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Fantasy football 2015 preview: 2nd-year players poised for a breakout

With the fantasy football season fast approaching, we explore some potential breakout players entering their second year.

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The fantasy football drafting season is getting underway, and everybody is looking for that next breakout player. While the focus is usually on rookie players this time of year, we shouldn't overlook last year's rookies. Whether they had promising starts or got new coaches over the offseason, a year of NFL experience goes a long way in projecting a player's fantasy value going forward.

We take a look at 12 players who could have breakout fantasy campaigns in their second season.


Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota Vikings

Bridgewater's rookie year had a bit of a rough start -- he was thrown into the starting job midseason, and his inexperience led to some shaky performances in those first few games. However, he quickly learned the ropes and guided the Vikings to a respectable finish to the season.

Bridgewater was knocked for his arm strength in the lead-up to the 2014 NFL Draft, and it showed even in his better games. But he also showed the same strengths scouts were raving about -- pocket poise, pinpoint accuracy and a sense of leadership that teammates could rally behind. Entering his second year in Norv Turner's offense -- and getting new weapons in Mike Wallace and a returning Adrian Peterson -- Bridgewater has a ceiling in the low-end QB1 level.

Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders

Carr was already fighting an uphill battle, due to his name and association with a notoriously dysfunctional franchise. You could hear guffaws across the nation when the Raiders drafted a Carr brother to be their latest franchise savior. But Carr tuned out all the noise and delivered a pretty decent rookie year, all things considered.

Carr's 2014 stats are nothing to write home about -- his 5.5 yards per attempt was the lowest out of qualified quarterbacks -- but the Raiders went out of their way to simplify his offense. With no running game or receiving threats to speak of, that was probably the smart move. Now that Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree are on board (along with the underrated Rod Streater, returning from a broken foot) Carr's supporting cast is much better than it was a year ago. We'll learn a lot more about Carr this season, but I like him as a potential value pick in the late rounds. At the least, he should end up being a viable streamer and potential starter in two-quarterback leagues.

Running backs

Jeremy Hill, Cincinnati Bengals

It feels like cheating to put Hill on this list, since he already broke out last year, racking up 1,339 total yards on just 249 touches and averaging 5.1 yards per carry. However, I feel like he's still being short-changed a bit, despite his ADP being in the early second round. Hear me out.

The Bengals are facing a real crossroads with quarterback Andy Dalton and head coach Marvin Lewis. They also have one of the game's best playcallers in offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, who loves the running game and coached Darren McFadden to career-best numbers in Oakland. If the team is intent on hiding Dalton's flaws, then riding with Hill (and mixing in Giovani Bernard for 8-10 touches per game) is the right call. And if they ride with Hill, his fantasy value will jump from solid RB1 to weekly difference-maker, because he has that kind of talent.

Hill was a made man after 2014. 2015 could make him a fantasy darling for life.

Latavius Murray, Oakland Raiders

Although Murray isn't technically a second-year player, we'll cheat a little since he missed the entire 2013 season with a foot injury. Murray started the 2014 season buried on the depth chart while Oakland tried desperately to make McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew happen. Once that failed, Murray finally got a shot to start, and he exploded with 112 rushing yards on four carries against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 12. Just when his star was rising, he got concussed in that game, and while he came back for the last four weeks, he was clearly less than 100 percent.

Murray has obvious talent but is still something of a mystery box, so the Raiders hedged their bets by signing Roy Helu and Trent Richardson. I don't expect either of them to supplant Murray, who has been running with the first team all camp. With new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave implementing a power-running game, Murray could get plenty of work behind an improved offensive line. Look for Helu to settle in as the passing-down handcuff, while Richardson is quietly let go at roster cuts.

Carlos Hyde, San Francisco 49ers

Hyde was an afterthought in his rookie year thanks to the presence of Frank Gore. Now that Gore is out of the picture, Hyde has a real chance to make noise in the fantasy world, but there are some red flags to contend with.

For starters, the 49ers signed Reggie Bush to serve as the passing-down back, and Kendall Hunter is returning from a torn ACL. They also lost guard Mike Iupati to free agency, adding another question mark to an already shaky line. In addition, the defense was weakened by a mass exodus in the offseason, which could lead to plenty of early deficits in 2015. If that happens, Hyde could end up forced to the sideline while Bush takes the field in comeback attempts.

Despite those concerns, Hyde remains the favorite for early-down carries, but his upside may be capped at the RB2 level.

Honorable mentions: Isaiah Crowell, Devonta Freeman, Charles Sims

Wide receivers

Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Like Hill above, Evans already had a breakout rookie season but could be in for even bigger things in 2015. He piled up a 68-1,051-12 stat line with Josh McCown and Mike Glennon under center. Now the Bucs have Jameis Winston, who showed at Florida State that he's more than willing to throw the ball in tight windows. Built like a brickhouse at 6'5, 231 pounds, Evans can be a red zone monster for years to come and doesn't turn 22 years old until late August. His third-round ADP might be a touch expensive right now, but Evans is an obvious keeper in dynasty leagues.

Brandin Cooks, New Orleans Saints

The Saints set up Cooks to succeed early on, giving him a prominent slot role and peppering him with targets. While he showed some rough edges, he was still providing respectable production before a broken hand ended his season in Week 11. Cooks' final stat line of 53-550-3 projects out to around 85-880-5 over 16 games.

With Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills gone, Cooks projects as Drew Brees' top weapon in the passing game -- his only competition is a declining Marques Colston. Even with New Orleans doubling down on the running game, I still expect Cooks to soak up a massive amount of targets, with WR1 upside in PPR leagues. He's a sleeper candidate to reach 100 catches.

Allen Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars have quietly built some of the best receiver depth in the league, and Robinson should be their top dog. He recovered nicely from a broken foot and was the talk of OTAs this spring. Blake Bortles remains a question mark after a miserable rookie year, but having the 6'3 Robinson at full health should help his NFL development. If the buzz carries over to the preseason, Robinson will soon be a lot more expensive than his current sixth-round ADP.

Jordan Matthews, Philadelphia Eagles

Operating as the slot receiver in Chip Kelly's high-octane offense, Matthews posted a 67-872-8 stat line with Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez throwing him the ball. The Eagles have since traded Foles for Sam Bradford and let Jeremy Maclin walk in free agency, opening up a bigger opportunity for Matthews.

At the time of this writing, Matthews is still working out of the slot in camp, with Riley Cooper, Josh Huff and rookie Nelson Agholor competing for snaps on the outside. Even if he doesn't win a full-time starting job, the Eagles still figure to run plenty of three-WR sets, and Matthews is a coverage nightmare for opposing linebackers. He has a good chance of eventually replacing DeSean Jackson and Maclin as the top weapon in Kelly's scheme, and projects to be a safe WR2 play in 2015.

Jarvis Landry, Miami Dolphins

All Landry does is catch passes. That was almost literally true in 2014 -- despite grabbing 84 passes, he averaged a measly 9 yards per catch, ranking 120th out of 144 qualified receivers. However, if you're in a PPR league, you probably love Landry because catching passes is his biggest strength. The slot receiver was a sure pair of hands for Ryan Tannehill and the two have developed some solid chemistry that should carry over to 2015. Mike Wallace is gone, but the Dolphins traded for Stills, which should keep Landry in the slot role. His ceiling isn't too high in standard leagues, but Landry will continue being a PPR monster.

As a bonus for fantasy leagues that count returning stats, Landry is expected to keep the kick returner job, where he piled up 954 yards last year.

Martavis Bryant, Pittsburgh Steelers

Bryant spent the first six weeks on the inactive list before eventually replacing Markus Wheaton as the No. 2 receiver next to Antonio Brown. He responded with eight touchdowns in just 10 games, emerging as a red zone monster for Ben Roethlisberger.

Bryant seems destined for bigger things in his second year, but a couple things threaten to throw cold water on the hype. He's dealing with an elbow issue that kept him out of the Hall of Fame Game, and the Steelers still have Wheaton penciled in for a starting job despite his 2014 struggles. Still, Pittsburgh will go heavy on three-WR sets during Le'Veon Bell's suspension, and the offense has too much firepower for Bryant not to get involved. Look for the 6'4 receiver to continue being a big target in the end zone. Bryant carries WR2 upside if he can beat out Wheaton for regular snaps.

Honorable mentions: John Brown, Sammy Watkins, Cody Latimer, Davante Adams

Tight ends

Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

As a general rule, tight ends almost always struggle in their rookie years as they adjust to bigger opponents and learn the nuances of NFL blocking schemes. Things were no different for Seferian-Jenkins, who battled multiple injuries and wasn't too effective when he did play. Now healthy again, the 6'5, 262-pound tight end could be in for big things under new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, who coached Tony Gonzalez in Atlanta.

Like Evans, ASJ is another tall body for Jameis Winston to chuck the ball up to. He was noted for his red zone prowess at the University of Washington, and his touchdown numbers could spike in 2015. ASJ has TE1 upside in a tight end market that's as thin as ever.

Honorable mentions: Eric Ebron, Jace Amaro