We're talking about breakouts today which means I don't have to do as much rationalizing as I did yesterday when we talked about busts. Everyone has their own definition of a breakout, but at the risk of oversimplifying, this is the one you should keep in mind as you read today's picks: "These are the guys we want to draft on as many teams as possible."
There's no need to complicate it any more than that, which is good because we actually have quite a bit to talk about from training camp on Thursday, starting with a pair of high-profile injuries.
The first one is more serious, as Dolphins corner Jalen Ramsey suffered a knee injury that will require surgery, and according to reports, will keep him out until December. The Dolphins took another big swing in adding Ramsey this offseason, and his absence will be felt. It's still a talented defense, coordinated by Vic Fangio, to boot, but the loss of Ramsey will sting.
Luckily, it sounds like the Bengals avoided a worst-case scenario with their injury Thursday. The football world held its collective breath after Joe Burrow came up limping during Thursday's practice and had to be carted off, but he was diagnosed with a calf strain after getting checked out. We don't know the full extent of the injury, but that Burrow avoided an Achilles injury is good news in and of itself, and hopefully we're looking at an absence that will be measured in weeks, not months.
That isn't guaranteed yet, but it doesn't sound like there is too much concern in Bengals camp. If you're drafting this weekend, you probably need to downgrade Ja'Marr Chase and Tee Higgins a bit, but I'd still take Chase around the fifth or sixth overall pick, while Higgins remains a solid third-round pick; Burrow can be dropped a round or two, but he should still come off the board around the same time as Justin Herbert for now.
Let's just hope that further evaluation doesn't reveal a more serious issue, because Trevor Siemian starting a significant number of games would certainly merit a downgrade for Chase and Higgins. We're not there yet, and I don't think we should overreact right now.
The other bit of news to keep an eye on this weekend is Dalvin Cook's pending visit to the Jets. The Jets insist that their interest in the former Pro Bowler doesn't say anything about their faith in Breece Hall's recovery from a torn ACL – Hall opened camp on the Physically Unable to Perform list. But if they did sign Cook, you would have to downgrade Hall in drafts, at least a little. I'd still probably take him in the fourth round even if Cook were added, but it's a risk factor to keep in mind right now, especially for his early-season usage.
Alright, now that we've got that out of the way, let's move on to the headline of today's newsletter: Breakout picks from Jamey Eisenberg, Dave Richard, Heath Cummings, and myself. Here are the guys we want on our teams the most:
My Breakout Picks
Justin Herbert, QB, Chargers (39.62 ADP)
Sometimes, "breakouts" are just "bounce-backs," and that's mostly what I expect from Herbert. Remember, he averaged 26-plus points per game in each of his first two NFL seasons, before injuries to both him and his top weapons (and star left tackle, to boot) held him back in 2022. For context, Burrow's 2022 matched Herbert's best season in points per game. And now, Herbert's got a new first-round wide receiver and a new offensive coordinator in Kellen Moore who ran an aggressive, fast-paced offense in Dallas. If all Herbert does is get back to his 2020-21 production, he's a great pick more than a round in ADP after Burrow; if he takes a step forward, he might challenge for the No. 1 QB spot.
There's no question Dobbins is a high-level runner, and this offense helps maximize that. There are two questions surrounding him right now, and neither is easy to answer right now. The first is … just what the heck is happening with him? Dobbins was placed on the PUP list at the start of camp, but we've been given no details as to what kind of injury he is dealing with. Complicating things is that Dobbins was absent from minicamps due to contract issues, as Dobbins is looking for a new contract entering his fourth and final rookie contract season, and head coach John Harbaugh has had some cryptic comments about Dobbins' status. Is he actually hurt? If so, I'll take him off this list and have little interest in drafting him. But, assuming he's a full-go in camp soon, we turn to the other question: How does new offensive coordinator Todd Monken use his running backs? The Ravens have rarely been willing to use one running back for 15-plus carries consistently, and it's limited Dobbins utility for Fantasy. But in Monken's four previous seasons as an offensive coordinator, he's had an RB average at least 14.5 carries per game three times – Doug Martin averaged 12.5 in 2017, but that seems more about injuries. If Dobbins is healthy and can be projected for 250-plus carries, you might be able to pencil him in for 1,300 yards and double-digit touchdowns. And that's not the ceiling.
Joe Mixon, RB, Bengals (48.69)
Mixon is set up to have maybe the best season of his career, so yes, a 27-year-old, former first-round Fantasy pick can be a breakout, thank you very much. There was real concern that the Bengals would cut Mixon for the salary cap savings, but that's off the table, and with Samaje Perine out of the picture, there isn't much behind him on the depth chart – there's Trayveon Williams, a former sixth-round pick with 47 career carries, and Chase Brown, a fifth-round rookie – so Mixon seems likely to see 250-plus carries if he stays healthy. But where the breakout would come from is in the passing game, as he had a career-high 60 receptions despite missing three games last season. Add in that he had 31 touches inside the 10-yard line last season, the third-most in the league, and somehow had just seven touchdowns, and it's not hard to see how Mixon could very easily end up as a top-five Fantasy RB.
Garrett Wilson, WR, Jets (16.47)
Wilson is one of the two free squares on the bingo board. He's a breakout pick for Jamey, Dave, and Heath, and probably every other Fantasy analyst in the world, too. He was quite good as a rookie, and that was with absolutely dreadful QB play – the Jets quarterbacks had just 67.5% of their passes on target last season, the lowest mark for any team in the league. Aaron Rodgers doesn't even have to rediscover his MVP form to be an upgrade on that sad group, but if he does come out playing like one of the best quarterbacks on the planet again, there's no telling how good Wilson can be. Top-five upside is not overselling it.
Olave is the other free square on the breakouts board at wide receiver, and in some ways, his rookie season might have been even more impressive than Wilson's. Olave was one of just four players over the past four seasons to earn a target share of at least 25% despite an average depth of target of 14.0 or higher - downfield targets are very valuable, but tend to be relatively infrequent, so showing the ability to earn targets at that kind of pace while being a downfield receiver is a very, very valuable combination. I think it's reasonable to assume the Saints will be more pass-heavy than they were last season, and Derek Carr is probably an upgrade. If Olave replicates his per-route efficiency in a more high-volume offense, he could crack the top-five, too.
Enjoy that ADP while it lasts, because I get the feeling Ridley is going to fly up draft boards the longer training camp goes on. It seems like everyday in the early going in camp there's been some Ridley related highlight that has sent Fantasy Twitter into a frenzy. I don't think it's good process to move a player up because of training camp highlights, but it's a natural reaction. We know how good Ridley has been – he was the No. 4 WR with 18.8 PPR points per game in 2020 – and seeing signs of that, even in camp, is going to make people excited. I'm a little more bearish on the Jaguars offense than most, so I'm probably not going to draft a ton of Ridley, especially if he pushes into the top-12 at WR, but I can certainly understand the excitement.
There's an assumption that Desmond Ridder is going to be a big upgrade for the Falcons passing game, but that's a big unknown at this point. What seems safer to assume is that they'll at least throw more with Ridder at QB than they did with Marcus Mariota last season – Mariota averaged 23.1 pass attempts per game last season, while Ridder averaged 28.8 in his four starts. That's not a lot, but it would mean 100 more pass attempts over a full season. If Ridder isn't any good, it might not matter, but if Ridder can even just be the 23rd best QB in the league, that's probably enough to make Pitts one of the better tight ends in Fantasy, thanks to his ability to earn targets at a high rate while working primarily down the field. And, of course, if Ridder is even close to average and the Falcons up their pass volume to, say, 30 attempts per game, well, it's not hard to see Pitts ending up as the No. 2 tight end this season. Remember, he's still just 22 until October and is arguably the best tight end prospect of all time. I'm just going to keep betting on that profile.
Jamey Eisenberg's Breakouts
Fields showed the ability to be a star in 2022, and I love what the Bears did for him this offseason since he finally has a legit weapon in D.J. Moore, who was acquired via trade from Carolina. Chicago's receiving corps is actually a strength now with Moore, Darnell Mooney, Chase Claypool and Cole Kmet, and Fields should improve as a passer. He only attempted 318 passes in 2022 and had 2,242 yards, 17 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, and all of those totals (minus the interceptions) should rise. But we know the allure to Fields is his rushing prowess, and he was amazing in that category last year with 1,143 yards and eight touchdowns. If he can somehow stay above 1,000 rushing yards and surpass 2,500 passing yards or more -- maybe he joins Lamar Jackson in the 3,000-1,000 club -- then Fields could be in the conversation for the No. 1 Fantasy quarterback in 2023. I'm drafting him as a top-five quarterback in Round 4 in one-quarterback leagues and Round 1 in Superflex and two-quarterback leagues, and I love the outlook for Fields this season.
Stevenson had a mini-breakout in 2022 when he averaged 13.8 PPR points per game, but he can be even better in 2023 as long as the Patriots leave their backfield as is heading into the season. I'm not overly concerned about Ty Montgomery, Pierre Strong Jr., Kevin Harris or J.J. Taylor taking Stevenson off the field. With Damien Harris gone, Stevenson could be looking at 300 total touches, which could lead to a top-five Fantasy finish in all formats. He proved himself as a receiver out of the backfield in 2022 with 69 catches for 421 yards and a touchdown on 88 targets, and he averaged 5.0 yards per carry. He only scored five rushing touchdowns, and New England had just 10 rushing touchdowns from its backfield in 2022, but in 2021 the Patriots running backs combined for 24 rushing scores. I'm expecting a better offensive performance from New England this season with Bill O'Brien back as the offensive coordinator, and Stevenson should be the team's best offensive player. I plan to draft him toward the end of Round 2 in all leagues.
The Packers offense will look different this season with Jordan Love taking over for Rodgers, and Watson has the chance to be a star in his sophomore campaign. Matt LaFleur expects Watson to have a big season as the No. 1 receiver in Green Bay. "Obviously, you can see the explosive playmaker that he is and what he's capable of doing," LaFleur said at the NFL league meetings. "I'm just excited to watch him grow and just his understanding of the offense. He is a guy that can handle a lot. I haven't been around too many rookies where you can move their position in-game, and he didn't even flinch. He is exceptionally intelligent, bright and knows the plan inside and out, but I think there's a level of detail that will get better with him. We're going to ask him to run more routes than he did a year ago." Watson showed flashes of his potential in 2022 when he had a four-game stretch from Weeks 10-13 with at least 20 PPR points in each outing, and he also had 18 PPR points in Week 18. In each of those games he had at least six targets, and only twice did he fail to score 18 PPR points when he had that much work (one of those games was Week 16 at Miami when he left with a hip injury). If Love isn't a disaster, Watson has the chance to be a top-15 Fantasy receiver in all leagues, and he's worth drafting as early as Round 4.
Dave Richard's Breakouts
Trevor Lawrence, QB, Jaguars
It's pretty easy to point to Calvin Ridley as the replacement for Marvin Jones (and probably Zay Jones too) and expect better numbers for Lawrence. But check this out -- Lawrence's targets dropped 34 of his throws last year per TRU Media (Pro Football Focus had an even higher number), tied for the most with Josh Allen. Marvin Jones had six of them, Zay Jones had seven and Christian Kirk had eight. Those numbers should go down across the board with Ridley on staff. It's also likely the Jaguars will lean on the pass a bit more in 2023 after throwing 58.2% of the time in 2022. They're already trending in that direction -- in their final eight last season the Jags' pass rate increased to 61.6%, good for 10th-most. Lawrence has proven to be accurate and a good decision maker in the red zone; adding Ridley's explosiveness to the offense will only take the QB's game to the next level.
Dallas' offseason moves included signing Ronald Jones, drafting passing-downs back Deuce Vaughn and hanging onto Malik Davis instead of working on a cheaper deal with Ezekiel Elliott. If this holds, Pollard has a highway-wide path to being the main runner in the Cowboys offense. That would mean exceeding the 14.5 touches per game he had last year as well as building on the seven touches he had inside the 5-yard line -- touches normally reserved for Elliott (he had 19!). Pollard should be recovered from a broken fibula and has already been tabbed as the new "lead back" by coach Mike McCarthy. It's worth adding that in the 10 seasons since 2013, a Cowboys running back has had at least 250 touches nine times.
There are lots of things that make me confident that this will be Jeudy's best year. We can begin by looking back -- his final five games of 2022 saw him average a Chase-esque 20.1 PPR points per game even though he had the exact same target per route run rate (22.3%) in those five as in his first 10. He lined up outside way more and his ADOT shriveled, giving him far easier catches and exploding for more big plays. New Broncos coach Sean Payton has a simple philosophy when it comes to his receivers -- use them for their absolute strengths and nothing else. That figures to mean Jeudy will continue working closer to the line of scrimmage and using his precise route running to get open and extend plays for more yardage. Payton's arrival should also mean better, more focused play for Russell Wilson, which obviously helps Jeudy. And he's healthy, which has been an issue for him. The best news? You won't have to take Jeudy quite as high as you had to in the past.
Heath Cummings' Breakouts
White will take on Leonard Fournette's lead role from last year and has an excellent chance at 300 touches and 50 catches. With Tom Brady gone, the Buccaneers pass attempts will go down, but that won't impact Whte as much as you might think. Baker Mayfield checked down at a higher rate than any other QB in 2022. Most of White's appeal is volume but he did post 1,456 yards and 16 touchdowns in his final season at Arizona State, so there is some upside as well.
As with Watson, there's some touchdown regression coming for Dotson as well. But also like Watson, there was a late-season surge from Dotson that showed us what is possible. In his final five games he caught 21 passes for 344 yards and three touchdowns. He actually out-targeted Terry McLaurin in that stretch. Sam Howell and Eric Bienemy should be an upgrade over Taylor Heinicke and Scott Turner, which could send Dotson to the moon in Year 2.
Freiermuth will also be counting on improvement from a rookie passer, but that's the norm, not an outlier. Most breakout tight ends finish first or second on their team in targets, and Freiermuth cleared that hurdle last year, out-targeting George Pickens by 14 targets despite playing one fewer game. I expect 100-plus targets from Freiermuth this year, and I expect touchdown regression for Freiermuth that gets him closer to his rookie total (seven) than what he did last year.