Fantasy Football is back everyone! Championship-level team owners are looking for that extra edge every season, and that means finding players in later rounds with high value. Rookies are covered at large, but sometimes players in their second season make enormous jumps in play after a year of experience. Some start on the bench while others are thrown in the fire their first year. We sifted through all of the 2016 rookies and made a list of 12 players who could break out in their second fantasy football campaign.
Carson Wentz - Philadelphia Eagles
The Philadelphia Eagles look like they have struck gold with Carson Wentz after a promising 2016 campaign. The second-year quarterback showed flashes of brilliance last year, particularly during the first half of the season. Wentz failed to reach 20 fantasy points in 10 of his final 12 outings, but that could be attributed to not having Pro-Bowl tackle Lane Johnson due to suspension and a lack of receivers who can create consistent separation. According to Pro Football Focus, Eagles receivers dropped a total of 36 passes in 2016, only to be surpassed by the Raiders’ receivers with 37 drops.
The front office recognized this problem and addressed the wide receiver position the first few days of free agency with signings of Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith. According to PFF, for comparison purposes, Jeffery has had 19 drops in 323 catchable targets in his career. Dorial Green-Beckham, Jordan Matthews and Nelson Agholor had 20 drops on 165 targets in 2016 alone. If Jeffery returns to 80 percent of his full potential and can beat some 1-on-1 coverage, I look for Wentz to break out this season by finishing as a mid-tier starting quarterback option in later rounds.
Jared Goff - Los Angeles Rams
When you are as terrible as Jared Goff was last year, the only direction you can go is up. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 draft struggled, to say the least, in his rookie campaign but I expect him to turn it around this season to make him a plug n’ play/injury insurance quarterback in deeper leagues. I believe general rookie mistakes, horrendous coaching on the part of Jeff Fisher and the rest of the staff, and the lack of overall offensive line talent did not set Goff up for success and caused his poor play.
This is a new season, and the Rams have a brand new coaching staff that will surely take them in a more positive direction. Sean McVay brings in a new style of play calling that will open up some easier throws for Goff. With an upgraded offensive line and multiple additions in the receiving core, I look for McVay to unlock Todd Gurley’s potential that was hindered by Fisher running him up the middle every play last season. If the Rams can generate a consistent running game, they have the defense to keep them in most of their games, which will give Goff ample opportunities to prove he can be a fantasy asset dependent upon the matchup.
Cody Kessler - Cleveland Browns
Cody Kessler will make the list as my long-shot breakout candidate at quarterback this season. Last year when healthy, the USC product held his own with 2,720 passing yards, 17 TDs and 13 interceptions behind a below-average offensive line. That changes in 2017 because the Browns will boast one of the best offensive lines in the league after making some big additions this offseason.
Three new offensive line additions combined with the return of 2016 first-round pick Corey Coleman, Kenny Britt from the Rams, and rookie tight end David Njoku (who was an NCAA high jump champion in college) will give Kessler multiple weapons he did not have last year. The Browns will be much more competitive in 2017, and I have a feeling Kessler is going to be one of the reasons why. Like I said, this "breakout" season is a long shot, but I do not think it is inconceivable for Kessler to be a spot filler on bye weeks or be picked up as a "play-the-matchup" type player if catastrophic circumstances hit your team.
Paul Perkins - New York Giants
The Giants backfield is a bit of a mystery going into 2017, and that is why Paul Perkins is a breakout candidate on my list. The UCLA product began getting touches midway through 2016 and he started the final two games of the season, including the Giants Wild Card Game. In an interview with WFAN, head coach Ben McAdoo said that Perkins will be the starting running back on first and second downs. It looks like Shane Vereen, who missed most of last season due to injury, is penciled in as the third-down back.
I love Perkins’ upside this season because Vareen is a question mark with his injury history and there is not a veteran like Rashad Jennings to lean on. According to NumberFire.com, after the team’s bye week in 2016, Perkins saw his offensive snaps per game increase from 12.5 per game to 27.5 as the season progressed. The only question mark on his value comes from the team’s lackluster offensive line. The unit was not very good in 2016, and I don’t expect it to be much better in 2017. They did add Brandon Marshall opposite Odell Beckham Jr., so that should bring some defenders out of the box and possibly create some favorable run matchups for the O-line. Perkins has a lot of value as a RB2/Flex player that you look for in the mid to later rounds.
C.J. Prosise - Seattle Seahawks
C.J. Prosise was an interesting player last season in the limited action he played for the Seahawks. The RB/WR tweener is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. He gashed opponents for big plays on his way to 172 yards on 30 carries (5.7 YPC) while also racking up 17 receptions for 208 yards (12.2 YPC, 11.5 per target) over limited touches in six games.
The concern for Prosise remains his health. He missed 12 games for the Seahawks his rookie season and missed multiple games for Notre Dame is his senior year with the Irish. Seattle should be able to ease him back into the fold with a healthy Eddie Lacy and Thomas Rawls heading into the season. I do not see Prosise as the bell-cow back in this offense, but Seattle will certainly put together a package around Prosise’s versatility. He is a bigger, stronger, and faster version than Darren Sproles or Danny Woodhead and I expect him to be used similar to the way those two players are utilized.
Josh Doctson - Washington
Another potential receiver breakout candidate is former TCU Horned Frog Josh Doctson. The 2016 first-round pick struggled to find his role in a crowded and talented receiving core. He will surely get more opportunities in 2017 following the departures of DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. That pair combined for 135 catches, 2,046 yards, and seven touchdowns on 216 targets in 2016, which will need to be made up by Doctson and free-agent signing Terrelle Pryor.
Doctson should have a leg up on Pryor having already been in the system for a season. The Washington offense is loaded with weapons that should create favorable matchups across the board. With Jordan Reed demanding double teams and Pryor’s size creating mismatch problems for defenses, I think Doctson will feast on favorable 1-on-1 matchups in a breakout sophomore season.
Corey Coleman - Cleveland Browns
Coleman has a chance to really break out in year two after showing flashes of success on a horrendous 2016 Browns team. He had seven catches for 173 yards and two touchdowns in his first two games before suffering a broken hand prior to Week 3. The Browns improved their offensive line this offseason and will have a top-10 unit if they stay healthy. Any sort of consistent running game should open up the middle for Coleman to work.
If you haven’t caught on to the theme of most of my breakout candidates, most have a significant receiver in their offense from 2016 moving to another team. For the Browns, it was Pryor who signed as a free agent in Washington. Coleman will have ample opportunities and targets opposite Kenny Britt. The Browns will be a much-improved team in 2017, and I think Coleman will be one of the bright spots the team will be building around in the future.
Michael Thomas - New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints may have had a bad record the last few years, but that is not because of their offense. The Saints led the league in total yards and passing yards in 2016. Second-round pick Michael Thomas was a large reason why. Thomas racked up 78 catches for 1,173 yards and eight touchdowns in just 15 games. His impressive rookie campaign was the second-most catches by a rookie receiver in NFL history, behind only Anquan Boldin’s 101 in 2003.
The reason I think Thomas can take his game to the next level and break out this season hinges on the departure of Cooks, who was traded to the New England Patriots this offseason. Cooks was a large part of the offense (1,173 yards, 8 TDs) and the Saints will need to make up his production, which will lead to an increase in targets for Thomas. Look for Thomas to be featured even more in New Orleans’ high-flying offense as it tries to make it back to the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
Malcolm Mitchell - New England Patriots
Mitchell should be looked at in late rounds and deeper leagues. The Super Bowl champs will be defending their title with even more weapons than last year. All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski will be returning from a back injury in addition to the acquisitions of Dwayne Allen and Brandin Cooks. Combine that with Julian Edleman, Danny Amendola, and the running backs the Patriots utilize and you see how many weapons Tom Brady has at his disposal.
The reasons I like Mitchell as a breakout candidate revolve around the fact that most of the Patriots’ elite weapons play on the inside of formations and will command most of the double teams. Mitchell, who is an outside receiver, should always be in 1-on-1 coverage. Brady knows this and will get him the ball when the time is right. Mitchell gained Brady’s trust toward the end of the season and finished with 32 catches for 401 yards and four touchdowns, including six catches for 70 yards in the Patriots’ Super Bowl win. I think he will build on his impressive rookie campaign during 2017.
Austin Hooper - Atlanta Falcons
Austin Hooper will round out my list by stepping in as the starting tight end for new Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. His rookie campaign ended with 19 catches for 271 yards and three touchdowns for the NFC champs. He also chipped in three catches for 32 yards and a touchdown in Super Bowl 51. Atlanta’s offense is a well-oiled machine that will not be slowing down no matter who is calling the plays. Hooper should be the beneficiary of favorable coverage with defenses having to key on the Falcons running game and All-Pro receiver Julio Jones. Dependent upon your draft style, if you are in need of a tight end in later rounds Hooper could be a streaming option.
Hunter Henry - Los Angeles Chargers
Henry appears on our potential bust list, but he could very well be a significant boom or bust player in 2017. He had a strong showing last season for the San Diego Chargers, finishing the year with 36 catches for 478 yards and eight touchdowns on 54 targets while splitting time with Antonio Gates. Gates is also returning this season, but at age 37 the likelihood he can match his earlier production is low. The now Los Angeles Chargers will have Pro Bowl receiver Keenan Allen returning from his ACL injury and they drafted All-American receiver Mike Williams with the No. 7 overall pick. That added firepower will open up coverage over the middle for Henry to take advantage of during his sophomore season. If he can shake Gates in the battle for targets, his upside is tremendous.