With NFL week 16 closing, most of us are saying farewell to another fantasy football season. This excludes the truly sick degenerates who still play in leagues that use week 17, good luck trying to ride Alfred Blue and Terrance Williams and Matt Cassel to a championship. Anyway, with another season in the books, it’s never too late(early?) to start planning ahead and looking to the future. 2017 mock drafts have already begun and before you know it, the college bowl games will all be over, ushering in the busy off-season for dynasty owners. The Senior Bowl, the East-West Shrine game, the NFL rookie combine and pro days, and of course, the NFL draft are all going to take place in the next 4 months. Those events focus on the incoming rookie class, and how apropos as I write this on Christmas morning, everybody loves to play with the new toys. While others will undoubtedly- and rightfully so- focus on the rookie class, don’t overlook a few current NFL players who are poised to breakout in 2017.
DeVante Parker, Miami Dolphins:
A top pick coming into the league last season, Parker has come along after injuries slowed the start of his career. He should be hitting his stride entering year 3, in his second season in Adam Gase’s system. Everything everybody loved about him 2 years ago is still there, expect him to build on his momentum in 2017. Gase should try to lean on Ajayi next season, opening up the pass game in the process.
2017 prediction: 80+ receptions, +/- 1000 yards and 9 TDs. Approximately 230+ fantasy points and a solid WR1
Rishard Matthews, Tennessee Titans:
Matthews was a free agent signee with the Titans coming into this season and was expected to fill the number 1 role out of the gate. He was a little slow to come along, initially being replaced by rookie Tajae Sharpe and a washed up Andre Johnson, but over the last 7 games Matthews has finally come on, averaging nearly 5 receptions per game for 64 yards and .75 touchdowns. Over the course of a full season, if he could sustain that level of production, we’re looking at an 80 catch, 12 touchdown, 1024 yard receiver on a team that wants to feature the run. A big 2017 might be in his future.
2017 prediction: 75 receptions, 900+ yards and 10 TDs. Approximately 220 fantasy points, a borderline WR1/WR2
Kenneth Dixon, Baltimore Ravens:
I think he was the clear #2 RB in last year’s draft. I think we’re looking at the next all-purpose back here in the mold of Matt Forte. It might take him another year or so to get a full stranglehold on the job, but once he does, look out. The Ravens have shown in the past that they prefer a single lead back system and have traditionally shied away from the dreaded running back by committee approach if they can.
2017 prediction: 250+ touches, 1500+ total yards and 8 TDs. Approximately 250 fantasy points, a RB1 for next season and years to come
Malcolm Mitchell, New England Patriots:
Don’t look now, but Mitchell is 1 touchdown away from the Patriots rookie record in the Belichick-Brady era. That’s pretty impressive given how this system has not been kind to rookie receivers, even many veteran receivers too. Granted injuries to their receiving corps have helped make this all possible, but no matter the reason, gaining the trust of Tom Brady can’t be a bad thing for your career. Over the last 6 games he’s averaged a 4/51/.66 stat line, projected over a full season he would have approached a 60/800/8 stat line. Keep on eye on him this offseason, I can see him shooting up draft boards in later drafts next year. His only negative is that he’s in offense that will spread the ball around.
2017 prediction: 50 receptions, 700 yards and 7 TDs. Approximately 160 fantasy points, a WR3 with lots of upside
Cody Core, Cincinnati Bengals:
Cody Core is a guy I’ve had on my radar since the start of the year. Tyler Boyd was getting all of the attention, and rightfully so, but it left fellow rookie Core totally overlooked. Now with AJ Green injured, you’re seeing the Bengals use Core as Green’s replacement, not Boyd and not Brandon LaFell. Core projects to be the Bengals outside threat across from AJ Green while Boyd stays as the team’s primary weapon out of the slot. Core has a big frame too, at 6’3” and 210 pounds which could make him a threat in the red zone. As a rookie, he obviously needs some polishing, but the potential is there. Over the course of the 6 seasons Andy Dalton has been the quarterback in Cincinnati, the Bengals’ #2 WR has averaged 55 catches for 734 yards and 6 touchdowns. There is no reason to think that isn’t achievable for Core in his sophomore season.
2017 prediction: 50 catches, 650 yards and 5 TDs. Approximately 145 fantasy points, a WR3/Flex play.
Doctson was my highest rated rookie receiver last year coming out of college and I still think he has the most potential in that class. He injured his achilles tendon early in rookie camp was was just never able to get right and essentially missing his entire rookie season. Although he’ll probably suffer through some rookie growing pains in year two, he’s got all the skills to succeed at the NFL level. With both DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon set to become free agents at the end of the season, don’t be shocked if both players leave town, leaving Doctson as the new #1 in D.C. with Crowder in the slot. Depending on what happens with Jackson & Garcon, expect the ‘skins to address the position through the draft of free agency for some additional depth. Doctson will be a premier red zone target for this team for years to come.
2017 prediction: 55 receptions, 550 yards and 11 TDs. Approximately 176 fantasy points, on paper a WR2, but I see him more of a touchdown dependent boom bust play in 2017, but his ceiling is sky high in dynasty leagues.
One of everybody’s favorites a year ago, Prosise was brought along slowly by the Seahawks only to see him end up injured once he seemed to be hitting his stride. It still looks as if this is Thomas Rawls’ job to lose, but given his recent injury history combined with the massive amount of turnover Seattle has had at the position this season, it’d be safe to assume that Seattle spreads the touches around next season in an attempt to keep players healthy.
2017 prediction: 70 touches, 550 total yards and 4 TDs. Approximately 110 fantasy points, and RB 3 with upside given the injury history ahead of him and bump him up a bit higher in PPR leagues. These are fairly modest estimates and I wouldn’t be shocked to see him put up something a little more in the 150 range.
Eli Rogers, Pittsburgh Steelers:
I don’t have a really good reason for this, just a gut feeling. I can see a bit of a Jamison Crowder career arc here. Although he was a little banged up as the year progressed, he now has the trust of his QB in a dynamic offense. He’s a slot receiver with 2 established guys on the outside and I like the upside Rogers’ possesses in this situation. Rogers is currently second on the team in targets, receptions, yards and touchdowns among receivers. With Martavis Bryant coming back next season Rogers will most likely be the 3rd option on the team. Over the previous 5 seasons, the Steelers’ 3rd receiver has averaged 40 receptions for nearly 600 yards, I’d expect Rogers to fall right in line with those numbers.
2017 prediction: 45 receptions, 550 yards and 4 TDs. Approximately 125 fantasy points, a high-end WR4.
Geronimo Allison, Green Bay Packers:
Allison, an undrafted rookie free agent out of Illinois has had a tough time cracking the crowded lineup at receiver in Green Bay behind Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Davante Adams and everybody’s favorite, Jeff Janis. After starting the season on the Packers’ practice squad, when he’s been called upon, he’s performed well. I know this is a “breakout player” article, but it’s all relative to draft position sometimes. Barring any unforeseen injuries or off the field issues, Allison will still be a distant #4 in the Packer’s pecking order, but throwing a dart in the 18th round of your draft on Allison might return you some decent production should anything happen to anybody ahead of him on the depth chart.
2017 prediction: 30 receptions, 400 yards and 3 TDs. Approximately 90 fantasy points, end of the bench, bye week filler, but tremendous upside if the injury bug hits ahead of him.
Leonard Fournette & Dalvin Cook, Teams to be determined:
The NFL is a copycat league. One team does something that is successful, other team look at that success and try to then build their teams according to the same plan. For years NFL teams have stayed away from taking running backs early, the real life version of Zero-RB strategy. Last year, the Dallas Cowboys took Ezekiel Elliot early in the draft and have ridden him into a first round bye in the playoffs. Guess what? Other teams around the league have noticed. All that being said, this draft was supposed to be very top heavy with talent at RB, but a few players have recently decided to stay in school for another season, thus drying up the talent pool at the position and driving the prices for potential elite backs like Fournette & Cook. Look for both to go in the 1st round of the draft, probably early as well.
2017 projections: It’s hard to project numbers without knowing what teams they’ll be landing on but expect both to have RB2 floors next season with Zeke-like ceilings.
Well, there you have it, my early predictions for the breakout players of 2017. Obviously some will hit while others will falter, but as of today, with one week to still play in the 2016 season I feel good about these guys. Keep an eye on key off-season personnel decisions on their respective teams, as those tend to have the biggest impact on their potential production in the future. With the fantasy football season wrapping up, it’ll be nice to take a little break, but don’t snooze too long or you risk missing out on players like this to fantasy owners who don’t stop looking to the future. Good luck in 2017!