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Kyle Yates’ Top-8 Breakout Players (2021 Fantasy Football)

by Kyle Yates | @KyleYNFL | Featured Writer
Jul 28, 2021

Defining a breakout candidate isn’t exactly the easiest thing to do in the world. There’s not a certain threshold that’s unanimously agreed upon that determines whether a player truly emerged as a breakout previously or not. However, for the purposes of this article, I’m going to highlight several players that I believe are set to take a massive leap in production this upcoming season.

Some of these players may have already been valuable fantasy contributors for your lineup in previous seasons, but they saw their production capped for one reason or another. Others are just entering the league and many aren’t sure what to think about them just yet. The following list of players are ones that I believe could finish well above what their perceived value is currently and it’s crucial to identify these options ahead of time to get ahead of your league mates.

Rankings shown are FantasyPros ECR vs. my rankings in half-PPR leagues.

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Let’s take a look at some players that have an excellent chance of taking a major step forward in 2021.

Michael Pittman Jr. (WR – IND): ECR WR49 vs. My WR38

Pittman showed enough last season for me to believe that he’s ready to take a massive leap in 2021. With Carson Wentz now at QB, he should be more willing to push the ball downfield, which means good things for someone with Pittman’s skillset. With an aging T.Y. Hilton and an oft-injured Parris Campbell as his main competition for targets, we could see Pittman enter into the WR2 conversation this season.

Henry Ruggs III (WR – LV): ECR WR57 vs. My WR33

Last season, Ruggs had an ADOT (Average Depth of Target) of 17.3. For the skillset that Ruggs brings to the table, this is a gross misuse of his abilities. Ruggs thrives on being able to take short passes and then create after the catch with his speed and explosiveness, which targeting him deep downfield does not allow him to do. This season, with the addition of Brown to play on the outside, we should see Ruggs moved back into the slot. This will allow him to operate underneath and create after the catch, but it’s putting a lot of faith in a coaching staff to use him the correct way. At his current ADP though, Ruggs is absolutely worth adding to your roster in hopes that he can be utilized properly. We’ll just have to wait and see if it actually happens.

CeeDee Lamb (WR – DAL): ECR WR14 vs. My WR19

Lamb came out on fire last year and immediately returned value for fantasy managers that added him in the mid-to-late rounds. While the price tag is certainly going to be a bit higher this time around, he still has the chance of returning value. With Cooper above him on the depth chart, it’s unlikely that we ever see Lamb ascend into the top-10, but that doesn’t mean that he can’t push for top-15. When Dak was healthy last year, both Lamb and Cooper were top-15 fantasy wideouts. I wouldn’t be shocked if we see that repeat again in 2021, but for the entire length of the season.

Joe Burrow (QB – CIN): ECR QB13 vs. My QB11

For a rookie QB to come in last season and put up the type of numbers that Burrow did is extremely exciting. While the injury certainly places a bit of concern over Burrow’s 2021 outlook, all signs are pointing to him being fully healthy and ready for Week 1. With Chase now in town, plus the other receiving options and a revamped offensive line, Burrow has everything he needs to be successful for fantasy football in 2021. This is going to be a fun offense to watch and they’re going to put up some crazy numbers. If you miss out on one of the top-tier QB options in your draft, don’t panic. Draft Burrow and feel great about getting him at a discount this season because of the injury.

Antonio Gibson (RB – WAS): ECR RB11 vs. My RB13

After being barely utilized as a runner in college, Gibson came out on fire in his rookie season. He averaged 4.7 YPC and 11 rushing touchdowns, which is absurd for a player who saw only 33 total carries in college. Heading into 2021, the sky’s the limit for Gibson and what he can do with this experience to his name. He should receive a larger workload this upcoming season and this offense is going to be more potent due to the QB upgrade. You’re going to have to pay up for Gibson and it’s hard to take him over some more proven names, but this is a swing for the fences selection that has a very good chance of making it out of the park.

Travis Etienne (RB – JAC): ECR RB25 vs. My RB15

Urban Meyer is certainly known for valuing speed on the football field and the Jaguars have not been shy about their intent to draft Kadarius Toney if he were there at pick No. 25 in the NFL Draft. With Toney off the board, they went with the explosive RB prospect that can absolutely fly in Etienne. My belief is that the Jaguars intend to deploy Etienne as a traditional RB, but then also as a player that they will use all over the formation and simply get the ball in his hands. If that’s the case, Etienne’s going to be extremely valuable for fantasy football right away. He’s a true home-run threat and he’s an excellent receiver out of the backfield. As we sit here in early June, I wouldn’t be shocked if Etienne finishes as a top-15 RB in fantasy right out of the gates.

Cole Kmet (TE – CHI): ECR TE19 vs. My TE17

While it took a little bit for Kmet to become an integral part of the offense in Chicago, he stood out towards the end of last season and actually became a weekly contributor for your fantasy lineups. With Jimmy Graham still on this roster, it’s hard to find the path for targets that would allow Kmet to crack the top-12 at the position, but he showed enough last year to at least warrant fantasy football consideration. Even if Graham is still a Chicago Bear for Week 1, Kmet should have enough involvement to at least be considered as a streaming candidate. However, if the Bears move on from Graham and his salary cap hit, Kmet’s ADP would go skyrocketing. We could be talking about a top-10 TE at that point.

Tee Higgins (WR – CIN): ECR W24vs. My WR25

When Chase was selected at No. 5 overall, everyone seemed to downgrade Higgins significantly and move him down draft boards. However, we shouldn’t overreact and completely move off of Higgins. After sitting down and working through projections, you’ll see that there’s more than enough volume available for both of these players to be top-24 WRs as early as this season. Higgins might take a back seat to Chase from a targets perspective, but Higgins should also be Burrow’s favorite target in the red zone due to his size. If people are scared off of Higgins because of Chase’s presence in this offense, that’s all the opportunity you need to buy Higgins at a discount this year.

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Kyle Yates is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Kyle, check out his archive and follow him @KyleYNFL.

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