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11 Early Breakout Candidates (2022 Fantasy Football)

May 25, 2022

Jalen Hurts, Deebo Samuel and Cordarrelle Patterson were just a few players who broke out in a big way for fantasy managers last year. Many did foresee Hurts’ (who finished sixth in fantasy points per game among QBs) solid season because of what he can do on the ground. However, most didn’t think Samuel was going to see as much volume as he got, especially when it came to San Francisco using him as a running back often in the season’s second half. Nobody outside of the 49ers’ organization knew how much of a difference-maker he could be as a tailback — a trait that ultimately propelled him to finish as the WR2 in half PPR. Lastly, absolutely no one expected Cordarrelle Patterson to have by far the best campaign of his career, finishing as the RB9 in half-PPR formats in his age-30 season.

Chasing unanticipated breakouts akin to Deebo Samuel and Cordarelle Patterson should not be what fantasy managers prepare to do in their drafts. Rather, we should go in searching for those like Jalen Hurts — the players who have more reasonable odds of moving up a tier or two at their position. This ultimately will prevent you from taking too many crazy gambles and increase your hit rate on the potential breakouts you select. So, who has the best shot at significantly outperforming their draft cost? Our featured pundits are here to tackle that very question!

Q1. What RB has the best shot of having a breakout year in 2022 and why?

Devin Singletary (BUF) 
“Buffalo invested second-round draft capital into rookie James Cook this offseason, but that’s no reason to totally write off last year’s starting tailback, Devin Singletary. The fourth-year back was unleashed down the stretch for the Bills, finishing as the RB3 in PPR scoring over the final six weeks of the season with 17 fantasy points per game. He gained the coaching staff’s trust by earning 54-plus snaps to close out the season, the highest snap number Singletary saw all season dating back to Week 1. With a proven track record and two years of bell-cow back usage in spurts, don’t be surprised when PFF’s fourth-ranked running back in rushes of 15-plus yards and seventh-ranked player in forced missed tackles in 2021 is the highly sought-after RB breakout who emerges from a high-octane ambiguous backfield.”
Andrew Erickson (FantasyPros)

“Through the first 11 weeks in 2021, Devin Singletary did not have a single game over 14 carries, but over the final seven weeks, when the Bills were vying for playoff positioning, he had four such games. Four of his final five games saw him receive 75 percent or more of the snap share, something he only did once all season previous — way back in Week 1. There is a growing concern that rookie James Cook will take away some of Singletary’s workload, but nearly every team in the NFL has gone to committees, and the Bills ran the third most plays from scrimmage in 2021. There’s room for both of them to be successful. ”
Geoff Lambert (Going For 2)

Travis Etienne (JAC) 
“Travis Etienne is ready to make noise after missing his rookie season with a Lisfranc injury, and he’ll get to operate as a conventional running back rather than playing the weird hybrid role that Urban Meyer had in mind for him last year. Etienne should get plenty of touches with fellow Jaguars RB James Robinson trying to recover from a December Achilles tear. Jaguars QB Trevor Lawrence played with Etienne at Clemson, where Etienne scored 78 touchdowns and averaged 125.8 scrimmage yards per game over his final three seasons. Etienne is terrific in space and as a pass catcher, and if the Jacksonville offense can find its footing, he has a chance to offer RB1-level production.”
Pat Fitzmaurice (FantasyPros)

D’Andre Swift (DET) 
“D’Andre Swift went into the 2020 NFL draft, touted as the better all-around back than Jonathan Taylor. The talent has never been in question, and last season, under Head Coach Motor City Dan Campbell (HCMCDC) he was on pace for the fourth most RB touches. Swift is the classic case of workload and talent supplanting situation, making him not only safe but primed for a breakout. I see a world where he scores the bulk of the Lions’ total touchdowns, which would raise his ceiling to potentially top-five.”
Ellis Johnson (True North Fantasy Football)

Cam Akers (LAR) 
“Cam Akers is the obvious choice here. Injuries have limited Akers to the brief flashes we’ve seen over the last two seasons. If Akers can regain his rookie season effectiveness, he has workhorse potential in an offense that was second in red-zone scoring attempts per game and seventh in points per play. ”
Derek Brown (FantasyPros)

Q2. What WR has the best shot of having a breakout year in 2022 and why?

Rashod Bateman (BAL) 
“Bateman is probably a chalk answer, but I had him as a breakout before Hollywood Brown was traded, so I’m sticking with it. Bateman didn’t play an NFL snap until Week 6 in 2021 and didn’t receive over 70 percent of the snaps until Week 15, which was after Lamar Jackson had been ruled out for the season. In 2022, Bateman has two things working in his favor: a full offseason with Lamar Jackson and the departure of Brown, leaving 145 vacated targets for Bateman. ”
Geoff Lambert (Going For 2)

“The runway is clear for a second-year Rashod Bateman breakout. The Ravens traded away Marquise Brown on the first night of the NFL Draft, leaving Bateman as the top receiver on their depth chart. A first-round draft pick in 2021, Bateman was an exciting playmaker at the University of Minnesota and has no real holes in his game. He didn’t fire as a rookie, partly because he missed the first five games of the season while recovering from core surgery, partly because QB Lamar Jackson missed five games later in the year, but Bateman is primed to become a major contributor in 2022.”
Pat Fitzmaurice (FantasyPros)

“I can’t stop. Won’t stop or shy away from touting Rashod Bateman at every turn. Bateman will remind everyone this year why he was a first-round pick last draft cycle who piled up an 81st percentile college dominator and 93rd percentile breakout age. ”
Derek Brown (FantasyPros)

Michael Pittman Jr. (IND) 
“Michael Pittman Jr. is entering Year 3 and should be viewed as a legitimate alpha WR1 based on his accomplishments from 2021: third in route participation behind Cooper Kupp and Ja’Marr Chase, eighth in target share (31% from Weeks 13-18), fourth in contested catches. And per route charting, Pittman ranked No.2 overall in route run win rate. The only reason he didn’t finish higher than WR15 in half-point scoring was that the Colts ranked 29th in pass-play rate and 27th in pass attempts. With a more trustworthy quarterback who has a track record of fueling fantasy WR1s and hyper-targeting alphas in Matt Ryan for the 2022 season, Pittman has the legitimate chance to make the leap into the top-12 WR1 conversation.”
Andrew Erickson (FantasyPros)

Courtland Sutton (DEN) 
“I LOVE Courtland Sutton this year. It would be no surprise if one of Sutton, Jerry Jeudy or Tim Patrick finish as a WR1. That said, it’s flag-planting time, and I think Russell Wilson will quickly find Sutton to be his next D.K. Metcalf. Not only are both players 6-4, but they both thrive in contested catch situations. I am sure Jeudy and Patrick will have their own big games (much like Lockett), but Sutton is the one with the potential to be a top fantasy player in 2022. ”
Ellis Johnson (True North Fantasy Football)

Andrew Erickson Mock Draft

Q3. What QB or TE has the best shot of having a breakout year in 2022 and why?

Cole Kmet (TE – CHI) 
“No tight end should make a bigger leap in 2022 than Cole Kmet, whose upside has been capped by a lack of touchdown equity with veteran Jimmy Graham rearing his ugly head the past few seasons. But Graham’s currently a free agent, opening the door for Kmet to smash in 2022. Kmet’s eighth-ranked route participation and seventh-ranked target share (17%) from 2021 hardly aligns with his fantasy production, as no tight end finished with more fantasy points under expectation (-36.6) than the Notre Dame product in 2021. It’s a sign that the athletic Kmet is due for a fantasy breakout. It signaled as much for guys like Zach Ertz and Dawson Knox, who scored fewer points than expected in 2020 before contributing in fantasy this year. Both tight ends finished 2021 as top-10 options at the position in fantasy points per game.”
Andrew Erickson (FantasyPros)

“A lot has been made of Kyle Pitts‘ lack of touchdowns in 2021, despite a large workload having 68 catches on 110 targets but only one TD. Cole Kmet had a very similar season with 60 catches on 93 targets and zero touchdowns. I’d expect the touchdown number to go up, thus putting him firmly in the TE1 range. ”
Geoff Lambert (Going For 2)

David Njoku (TE – CLE) 
“It’s pedal to the metal time for the David Njoku hype party bus. With rumors the Browns could spread out offensive formations and feature more three-wide sets, Njoku could finally have the every-down role we covet. After ranking top 12 in yards per route run and quarterback rating when targeted last season, Njoku has proven he has the talent to explode if he can seize the second spot in the target hierarchy in Cleveland this season. ”
Derek Brown (FantasyPros)

Trey Lance (QB – SF) 
Jimmy Garoppolo‘s continued presence in San Francisco is creating a nice buying opportunity for Trey Lance, since some people are concerned that Jimmy G. could be the 49ers’ Week 1 starter. (Spoiler: He won’t be.) At the very least, Lance is going to be a one-dimensional rushing machine, a pure Konami Code quarterback. But he also has Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle as pass catchers and gets to leverage the Kyle Shanahan playbook. It’s possible Lance is further along as a passer than we realize after basically having a redshirt season as an NFL rookie. And let’s not forget that in the few appearances Lance made in 2021, he didn’t disappoint with his fantasy output. Lance is going to be impactful in 2022.”
Pat Fitzmaurice (FantasyPros)

Zach Wilson (QB – NYJ) 
“J-E-T-S, it’s time for take-off.
J: Just like that, the Jets are on the brink of breaking out as a team with their pilot Zach Wilson keeping them on course.
E: Everyone knows the upside, and now they have C.J. Uzomah, Garrett Wilson, Elijah Moore, Breece Hall and Corey Davis.
T: This is the final boarding call to buy into the elite arm talent and dynamic playmaking ability of this young QB.
S: Stay seated and enjoy the ride to fantasy glory.”
Ellis Johnson (True North Fantasy Football)


Thanks to the experts for sharing their advice! For more of their insight, be sure to follow each pundit on Twitter (click their names above) and visit their respective sites.

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