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Finding the Next Fantasy Football Breakout Players, Part 1

Jake Ciely Senior Writer January 25, 2017 12:05AM EDT
“If I only would have drafted him!”

You hear owners utter those words every Fantasy Football season. Heck, you have likely said them yourself.

If only.

What would your Fantasy season have looked like if you drafted Melvin Gordon, Jay Ajayi, Tyrell Williams, Davante Adams and/or Adam Thielen? Okay, no one saw Thielen coming, but you easily could have left a draft with all of the previous options and had an enormous leg up on the competition. The resulting question owners ask is how to make sure they own at least one of these players next year. Basically, “How do I find the next breakout player?”

I’m here to answer that question with a two-part piece covering players that could become “the next breakout star” in 2017.

Marcus Mariota, QB, TEN – If you’re looking for a Matt Ryan for 2017, Eli Manning comes to mind if the Giants address the offensive line, get Manning a decent tight end (return of the Black Unicorn anyone?) and possibly a veteran receiver… although, as you’ll see next week, I am not positive that the Giants need receiver help. Manning had at least 4,400 yards and 30 touchdowns in 2014-15, and the average of those two seasons would have ranked Manning sixth this year.

As for Mariota, I’ve said it many times already, but Mariota proved that he has a ceiling as high as anyone with the most Fantasy points from Weeks 5-12 with only Tom Brady having more FPPG. Speaking of addressing needs, the Titans will bring in receiver help, as Kendall Wright is a free agent and Harry Douglas is a candidate for release with a $4.48 million cap hit but just $733k in dead space if released. Mariota already finished this year 12th with just 15 games played and Rishard Matthews starting the year slow. Another year of development, chemistry with Matthews, receiver help and Mariota’s rushing ability all add up to Mariota having Top 5 potential.

Kenneth Dixon, RB, BAL – From my NFL Draft piece, here is my breakdown on Dixon:

“Unlike last year, where I had no doubts about the duo I ranked tied for second, we have less clarity immediately after Ezekiel Elliott. Pre draft, I’m taking Dixon as my second best running back. Dixon is a case where you need to study a player more than

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - NOVEMBER 20: Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) signals the offense during the NFL game between the Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts on November 20, 2016, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, IN. (Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire)

Marcus Mariota has the potential to become a Top 5 QB in 2017. Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire

looking at numbers or casually observe tape. Poor offensive line production hurt Dixon in college, but you can see his potential in his 3.6 yards after contact mark. And to be fair, we are talking about a kid that ran for 4,483 yards despite questionable blocking. Dixon’s cutting ability and stop-and-go moves are some of the best for all rookie running backs. At worst, a team will use Dixon in a Giovani Bernard-like role with the potential for more.”

I’m choosing to ignore John Harbaugh for now, and I hope he wakes up and realizes the potential Dixon has. That yards after contact ability is translating to the NFL, as Dixon was 11th for running backs with at least 70 carries (made at least one start) with 2.9 YAC. For reference, Jay Ajayi was the league leader for players with at least 100 carries at 3.5. Dixon is also an adept pass catcher with similar skills to Giovani Bernard. Dixon’s ceiling is Jamaal Charles, and while that’s a rare breed and unlikely for Dixon to reach, he still has Top 15 potential if the Ravens allow the opportunity.

Paul Perkins, RB, NYG – Going back to my draft breakdown again, I called Perkins the most elusive rookie in the draft.

“Perkins is one of the most elusive rookies in the draft with terrific jukes and jab steps. It’s more than his moves though, as Perkins always keeps his legs moving, refusing to go down easy. What makes that more impressive is that Perkins only has five fumbles to his name.”

As with Dixon, Perkins needs the opportunity in order to provide high value in 2017, and it may be tougher for Perkins. While the Giants likely move on from Rashad Jennings, Shane Vereen is still in the mix and an exceptionally passing game option, and there is talk that the Giants will sign or draft another player. Keep watch though, because if they let Perkins led the backfield, he too can have Top 15 RB value.

Corey Coleman, WR, CLE – Coleman is yet another second-year player on the list, and there should be significant breakthrough for him whether or not Terrelle Pryor is back in Cleveland. Coleman is quick and dangerous after the catch, and similar to fellow rookie Sterling Shepard, he shows the ability to separate quickly, especially out of the slot. Coleman didn’t run much of the receiver route tree in college, but he was flashing development in that area… when he was healthy. Coleman also had a Top 10 aDOT for all receivers, tied with Mike Evans at 16.0. Obviously, a better quarterback would help Coleman’s outlook in 2017, but he has enough skill to produce a season similar to Shepard’s rookie year, which would have Coleman inside the Top 35 receivers.

J.J. Nelson, WR, ARI – Speaking of aDOT, only Sammie Coates and Roger Lewis (hint: more on him next week) had higher marks, as Nelson checked in with an 18.1 aDOT. Nelson always had big-play ability with upside in an aggressive offense, but the amount of receivers in Arizona made it tough for Nelson to find consistent value, or sometimes, value at all.

Well, good news Nelson supporters. Michael Floyd is gone, and both Browns – John and Jaron – are coming off injuries. John Brown could deal with his sickle-cell condition for the rest of his career, and that will hurt his potential unfortunately. Jaron Brown tore his ACL this year, but the team extended his contract for 2017, which shows that they believe he should be ready for next year. Jaron has the size advantage over Nelson, but Nelson finished the season with a four-game touchdown streak in Weeks 13-16 and 30 targets for 12 catches, 245 yards and two touchdowns in the final three games. We need to see a better catch rate, but the opportunity is clearly here, especially if Carson Palmer bounces back (or Tony Romo comes in) and even more so if Larry Fitzgerald decides to hang them up (doubtful… but still). Nelson was actually the second highest scoring receiver over the final five weeks only behind Jordy Nelson. He won’t be a Top 10 option next year but Top 35 or better is more likely than not.


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