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NFL Breakout Candidates for the Season’s Second Half

One of the constants of fantasy football, and dynasty in particular, is the unpredictability of player production and value. We do our best to predict who will perform and who will not, but anything from injuries, to coaching, to simply mis-evaluating a player’s talent can get in the way of us successfully predicting performances.

In dynasty, this is especially noticeable in the way a player’s value can explode or crater throughout a year. A year and a half ago Tyreek Hill, Kareem Hunt, and Michael Thomas would never have been expected to be elite fantasy assets. Fast forward to today and all 3 are being drafted within the first two rounds of startup drafts.

Young and talented running backs and wide receivers can be the catalysts for the start of an actual dynasty in your league, but we don’t always see them coming. However, the high upside production they provide is worth risking a few assets to see if we can snag the next breakout star.

With that in mind, below I have listed six players I’m looking to scoop up before their value explodes over the second half of this season.

Aaron Jones, RB, Packers

Oops. Looks like I’m already late to the party on this one. Over the past 4 weeks Aaron Jones has piled up 346 yards rushing and 3 TDs on just 62 carries. Jones finally saw the field after Green Bay’s starter, Ty Montgomery, suffered a rib injury and initially was expected to only be a short-term fill in. But Jones has looked much more explosive as a runner than Montgomery and doesn’t appear to be giving back the bulk of the workload in Green Bay’s backfield any time soon.

While he hasn’t caught many passes (as Montgomery, the former WR often did), Jones should be a capable receiver if he does settle in as Green Bay’s 3 down back. Given Jones’ high level athletic profile and the offense he plays (at least once Aaron Rodgers returns), people may be overlooking his potential. If Jones continues to string together 100 yard rushing games without Rodgers, the rookie 5th round pick’s value will skyrocket into the dynasty RB1 category.

Marlon Mack, RB, Colts

Mack is another athletic mid round RB (a late 4th round selection) drafted to an offense that was expected to thrive thanks to a talented QB. Indianapolis, however, has stumbled out of the gates as Andrew Luck has yet to return from a shoulder injury. Despite that, Mack has flashed his talent here and there. Through 7 weeks he is averaging nearly 5 yards per carry and has become increasingly involved as a pass catcher.

There are reasons to be skeptical as well, of course. Frank Gore will likely remain the lead back all season, and Mack has been known to be too much of a dancer who is always looking to break a run to the outside for a big play. This can often frustrate coaches, lead to large losses of yards on plays, and impede the path to being a workhorse back. That been said: Frank Gore is 34 years old and likely won’t be around next season,

Colts coach Chuck Pagano frequently speaks highly of Mack, and if he can learn to run between the tackles, Mack does have the size and speed to be a workhorse. When Luck returns (whether it’s this year or next), Mack may find himself earning a lot of touches in an explosive offense. He has yet to earn a huge amount of playing time and appears to be struggling as a pass blocker (a critical obstacle to becoming a 3 down back), but like Jones, his athletic profile and offensive situation make him the exact type of high upside target I covet.

Corey Davis, WR, Titans  ....
Mike Williams, WR, Chargers
John Ross, WR, Bengals

I grouped all 3 of these rookie receivers together because their stories’ so far have been so similar. All 3 were top 10 picks in the NFL draft this past spring. All 3 have suffered a nagging injury that has mostly kept them off the field so far this season. And, all 3 appear to be finally returning to health as we approach the halfway point in the season.

There really isn’t much I can say to sell you on any of these players based on their NFL production to date (although Davis had a solid debut before going down with injury), but their status as top 10 picks is enough to make me highly optimistic. Simply put, the NFL tends to employ the best talent evaluators in the world, and those talent evaluators told us all 3 of these wideouts were super talented back in the spring. The shine on them may have faded due to them being out of the eye of fantasy players so far this year, but their talent has not faded.

It’s not hyperbole at all to say that these players could wind up as the next Dez Bryant, Alshon Jeffery, or Brandin Cooks. It may be unlikely that they all reach that level of play, but I strongly believe at least one of them will begin to show us why he was a top 10 pick by the end of the year. For what it’s worth, I prefer Corey Davis, then John Ross, and finally Mike Williams, but all 3 represent excellent buying opportunities.

Josh Doctson, WR, Redskins

My last player for today is another young former 1st round receiver who has battled injuries early in his career. Similar to Davis, Williams and Ross, a lot of my confidence in Doctson comes from the NFL’s belief he was worth a 1st round pick. Doctson stands 6’2” and just over 200 pounds while running a 4.50 40 yard dash and boasting a ridiculous 41” vertical. His broad jump, and 20 and 60 yard shuttles at the combine were also impressive. In short, Doctson physically is everything you would hope for in a WR.

When you turn on the tape, the athleticism carries over. Doctson is one of the most impressive jump ball receivers I’ve ever seen coming out of college. I have been cautious of buying Doctson due to his mysterious achilles injuries that stole his rookie season, the fact that he’s a little old for a 2nd year WR (he turns 25 in December), and that he has been buried on a crowded receiver depth chart since arriving in Washington. However, as I talked about 2 weeks ago, Terrelle Pryor simply isn’t cutting it as the Redskins’ #1 target, and Jamison Crowder has been banged up in the slot.

This past week a now healthy Doctson finally overtook Pryor for playing time, and I don’t expect that to change. Doctson’s opportunity to prove he is a legitimate number 1 WR in this league is here, and I expect him to show us all exactly why he was drafted so highly in the first place.

*****

All fantasy owners are different. We all have varying levels of risk aversion. Some of us don’t mind buying into oft injured players, while some of us couldn’t be paid to touch them. Some of us prefer youth, while others prefer proven production. Some of us may prefer consistent steady production, while others don’t seem to mind explosive yet inconsistent players.

I will readily admit that I like a bit of risk on my rosters. I swing for the fences with young, high upside, unproven players on a consistent basis, and I’ll admit – I’ve been burned a couple of times. But championships can be won when these risks pay off.

The players listed today may seem expensive for their actual production to date, but they carry with them the potential to blow up at any moment. And for that I will always be willing to accept some risk. Buyer beware, but these players just might be able to turn your team into a juggernaut.

 

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Eric Braun
I grew up a die hard Washington Redskins and Penn State football fan and began playing fantasy football in 2007. I've been addicted and learning as much as I can about my favorite hobby ever since.

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