Second-Year Players Ready For A Fantasy Football Breakout
Rookie players are rarely extremely good. It is just the nature of the NFL. Running backs are able to excel the easiest because playing that position is the most natural transition from the college game. However, wide receiver, quarterback and tight end are all positions that take a little bit more time to develop. The number of fantasy viable rookie quarterbacks and tight ends are significantly lower than at running back and wide receiver. Zero rookie QB’s finished in the top 12 of fantasy scoring last year, three rookie running backs were in the top 12, one rookie wide receiver was in the top 24 of fantasy scoring and zero rookie tight ends were in the top 12 of fantasy scoring. This article contains a group of players who are either primed to enter the core of their position in fantasy or players who were not fantasy relevant in 2018 that will be in 2019.
2019 Second-Year Fantasy Football Breakout Players
Rashaad Penny, Seattle Seahawks
Penny spent most of last year being one of the most frustrating players to own in fantasy football. He was drafted in the first round by Seattle but gained over 15 pounds in the offseason, reported out of shape and was benched for Chris Carson and Mike Davis. He ended up totaling 494 scrimmage yards and two touchdowns but had fewer carries than Davis and Carson and was 11th (!!!!) on his team in targets. However, Mike Davis was the leading backfield receiver for the team and he is now in Chicago. Reports out of OTA’s are that Penny has lost the extra weight and the coaching staff seems to be primed to letting him gain the lead back role for one of the most run-heavy teams in the NFL. Penny is in a similar bucket to Ronald Jones as a disappointing rookie but has more draft capital and little on-roster competition. Given how late he is going in drafts, Penny fits a Zero RB Drafting build as a high-upside pick after the eighth round.
Michael Gallup, Dallas Cowboys
One of the players I have been buying most often in the later rounds of drafts is the Cowboys’ Michael Gallup. Gallup was one of the most productive receivers in the history of junior college football and had over 2,500 yards and 21 touchdowns in two seasons at Colorado State. He didn’t have an efficient rookie season playing in a stagnant Cowboys offense but started as a rookie which is a positive indicator. All reports out of Dallas is that new OC Kellen Moore’s offense is lightyears ahead of Scott Linehan’s tired schemes which signal an upward trend for Gallup, Blake Jarwin, Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper. Buying second-year wide receivers who were productive college players but struggled to be efficient as rookies is a tried and true profitable method of fantasy football drafting.
DaeSean Hamilton, Denver Broncos
Unlike Gallup, Hamilton actually produced as a rookie. There is perhaps an argument that Courtland Sutton is a better breakout candidate because he was drafted more highly and plays a premium position as a boundary receiver opposed to a slot wide receiver in Hamilton. However, the NFL is drifting more towards versatile players who can secure passes closer to the line of scrimmage as the most targeted players in any given offense. Hamilton fits that trend and really only needs Emmanuel Sanders to play like an old receiver coming off a devastating lower-body injury to pay off his current price tag in drafts. While he has a lower fantasy football ceiling than Sutton (who could have a 12 touchdown season without blinking), Hamilton’s week to week stability projects a bit better.
Christian Kirk, Arizona Cardinals
As referenced in a recent dynasty fantasy football buy low article, attempting to get as many Arizona Cardinals players as possible on your fantasy teams is a +EV move. Even in being conservative with our projections, we have the Cardinals offense amongst the top-10 in the league in yards per play and plays ran per game. Even if on a per play basis they are at league average, all of the Cardinals skill position players should get extra opportunities compared to their peers at similar ADP’s. Kirk has been drawing rave reviews in Cardinals’ OTA’s, has played with Kyler Murray before at Texas A&M, and has a leg up on the Cardinals three rookie wide receivers as he has already played an NFL season. Kirk can be had in the latter parts of the eighth and ninth round but it would not surprise me if, by the end of draft season, he is a fifth-round pick.
Marquez Valdez-Scantling, Green Bay Packers
The Packers are seemingly learning what the rest of us already know: MVS is their second-best wide receiver and Geronimo Allison is best left as a complementary piece in their offense. Valdez-Scantling is a true SPARQ-star at the wide receiver position and outplayed J’Mon Moore and Equanimeous Saint Brown in their rookie season. The Packers were looking to re-stock their pass-catching cupboard and did so with the three rookie wide receivers last year. Rob Demovsky of ESPN reported from OTA’s that “When the Green Bay Packers’ offense lined up for the first minicamp practice, Marquez Valdes-Scantling took his place on the field alongside Pro Bowl receiver Davante Adams. On the second day, Valdes-Scantling was there again. Whether first-year coach Matt LaFleur sent out his base personnel or a three-receiver set, the man known around Lambeau Field as “MVS” was part of the package during this week’s practices.” We should be investing Aaron Rodgers’ WR2 as much as possible at this point. It is unlikely an opportunity for MVS to be this cheap will happen again.
Royce Freeman, Denver Broncos
Phillip Lindsay is good. Royce Freeman does not need Lindsay to be bad in order for him to fulfill the draft capital that the Broncos spent on him. We would expect Denver to continue to attempt a run-heavy game plan most weeks which means using multiple running backs. The largest factor in Freeman breaking out would be him sending Devontae Booker to the bench. If the running back snaps are split just in between Lindsay and Freeman, there is more than enough work to go around. Lindsay had 227 touches last season while Freeman had 144. However, Booker stole 72 touches from the pair last year. Assuming Denver values their tandem of talented second-year backs appropriately, there should be an extra 50-70 projectable touches for Freeman that is not priced into his ADP.
Tre’Quan Smith, New Orleans Saints
Of all the wide receivers on this list, I actually think that Tre’Quan has the highest ceiling. More than MVS, more than Gallup, more than Kirk. Smith has the ability to be second in targets on the most efficient passing team in the NFL (though not the best). The Saints had 12 players last year with 10 or more targets but 251 of the teams’ 519 targets went to Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas. First, there is upside if the Saints pass slightly more in 2019 than in 2018 (not probable but not impossible). Second, if the Kirkwood/Ginn/Smith/Dan Arnold/Austin Carr roulette wheel turns into mostly Smith’s role (possible) then you are looking at a fantasy WR2. The feeling from inside the Saints organization is that Smith is ready for added responsibility and I tend to agree with them.
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