2017 Fantasy Football Breakout Candidates

Pigskin Podcast's resident fantasy expert Will Pendleton of Fantasyfootballhelpers.com  provides an early rundown of this year's potential breakout fantasy stars.

Success in fantasy football is largely predicated on identifying lesser known players who are primed for a monster statistical season. Predicting breakout campaigns however can be treacherous as placing your faith in a certain player can either burn your opponents or burn you. However, as the saying goes, “no risk it, no biscuit” and so here are some candidates who could potentially be fantasy stars in waiting…

Carlos Hyde.jpg

In the midst of a troubled franchise, Carlos Hyde’s star still shines bright; a true diamond in the rough. Hyde was one of the few bright-spots on a pockmarked 2016 49ers roster and it seems as if his luck is about to change.

2017 brought the arrival of offensive genius Kyle Shanahan as the new Head Coach in San Francisco and with him his track record of turning running backs into super-stars. Examine the team Shanahan most recently departed in the Atlanta Falcons for example. Shanahan’s play-action offense completely transformed Devonta Freeman into a fantasy scoring machine, finishing as the No. 1 and No. 7 fantasy running back respectively in the two seasons he spent working with Shanahan.

The same fate is more than likely to befall Hyde also. A play-action offense like Shanahan’s allows new or inexperienced quarterbacks (which the 49ers are likely to have) to gain depth from the line of scrimmage giving them time in the pocket. This allows for a calmer QB and therefore a more functional passing attack whilst relying heavily on the run game to sell play fakes for the quarterback. This all hints towards a consistent workload for Hyde and his one-cut running style fits perfectly with Shanahan’s zone-blocking system.

In only 13 games last season on a torrid team that needed to pass the ball to get back into games, Hyde still managed to rush for nearly 1000 yards and scored 9 total touchdowns, finishing as the RB14 (14th best fantasy running back). In an offense which will be reliant on him instead of his quarterback next season, Hyde is ready to explode.

Jameis Winston.jpg

Last season Winston watched as his counterpart drafted one spot behind him, Marcus Mariota, became one of 2016’s fantasy darlings due to his sublime redzone touchdown to interception ratio. Interceptions are a statistic that has plagued Winston’s entire football career but with another season under his belt Winston will be ready to take full command over his offense.

If there is one thing that we know about Jameis Winston it is that he loves to throw the football. In his two seasons in the NFL Winston already has two 4,000+ passing yard seasons and has thrown 50 touchdowns too for good measure. Those are some impressive stats for a young quarterback and with super-star wide receiver Mike Evans at his side Winston’s numbers are primed to sky-rocket even higher this year. Recent free agent addition WR Desean Jackson is the perfect compliment to Mike Evans. Jackson brings speed to a receiving corps built mainly on size. Jackson’s deep threat ability could add even more touchdown potential to Winston and will almost certainly bump up his already impressive yardage totals.

Throughout his short NFL career Winston has proven himself as a solid fantasy quarterback, ending his seasons as the QB14 and QB17 respectively. Tampa Bay seems to be on the rise however, due in large part to their explosive offense with Winston at the helm, and so too does Winston’s fantasy ceiling. On his day Winston has the ability to outscore any team in the league and as a better team all around in 2017, Winston and the Bucs will be in more scoring opportunities and therefore more fantasy scoring opportunities.

Prosise’s star burnt both bright and quick in 2016. The rookie receiving back wasn’t properly involved in the Seahawks offense until week 9 of last season (excluding his 103 scrimmage yard performance against the New Orleans Saints in week 4) where he first saw 5+ carries. In fact Prosise’s season as a whole would have been viewed as a complete disaster were it not for a two game stretch from weeks 9-10 where he decimated the fantasy landscape.

In week 9 against the recently crowned New England Patriots, Prosise changed 17 carries into 66 yards and caught 7 out of 7 balls for 87 yards, giving him a 153 scrimmage yard stat-line for the game.

The following week against the Philadelphia Eagles Prosise outdid himself again. With only 4 carries Prosise racked up 76 yards for a 19 yards per carry average while scoring both a rushing and receiving touchdown.

Prosise was quickly the hottest name in fantasy and owners far and wide were lining up humungous trade offers to snag him. However, Prosise unfortunately suffered a season ending injury during his week 10 match-up against the Eagles and so the CJ Prosise fantasy hype train was halted in its tracks just as it was gaining speed.

However, that train is about to pick up steam again as Seahawks Head Coach Pete Carroll recently stated that Prosise and Thomas Rawls will openly compete for the starting running back role in Seattle. Even if Prosise does not win the top job, his talents will obviously be installed into the Seahawks offense due to his effectiveness last season against two top-10 defences. Prosise’s forte is receiving, in which he has a significant advantage over Rawls, and so with a stranglehold on the receiving back role and a likely increase in carries too, the CJ Prosise train is ready to depart the station once again.

For as long as many can recall, the Chargers tight end position has been fully monopolised by one man, Antonio Gates. However, it seems the bell may have tolled for the 14 year veteran as finally the Chargers appear to have settled on a new face to replace Gates, Hunter Henry.

The Chargers have often brought in other tight ends to potentially follow on from Gates, however he has outperformed them time and time again. Unfortunately for the 8 time Pro-Bowler and 5 time All-Pro, in 2016 he was the one being outperformed.

Although Gates finished ahead of Henry (by only one spot) in fantasy scoring for tight ends, both Chargers TEs had 90 fantasy points and Henry in fact scored more touchdowns than Gates. Eight touchdowns for a rookie tight end is impressive particularly as the position has one of the toughest transitions from college to the NFL. With a full offseason completed and a further developed chemistry with quarterback Philip Rivers, Henry should be ready to take his career onwards and take over the Chargers tight end position fully, a position which has always heralded great fantasy success.

Both Rivers and the Chargers want to run a pass heavy offense, and even when surrounded by poor talent, Rivers in particular is able to rise above it and still post incredible fantasy statistics. A pass happy offense is any pass catcher’s best friend and that is good news for Henry and fantasy owners alike.

After a move from San Diego to Los Angeles the Chargers may be looking to rebrand themselves as the LA team with some actual offensive potential (sorry Rams fans), and this may come in the form of a fresh new look at a tired position. Los Angeles is always focused on the next big thing, for the Chargers it certainly seems as if that could be Hunter Henry.

Will Fuller.jpg

It is strange to think that at one point in 2016 it was a common opinion that the Texans offense could potentially be one of the top units in the league. Granted, then the 2016 season happened, but it is agreed that the potential was there at least.

A large proportion of this hype landed upon the shoulders of first round rookie WR Will Fuller. Fuller, a speedy deep threat out of Notre Dame, was the perfect complement to 2015’s stand out receiver, DeAndre Hopkins. With Hopkins commanding double teams, Fuller’s speed would give defenses fits and the two would tear apart the NFL, right?

Well through the first two weeks of the season it appeared that this would be the case. Hopkins, Fuller and even RB Lamar Miller got off to tremendous starts to the fantasy season. Fuller flew straight out the gates with back to back 100+ receiving yard performances and looked unstoppable.

Sadly, the NFL quickly caught up with the man throwing Fuller the ball, Brock Osweiler, and his dazzling stretch, much like Prosise’s, soon burnt out. A combination of injuries and quarterback inaccuracy rendered much of the remainder of Fuller’s rookie campaign effectively useless, with him only topping 60 receiving yards again once for the rest of the season.

However, Houston Head Coach Bill O’Brien is one of the best quarterback coaches in the NFL and is likely to get much better play out of whoever is starting under-centre once September rolls around. This bodes well for the entirety of Houston’s offensive staff and yet due to his late season irrelevance Fuller is likely to go forgotten. This however acts as a perfect storm in fantasy football as Fuller has the potential to become an upper echelon No. 2 wide receiver, such as Davante Adams or Amari Cooper, and yet is likely to be available in the later in the draft due to a multitude of reasons.

Oddly enough the Wall Street stock exchange and fantasy football are one in the same in some aspects. The underlying philosophy of both is to buy low and sell high. Will Fuller’s stock at the minute could not be much lower. Buying low in fantasy will never ever hurt you. However buying low and striking oil could hurt the rest of your fantasy league.