fantasy this year. His ADP is outside the Top-12, which gives him a ton of upside.
2) Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston – Winston is in a similar situation to Mariota. He had 345 completions in 567 passing attempts for 4,090 passing yards, 28 passing touchdowns, 18 picks and 165 rushing attempts with another rushing touchdown. That followed a rookie season where he had 4,042 yards passing and 22 passing touchdowns. He has been fantasy relevant in his career, but never been one of the elite options. He was 13th in 2015 and 15th in 2016 among fantasy quarterbacks.
That should change this year. He has two years under his belt, so he should be better from having started 32 games in the NFL. He also has seen his offense add WR DeSean Jackson in free agency and Alabama TE O.J. Howard in the NFL Draft. I think this is the year he breaks out for 4,500 yards and 35 touchdown passes. The Buccaneers have the talent around him for Winston to have a monster year.
3) Philadelphia Eagles QB Carson Wentz – Wentz is a player that had a lot of up and downs as a rookie. By the time the season ended, he had 3,782 yards passing, 16 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. It was good enough to be the 24th ranked fantasy quarterback. That should change this year.
He has another year under his belt, which should make him more comfortable this year. The Eagles added WR Alshon Jeffery, WR Torrey Smith and RB LeGarrette Blount in free agency. All of them should give the Eagles more flexibility on offense and allow him to make more plays in the passing game. I do not think Wentz breaks out as a weekly fantasy play, but I think he emerges as a matchup dependent QB2 this year.
4) New England Patriots RB Mike Gillislee – Gillislee was a surprise fantasy relevant player last year. Despite backing up starting RB LeSean McCoy, he was the 28th ranked fantasy running back with 101 rushing attempts for 577 yards, 5.71 yards per carry and eight rushing touchdowns. He signed with New England this year to take the place of RB LeGarrette Blount. Blount had 299 rushing attempts for 1,161 yards and a league-leading 18 rushing touchdowns.
Gillislee figures to be the early down running back, teaming with RB James White and RB Dion Lewis. Even if Gillisllee sees only 200 carries this year, he has a chance to approach 1,000 yards and double-digit touchdowns. I would not be surprised if he ends up being a high-end RB2 in an offense that figures to be among the best in the NFL.
5) Green Bay Packers RB Ty Montgomery – Montgomery had to make the transition to running back mid-season when RB Eddie Lacy and RB James Starks battled injuries. He responded with 77 rushing attempts for 457 yards, 44 receptions for 348 yards and three touchdowns. He was the 38th ranked fantasy running back, despite starting only six games.
I think expectations have to be tempered with Montgomery. He is probably not big enough to handle 15-18 carries per game in addition to receiving work. The Packers would not have added three running backs in the NFL Draft if they envisioned Montgomery as a 20-25 touch per game player. However, he is probably good enough to handle 10-12 carries per game and 5 receptions as the lead back in a RBBC that likes to run a lot of no huddle offense and throw to running backs. I think he should reach RB3 value and he has RB2 upside in PPR leagues.
6) New York Giants RB Paul Perkins – Perkins was not dominant last year, he had only 112 rushing attempts for 456 yards and 15 receptions for 162 yards and no touchdowns. The Giants still thought the world of him, evidenced by their decision to not draft a running back high in this draft, sign one in free agency or bring veteran RB Rashad Jennings back to the fold.
Perkins should be the unquestioned running back in New York this year. I do not think that Perkins is good enough to tally 1,200 yards rushing and 12 rushing touchdowns, but I do think he can break the 1-000 yard mark and score 5-7 touchdowns. The Giants figure to utilized a RBBC this year, but Perkins figures to lead that committee and he has a lot of upside entering his second season.
7) Washington WR Jamison Crowder – Crowder emerged as a viable fantasy option last year with 67 receptions for 847 yards and seven touchdowns last year. He did not finish the season strong, failing to top 40-yards receiving or score a touchdown in his final four games. His best stretch of games were Week 7 to Week 11, when he tallied at least 88 yards receiving in four of five games, including three games with more than 100-yards receiving.
I think the departure of WR DeSean Jackson and WR Pierre Garcon will necessitate that Crowder see more targets this year. They did sign WR Terrelle Pryor, but there should be enough footballs to go around between Crowder, Pryor and TE Jordan Reed. I think Crowder tops 1,000-yards receiving for the first time in his career this year.
8) Houston Texans WR Will Fuller – Fuller started off his rookie season with a bang, recording back-to-back 100-yard games to start the season. He was not able to keep up that strong play, as the combination of a hamstring injury and poor quarterback play dampened his season. He finished 2016 with 47 receptions for 635 yards and two touchdowns. Both of those touchdowns were scored in the first four weeks of the NFL season.
I think with a clean bill of health and a new quarterback situation, Fuller has the chance to improve on his rookie campaign. Rookie QB Deshaun Watson is not a slam-dunk prospect, but I think he is a lot better than QB Brock Osweiler or QB Tom Savage. Fuller is still going to play second fiddle to WR DeAndre Hopkins and the Texans will run the ball a lot. I think Fuller has good upside though with his big-play ability and he could warrant WR3 status.
9) Arizona Cardinals WR J.J. Nelson – Nelson looked strong to close the season, scoring a touchdown in four of his final five games. He benefited from an increased role in the offense and the strong finish by QB Carson Palmer. Nelson had 34 receptions for 568 yards and six touchdowns. He is a big-play threat that can score from any position on the field.
There are some risks associated with Nelson. At 5’ 10” and 156 lb., he does not have ideal size to be a NFL receiver. He also plays with Palmer, who turns 38 years old this year. If Palmer goes down with an injury or is ineffective, that would destroy Nelson’s fantasy value. I think Nelson showed enough last year to warrant speculation that he could breakout in fantasy this year.
10) Atlanta Falcons TE Austin Hooper – The Falcons had an explosive offense last year that scored 540 points and gained 6,653 yards. However, the tight end was not one of the positions that the Falcons looked toward last year. Hooper had 19 receptions for 271 yards and three touchdowns in his rookie campaign that saw him earn only three starts.
I think Hopper takes the next step and he ends up with either low TE1 or high TE2 value. QB Matt Ryan was the MVP of the NFL last year and they have a strong offense. The tight end position has produced there in the past, Hall of Fame TE Tony Gonzalez put up huge numbers there a few years ago. I do not think Hooper will be quite that good, but he has a ton of fantasy potential at a very good price. He is currently not in the Top-25 for ADP on Fantasy Pros.