10 Series: 10 breakout candidates for 2020

by Rob Grimwood – @FFBritBaller

This is my favourite time of year. Not only is it draft season and the free agency period where teams can look vastly different to how they looked at the end of 2019, it’s a chance to get away from the madness that’s happening around the world right now. It’s nice, if only for a moment, to also escape into watching tape from 2019 and sift through depth charts to try and glimpse who might catch fire over the coming season.

Obviously the draft is a few weeks away, and teams are going to continue to add in key piece as they look to strengthen their weaknesses, but, as things stand, here are five defensive and five offensive players that have a great opportunity to break out and become household names in 2020.


Defence


Raiders' Maurice Hurst Is Gaining Momentum – NBC Bay Area

Jack Thomas – Getty

Maurice Hurst – DT, Las Vegas Raiders

You remember this guy – he was the player that dropped from a potential day 1 pick all the way to the 5th round in the 2018 draft because of a heart condition. Well, it’s since transpired that in 2 years of football, that condition hasn’t affected him yet as he has played in 29 of a possible 32 games.

He came into the league as a top prospect out of Michigan with high pass and rush grades. But being a piece on a below average defense has hindered his opportunity to breakout and really show what he is capable of. However, the new-look Vegas team has made major moves on defense this year bringing in players such as Cory Littleton and Nick Kwiatkoski at linebacker, Carl Nassib on the edge, Damarious Randall, Lamarcus Joyner and Jeff Heath at safety and of course a running partner for Hurst at DT in Maliek Collins.

This new look defense is going to look a lot different in 2020 compared to last year, and the uptick in quality will see players like Hurst come into his own and perform to a scintillating level.


Shaun Dion Hamilton – LB, Washington Redskins

Another defense that looks significantly better with some key off season acquisitions is in Washington. They already have a stout cast on the defensive line with the likes of Montez Sweat, Jonathan Allen, Da’Ron Payne and Matt Ioannidis, and adding to the secondary in the free agency only strengthens the whole unit. This is without mentioning the prospect of a certain Buckeye edge rusher who could be a Redskin soon too.

Shaun Dion Hamilton was better than you think in 2019
Icon Sportswire (Getty)

At linebacker, however, there is room for an emerging talent. Hamilton has been a bit part player since being drafted by the Skins in the 6th round of the 2018 draft, but last year was graded between Lavonte David and Luke Kuechly when it came to coverage marks. He will, of course have a returning Reuben Foster to compete with, but SDH has a shot of fitting in very nicely with this star studded cast and flying completely under the radar to breakout in 2020.


Rock Ya-Sin – CB, Indianapolis Colts

Ya-Sin was drafted last year early in the second round by the Colts to help add to the up and coming young defense that is improving year after year at Lucas Oil Stadium. Although he had a quiet year and didn’t produce any magic, he would have certainly learned a lot from veterans Pierre Desir and Kenny Moore.

The Colts added another veteran this off season in the shape of Xavier Rhodes, but again, the experience to gain for Ya-Sin learning the trade from a former pro-bowler will do him the world of good in his journey of progression. With Rhodes turning 30 before the season kicks off and Desir out during the free agency, Rock Ya-Sin has a chance to become a key piece in that growing defense and is a perfect candidate for a 2020 breakout.


Ed Oliver getting anxious for first-career sack with Buffalo Bills

Adrian Kraus – AP

Ed Oliver – DT, Buffalo Bills

Ok, so Ed Oliver is pretty much a household name already, especially after being drafted as a top-10 prospect just 12 months ago. But, i truly believe 2020 is the year that Ed Oliver takes the step onto the “elite players” plinth. He finished 2019 with 43 tackles, 5 sacks and 2 passes defended, incredibly strong numbers for a rookie interior defensive lineman.

With inferior offensive lines in Miami and New York (Jets), and no more TB12 in New England, Buffalo’s defensive line could all be beneficiaries of 6 ‘weak’ games on the calendar in 2020. Look for Ed Oliver to improve on those impressive rookie numbers and potentially escalate himself into the Aaron Donald/Fletcher Cox realm of conversation this time next year.


Brian Burns – EDGE, Carolina Panthers

Another first round pick in the 2019 draft was the former Florida State edge rusher. He, like Oliver, had a blistering start to his NFL career where he notched 25 tackles and 7.5 sacks with a forced fumbled added in for good measure.

For me, Carolina are a team that will likely be the wrong end of the win/loss column in 2020, but it is apparent that new HC Matt Rhule wants to start rebuilding this defense first. That starts with Burns and he could find himself the centre of the rebuild alongside whoever Rhule selects in this upcoming draft – i’m sure Panthers’ fans would love to see Isaiah Simmons help rebuild the defensive in Carolina if he falls to them with the 7th pick. Look for Burns to quickly become a fan favourite at Bank of America Stadium in 2020 thanks to a breakout season.

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Offence


Nyheim Hines – RB, Indianapolis Colts

Since entering the league as a Colt from the 4th round of the 2018 draft, Hines has quietly sat as the RB2 on the Indy depth chart but made the most of his role as a scat back. His rookie year was impressive as he ticked over 740 all purpose yards (425 through the air) and combined for 4 TD’s. Although the stats weren’t as good in 2019, a significant down tick in quarterback could be to blame as Jacoby Brissett filled in after the shock retirement of Andrew Luck in the preseason.

How Indianapolis Colts can make Nyheim Hines their Austin Ekeler
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

As we head into 2020, the Colts’ offense will be rebuffed by the signing of Philip Rivers, who knows how to get the best out of his weapons. None more so than a pass-catching running back. He is fresh off a 2019 season which saw Austin Ekeler thrust into relevance (especially in fantasy teams) as he notched 92 receptions for 993 yards including 557 rushing yards and 11 total touchdowns; all whilst Melvin Gordon was the “main back” in town.

Even though Marlon Mack is competent in the passing game, Rivers loves a reliable dump off man out of the backfield. Hines is just that and is poised for a big breakout in 2020. Fantasy dynasty owners, now is your chance to get him on the cheap…


Mike Gesicki – TE, Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins rebuild should be well and truly underway in 2020 after their 685-odd upcoming draft picks! Joking aside, there’s likely going to be a new QB in town whether it be Tua Tagovailoa or Justin Herbert as the most likely candidates.

Gesicki was a a high draft pick (44th overall) in 2018 but didn’t see much of the ball in his rookie season. It was last year when the former Penn State man started to step up and saw 570 receiving yards and 5 TDs. So already Gesicki has had a mini breakout year, because those stats alone for the 2019 Miami Dolphins has to be viewed as impressive given their miserable start.

Gesicki should be a key target and redzone threat for whoever is throwing the rock in Miami next year and could be in for a much larger work load and hopefully productivity too.

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N’Keal Harry – WR, New England Patriots

If you have listened to a Full 10 Yard podcast with me on it over the last year then you probably know I am not a N’keal Harry fan. I just don’t think he’s as good as what people think he is. However, one thing is for sure, he is now one of the better offensive weapons in New England, which says a lot about the off-season transactions for Belichick and co.

Patriots vs. Titans: Pats still see time for N'Keal Harry to ...
Nancy Lane – BH

Edelman will be 34 come week 1 and in his 11th season with the Pats, Gronk is winning WWE titles, Phillip Dorsett has left and Mohamed Sanu is the wrong side of 30 and has only eclipsed 520 receiving yards 4 times in his career. As things stand, Harry is the only player in this offense that can breakout! Providing whoever is throwing the ball in Foxborough wants to utilise the high draft stock the Pats outlaid for Harry, you’d think he’d be a candidate for a 1,000 yards season. I still don’t like him, but he is a breakout candidate, can’t deny that.


Diontae Johnson – WR, Pittsburgh Steelers

Johnson had a great campaign in his 2019 rookie season with 680 yards and 5 TDs. Not bad for a player supposedly battling for the WR3 role at the beginning of the season. And even better when it came off the back of a Big Ben injury which meant he was receiving throws from Devlin Hodges and Mason Rudolph.

Last year Diontae Johnson was everything we were expecting to see from teammate James Washington, and although Washington had more air yards to his name, Johnson looked the most complete receiver out of the the pack if you take out Juju.

Now Big Ben is back under centre, Diontae Johnson could find himself becoming the downfield target for a more accurate and stronger passer of the ball. Juju will likely remain the target hog, and Washington will still likely be viewed as the second option meaning Johnson will see less and less of the main coverage down field. He has a chance to breakout and be apart of re-igniting that electric Steelers’ offense of years past.


Denver Broncos news: Noah Fant sets team record for rookie TE catches

Justin Edmonds – Getty

Noah Fant – TE, Denver Broncos

Fant had a slow start to his NFL career and didn’t find himself with over 38 receiving yards in a game until week 9. Although it’s not widely expected that rookie tight ends are to be productive in year 1, with a 1st round price tag, you’d have expected a bit more from him I dare say. Fingers could point to shoddy quarterback play though, after all, it was Joe ‘Noodle Arm’ Flacco and 6th round rookie Brandon Allen attempting to throw the ball around in Denver for the first two thirds of the season.

The last 5 games of the season where Drew Lock took over as signal caller for the Broncos, Fant’s numbers went up to average 45 yards per game and a touchdown every other game. As things stand, Fant along with Courtland Sutton are the only real receiving threats on the team. Now, one would assume Denver will be selecting a wide receiver to join them in day 1, if not certainly day 2 of the draft; but Fant will still have the potential to break out this year providing he can claim all of the redzone traffic and continues to capitalise on his big play ability trait.

Potential Fantasy Breakout Candidates for 2019

by Adam Walford – @TouchdownTips

Every year in the NFL there’s a below the radar pick who blows up and finishes in the top 24 of their positions, obviously, our job as GM of our fantasy teams is to try and find those diamonds in the rough. While that’s not an easy thing with the popularity of fantasy football online and the amount of information out there posting very similar information it’s something that we all strive to find.

The key things that I look for are changes in circumstance, whether it’s a change of Head Coach, or Offensive Coordinator, injuries to team-mates, or just buzz coming from beat-writers during the offseason, all these things can improve or diminish a players impact in real life and in fantasy football.

First up is a name you’ll find on every break-out list all over the internet, but it’s one I couldn’t possibly ignore:

Chris Godwin – Wide ReceiverTampa Bay Buccaneers (ADP WR19 – Last season 155.7pts, WR24)

Godwin is on my list due to the change of Head Coach in Tampa. Bruce Arians comes out of a very quick retirement to try and convince Jameis Winston not to throw the ball to the opposition for a while, he brings with him Byron Leftwich who he described as a “rising star in the business.”

The Tampa defense hasn’t been a good unit over the years and they’re in a tough division against some very good offenses, this generally means they need to score points and the best way to do that is to let your QB chuck the rock around.

godwin
Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

He will be WR2 to superstar wideout Mike Evans, who should have a great season, but there’s a lot of seasons where QBs have managed to support a WR1 and 2 in fantasy scoring.

Last year Godwin finished with 7 TDs, 842 yards at an average of 14.3 yards per reception. Over his career, Bruce Arians has deployed 4 WR sets 42% of the time when the league average is down at 10%.

Obviously, that means a guaranteed increase in snaps for Chris Godwin, and don’t forget the likes of Breshad Perriman, Justin Watson and Scotty Miller who should also benefit from Arians’ system.

 

Rashaad Penny – Running Back, Seattle Seahawks (ADP RB33 – Last season 65.9pts, RB64)

It’s not often that a running back drafted in the first round gets so relatively few carries in an offense (419 yards from 85 carries at a touch under 5 yards per carry), especially in one that uses the run game so often (53% of their plays last year used the run game).

Penny’s first season got off to a poor start due to a broken finger which allowed teammte Chris Carson to get the bulk of the carries and keep the main job for the majority of the season.

In the small sample size I saw of Penny though, I thought he was a great runner especially behind the poor Seattle offensive line which was the reason they drafted him anyway.

Penny led college running backs in broken tackles in his final year for San Diego State, something that the Seahawks undoubtedly picked up on. Another reason for him playing second fiddle was that he wasn’t up to scratch pass protecting; That’s something which can be taught though, and he’ll have improved on that last season and during training camps.

Another plus for Penny is that Carson missed OTAs with injury meaning he got all of the first-team reps and Pete Carroll runs the ultimate meritocracy, so if you’re playing well he’ll keep you in there.

Christian Kirk – Wide Receiver, Arizona Cardinals (ADP WR33: Last season 102 pts, WR57)

Kirk was having a pretty decent season in a horrible situation in Arizona last year; he had a rookie QB playing behind an atrocious offensive line last season and they ran an historically low number of plays and failed to move the ball.

Once again the change in coaching is a major reason here. Kliff Kingsbury comes in and will be bringing the air raid offense to the NFL with quick passes abound. They drafted Kyler Murray at #1 who threw for 4,361 and 42 TDs in his final year of college, as well as 3 WRs this year from the second round onwards.

None of those receivers has a history with Murray, whereas Kirk had a year with Murray for Texas A & M in 2015 and now has a year of NFL experience under his belt.

kirk
Photo Credit: TexAgs.com

Last season Kirk finished with 590 yards in 12 games at an average of nearly 14 YPC. I think the whole offense will be far more productive this year, probably running around 100 more plays than last season, and he, Larry Fitzgerald and probably Andy Isabella will be the main three guys in 3 WR sets – more time on the field, more plays, more production. Bosh.

Mark Andrews – Tight End, Baltimore Ravens (ADP TE20: Last season 90.2pts, TE17)

One of my Fantasy crushes this offseason is available for essentially nothing at the end of most mock drafts. He formed a good connection with Lamar Jackson and his less-than-accurate arm last season. In fact, in the games since Lamar Jackson took over at QB, Andrews had 308 yards and 1 TD, converting 13 of his 18 targets in that time which was a 771-yard season pace, which would have seen him fifth in yards for Tight ends last year.

Add to this they drafted Marquise Brown to keep defenses honest and add some much needed speed down the field, his addition should help free up space in the middle of the field where Mark Andrews roams.

The worry here would be that Hayden Hurst steps up and avoids injuries in his second year in the league, but seeing as he missed OTAs already and Andrews was always the better offensive weapon I don’t see that being too much of an issue. Given that he’s practically free at the end of most drafts, I think he’s a brilliant pickup.

 

John Ross – Wide Receiver, Cincinnati Bengals (ADP WR 101 – Last season 74.4 pts, WR81) 

Confession time – the reason for this guy being on the list is that a) I haven’t seen anyone else mention him and b) I’m allowed a homer pick aren’t I?!

Another wide receiver, another change of head coach and the possibility of better utilisation in the new system. Guess how many TDs he had last year? 2? 3? Nope, he ended with 7 TDs from 21 receptions, a lot of them from within the redzone.

While he does seem to have been a combine warrior so far in his career, something that I can’t deny too vociferously, he utilised his quickness as well as his speed last season to gain quick separation at the line of scrimmage.

If you want to get technical, he had a meteoric rise in targets from his first year at the Bengals, 29 times more in fact. If that happens again this year he’ll finish with 1,682 targets for the year!

Back to this upcoming year, he’s now under the coaching of someone from the Sean McVay coaching tree and it seems likely that he brings in some of the same creativity that works so well in LA, from what I’ve been hearing it will include an increase in play-action passes which should allow more time for players to get into space down the field.

I believe if Ross is used as he should be that he’ll be able to get separation and get free downfield to add to his redzone TDs.

 

All ADPs and previous season points are half PPR scoring from fantasypros.com