Toward the end of 2016, I looked ahead as I wanted to identify players I thought might be breakout stars of the 2017 season. Looking back, it was a mixed bag of injuries and underperformers with minimal success. While not a glowing endorsement, basically this is a list of sleepers a full-season in advance, so batting 1,000 isn’t a realistic goal. Like last year, I bring you players I’m targeting in dynasty leagues this offseason. Given their current prices, even if few hit, return on investment (ROI) should be very rewarding at the end of 2018.
Rex Burkhead, New England Patriots
Yeah, I know, a Patriots running back. I understand if you want to stop reading already. If I haven’t lost you yet, as of this writing in only 10 games played in 2017, Burkhead has scored 8 touchdowns and amassed over 500 yards from scrimmage. More importantly, those numbers are almost split right down the middle between the air and on the ground. Just the type of versatile weapon Bill Belichick loves, Burkhead fits the New England system. As a bonus, he’s also a big special teams guy! So, there are plenty of reasons for Burkhead to remain a Belichick favorite for years to come.
2018 prediction: 99 carries, 576 yards, 8 TDs and 65 receptions for 479 yards and 5 TDs, a solid RB1 in PPR leagues (even though I’m fully aware 13 total TDs sounds crazy)
Josh Doctson, Washington Redskins
Doctson is the only player who made both my 2017 breakout list and my 2018 breakout list. Finally healthy, the Redskins started to use Doctson like a true #1 wide receiver. Between weeks 8 and 16, Doctson never saw fewer than 80% of the team’s offensive snaps and was only below 90% twice, with 4 games of 98% or better. He’s getting the work. The torch is being passed in the nation’s capital as Doctson begins the mythical 3rd-year wide receiver breakout. The only caveat being the Redskins look like they intend to botch this Kirk Cousins thing. The impending breakout is 100% linked to another season of growing chemistry and continuity between Doctson and Cousins.
2018 prediction: 953 yards on 71 receptions and 11 touchdowns. A new WR1 has emerged with over 230 PPR points.
Trent Taylor, San Francisco 49ers
If you’re looking for a sneaky sleeper, this might be your guy. Since Jimmy Garoppolo took over, Taylor is a top-3 target on this team. Taylor has caught 15 of 18 targets for 162 yards and a touchdown in 4 games with Jimmy G. Taylor had a nice offseason as an incoming rookie, but as the season progressed, the Bay Area began to wonder if Taylor is Jimmy G’s eventual go-to receiver. To make a lazy comparison, long term, there is no reason Taylor can’t be the Edelman/Welker to Garoppolo’s Brady.
2018 prediction: 55 receptions, 599 yards, and 5 touchdowns. Roughly 145 PPR points, only a fringe WR3… but solid fantasy teams need solid WR3 options when injuries and bye weeks start piling up.
Devontae Booker, Denver Broncos
Booker was getting all the preseason love in the Mile-High City four months ago, but an injury shelved him early. The rest, as they say, is history. The Broncos being awful didn’t help matters either, as the team went 3-9 in games Booker played. They only averaged 13 points in those losses, which is not really what we would call a positive game script for fantasy running backs. I still think Booker is the most talented back on the Denver roster and hopefully, another productive off-season and pre-season will get him on the right path for 2018.
2018 prediction: 711 rushing yards and 5 touchdowns and 33 receptions for 326 yards and 1 receiving TD. 166 fantasy points, a low end RB2
Tyler Kroft, Cincinnati Bengals
I think we’ve seen the last of Tyler Eifert in tiger stripes. The Bengals really liked Kroft as a rookie coming out of Rutgers in 2015 and tight ends typically take a few years to develop. So here we are at the crossroads of experience and opportunity. With Eifert once again out with an injury, Kroft filled in admirably, finishing the fantasy season as the Bengals 4th leading receiver with the 3rd most targets and 2nd most touchdowns on the team. Kroft finished as a top 20 fantasy tight end in his first season seeing significant touches. We should expect to see more growth next year. There is always a little concern when a team goes through a coaching change, but Kroft should get at least one year to show the new head coach that he deserves the job.
2018 prediction: 47 receptions for 516 yards and 7 touchdowns. 140 PPR points, a borderline TE1/TE2, which isn’t bad at a time when TE depth is complete garbage.
Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers
One of my favorite players from the 2017 rookie class, when healthy Jones clearly outplayed every other running back on the roster. He averaged 5.5 yards-per-carry (YPC), while Ty Montgomery and Jamaal Williams only averaged 3.8 and 3.6 YPC, respectively. The only person Jones apparently failed to convince was Mike McCarthy, as he was also criminally underutilized in the passing game. Jones showed flashes of being decent in pass protection and was an accomplished receiver in college. According to mockdraftable.com Jones has a similar profile to fellow rookies Alvin Kamara and Kareem Hunt, and I think he has just as much upside as well. Over a 4-game stretch when he was the lead back, he tallied 346 yards on 52 carries and scored 3 times. Over the course of a full season, that would project Jones well over 1300 yards.
2018 prediction: 722 rushing yards and 6 touchdowns and another 126 yards receiving on 16 receptions and 1 TD for 142 fantasy points. Those would be RB2/RB3 numbers, but this is assuming McCarthy doesn’t give him the full workload he commands, and splits carries between Jones, TyMo, and Williams. I think if Jones gets a full workload, we can see solid RB1 numbers in the 230-point range.
Stay tuned-in to any news about these players and their teams. Personnel changes can reverberate through a team and have fantasy implications. I predicted a breakout from Rishard Matthews last year and felt good about it too… up until the moment the Titans drafted Corey Davis. With the season wrapping up, it’s nice to get a break from all things fantasy football related, but don’t sleep on the offseason too long. In dynasty leagues, this is where the real work begins. If you’re not paying attention, your leaguemates will snatch up all the sleepiest of sleepers before you even know their names well enough to get your waiver claims in. I hope you had a successful 2017 and good luck this offseason building your 2018 championship roster.