The Breakout Class of 2020

Every fantasy owner looks for a few players in the mid to late rounds that will outperform their draft slot and lead them to a title. Sometimes the breakout players are clear as day and others come out of nowhere. Here’s my list of 10 players I believe are going to become legit fantasy options for the upcoming season.

Hayden Hurst, TE Atlanta Falcons

Matt Ryan is a big fan of incorporating tight ends into the offense. Since 2011, all but one season (2014) have Falcons tight ends not been targeted at least 80 times. Oh yea, that one season Levine Toilolo was the starter. Austin Hooper the last two seasons alone average over 100 targets a season and while Hurst doesn’t have the track record to suggest he’ll repeat those numbers, I fully expect him to be a featured part of the offense.  Also, offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter averages roughly 120 targets to tight ends over the past eight years he’s been calling plays. The team thought highly enough of him to trade a second-rounder and got dealt an unfortunate hand in Baltimore, who saw Mark Andrews emerge as a top tight end. The Falcons tight end room after Hurst have a combined eleven career catches. Hurst is going to be on the field for a majority of the snaps and he’s going to be a pass-catching machine in a fantasy-friendly offense.

My Prediction: 67 catches, 734 yards, 6 touchdowns

Raheem Mostert, RB San Francisco 49ers

Mostert was the breakout player of the postseason and he’s ready for this upcoming year to be the encore. He led all running backs with a 5.7 ypc and has gained muscle this offseason to prepare for what he says is “a 200 carry season”. It finally seems that he’s going to emerge as the lead back in San Francisco and he’s earned that right.  There is concern that the 49ers will continue to utilize a running back by committee approach but will Shanahan really not give a majority of his snaps to his best running back? I don’t think so. The other running backs are Tevin Coleman (4.0 ypc a season ago), Jerrick McKinnon (missed the last two seasons with a knee injury), and Jeff Wilson (Short-yardage back). There’s no way if he stays healthy that he won’t get to 200 carries and assuming he averages around 5 yards a carry, you’re looking at a 1k rushing season. Sometimes it’s the simple math that gives you the clear answer. 

My Prediction: 1,021 yards, 6 touchdowns. 25 rec, 230 receiving yards. 

Devin Singletary, RB Buffalo Bills

Like Mostert, you could consider last season to be Singletary’s breakout. However, I believe this year he propels himself to become one of the top running backs in the league. The Bills were 8th in the league in rushing a season ago and I would fully expect another top ten performance this season. Singletary takes over as the main running back and should see upwards of 200 carries, something that’s been echoed by GM Brandon Beane. Bills running backs accounted for over 21 carries a game last year, which also was amongst the league leaders. Singletary also had 29 catches a year ago and now without Frank Gore or another receiving back, Singletary will be attractive in PPR leagues due to him being on the field in passing situations. He might be small and sustained an injury last year, but is elusive and ranked 14th last year in broken tackles. One downside, he’s unlikely to get goal-line carries with rookie Zack Moss entering the mix. Add in the fact that Allen will probably have the second or third most carries for a quarterback puts a small dent in Singletary’s production. Despite that, Singletary is going to be a star this season and should be there for your second-round pick. 

My Prediction: 1,210 rushing yards, 8td’s. 54 rec, 552 yards, 2 td’s

TJ Hockenson, TE Detroit Lions

Hockenson seemed to be destined for a big season after a 6 receptions, 131-yard debut, but only mustered 236 yards in the next 11 games before going down with a season-ending injury. The immensely talented Hockenson should see his stats double at least as he should be more comfortable in the offense. The Lions also face the third most favorable schedule against tight ends thus giving the young tight end plenty of possibilities to succeed. Stafford’s last two tight ends, Eric Ebron and Brandon Pettigrew couldn’t catch a cold in Antarctica but he still targeted them. Ebron saw 72 targets a year (despite missing many games) and Pettigrew saw an average of 91 targets a year over a four year stretch as a starter. Also, Stafford in the red zone has one of the best passing grades (81) when targeting tight ends in the red zone since 2009. That’s compared to a 65 grade he has when targeting receivers, and that’s with Calvin Johnson. I fully expect Hockenson to be a TE1 in a 12 team fantasy league and should crack the top ten in scoring tight ends. 

My Prediction: 56 receptions, 707 yards, 7 touchdowns

N’keal Harry, WR New England Patriots

Who’s going to be the week one starter in New England? I don’t know. Who’s going to see an expanded role in the offense this year? N’keal Harry. He had an injury-riddled rookie season and didn’t see the field until week 10. The Patriots have a relatively poor skill group, relying on Julian Edelman to carry the team a season ago. However, Edelman is now 34 and without Brady, I would expect whoever is under center to look to try and spread the ball around. That helps Harry, who over the final four weeks was involved in 40% of the team’s snaps. He should see an expanded role as the team didn’t select a receiver in the draft and only acquired Marquise Lee to try and strengthen the position group. Edelman nor Sanu provide the red zone ability Harry does. It’s a small sample size, but three of Harry’s twelve catches came in the red zone. At 6-4, 225 lbs, he’s a mismatch nightmare that Josh McDaniels figures to utilize. If we dig deeper, once again a small sample size, Harry finished tied for third amongst receivers/tight ends in end zone targets in only seven games. 

My Prediction: 58 receptions, 796 yards, 8 touchdowns  

Noah Fant, TE Denver Broncos

Another popular breakout name, Fant figures to leap into stardom this season. As you notice a trend of possible tight ends expected to see an uptick in production (btw tight ends this year are stacked, don’t feel the need to draft one early), none might have the upside of Fant. Only 12 rookie tight ends since 2000 have had over 500 yards, putting Fant in exclusive company. He’s quite dynamic after the catch, finishing third in the entire league in yards per reception per catch in the league. While we don’t know how Drew Lock will perform over a season, we can take a look at Pat Shurmur’s offense and see that he is pro-tight end. From 2013-2018, Shurmur led offenses featured a top-15 fantasy tight end. It would have continued in 2019 but Evan Engram, who performed well when healthy, missed half the season. Engram was on pace to average close to 900 yards a season the past two years if he was able to stay on the field. Engram and Fant are very similar players, big-bodied athletes with elite athleticism who are more receivers than blockers. I fully expect Fant to see more snaps in the slot or split wide (where Engram saw almost half of his snaps) and a lot more play-action due to the acquisition of Melvin Gordon putting more defenders in the box, thus maximizing Fant’s potential as a top-ten fantasy tight end. 

My Prediction: 61 receptions, 804 yards, 6 touchdowns

David Montgomery, RB Chicago Bears

The fantasy community had high expectations for Montgomery’s rookie season but ultimately he did not deliver. For his second season, he should be in-line for more success as the offense tries to focus on making life easier for whoever the quarterback will be. In 2018, the Bears were a balanced offense that finished 9th in scoring with 26.3 points per game. That season the run/pass split was 48/52. In 2019, the offense struggled and was 29th in scoring at 17.5 points per game and the run/pass split was 41/59. To break that down for us non-math majors, that’s a 73 carry difference. If Nagy wants to keep his job, it’s obvious they need to become a run-first team and Montgomery is the main guy getting the carries. He should improve on his 3.7 ypc, as long as he and the offensive line can stay healthy, and with an uptick in the number of carries, he should be looking at a 1000 yard season. He has more value in non-PPR leagues due to Tarik Cohen being the receiving back, so that is something to take note of. 

My Prediction: 265 carries, 1060 yards, 9 touchdowns. 29 rec, 235 yards, 1 touchdown. 

Jace Stenberger, TE Green Bay Packers

It’s easy to have a breakout when the previous season you had 0 catches, but I think Stenberger has a high ceiling in the Packers offense. The main reason is that he’s going to be on the field, a lot. The Packers are pretty thin at tight end and have come out saying that Stenberger has the inside track to becoming TE1 and the main receiving tight end. Also, the team did not draft a wide receiver, signaling that they have faith in their current pass catchers. In his lone season at Texas A&M, Stenberger was a weapon averaging 17 yards per catch and has some big-play potential. I personally am not a fan of Jimmy Graham and think he’s well past his prime yet he still finished third on the team in targets. Graham was also second in the team in red-zone targets and while Stenberger isn’t the jump ball threat Graham is, in college, he had 10 touchdowns on 48 catches. I expect the team to continue to have a more balanced offense, all while utilizing Stenberger in motion and as a matchup nightmare. He might not be your TE1 off the bat, but draft him late and you’ll thank me later.

My Prediction: 49 catches, 613 yards, 6 touchdowns

Mike Geisecki, TE Miami Dolphins

I can’t understate it enough. 2020 will be the year of the tight end. Geisecki came on strong towards the end of last season and figures to continue to improve in new offensive coordinator Chan Gailey’s spread offense which historically incorporates tight ends as split ends. One of the most athletic tight ends in the league (seriously check out his combine numbers), Gesicki stretches the field down the seams in a similar fashion to Mark Andrews of the Baltimore Ravens. Only two other tight ends in the league were targeted on deeper routes than Gesicki (10.4 average targeted air yards) and if it’s Ryan Fitzpatrick or Tua Tagovailoa, they’ll push the ball down the field. Of any tight end on this list, I expect him to be drafted the earliest based on last year’s production. He could very well end up as a top-five tight end when things are all said and done so you might have to be aggressive in drafting him.

My Prediction: 64 receptions, 882 yards, 6 touchdowns

Sony Michel, RB New England Patriots

Many expected Michel to enter among the NFL’s best running backs last season and despite a nearly 40 carry increase, he gained 20 fewer yards. It’s tough to pinpoint why there was a dip in production but it just seemed like the Patriots offense was out of sync. Now they face some uncertainty with a new quarterback for the first time since 2001 and I think the philosophy becomes one centered around the run game. Over the past two seasons, Michel has seen over half of the carries and that number could hit close to 60% this season. James White, who typically sees more receptions than carries, and Rex Burkhead, same as White, will see a reduction in playing time due to this and I think Michel indirectly sees more playing time and screen plays drawn up for him. Michel not only will not only hit 1,000 for the first time in his career, but I believe he also hits the double-digit touchdown total. Rather than being a borderline flex starter, Michel becomes safely your RB2.

My Prediction: 1,090 yards, 10 touchdowns. 26 receptions, 255 yards, 2 touchdowns

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