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Second-Year Players Ready To Break Out (2021 Fantasy Football)

by Skyler Carlin | Featured Writer
May 5, 2021

The 2020 NFL Draft class was littered with talented players, with guys like Justin Herbert and Justin Jefferson standing out among the group of rookies. While Herbert and Jefferson are primed for productive sophomore campaigns, other second-year players deserve some attention heading into next season too.

The situations of certain second-year players have been slightly altered this offseason, improving the potential of some guys more than others. Given the current landscape of what has transpired this offseason, coupled with what we saw from them last year, these are a few second-year players that are poised to have breakout seasons in 2021.

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J.K. Dobbins (RB – BAL)
Make no mistake about it, despite the Baltimore Ravens finally getting some help for Lamar Jackson in the receiving department by taking Rashod Bateman in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, the Ravens are a run-oriented offense. Mark Ingram is no longer a member of the roster, leaving the entire rushing workload for Jackson, J.K. Dobbins, and Gus Edwards.

Even though Edwards earned himself some touches, Dobbins will be the running back that c0ntributes more in both facets of the offense. In his rookie season with Baltimore, Dobbins ran 191 routes compared to the mere 78 routes run by Edwards. When it came to having the ball in their hands, both Dobbins and Edwards were extremely effective, with both of them finishing in the top seven in yards after contact per attempt.

But what puts Dobbins in a perfect spot to break out in 2021 is the volume he will get alongside Jackson in the backfield. The former Buckeye should see more than the 134 carries and 18 receptions he notched in 2020, which sets him up for a massive second year on the Ravens. From Weeks 13-17, Dobbins was RB6 in half-PPR formats, giving fans a glimpse of what to expect from him moving forward.

Cam Akers (RB – LAR)
Another running back that finished his rookie season strong in 2020 was Cam Akers of the Los Angeles Rams. Some people were surprised to see the Rams replace Todd Gurley with a running back with the No. 52 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, especially after they traded up to select Darrell Henderson in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Akers began the 2020 season with an inconsistent role as Henderson, and Malcolm Brown also garnered touches in the backfield. Plus, the first-year back out of Florida State dealt with a rib injury that caused him to miss two games. Once he overcame the obstacles later in the season, Akers showed why the Rams raved about getting him in the draft.

Besides his impressive 171-yard performance in Week 14 against the New England Patriots, Akers was remarkable in the playoffs. Altogether, in Los Angeles’ two playoff games, Akers accrued 272 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns. It’s clear that Akers is the lead back in Sean McVay’s offense, and the addition of Matthew Stafford only increases the likeliness of him finishing 2021 as one of the top running backs in fantasy football.

Antonio Gibson (RB – WAS)
Whenever the Washington Football Team took Antonio Gibson in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft, some wondered what his role would look like. Gibson would quickly earn the starting job in the backfield and flashed loads of potential for the future. The wide-receiver-turned-running-back would tie Jonathan Taylor – the consensus No. 1 second-year running back in 2021 – for the most rushing touchdowns among rookie rushers with 11.

One of the only things that prevented Gibson from having an even better season was the lackadaisical play under center in Washington last season. Also, J.D. McKissic saw 110 targets compared to Gibson’s 44 targets in the passing game, limiting his output as a receiver. The addition of Curtis Samuel could eat into McKissic’s receiving workload, which could actually bode well for Gibson.

Of course, with Ryan Fitzpatrick expected to be the starting signal-caller for Washington in 2021, Gibson has gotten an obvious upgrade under center. There’s a chance that Gibson sneaks into the top ten in scoring at the running back position next season if Washington continues to commit to him as their go-to guy in the running back room. Washington did avoid selecting a running back in the 2021 NFL Draft, which only aids Gibson’s cause moving forward.

CeeDee Lamb (WR – DAL)
Jefferson dominated headlines among the rookie wideouts in 2020 due to his historic showing for the Minnesota Vikings. While Jefferson was fantastic, the season that CeeDee Lamb had – even with Dak Prescott going down with an injury early in the season – seems to get slightly overlooked. Luckily for the explosive pass-catcher, Prescott is going to be back operating the offense in 2021.

As an illustration of just how good Lamb was with Prescott to begin his rookie season, from Weeks 1-5 (before Prescott suffered a season-ending ankle injury), Lamb was WR12 in half-PPR leagues while Jefferson was WR26 in that same span. Upon the absence of Prescott, Lamb was forced to catch passes from Andy Dalton, Garrett Gilbert, and even Ben DiNucci.

Despite the quarterback situation he endured in 2020, Lamb still concluded as WR20 in fantasy football with 74 receptions, 935 receiving yards, and five receiving touchdowns. The Dallas Cowboys showed last year that they could boast an offense with three fantasy-viable wide receivers in Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and Lamb. The return of Prescott should help Lamb put together a special sophomore campaign as he shows that he should have been the first wide receiver taken in the 2020 NFL Draft.

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Skyler Carlin is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Skyler, check out his archive and follow him @skyler_carlin.

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