What is a breakout?
You can ask 10 different people that question and get 10 different answers.
To me, it is a player who is going to surpass his ADP and likely by a wide margin. I am not talking about drafting the WR36 and they finish as the WR31. I mean, you draft a player in the middle to later rounds, and if they hit, they change the landscape of your fantasy team. Of course, there can be these players in the early rounds, but since they are getting drafted that early, it means many people expect a breakout. Listed below are some high-end breakout candidates that I target in drafts:
Those players are all great, but the middle to later rounds is when everyone is really searching for a player that can greatly exceed expectations. Luckily for you drafters, there are plenty of those, as well.
Trey Lance is my favorite breakout player at the quarterback position. He flashed his upside last season when he scored over 20 fantasy points in less than a half, coming in for an injured Jimmy Garoppolo. The reason he can rack up fantasy points so quickly is because what he can do with his legs. He will immediately join Lamar Jackson and Hurts as the best rushing QBs. He can be much like Hurts was in 2020, which is a better fantasy QB than real-life QB. The one key difference between those two is their situations. Unlike Hurts, who had a rookie head coach and unproven supporting cast, Lance will have one of the best play-callers in the league, along with a very talented cast around him. Every year, Garoppolo leads or is top-three in passing yards that come after the catch, meaning he makes quick, short throws and the receivers then get to work. Lance could perform in that role, with more deep throws mixed in because he has a cannon of an arm. He has top-five upside and there is a small chance he could be the best QB in fantasy.
Tua Tagovailoa is my favorite QB2 to target this season. First, there is a narrative that Tagovailoa cannot throw a deep ball. Sure, he hasn't done so much in his NFL career, but last season he finished inside the top four in completion percentage and yards per attempt on throws of at least 20 air yards. Now he will have Tyreek Hill, who I believe is the most influential non-QB offensive player, along with Jaylen Waddle. Both typically get drafted as top-20 receivers, which to me seems a little risky. But Tagovailoa goes much later, meaning that you get the receivers' production baked in, but with much less risk. If those two live up to expectations, Tagovailoa will be a top-12 QB, maybe higher.
Dameon Pierce was not a favorite of mine entering the draft, but that quickly changed when he went to Houston. He fell to a position where he could easily lead all rookies in touches. His competition is Rex Burkhead, and after one breakout game in the preseason, really it was just five touches, Pierce took over that starting gig. Pierce ran strong that night, breaking two tackles with 42 of his 49 yards coming after contact. He backed it up with a strong showing in Week 3 of the preseason, playing over 80 percent of the snaps on the opening drive while rushing six times for 37 yards and a touchdown. Pierce has breakout upside on volume alone, but seeing him run well paired with the rave reviews he's receiving from training camp, and there is a lot to like here.
Over the last five weeks of the season, Rashaad Penny led all running backs in rushing yards (671), rushing yards over expectation (272), touchdowns (six), rushes of 10-plus yards (16), yards after contact (486) and rushes reaching 15-plus mph (17). Best of all, Penny showed that there are no long-lasting affects from his knee injury that sidelined him for so long. While there are still injury concerns, you already get a discount baked into his ADP with him going as an RB3. If Penny stays healthy all year, he is a lock to outlive his draft cost. Even if he misses time, on a per-game basis, he is very likely to outlive his draft cost. Plus, the upside if he stays healthy is that he can finish as a top-15 RB.
Chase Edmonds is going to be a big beneficiary of Hill and Waddle. With both being able to beat defenders downfield and after the catch, teams are going to have to play the Dolphins deeper than in the past. Hill alone just opens up so much near the line of scrimmage as you always must worry about him getting behind the defense, meaning teams will pull the safeties back and have them line up deeper. It's a big part of why Patrick Mahomes led the NFL in passing yards that came after the catch last season. Edmonds should not only get his share of work on the ground, but he should also be heavily involved in the passing game. And the best part? He only costs an RB3 price to acquire.
Kenneth Gainwell ran well in the preseason, while Miles Sanders continues to miss time due to injury. Sanders is a good real-life RB, but he is overvalued for fantasy. They do not trust him near the goal line as he became the only running back in the Super Bowl era with more than 750 yards and no rushing TDs. But he is also likely to lose passing snaps to Gainwell, who is a tremendous receiver out of the backfield. Gainwell could be open underneath a lot as teams try to keep up with the Eagles' top weapons. But he also could help make the offense more unpredictable, as teams will never be sure if it is a run, or a pass play when he is on the field. He has a chance to steal the job away from Sanders and he is going off the board in the double-digit rounds as an RB4. Take the shot on his upside at that price.
Gabe Davis is the only player in NFL history to have over 200 yards and four touchdowns in a playoff game. That was the game where the world learned the name Gabriel Davis, but this season will be the year he becomes a household name. Davis is a tremendous deep threat, averaging over 13 air yards per target, which ranked in the top 12 amongst receivers. He also was in the top 10 with 13 end zone targets. He did that playing in a limited role behind Emmanuel Sanders for much of the year. Him not starting over Sanders was the biggest head scratcher to me, but the Bills elected to ease the second-year receiver along until later in the season. This year, he will be the No. 2 target for Josh Allen and the Bills from the start. Davis brings a ton of upside in that role.
Drake London was my top rookie receiver coming into the draft and he remains it after. He was also the first receiver off the board in the actual draft. He fell into a situation where he will be the unquestioned Day One WR1 for the Falcons. His only real target competition is Kyle Pitts, but it's easy to picture both of those two having a 25-percent target share. That could mean massive volume on a team that is expected to trail often. London is a big-bodied receiver who can win 50/50 balls and be utilized in the red/end zone. But he also has the speed to separate and win downfield. Those are the two quickest ways to rack up fantasy points in chunks. London is the best bet to be this year's breakout rookie receiver.
Kadarius Toney averaged 2.2 yards per route ran last season and had a 30-percent target share when he was on the field. Other receivers who can say that include Davante Adams, Cooper Kupp, A.J. Brown and Antonio Brown. That is elite company. Plus, he also was one of just 10 rookies since 2000 to top 180 yards in a game -- which he did against the No. 1-ranked Cowboys defense in a game in which he got ejected early. Of the previous nine, eight of them went on to have a 1,000-yard season in their career. But Toney also passes the eye test, as not many humans have his combination of speed and shiftiness. It's high praise, but watching him play reminds me of Hill at times. The only concern with Toney is health, but luckily, he goes late enough where he is often a reserve player. Take advantage as he is pure upside when on the field.
Quick Hits: There is a tier of QB2s that bring a lot of breakout upside. Trevor Lawrence, who has a better supporting cast and a much better head coach in QB developer Doug Pederson, has a shot to remind the world why he was a generational talent. Justin Fields is also in that group and while he doesn't have the strongest supporting cast, he should add lots of points with his legs. Deeper breakout options include Daniel Jones, Jameis Winston and, if healthy, Zach Wilson. ... Isiah Pacheco has had a lot of hype out of Chiefs camp and has played with the ones in the preseason. He could steal more work as the season progresses and it is a very affordable way to get a piece of the Chiefs offense. ... Michael Carter is a very talented back who could have standalone value even if Hall remains healthy. But if anything was to happen to Hall, he has RB1 upside. ... George Pickens has received a lot of offseason hype and for good reason. He is an elite talent who fell in the draft due to health and other concerns. Pickens could supplant Chase Claypool and be the second target in the Steelers offense. He can be a big factor as a downfield option or in the red zone. ... Isaiah McKenzie will be the starting slot receiver for the Buffalo Bills. That is a role that has seen at least 106 targets in each of the past three seasons. But McKenzie is even more explosive and faster than Cole Beasley, meaning he could pick up more yards after the catch and even be targeted downfield at times. ... Wan'Dale Robinson is a great hedge in case Toney's injury hampers him. Robinson is shifty and can operate out of the slot. Expect him to be in the Giants' three-receiver sets and he could see a boost in volume if others miss time.