Breakout Candidates

We examine this year's potential breakout and comeback players that can lead your fantasy team to a championship. They offer great upside and may be undervalued in your leagues for a variety of reasons. Whether due to past injuries, scheme problems, poor supporting casts, or usage, these players have underperformed but we expect them to put up big numbers in 2017.

1. Amari Cooper, WR Breakout Candidate

Rec Yds TD Pts
2017-18 (proj) 87 1,135 8 246.50

Heading into his age 23 season, Cooper has looked as good as advertised and it s easy to see why the Raiders used the fourth overall pick on him in 2015. That said he has struggled late in the season in each of his first two years, and at times has been frustratingly inconsistent from a production standpoint. Teammate Michael Crabtree seems to get the end zone looks, but it s probably only a matter of time before Cooper overtakes him in that department. Back to back thousand yard seasons to open an NFL career is nothing to scoff at, and Cooper already looks like he s going to be a perennial fantasy stud as Derek Carr s top target for a long time to come.

2. Isaiah Crowell, RB Sleepers Rising Stock

Rsh Yds TD Rec Yds TD Pts
2017-18 (proj) 228 972 8 34 264 1 209.60

Crowell has quietly carved out the feature back role in Cleveland, getting better in each of his first three seasons in the league. His 4.8 yards per carry last season on nearly 200 totes was impressive, as were the 40 receptions, more than doubling his previous high. The biggest issue for Crowell is that he's once again playing for a rebuilding Browns squad where the offense is likely to once again be in catchup mode quite often. Still, as Hue Jackson and company seem to be doing a solid job of rebuilding, especially on the defensive side and along the offensive line, there may be more chances to run the ball this season and Crowell should crack 1000 yards for the first time in his career. At just 24 years old and in the final year of his contract, 2017 is a huge opportunity to set himself up long term, either in Cleveland or somewhere else.

3. Jamison Crowder, WR Sleepers

Rec Yds TD Pts
2017-18 (proj) 76 873 5 202.38

With Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson gone, Crowder is nearly assured of building on last season. A smaller receiver that operated mainly out of the slot last year, Crowder should reprise that role and could see far less competition for targets. Jordan Reed's health struggles have been well documented and the mystery surrounding his preseason foot issue continues to raise questions. Terrelle Pryor is new to the offense and Cousins, and while he had some success last season, he's still learning to play the position. And talented second year wideout Josh Doctson has struggled with injuries since he was drafted, playing in just two games as a rookie. Crowder isn't a gamebreaker, but he's a shifty player with the ability to churn out some extra yards after the catch. If some of the health questions break the wrong way for Washington, there's a path to 100 receptions for Crowder in this offense. Regardless, he's a virtual lock to top last year's 67-847-7 going into just his age 24 season.

4. Mike Gillislee, RB Breakout Candidate

Rsh Yds TD Rec Yds TD Pts
2017-18 (proj) 215 882 10 18 137 1 183.90

After two years in Buffalo, Gillislee enters his age 27 season with a chance to play a big role in the New England offense. In two seasons playing behind LeSean McCoy, Gillislee averaged 5.7 yards per carry and showed some ability in the passing game. When New England moved on from LeGarrette Blount this offseason, many expected the goal was to find a younger and cheaper big back with a little more upside. Instead the Pats signed Rex Burkhead and Gillislee. Subsequently, we learned that one of the team's frustrations with Blount was his lack of ability as a receiver. Essentially New England decided the player in the backfield was too telling to defenses about what might be coming their way. The Pats don't believe that's the case with Gillislee. That said, predicting New England's running back situation is a fool's errand. We should not expect Blount's crazy touchdown numbers here, and we know there are too many talented backs in the mix for Gillislee's role to get too big. But we also know when Belichick finds something that works he tends to roll with it. Gillislee is one of the more intriguing running backs to watch this season.

5. Ameer Abdullah, RB Breakout Candidate

Rsh Yds TD Rec Yds TD Pts
2017-18 (proj) 195 752 4 37 331 2 177.30

Despite his 5'9", 200-205 lb frame, the Lions continue to talk about Abdullah as their primary or "feature" back. Given what we know about the Detroit offense, it's difficult to know what this actually means. While Abdullah has shown flashes when healthy, the third year back lost most of last season to injury and struggled to run between the tackles as a rookie. Receiving specialist Theo Riddick has played in 26 games over the past two seasons and caught 133 balls, and Detroit clearly has him slated to continue in that role. Third year back Zack Zenner, second year back Dwayne Washington, and veteran Matt Asiata are also in the mix, battling for the goal line and short yardage work. Barring an injury to Riddick, that essentially puts Abdullah in the early downs role between the twenties-hardly an ideal scenario for fantasy owners. As a former second round pick who is still being hyped by management and the coaching staff, Abdullah is still fantasy relevant. But counting on big plays or other players missing time to shift a player's role from middling to promising is a dicey proposition.

6. Tyrell Williams, WR Breakout Candidate

Rec Yds TD Pts
2017-18 (proj) 61 872 5 176.20

One of the most overlooked 1,000 yard receiving seasons in recent memory, there's little reason to think Williams can't build upon his strong 2016 campaign. He's bolstered even further by the fact that first round pick Mike Williams seems certain to miss extended time as a rookie. And while Keenan Allen has made a strong return it's starting to look like he's destined for an injury-plagued NFL career. A big play threat anytime he gets the ball in his hands, Williams led the Chargers in receiving last season and should start the season opposite Allen in two wide sets. Just 25 years old, he's an exciting player that continues to go somewhat overlooked in both redraft and dynasty formats.

7. Paul Perkins, RB Breakout Candidate Injury Update

Rsh Yds TD Rec Yds TD Pts
2017-18 (proj) 231 915 5 23 184 1 164.90

Perkins enters the season as the favorite to lead the Giants backfield in touches, but it's unclear exactly what that means at this stage. Shane Vereen is still on the roster, as is Orleans Darkwa, and the Giants added Shaun Draughn this offseason as well. Perkins' upside is that of a three down back, who looked like he could handle an every down role last season, but isn't a special or elite talent. And while the upside is there from a workload perspective, we'd be remiss not to point out that he'll be running behind one of the poorer offensive lines in the league when the season opens. With the inside track to start, Perkins could certainly run away with this job. But if history is any indication then we should expect the Giants backfield to devolve into a timeshare by midseason, with Perkins leading the team in touches most weeks.

8. Kareem Hunt, RB Top Rookies Rising Stock

Rsh Yds TD Rec Yds TD Pts
2017-18 (proj) 163 624 5 34 273 2 161.70

Hunt is the other half of what is going to be a painful fantasy backfield scenario for owners going forward. Spencer Ware has been far better over a season and a half than many expected, but he did seem to slow a bit as the season wore on in 2016. With that in mind the Chiefs went out and took one of the more intriguing running back prospects in the draft, in Kareem Hunt. While the measurables don't jump off the page, his college production behind a dreadful offensive line is impressive. He's a bigger back that can make tacklers miss and find more yards than what is blocked, but like Ware he lacks breakaway speed. He's a capable pass catcher and could eventually supplant Ware as the starter, perhaps as early as this season. The far more likely scenario though is that, barring injury, the two backs cannibalize each other's production over the next couple years until the Chiefs have to make a decision on Ware's contract after the 2018 campaign is a wrap.

9. Derek Carr, QB Studs

Com Yds TD Int Rsh Yds TD Pts
2017-18 (proj) 373 4,218 32 12 37 114 1 298.12

Though lost to a broken leg in Week 16, Carr was making a serious case to join the conversation of the upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks with his 2016 campaign. The 2014 second round pick has improved significantly in each of his first three seasons, taking a massive step forward in 2016 en route to leading the Raiders to a 12-3 record as the starter. While he was significantly better over the first three months, it was revealed in the offseason that he played the last four games (where his completion percentage fell off by more than 10%) with a broken pinkie finger. In addition to a new contract, and keeping most of their offensive core intact, the Raiders have upgraded the running back position with the addition of Marshawn Lynch, receiving tight end Jared Cook, and explosive gadget player, Cordarrelle Patterson. Expected back to full health to start the season, few quarterbacks have as much short and long term upside as Carr.

10. Jack Doyle, TE Sleepers

Rec Yds TD Pts
2017-18 (proj) 69 638 6 168.80

When Coby Fleener departed for New Orleans, the Colts signed Dwayne Allen to a long term contract. But it was Doyle who shined for Indianapolis in 2017. And with Allen gone, he should see even more targets as Erik Swoope continues to develop. A traditional in-line tight end, Doyle benefits from playing in a tight end friendly system and with a tight end friendly quarterback. He's not the athlete Swoope is, but he's a big target with extremely reliable hands that the Colts just locked up for three more seasons. There's probably not a ton of upside left here, but he should continue to produce at a level in line with last season.

11. Jameis Winston, QB Sleepers Injury Update

Com Yds TD Int Rsh Yds TD Pts
2017-18 (proj) 357 4,128 28 16 59 202 2 289.32

In year number two the top overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft took another step forward, topping 4000 yards again and raising his completion percentage to nearly 61 percent, up from his rookie year mark of just over 58 percent. Winston also threw 28 touchdown passes, but turnovers continue to be the big concern, as he gave away the ball two dozen times, including six fumbles. Still, there was marked improvement for the young quarterback despite lacking consistent offensive talent outside of Mike Evans, at the skill positions. The addition of DeSean Jackson this offseason should be huge, as defenses will need to account for his deep speed. And rookies O.J. Howard and Chris Godwin were two of the more dynamic pass catching talents in this year's draft. Tampa Bay clearly went out of its way to find weapons that should not only help bolster Winston's production this season, but also for the next decade. It would not be at all surprising for Jameis to be knocking on the door of the top ten quarterback conversation by season's end.

12. Marcus Mariota, QB

Com Yds TD Int Rsh Yds TD Pts
2017-18 (proj) 314 3,698 27 13 62 236 2 274.52

Recovering from a late season broken leg, Mariota is expected to be a full go when training camp opens. He did a nice job of building on his solid rookie campaign, but it's worth noting that he's now failed to stay healthy for sixteen games in each of his first two seasons. That said, he's a good bet to take another step forward in 2017, as the Titans added first round pick Corey Davis and veteran Eric Decker this offseason, to what was arguably the worst wide receiver corps in the league last season. And with an improving offensive line the Titans should continue to run a balanced attack that doesn't ask an excessive amount from Mariota. There's some upside here for the future, as Mariota is efficient with the football and has a knack for getting his team in the end zone. But the strong running game and his natural conservative tendencies with the football, don't suggest he's going to consistently pass for a lot of yardage any time soon.

13. Jonathan Williams, RB Sleepers

Rsh Yds TD Rec Yds TD Pts
2017-18 (proj) 137 624 5 9 83 0 109.70

Prior to Mike Gillislee jumping ship, Williams was barely on the fantasy radar. Now he finds himself in line for the backup role in a running back heavy offense. Williams will still need to convince the new regime that he can handle the job if McCoy misses time, but if he can't hold off Mike Tolbert and Jonathan Banyard in camp then he's not worth of a roster spot in anything but the deepest dynasty formats anyway. He has some sneaky dynasty format and is a player to watch in the preseason.

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