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Second-Year Players Ready To Break Out (2020 Fantasy Football)

by Joshua Lefkowitz | @JLefkoNFL | Featured Writer
May 3, 2020

Noah Fant’s big-play proficiencies will catapult him inside the top-10 TEs in fantasy.

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The beginning of a new football season ushers in a fresh class of rookies that eagerly seek to make a positive first impression on the league. This translates to fantasy football, where young players who have a chance to make an immediate impact on their teams are coveted. As was the case for a few 2019 rookies who broke out during their first seasons and produced highly-productive fantasy campaigns as a result.

Arizona Cardinals’ quarterback Kyle Murray showcased his capabilities as a starting quarterback in the NFL, and as a QB1 in fantasy. Based on Points Per Reception scoring (PPR), which will be the format for each player’s fantasy scoring throughout this piece, Murray finished 2019 as QB7, and the 12th overall fantasy player, producing 297.3 points, an average of 18.6 points per game. Murray’s 26 Money Throws was 3rd most in the NFL, and his 44.3% Deep Ball Passing Completion Percentage was 5th best in the NFL, highlighting Murray’s fearlessness as a passer. As of April 29th, Murray enters 2020 with a PPR ADP (Average Draft Position) of 59.0 and comes into the season as QB4.

The second player who broke out during his rookie season is Tennessee Titans’ wide receiver, A.J. Brown. Brown compiled impressive numbers in 2019 on his way to a WR21 finish. He totaled 217.1 fantasy points, an average of 13.6 points per game. His 12.5 Yards/Target ranked 1st among receivers, and his 20.2 Yards/Reception was 2nd best among wide-outs. His 3.46 yards/route ranked 1st amongst WRs, another indication of his consistent big-play capabilities. Entering 2020, Brown’s ADP is 38.7, coming in as WR17.

In this piece, I examine seven second-year players poised for breakout seasons. Murray and Brown are excluded from this list of sophomore players ready to breakout because their rookie campaigns justifiably qualify as breakout seasons, and both playmakers should finish 2020 close to their preseason ADPs. Most of the players on my breakout list will have tremendous draft value and should be great sleeper picks in upcoming fantasy drafts. The individuals on my list all have the potential of finishing 2020 better than their preseason ADPs.

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Second-Year Breakouts

Darius Slayton (WR – NYG)ADP: 109.7, WR47
New York Giants’ Darius Slayton’s rookie campaign took several weeks to gain traction, but in Week 10, Slayton made his presence known when he caught 10 of 15 targets, accumulating 121 yards and 2 touchdowns. A few weeks later, Slayton posted another monster game, hauling in 5 receptions for 154 yards along with a pair of touchdowns. There were several games in which Slayton struggled getting touches, such as a posting a goose egg against Washington in Week 16, and pulling in a single reception for 6 yards in Week 9 against Dallas.

A goal for the Auburn product is to stay consistent on a weekly basis. Slayton finished 2019 as the WR37, totaling 170.0 fantasy points, an average of 12.1 points per game. His 15.4 Yards/Reception was tied for 15th amongst wide-outs, and his 6.7 Air Yards/Target ranked 22nd among WRs. Slayton can fly downfield and proved to be trustworthy in making big-plays. Heading into his Sophomore NFL season, Slayton looks to further foster his rapport with second-year QB Daniel Jones, which could equate to a drastic uptick in Slayton’s fantasy production. Slayton is a sneaky late-round sleeper with a high-upside.

Diontae Johnson (WR – PIT)ADP: 123.9, WR51
Although his 2019 numbers were subpar, failing to top more than 85 yards receiving all season and finishing 2019 as WR39, with 163.1 fantasy points, an average of 10.2 points per game, Diontae Johnson proved to be an impactful, reliable receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers. His 88.1% True Catch Rate ranked 10th among WRs, highlighting his dependability.

The quarterback position was a major problem for Pittsburgh after Ben Roethlisberger went down with a season-ending elbow injury last season, thus impacting Johnson’s production on the field and in fantasy. With Roethlisberger healthy entering the new season, the shifty and agile Johnson should see a sizeable upsurge in his production with a chance to fully showcase his talent.

I believe Johnson, who is adept at taking the top off the defense and securing tough catches in tight coverage, will surprise a lot of people this season. Despite Pittsburgh using the 49th-overall pick in the 2020 draft on Notre Dame WR Chase Claypool, Johnson’s fantasy value will not be impacted, with no negative overlap between the two young receivers. Johnson will undoubtedly be a late-round steal in fantasy drafts this season.

D.K. Metcalf (WR – SEA)ADP: 56.4, WR27
Seattle Seahawks’ WR D.K. Metcalf had a some-what streaky 2019 campaign. In both of his games against Arizona, Metcalf combined for a single reception off of 5 targets for 6 yards. Metcalf had three weeks of only bringing in 2 catches in 2019. However, some games he exhibited his big-play ability and natural dominance. In Week 9, Metcalf posted 6 catches for 123 yards, including an electrifying 53-yard touchdown play. His 15.5 Yards/Reception was tied for 12th between WRs, and his 17 End Zone Targets ranked 1st.

If Metcalf can convert more of his targets into receptions, he will increase his value as a fantasy asset. Despite competition with Tyler Lockett for targets, Metcalf established himself as a dynamic pass catcher and a huge target for Wilson capable of massive plays downfield. If Metcalf converts more of his targets into receptions, he will eclipse his preseason ADP, with a chance to land inside the top-22 WRs in fantasy. Metcalf should be a consistent WR2 in fantasy all season, with upside depending on weekly matchups.

Noah Fant (TE – DEN)ADP: 115.8, TE12
It took until mid-season of 2019 for Denver Broncos’ tight end Noah Fant to display his potential dominance in the NFL. The game before Denver’s Bye Week, Fant posted 115 yards from 3 receptions, including a 75-yard touchdown, showcasing his big-play ability. He would have another 100-yard game his rookie year, bringing in all 4 of his targets and a touchdown.

Fant’s rookie numbers reinforce his promising future. His 562 receiving yards were 13th most among tight ends, and his 14.1 Yards/Reception ranked 2nd between TEs. His 8.4 Yards/Target was 10th amongst tight ends, and his 12 Contested Targets were tied for 13th between TEs. Also, he was tied for 8th among TEs in End Zone Targets with 7. Although some inconsistencies, Fant finished 2019 as TE16, with 111.0 fantasy points, an average of 6.9 points per game.

Fant looks to further establish himself with second-year QB Drew Lock. If he can successfully carve out a sizeable role in the Broncos’ offense, he should be a low-end TE1 with upside. He will also be a late-round pick in most drafts, so Fant most definitely qualifies as a sleeper.

Despite the Broncos using their 1st-round draft selection on stud receiver Jerry Jeudy and 2nd-round pick on speedy receiver KJ Hamler, with both rookie pass-catchers most definitely cutting into the target share, Fant will be able to coexist at a high-level in this offense with the new rookie WRs. Jeudy and Hamler will open up the field even more for Fant, allowing him to exploit single-coverage. The addition of 2020 4th-round pick and Lock’s college teammate, TE Albert Okwuegbunam, will not impose on Fant’s fantasy production as well. I believe Fant’s big-play proficiencies will catapult him inside the top-10 TEs in fantasy.

Terry McLaurin (WR – WAS)ADP: 58.9, WR28
Washington Redskins’ Terry McLaurin started his rookie season with a bang, snatching 5 receptions for 125 yards and a touchdown in Week 1. McLaurin would score a touchdown in consecutive games before missing Week 4 due to injury. Two games later, McLaurin posted 100 yards and 2 touchdowns against the Dolphins, further illuminating his elite pass-catching prowess. However, the next week he was held to a single reception for 11 yards in a heavy-rain filled battle against the stout San Francisco 49ers’ defense. Including that game, McLaurin failed to reach 75 receiving yards in seven straight games from Week 7-14. McLaurin then bounced-back against the Eagles in Week 15, hauling in all 5 of his targets for 130 yards and a score.

Despite playing in a struggling offense all season, including a mid-season coaching change, McLaurin had an impressive rookie season. His 15.8 Yards/Reception was 13th best among WRs, and his 9.9 Yards/Target was tied for 10th. His 98.2% Snap Share was 3rd most amongst wide-outs, signifying how much Washington leaned on McLaurin as a rookie. His 12.1 Air Yards/Reception and 7.5 Air Yards/Target ranked 9th between WRs. Also, he was tied for 11th in End Zone Targets with 10. McLaurin finished 2019 as WR29, with 191.9 total fantasy points, for an average of 13.7 points per game.

He is the clear-cut WR1 for Washington and will look to build on his chemistry with second-year QB and college teammate Dwayne Haskins. Although the Redskins used a 2020 4th-round pick on Liberty WR Antonio Gandy-Golden, the addition of a new offensive weapon should not hinder McLaurin’s fantasy value. If anything, Gandy-Golden will relieve attention away from McLaurin, allowing McLaurin more opportunities in single coverage on the outside. If Haskins takes the necessary next steps as an NFL quarterback, McLaurin will be a direct benefactor and surpass his preseason ADP, with a strong chance of finishing 2020 as a top-17 fantasy wide receiver.

Miles Sanders (RB – PHI)ADP: 26.0, RB13
Although Miles Sanders only started 11 games, the Philadelphia Eagles’ young weapon proved to be a reliable option in the backfield. As a rookie, Sanders totaled 218.7 fantasy points, an average of 13.7 points per game. He rushed 179 times, for 818 yards and 3 touchdowns. His 4.6 Yards/Attempt was tied for 13th amongst RBs.

Sanders was also highly-effective in the passing game last season, posting a 79.4% Catch Percentage and an impressive 8.1 Yards/Target. Sanders was targeted 63 times, tied for 13th most among RBs, and brought in 50 receptions, tied for 12th. His 509 receiving yards ranked 7th and his 3 touchdowns were 8th among RBs.

Sanders’ 32.8% Juke Rate was 5th best among running backs, another positive illustration of his shifty ability on the field. His Snap Share this season should drastically increase compared to his 53.7% Snap Share his rookie season, handcuffed to Jordan Howard in a running-back-by-committee until Howard went down with an injury. Once Howard went out and Sanders took over the backfield, his potential truly emerged.

Perhaps the best indicator of what’s to come for Sanders in 2020 occurred against Washington in Week 15, when Sanders rushed 19 times, topping 122 rushing yards and a touchdown, with a whopping 6.4 Yards/Attempt. He also caught all six of his targets for 50 yards and another score.

After the Philadelphia Eagles opted not to draft an RB in the 2020 NFL Draft, Sanders is cemented as the workhorse RB1. Regardless if Philadelphia looks to add another running back to help ease the load off Sanders, Sanders will remain the elite talent in the backfield. The multi-dimensional Penn State product is more than capable to handle 3-down back as Philadelphia’s premier back. Sanders will finish better than his current ADP, rounding out the top-10 fantasy RBs once the season concludes. His draft stock has risen significantly and will continue to do so until the start of the regular season. If Sanders falls anywhere lower than the middle of the 3rd -round of redraft leagues, that would be shocking.

Josh Jacobs (RB – LV)ADP: 22.5, RB11
Las Vegas Raiders running back Josh Jacobs appearing on this list might come as a surprise. An argument can be made that Jacobs had a breakout rookie campaign, finishing 8th in the league in rushing with 1,150 yards from the ground. He finished 2019 as RB21, totaling 191.6 fantasy points, 14.7 points per game average. However, Jacobs finds himself at the top of the second-year players ready to breakout because I believe his best has yet to come, and we will get a full display of his skillset this season.

Jacobs’ rookie season was consistent, but there is room for improvement. Jacobs missed three of the final four games in 2019 due to a shoulder injury, a catalyst to him being on this list. After Week 10, Jacobs failed to score a touchdown but managed three games with over 100 scrimmage yards before losing his season to injury.

Jacobs ran for 120+ yards and 15+ carries in three out of four games from Week 5-9. He eclipsed 100 total scrimmage yards in nine of 13 games. His 4.8 Yards/Attempt and 463 Total Yards Created ranked 9th amongst running backs. His 30.9% Juke Rate was 6th best and his 81 Evaded Tackles was the 8th most between RBs. His 13 Breakaway Runs were tied for 3rd best amongst ball carriers, another indication that Jacobs is a next-level playmaker with big-play tendencies. Jacobs is already a bell-cow RB1 with an opportunity to post colossal fantasy numbers this upcoming season.

Raiders General Manager Mike Mayock publicly stated the Raiders need to get Jacobs more involved in the passing game, which will only benefit Jacobs’ fantasy output. I believe Jacobs will finish as a top-5 rusher in the league and as a top-7 fantasy running back in 2020. The Raiders will continue to heavily lean on Jacobs to carry their offense in 2020. Jacobs is an elite RB with tremendous skill and talent, and I believe he will exceed his preseason ADP and finish 2020 as one of the NFL’s best running backs.

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Joshua Lefkowitz is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Joshua, check out his archive and follow him on Twitter @JLefkoNFL.

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