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2021 fantasy football breakouts, sleepers and busts

2021 fantasy football breakouts, sleepers and busts

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Fantasy drafts are happening all over the place, and I’m here to point you towards some players who could help you win a championship (and steer you away from some who won’t).

First, let’s get some definitions out of the way.

When I’m talking about breakouts, I’m looking at players who will significantly outperform their ADP and haven’t had top-12 finishes at their position in previous seasons.

Busts are players that I just want no part of at their current ADP, whether it be based on health, performance or situation.

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And finally, sleepers are players that have ADPs later than pick 200 who could be diamonds in the rough and who no one is counting on at the beginning of the season.

Now, let’s get you started on building that championship roster.

(ADP courtesy of Fantasy Pros.)

BREAKOUTS

Quarterback: Tua Tagovailoa, ADP 160, QB21

I was one of the many who were very down on Tua after some poor performances in his rookie year, but I’m looking back differently in hindsight. In year one, not only was he not far removed from a hip injury that almost cost him his career, he was also learning the hardest position in sports on the fly.

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Fast forward to this season. With nine starts now under his belt, a full healthy off-season and added weapons, Tua, if healthy, should be able to smash his ADP. The additions of Will Fuller and former Alabama teammate Jaylen Waddle to the already very good pass-catching core of DeVante Parker, Mike Gesicki, Myles Gaskin and the oft-injured Preston Williams makes this Dolphins team one of the most talented groups in the NFL.

And if the hip holds up (which we expect it will), there’s also a bit of rushing upside for Tagovailoa, who doesn’t shy away from scrambling. (That said, he certainly isn’t in the same category as some of the top rushing QBs.)

Tagovailoa completed 64.1 percent of his passes last year, and had four games of 248 passing yards or more in what was a pretty conservative approach from the Dolphins in their handling of the now second-year player. The expectation is that the Dolphins will open things up offensively and let him sling it a bit more this season with the new weapons.

With his ADP not really moving too much, you could certainly do a lot worse than grabbing him as your QB2. There just aren’t a lot of quarterbacks in that range who offer that same top-12 upside that Tagovailoa can.

Running Back: D’Andre Swift, ADP 34, RB17

If you’ve read any of my stuff over the last year, you’ll know that I’m a big supporter of D’Andre Swift, and this year is no different.

“But the Lions are going to suck!”

They probably will.

Having said that, we know that bad teams can produce high-end fantasy production. See James Robinson last year with Jacksonville.

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Swift is electric, shifty, exciting and any other superlative you want to hear about a second-year running back. So why is the ADP so low for a guy who has legitimate RB1 upside?

“The Lions are going to suck!”

There are some Alvin Kamara-like traits that Swift possesses. He’s an excellent pass catcher, has home-run abilities every time he touches the ball, and he doesn’t have to be used strictly out of the backfield. Head coach Dan Campbell (yeah, the kneecap-biting guy), talked a lot about using Swift all over the formation because they want to get him the ball in a variety of ways.

Oh, and by the way, do you know which team Dan Campbell was last with? If you guessed the New Orleans Saints, where that Kamara guy plays, then you would be correct. Congratulations, but there are no prizes at this point.

Newly installed starting quarterback Jared Goff is not a real deep-ball threat and should utilize his running backs and tight ends quite often. There is a real shot for Swift to occupy a large target share in this offence, and 110 targets and 80 catches is not out of the realm of possibility.

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Wide Receiver: Jerry Jeudy, ADP 71, WR31

Draft capital. Check.

Crisp route runner. Check.

Fast. Check.

Checkdown quarterback. Check.

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Jeudy’s situation in Denver clearly checks a bunch of boxes when you’re looking at grabbing some value in your fantasy drafts.

His rookie year was marred by inconsistent quarterback play and drops (he was tied for second in the league with fellow rookie CeeDee Lamb with nine), but I’m not worried. Even with this apparent “drop problem,” Jeudy still finished the year with 52 catches for 856 yards and three touchdowns.

I know what you’re thinking, though — Courtland Sutton is back.

I think that only helps Jeudy this season. He won’t be drawing top coverage all the time and should get a really good run out of the slot (he was 33rd in slot percentage rate last year) and that should put him in a great place to succeed with Teddy Bridgewater at the helm. Bridgewater’s intended air yards per attempt was 7.1, which ranked him 71st among players who threw a pass last year.

This seems like the perfect fit for Jeudy, especially in full-point PPR leagues. Now, if we can only see him get a few more touchdowns, we could see him climb into the mid-range WR2 conversation, and you can’t beat that kind of value.

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Tight End: Gerald Everett, ADP 187, TE20

There is a commonly held opinion that the Seahawks don’t use their tight ends as much as other teams do. But let’s do a bit of a deeper dive into that.

2020: 108 targets, 75 catches for 715 yards and six touchdowns

2019: 121 targets, 82 catches for 728 yards and seven touchdowns

These are the combined efforts over the last two seasons from Seattle tight ends, a group that includes Will Dissly, Nick Vannett, Jacob Hollister, Luke Willson and an end-of-his-career Greg Olsen.

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Maybe, just maybe, the problem is simply that the Seahawks haven’t had “that guy” since Jimmy Graham’s departure back in 2017.

Enter Gerald Everett.

A former second-round pick back in 2017, he spent the first four years of his career with the Rams and was able to carve out a role as a pass-catching tight end despite the presence of Tyler Higbee. He offers very good speed at the position and has back-to-back 400+ yard seasons (one of them coming in only 13 games), which has us dreaming of a connection between he and his new quarterback Russell Wilson.

There’s also a Rams connection that should give you some comfort. New Seahawks offensive coordinator Shane Waldron is the former tight ends coach and passing game coordinator with L.A. during every one of Everett’s seasons there.

You think he might know something?

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SLEEPERS

Quarterback: Sam Darnold, ADP 284, QB32

We all know that Adam Gase is fantasy kryptonite, right?

Okay, good. Glad we got that out of the way.

Darnold being drafted as QB32 seems like a real slap in the face, but hey, we all like value.

He goes to a Carolina system with head coach Matt Rhule, who has transformed a couple of college programs and put together a really competitive team that was without Christian McCaffrey for basically the whole season. It’s a team that boasts some excellent playmakers in McCaffrey, DJ Moore and Robby Anderson, and added to that core with the drafting of wide receiver Terrace Marshall Jr. and running back Chuba Hubbard, and the signing of athletic tight end Dan Arnold.

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It’s the best situation that Darnold has ever been in since being drafted third overall in 2018, and, of course, he gets away from Adam Gase.

Teddy Bridgewater dinked and dunked to a QB18 finish last season despite throwing only 15 touchdowns (only Cam Newton threw fewer in the top 20) and while Darnold may not offer the same sort of floor, I would like to think that he offers a higher ceiling with being able to take more shots downfield (plus he has history with Robby Anderson).

Do we really think that Darnold can’t break out and finish among the top 20 with those weapons at his disposable?

Running Back: Tony Jones Jr., ADP 303, RB84

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“If you’re asking me today, my No. 2 running back is Tony Jones,” said Sean Payton ahead of New Orleans’ second pre-season game against Jacksonville.

That’s a big deal.

I expect the 2020 undrafted free agent’s ADP to rise in the next week, but he’s certainly going to have some value going forward.

Latavius Murray has been the primary handcuff to Alvin Kamara in New Orleans over the last two seasons and has had back-to-back years with 800-plus total yards and five or more touchdowns. It should be a valuable offence to attach yourself to, but let’s not go out thinking that Jones will have standalone value.

This is strictly a handcuff with some upside in an offence with Jameis Winston that should provide some firepower. That said, there could be some added value if we see the Saints lessen Kamara’s rushing workload in favour of using him more in the passing game, which could open the door for more carries for Jones.

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Wide Receiver: Parris Campbell, ADP 219, WR75

This pick was a no-brainer after it was announced that TY Hilton would miss some time due to injury. It moves Campbell up the pecking order one spot closer to top of the list, which is probably Michael Pittman Jr. Campbell hasn’t been the beacon of health during his career, but has plenty of skills (route running, speed and good hands) that should come to great use out of the slot for Carson Wentz.

This Indianapolis offense needs viable pass catchers, especially since they don’t offer much outside of their running backs in short to mid-yardage situations because of their perceived lack of talent at tight end.

Indy’s offence was decent enough last year with Philip Rivers at the helm. And if Wentz can be anywhere even remotely close to his MVP-like season from 2017, we could see a real improvement from this unit and Campbell could be a really good late-round gem that you can roll out in a WR3 or flex spot.

Tight End: Dan Arnold, ADP 300, TE33

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You’re probably asking, “Why the heck is Dan Arnold on this list?”

Well, partially because he’s really cheap in drafts.

But he’s also a very good pass catcher.

A wide receiver turned tight end, Arnold is a big target at 6’6” but not super heavy at 220 pounds. Based on that, we can deduce that blocking isn’t his forte. He will just have to do as a pass catcher.

He ranked first among fantasy tight ends in the top 24 with 14.1 yards per reception and ranked only behind George Kittle, Travis Kelce and Robert Tonyan in yards per target among the top 24 tight ends. Clearly, this guy knows how to get down the field and make plays.

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While he may end up providing the majority of his value in matchup-based streaming, he should absolutely outperform the ADP in what we expect should be a higher-powered Panthers offence with Sam Darnold at the helm.

And who doesn’t want to hear announcers call out a Darnold-to-Arnold touchdown a few times?

BUSTS

Quarterback: Trevor Lawrence, ADP 127, QB14

This pick is going to ruffle some feathers, but believe me when I say this — this isn’t an indictment on Lawrence’s abilities. It’s more of an indictment on the Jaguars offensive line and head coach Urban Meyer.

I think there are a few options that offer a higher floor than Lawrence because there is nothing worse for a rookie quarterback than a bad coach and a below-average offensive line. We’ve seen Lawrence get a little jittery in the pocket even when pressure isn’t quite there, showing that he doesn’t quite trust the guys who are supposed to protect him. You can almost hear him say, “Toto, I’ve got a feeling we aren’t at Clemson anymore.”

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While I believe that he will have his games where he finishes as a QB1, I don’t believe that the floor is going to be as consistent. We’ve also heard rumblings about the Jags wanting to really run the ball (as evidenced by their selection of Travis Etienne and signing of Carlos Hyde to go along with James Robinson), so it might very well be a cautious approach that the team will take with the rookie signal caller.

Since 2011 we have seen seven rookie quarterbacks finish in the top 12 at the position (Justin Herbert, Kyler Murray, Dak Prescott, Robert Griffin, Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson and Cam Newton), but if we look deeper we can see that three of those players in Griffin, Luck and Wilson, had those finishes in the same year. Even for a generational prospect, it’s going to be hard for Lawrence to live up to his ADP with the team in front of him.

The Jaguars have done a great job in surrounding him with pass-catchers like DJ Chark, Laviska Shenault, Marvin Jones and Tim Tebow (just kidding — wanted to see if you were paying attention), but if he’s constantly running for his life or having to continually pick himself up off the floor after being sacked, then none of that will matter.

Running Back: Miles Sanders, ADP 37, RB19

Have to make some bold predictions in this game, don’t we?

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Sanders was very good with Jalen Hurts at quarterback last season in what was only a small sample size, but there is a new coaching staff in town headed by former Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni, so Miles starts from scratch this time around.

There hasn’t really been a vote of confidence from the staff when talking about making Sanders a three-down back either. They kept Boston Scott and drafted Kenneth Gainwell. The staff has talked about rotating their backs, and, at one point, Sirianni said that Nyheim Hines and how he was used in Indianapolis is a good comparison for Gainwell. What does that mean? It means that someone other than Sanders is going to likely be the primary pass-catching back, though whether it’s Scott or Gainwell remains to be seen.

So what value does Sanders have?

I think it’s going to be really hard to outperform his ADP solely based on his volume. Scott and Gainwell are going to get some third-down work and be sprinkled in here and there. Hurts is also going to get plenty of rushing attempts himself in this offence. What do we envision Sanders’s workload looks like? Do you trust him to get 18 touches every week?

Someone please tell me in what world Miles Sanders is going to get enough volume outside of injury for him to perform the same way he did at the end of last season.

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Wide Receiver: Kenny Golladay, ADP 69, WR29

Golladay is one of my favourite receivers in the NFL to watch. He’s a big-bodied guy who fits the alpha profile and can go up and get 50-50 balls. Here’s the thing, though — he couldn’t have picked a worse spot to sign as a free agent, and he always seems to be hurt.

Last season, Golladay missed basically half the year with a hip injury. Some may believe that he was trying to stick it to the Lions because they didn’t offer a contract to his liking, but he still wasn’t healthy enough to be a factor.

Fast forward to today. He’s got a different injury and a quarterback in Daniel Jones who we don’t even know if he’ll last the year. Couple that with a bevy of other playmakers — such as Saquon Barkley, Sterling Shepherd, Darius Slayton and Evan Engram — and a vanilla offensive coordinator in Jason Garrett, and it’s the perfect combination of “uh-oh”.

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The talent is undeniable, but things haven’t started off on the right foot for Golladay in his new home. There are other players near his ADP that are in all likelihood healthier and have a safer floor, like Brandin Cooks, Tyler Boyd, DJ Chark and even Corey Davis.

If Golladay manages to stay healthy and gets consistent quarterback play, then he is slotted right where he should be. But on both fronts that seems to be asking a lot.

Tight End: Mark Andrews, ADP 51, TE5

The tight end position is so hard to find a “bust” because it’s so volatile. After the first six or so, it’s pretty close to an interchangeable position.

Having said that, I’m going out on a bit of a limb to say I think there is absolutely a scenario where Andrews isn’t in the top seven at this position this season.

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It sounds crazy, especially because the expectation is that the Ravens want Lamar Jackson to throw the ball more. With that being said, they went out this off-season and tried to address their weakness at wide receiver. They built around No. 1 wideout Hollywood Brown by using a first-round pick on Rashod Bateman, who should make an impact once he returns from injury, while also selecting Tylan Wallace in the fourth. And we can say what we want about Sammy Watkins being hurt all the time (because it’s true), but they brought him in as well. (It should be noted that Watkins’s best season came in 2015 when Greg Roman was his offensive coordinator.)

There’s also a plethora of “other guys” including the likes of Miles Boykin, Devin Duvernay and James Proche II.

Okay, but what about Andrews?

He finished as the TE6 in 2020 while missing two games, but did so on just 88 targets. Overall, he’s been a great tight end without ever receiving 100 targets in a season, but his consistency game by game is where the problem lies.

He had eight top 10 finishes (with seven inside the top five), which is great, but also had six finishes outside the top 12 (three of those were outside the top 30). I get it, I’m nitpicking, but I do believe that the Ravens are going to spread the ball around a little bit more, and the guy who likely gets affected the most by it is Andrews.

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If we do some quick math here, I can lay out my argument for such.

The Ravens have 70 vacated targets from last year plus an additional 24 from JK Dobbins’ injury. Even if we expect Baltimore to increase their passes per game by seven from 25.9 to 32.9 it gives them, in theory, 213 targets available. Bateman and Watkins when healthy are going to eat into that, and you can sprinkle a few more targets among the other wide receivers and the running backs.

Andrews is a very capable pass-catcher, but among those ranked n the top six tight ends for this season, he definitely offers the biggest bust potential of all of them for me.



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