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Mon Jun 8th 2020

Ten Breakout Candidates

Players Who Will Break Out In 2020

One of the most rewarding things about playing in dynasty leagues is that you can patiently wait for players to develop. Think of how thrilled owners of Kenyan Drake, Chris Godwin, Devante Parker, Austin Hooper, and Mike Gesicki were last year. Every year players rise from mediocrity to stardom, becoming every week starters for our teams for years to come.

It's pretty rare to see a running back break out after year two because the running back position is the easiest position to translate from college to the NFL, so they break out in year one or two. That said, Kenyon Drake did it last year. I remember dropping Drake at the roster-cut deadline in one league just before his second year in Miami. I lost in the Super Bowl in that league to the team that owned Drake.

It's much more common to see second and third-year breakouts from the wide receiver and tight end positions. It takes quite a bit longer for these positions to learn the offensive system and the nuances of running routes. They also have to develop chemistry with and earn the trust of their quarterbacks. Sometimes they also just need a change in the coaching staff to unlock their potential, as was the case with Chris Godwin, Devante Parker, and Mike Gesicki last year.

Quarterbacks usually improve gradually from year to year, arguably until they're in the mid-thirties. If rookies show enough promise to remain the starter throughout the year, they're bound to improve significantly in years two and three, especially if their teams add talent around them in the draft and free agency.

With all of that said, here are the ten players I believe will have breakout seasons in 2020. By the end of the year, I think these will become players you will have in your starting line-ups every week and for years to come.

Daniel Jones

  • The Giants were mocked incessantly for drafting Daniel Jones with the 6th pick of the 2019 draft, but they did not look so stupid by the end of the year. I had Daniel Jones ranked #54 overall in last year's rookie rankings. I must not have been alone because he was not drafted in some of my one-quarterback league rookie drafts. Now I have ranked as my #14 quarterback overall. He finished the season tied with Aaron Rodgers as QB-12 in points per game in 6 points per touchdown leagues. He had four dominant games near or above 40 points and added points on the ground, averaging 23 rushing yards per game. He's already on the verge of being a top-12 quarterback, and I think he will break out in 2020 for the following reasons. Most second-year quarterbacks drastically improves their turnover ratio. He only threw 12 interceptions, but strangely had ten fumbles, making his turnover ratio 24 touchdowns to 24 turnovers. He may throw more interceptions next year, but he will not fumble as much, and he will throw more touchdowns. His completion percentage was poor at 61%, which is typical for a rookie. That will improve in his second year for sure. Plus, last year, he was missing many of his best targets. Evan Engram and Sterling Shepard were injured for most of the year. Even so, Jones made rookies, Darius Slayton and Kaden Smith look like stars. All of his weapons will be back this year, and he'll have another year of building chemistry with him. I put my money where my mouth is on my belief by trading for him on one league this offseason and trying hard to acquire him in another league but could not get the deal done. He'll be a top-12 quarterback for me next year unless Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa pass him. Right now, I have Jones sandwiched right between those two in my rankings.

Damien Harris

  • Damien Harris was my #8 ranked rookie in last year's class, which meant I drafted him a lot because I had him ranked higher than most analysts who had him ranked outside of the first round. Though he had decent draft capital, being drafted by New England as the 24th player in the third round, and looked great in the preseason, he only had four carries for the entire year and only played in two games. None of the Patriots' running backs (Sony Michel, James White, Rex Burkhead, and Brandon Bolden) left in free agency, so it's a very crowded backfield again this season. Even with all that stacked against him, I do believe Harris is going to break out this year, and here is why. Sony Michel was average in his rookie year and digress in year two, averaging .8 yards less per carry. James White played more snaps than Sony Michel, but I believe that is mostly based on the fact that he was Tom Brady's security blanket. With Brady gone to Tampa Bay, I think New England will become a more run-heavy offense behind the second-year quarterback, Jarrett Stidham. Harris is the best all-around running back on the team and is better suited for a three-down role. New England sat on their third-round pick last year, but they cannot afford to do so this year. They have seen enough in Michel to know that they should not extend his contract. They need to see what they have in Harris this year to decide if he's the running back of their future. I think they will, and Harris will become a running back #2 in our line-ups for years to come.

J.J. Arcega-Whiteside

  • Unlike Damien Harris, Arcega-Whiteside had plenty of opportunities to prove himself in Philadelphia. He just did nothing with it, even while two or more of Philadelphia's wide receivers were injured. The good news was that Whiteside was on the field for 492 plays and played in every game. The bad news is that he only scored 27.9 fantasy points with those snaps and only caught a pass in 7 of the 16 games. The Eagles also drafted three wide receivers, including one in the first round in Jalen Reagor. With all that stacked against him, I still believe J.J. can break out this year. Here is why I think that. J.J. is unlike the other receivers in Philadelphia apart from Alshon Jeffery, who, when healthy, made a fantasy impact for the Eagles, scoring 13 points per game. Jeffery missed nine games last year and is unlikely to be ready for the start of this season or could be cut or traded before the season starts. After a year in the system, J.J. is prepared to take over Jeffery's big-man box-out role. Veteran, DeSean Jackson, and the three rookies drafted by Philadelphia are speedy take-the-top-off receivers. J.J. and tight ends, Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert, work underneath the coverages. If anything, this incoming rookie class created more opportunities for J.J. Plus, he still has higher draft capital, being picked at the 25th spot in the second round last year, than anyone on their roster except 2020 first-round pick, Jalen Reagor. J.J was my 13th ranked rookie in the 2019 class. I still believe in his talent and think he just needed a year of adjustment to the NFL. By the end of the year, he'll become a startable WR-3 or flex play for dynasty teams.

Kelvin Harmon

  • Kelvin Harmon was my #1 ranked rookie prospect before the NFL Combine in 2019. His poor Combine and surprising fall to the 6th round in the NFL draft made me move him from #1 to #23 before last year's rookie drafts. Fellow rookie, Terry McLaurin, burst onto the scene immediately to become the #1 wide receiver in Washington's struggling offense by the end of the season Harmon was the clear #2 wide receiver on the team. After Washington's week-10 bye, Harmon averaged 83% of the team's snaps and averaged five targets and 41 yards per game. He did this as a rookie quarterback, Dwayne Haskins was starting to show signs of improvement, and an interim coach, Bill Callahan ran the ball more than any team in the league. There is a new coaching staff in Washington, and Haskins showed enough improvement to allow the Redskins to pass on a quarterback with their second pick in this year's draft. The offense will be better this year, and Harmon is locked into a starting outside wide receiver position. By the end of the year, he'll become a startable WR-3 or flex play for dynasty teams.

Anthony Miller

  • Miller rookie year was solid, bolstered by a ridiculously high touchdown percentage of 20% with seven touchdown catches. Last year, he had 20% more catches and 25% more yards, but only two touchdowns. This year he'll bring those two performances together to put together a 1000-yard 8-10 touchdown season. Miller's quarterback inaccuracy could not have been worse in his first two years with Mitch Trubisky throwing him the ball. While Chicago's free-agent signing, Nick Foles, is no superstar, his experience and consistency should create more opportunities for Miller to break out. Miller has also played with injuries to his shoulder the last two seasons, resulting in two surgeries. He's stated that he's never felt better than he does right now while preparing for this season. In his last two years in college at Memphis, Miller was a production monster, racking up more than 1400 yards 15 touchdowns each season. He's going to get healthy this year and become that kind of monster again. He's my number one trade target this offseason.

Preston Williams

  • Preston Williams is almost not fair to mention here because he was already breaking out last year, but because he was injured in week eight, some people may have forgotten him. By week three, this rookie was already playing 85% of the plays, and receiving eight targets a game. He never had a 100-yard game and only scored three touchdowns, but his injury took place right before Miami gelled as a team and went from 0-7 to start the season to finish the season 5-4. The Dolphins improved at the end of the season while Williams watched on the sideline and recovered from torn ACL. Miami improved their team dramatically during the offseason in free agency and the draft. They drafted Tua Tagovailoa, who may or may not play this year, but will be paired with Williams for a decade to come. Ryan Fitzpatrick can make receiver relevant just as he did last year, reviving Devante Parker's career. If you did not already see him as a break out last year, you will surely see him break out this year, and his future is only brighter with Tua and an improving Miami team.

Hayden Hurst

  • Hurst had the draft capital in Baltimore after being drafted in the first round, but he was quickly replaced by Mark Andrews, the tight end Baltimore drafted two rounds later in the same year. His trade to Atlanta will give him just the opportunity he needs to revitalize his young career. Austin Hooper's break out year last year was a product of the offense as it was his talent. Hooper is a middle-of-the-pack athlete that won with smarts, opportunity, and building a connection with Matt Ryan. All Hurst lacks compared to Hopper is the chemistry with Ryan. Ryan targeted Hooper 7 times a game last year. There is no reason why Hurst should not see nearly the same amount of targets on the Falcons, who passed more than any other team last year and did not improve much at defense this offseason and play in a high scoring division. They could be in a lot of shootouts and catch-up games. By the end of the year, if he forms chemistry with Matt Ryan, Hurst should become an every-week starter at a very muddy-in-the-middle dynasty position.

Jonnu Smith

  • Tight ends take the longer than any other position to break out, especially if they have a solid veteran in front of them. Smith had Delanie Walker starting his first three years ahead of him, but even so, he showed improvement and increased playing time every year, scoring 40, 54, and 102 fantasy points his first three years. Now Delanie Walker is not on the team, making Smith poised for a tremendous break out this year. Smith was up and down after gaining the starting role last year after Walker was injured in week eight. His lows were very low, scoring five or fewer points seven times. His highs were very high, though, scoring more than 10 points four times, including two 14-point games and one 17-point game. Smith's upside is limited on his run-first team, but his incredible athleticism makes him a big-play waiting to happen. By the end of the year, he'll be a top streaming tight end that is perfect for rosters that have one or two tight ends like him.

Irv Smith

  • Like Jonnu Smith, Irv Smith was drafted to a team with a reliable veteran ahead of him in Kyle Rudolph. His draft capital (18th pick of the second round) and significant playing time in year one (75% of Rudolph's snap count) show that he will be a focus of the offense in the years to come. Rudolph's 4-year contract extension is a concern for dynasty owners, but only Philadelphia ran more 12 personnel than Minnesota. Plus, Stefon Diggs was traded, meaning there are 101 targets vacated. Rookie, Justin Jefferson, and free-agent signee, Tajae Sharpe, should get a lot of those targets, but Smith should get far more than the 50 targets he received last year. His skills allow him to more of a move tight end while Rudolph is better in a traditional in-line role. Rudolph is a much better red-zone target, so he should score more touchdowns. Last year he scored six times compared to Smith's two, but they had about the same amount of targets (58 for Rudolph and 50 for Smith). Targets are what I expect to change significantly this year, even if the touchdowns don't. Smith will end the season with more fantasy points than Rudolph this year and will take over the top tight end position for the rest of their careers.

Chris Herndon

  • Chris Herndon did absolutely nothing last year. He came back from his suspension with an injury and caught one pass for seven yards last year. Still, I see a breakout year ahead for the following reasons. Ryan Griffin, a 6th round draft pick in 2013 who has bounced around the league since then, became a streamable tight end last year in New York, especially after Sam Darnold came back from his illness. He was the 20th highest scoring per game tight end last year. If less athletic Griffin can do that as the 201st draft pick in 2013, then I am sure Herndon can do the same as the more athletic 107th draft pick in the 2018 draft. In 2018, as a rookie, Herndon scored even more points than Griffin did last year. He did that along with fellow rookie quarterback, Sam Darnold. Both Darnold and Herndon enter their third year in 2020, and each should improve. While there is an absent year in 2019, I am happy to believe in the connection I saw developing in 2018 and believe 2020 will be a breakout year for Herndon. I've bought low on him in several of my leagues and held onto him in leagues where I drafted him. I'm expecting a break out year in 2020.

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