Similar to most things in life, hard work is rewarded. As a fantasy player, we can't see the day-to-day dedication in the weight room and in film study, but we are left with the statistics they have achieved on the field. Breakout seasons don't usually come from nowhere. The best players in the NFL continuously improve and earn the trust of their coaches and quarterbacks. They are rewarded with more playing time and more opportunities for success.
I have had some of my best drafts by focusing on a few players that have shown improvement over their last three years. The same criteria I am applying here would have flagged running back Derrick Henry and running back Kenyan Drake before last season. I think we can all agree that these players (drafted at their average draft position in 2019) would have catapulted many drafts to playoff contenders.
Here are the criteria I am using:
- The player has not had a top-10 season at his position
- The player will be less than 28 years old during the NFL season
- The player was a relevant player in 2019 (top 50 RB, top 60 WR, or a top 35 TE)
- The player showed consistent improvement with a significant leap in statistics in 2019
Without further ado, I present eleven candidates for a breakout season. They won't all achieve greatness, but some could be the difference between a decent draft and a great one.
RB Chris Carson, SEA
My view: With Rashaad Penny recovering from multiple torn knee ligaments, Chris Carson should see his biggest workload yet.
RB Damien Williams, KC
My view: The Chiefs drafted Clyde Edwards-Helaire to be the longterm running back, but it's hard arguing against Damien Williams' production in the last two post-seasons. In these five contests, he managed 91 carries for 355 yards and 6 touchdowns on the ground and added another 22 catches for 185 yards and 4 touchdowns through the air. I am not ready to anoint the rookie just yet.
RB Kenyan Drake, ARI
My view: Kenyan Drake was traded mid-season as Miami was moving on from just about everyone last season. In his eight games with the Cardinals, he managed 123 carries for 643 yards and 8 touchdowns while adding 28 receptions for 171 yards receiving. At age 26, he is primed for his best season yet.
RB Raheem Mostert, SF
My view: Raheem Mostert has put in the work to continue to ascend the 49ers depth chart. He enters the year as their top running back after shredding the Packers in the Divisional playoff game.
WR Breshad Perriman, NYJ
My view: Breshard Perriman had mostly been a bust in the NFL until late last year. In his final five games of 2019, he managed 25 catches for 506 yards and 5 touchdowns. On a Jets team that needs playmakers, he is poised to have the breakout season people expected when he was selected in the first round of the 2016 draft.
WR Chris Conley, JAC
My view: Chris Conley didn't set the world on fire in 2019 but did record nine games with 40+ receiving yards on his way to five touchdowns.
WR Curtis Samuel, CAR
My view: He has quietly gotten better and better each season. There are a lot of mouths to feed in Carolina but he is playing for a new contract and that could be just the motivation he needs in 2020.
WR Tyler Lockett, SEA
My view: The Seahawks took him off returns and rarely used him as a runner, but featured him a lot as a receiver. With the team's development of DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett should see easier coverage in 2020.
TE Jonnu Smith, TEN
My view: Jonnu Smith flashed some skills in 2019 recording five games with 60+ yards receiving, but he put up his share of blanks (four games without a catch) to keep him off the radar of many drafters. It takes a while for tight ends to learn the complexities of the NFL game (and to develop the size to be an every-down player). At age 25, this could be the year he puts it all together.
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