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2014 Draft Prep: Breakouts for Draft Day

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Dave's Busts | Dave's Sleepers

Everyone wants to avoid bust candidates and sleepers are fun to think about drafting, but breakouts are where Fantasy teams ultimately find success. Finding the players who have done something but have the potential to do more -- and then they actually do more -- are what separates the good Fantasy owners from the great Fantasy owners.

Examples from last year? Andrew Luck, Ryan Mathews, Antonio Brown and Jordan Cameron. Not that all of those guys were my breakout picks. Frankly, I don't want to talk about my breakout list from last season and we'll leave it at that. Point is, finding the guys you've heard of before they become guys your parents have heard about on television is what we're trying to do here.

So let's do it.

Colin Kaepernick, QB, 49ers

We're on the verge of seeing Kaepernick turn into one of football's most productive quarterbacks. He'll enter this season armed with his best (and healthiest) receiving corps to date along with a strong offensive line and a coaching staff that seems willing to let him throw it more than the 26.0 times per game he averaged last year. Without that strong receiving corps or pass-friendly system, Kaepernick still posted 10 games with 20-plus Fantasy points in the 18 matchups he started with Michael Crabtree, his No. 1 receiver, over the last two years (including the postseason). Quality veteran receivers like Crabtree, Vernon Davis, Anquan Boldin and now Steve Johnson will mesh with an improving passer with tremendous athleticism, which typically leads to some amazing numbers. With four of his first five games against questionable secondaries, Kaepernick should get off to a good start. Start getting used to the idea of Kaepernick getting picked in Round 5 or 6 in standard Fantasy drafts.
I'd take him ahead of: Matt Ryan, Andrew Luck, Tony Romo

Montee Ball, RB, Broncos

At first blush, this looks like a scary breakout pick, especially considering where Ball will get taken in drafts, but a combination of factors should ease everyone's worries. Ball is a good back, not a great back, but a number of players with limited ability have lined up as Peyton Manning's backfield mate and played well -- Knowshon Moreno is the most recent example. In the last five years he's played, Manning's running backs have combined for at least 12 touchdowns and over 1,800 total yards annually. Ball won't be enough of a hog to get all of those numbers, but the Broncos have made it clear that they're gifting him the starting job and thus making him their primary back. Moreno had 18.8 touches per week last year, an average Ball should be able to get close to. And with the Broncos' passing game considered the best in football, defenses would be flat-out cuckoo to jam the box with defenders and dare Manning to pass. Because they won't, Ball will smash six- and seven-man fronts like other backs before him -- even the tough fronts like the ones in the NFC West. Ball is in the right place with the right coaches backing him up. It's worth following along in camp in case another back breaks out and challenges Ball for his role, but anything short of that puts Ball in Top 10 territory in Fantasy drafts. Now that's a breakout with a big price tag, but his situation merits it.
I'd take him ahead of: Marshawn Lynch, DeMarco Murray, Giovani Bernard, Le'Veon Bell

Toby Gerhart, RB, Jaguars

Gerhart can do anything and everything except out-run defenders. Of course that's a big negative, but his bevy of positives outweigh it, particularly when you factor in Gerhart's very physical style. Last season he had at least one carry of 10-plus yards in every game he had at least 10 carries in, and it was thanks in part to his strong, bullish style. Gerhart doesn't turn the ball over (he was incorrectly given a fumble lost last season), he can catch the ball with ease and has just 276 carries on his career odometer. Furthermore, the Jaguars have said over and over again that they're committed to leaning on him similarly to how the Seahawks lean on Marshawn Lynch. Last year the Jaguars seemed to shy away from using backs inside the 5 (23 pass plays versus 12 run plays) but did have all of their running back touchdowns come from six yards or closer. With Gerhart, the team will be more willing to run near the goal line, and Gerhart will make them look smart for doing so. We all crave the running back with a big workload, right? Well, Gerhart is one you'll be able to find between the middle of Round 3 and the end of Round 5. He's a no-brainer as a No. 2 Fantasy running back with lots of upside.
I'd take him ahead of: C.J. Spiller, Ray Rice and Chris Johnson

Rashad Jennings, RB, Giants

Jennings hasn't always been a great player for Fantasy but has always seemed to be on the cusp. If he plays like he did last year then this will be his breakthrough year. Given a chance to play regularly with the Raiders in 2013, Jennings totaled six rushing touchdowns and 788 total yards over eight games. A deeper look at what he can do revealed his ability to play well in every facet of the game. The Giants recognized this when they signed him -- general manager Jerry Reese called him a "bell cow" back. The team will certainly make use of speedster David Wilson (who was a question mark when they signed Jennings) and rookie Andre Williams could also be a factor, but Jennings is their most versatile and reliable rushing threat. The Giants' offense is fresh for 2014 including several new offensive linemen, which will go a long way in making their whole team better. Jennings should lock up his second consecutive 1,000-total-yard season and could flirt with a career high in total touchdowns. Draft him as a No. 3 rusher with the potential to be a solid No. 2 choice.
I'd take him ahead of: Ben Tate, Maurice Jones-Drew and Steven Jackson

Khiry Robinson, RB, Saints

The Saints seem to have a knack for unearthing running backs via free agency. Pierre Thomas came into the league that way and now Robinson seems to be next in line. Over Week 17 and in the playoffs, when the Saints lost Thomas to injury, Robinson led the way in carries with 33 and rumbled for 152 yards (4.6 avg.) and a score. That was enough proof to the coaching staff that Robinson could hack it in the league, especially in important playoff games. Heading into this year, he still has to fight for work with Thomas and Mark Ingram, but from where we sit he's the best pure power running back the Saints have. Coach Sean Payton has touted him this offseason for his confidence and his understanding of playing his position. Meanwhile, Thomas took a pay cut and Ingram wasn't offered the fifth year on his contract. Robinson is the future and in the NFL the future plays sooner than anyone expects. Thomas might go ahead of Robinson on Draft Day, but Robinson is the name we think has the better chance to put up big numbers this season. A suggestion: Invest two picks in the Saints backfield on Draft Day, either an eighth and a ninth in Thomas and Robinson or a ninth and a 12th in Robinson and Travaris Cadet, with Robinson being the guy you hope for a breakout season from.
I'd take him ahead of: Darren Sproles, Devonta Freeman and Stepfan Taylor

Tavon Austin, WR, Rams

Maybe part of the reason why there's optimism on Sam Bradford as a sleeper is because Austin's expectations remain high. Yep, last year we thought so much of the rookie that we had him as a Top 40 receiver. And there were weeks where he played like a Top 10 receiver ... and others when he might not have been a Top 100 receiver. Expect some stability as Austin enters his second season in the Rams offense and has the system "down cold" according to offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. The coaches already expect him to contribute more often by lining up all over the place and causing mismatches. He had five or more targets in eight of his 13 games last year and should come alive for a bit more in 2014, particularly on handoffs. The best news is that Austin can be had much later in 2014 than in 2013, making him a bargain breakout candidate who can begin the year on your bench. He's Round 9 or 10 material, making him a slight risk with plenty of reward.
I'd take him ahead of: Harry Douglas, Anquan Boldin and Cecil Shorts

Doug Baldwin, WR, Seahawks

When we went into the film review for Golden Tate this spring, the receiver who really stood out was Baldwin. He seemed faster, so when we asked him about it he (sort of) confirmed our belief. Baldwin played a bunch last year because of the injury to Percy Harvin but will settle into the role left behind by Tate this fall. He really improved last year, catching a remarkable 63 of 88 targets (71.6 pct.; includes postseason) while effectively working as the second receiver. Seattle hasn't had a receiver with at least 100 targets since Mike Williams in 2010 but Tate did get 98 last year. If Baldwin could manage 100 targets he could conceivably finish with nearly 70 grabs and over 1,000 yards (he's averaged 15-plus yards per grab in two of his last three years). He'll be around late in drafts.
I'd take him ahead of: James Jones, Kelvin Benjamin and Greg Jennings

Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Vikings

This shouldn't be a surprise entry on the breakout list. Patterson might not be a "complete" receiver but what he lacks in technique he makes up for with natural ability. And now he'll use his strengths with a nice rookie quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater and an aggressive offensive coordinator in Norv Turner to hopefully produce some awesome numbers. Under Turner, the Vikings will pass plenty and Patterson should wind up leading the team in targets. Turner's track record is well-known and has worked wonders with premier receivers like Randy Moss and Vincent Jackson and has come through with breakouts in the past like Jerry Porter and Josh Gordon circa 2013. Patterson scored in each of his last five games last season (not all receiving -- some rushing) and has reportedly improved his route running this spring. We think he's worth taking a chance on with a Top 50 pick as a No. 2 Fantasy receiver.
I'd take him ahead of: Victor Cruz, DeSean Jackson and Roddy White

Rueben Randle, WR, Giants

When the offseason started it sounded like Randle was on the outs with the team, but maybe all the negative talk was meant to motivate him. If so, it worked. Now coaches are singing Randle's praises and are optimistic about his future after he took a serious approach to his offseason. As a result, he's looked sharper and appears to be a huge part of the Giants offense as they transition to a West Coast look. So if he tallied 41 catches on 78 targets (a gross 52.6 pct.) for 611 yards and six touchdowns last year, more is in his future, especially with Hakeem Nicks and his 102 targets from last season no longer on the roster. The Giants figure to be a team playing in many close games where they'll need to pass, and Eli Manning should be better than he was last year thanks to an improved offensive line. Randle figures to be the second-best receiver in New York behind Cruz, but if his flashy offseason continues into the preseason, we could see a new lead wideout in NYC. He's in the No. 3 receiver conversation when you get to the middle rounds of your draft.
I'd take him ahead of: Marvin Jones, Hakeem Nicks and Dwayne Bowe

Terrance Williams, WR, Cowboys

We've been fans of Williams for a while, so when he got the chance to play regularly last season we were psyched. He performed like a typical rookie full of talent: Played at a high level for a while and then bottomed out when defenses were able to key in on him. He had at least eight Fantasy points in five of his first six games once he got regular playing time and then had a max of eight Fantasy points once in his last six games. But the coaches aren't concerned, moving Williams into the starting lineup in place of Miles Austin this spring. And if defenses play the Cowboys the way we expect them to, then Dez Bryant will open up the field for Williams. That's a very good thing because the Cowboys figure to be playing from behind quite a bit, meaning a lot of passing for this team. It's not a stretch at all to envision Williams falling just short of doubling his rookie stats of 44 catches for 736 yards and five touchdowns. Draft him as a solid No. 3 Fantasy wideout with potential to finish in the Top 20.
I'd take him ahead of: Eric Decker, Kendall Wright and Percy Harvin

Zach Ertz, TE, Eagles

In April, Ertz admitted in a roundabout way that coaches felt they had to take him off the field in certain situations. His goal this offseason was to be in a place where coaches would be confident in him no matter what they wanted to do. So far it sounds like he's accomplished his mission as a number of reports suggest he looks like he's headed toward breakout status. What we noticed is that Eagles coach Chip Kelly is getting into using his tight ends more at the pro level. Last season, 22.9 percent of the Eagles' completions went to tight ends. That percentage is the second-highest for tight ends in Kelly's system since 2006. The rub is that the Eagles have another good tight end in Brent Celek, but he's more of an old-school tight end, whereas Ertz has some "Gronk" potential to him. He's 6-foot-5, 250 pounds and has plenty of athleticism. Final point: He finished last season with 18 grabs for 217 yards and four scores over six games (playoff loss included). If we play the extrapolation game with those numbers over 16 games, he'd have 48 receptions for 579 yards and 10 touchdowns, easily Top 10 numbers for a tight end. For a guy with so much potential you'll be able to get 9 or 10 rounds after Jimmy Graham, you'd be nuts not to consider him.
I'd take him ahead of: Eric Ebron, Martellus Bennett and Heath Miller

Ladarius Green, TE, Chargers

The first time we noticed Green as a potential difference-maker was when the Chargers drafted him in 2012. He had caught 149 passes for 2,201 yards and 22 touchdowns at Louisiana-Lafayette and was built like a small forward (6-foot-6, 240 pounds). The second time Green caught our eyes was when he started making plays last season. But when Mike McCoy said this March that he wished he could have brought Green along earlier and that his offense was still evolving, our enthusiasm went to a new level. Green is a mismatch-type of player, listed as a tight end but could easily line up wide, and he's the kind of player McCoy could really get creative with. It helps that Green has continued to look good throughout the offseason. This is more of a gut call than anything else, but we think Green has a chance to overtake Gates as the better Fantasy tight end in San Diego. He's a no-risk pick in drafts too -- he can be had in the very late rounds, so if he doesn't break through it won't hurt the owners who take the chance.
I'd take him ahead of: Any Colts tight end, Charles Clay, Garrett Graham and Antonio Gates

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Player News
QB struggles begin to impact Cardinals DST
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(2:13 am ET) The Cardinals DST scored just one Fantasy point in standard CBSSports.com leagues Week 16 against Seattle, interrupting a stretch of 10 games in which it averaged 15.1, and the Cardinals' offensive woes may have had something to do with it.

Specifically, they've been unable to find a decent quarterback since losing Carson Palmer to injury in Week 10. Backup Drew Stanton at least mounted some kind of threat, but with him sidelined by a sprained knee in Week 16, the Cardinals had to turn to third-stringer Ryan Lindley. He turned the ball over twice without once leading his team into the end zone, completing less than half of his passes in the process.

The quick trips back to the sideline gave the Seahawks more chances to pile up points and yards, and they did, finishing with 35 and 596. Only one other time have the Cardinals allowed more than 30 points in a game, and the 596 yards were a season high. Worse yet, they were lacking in big plays, recording one sack with no takeaways.

Fortunately, the Cardinals will take on a struggling 49ers offense in Week 17, so even if Lindley is back under center, the DST at least has a chance of a respectable performance. Still, if you've been relying on it all season, you might want to make sure there isn't an appealing matchups play on the waiver wire.


Seahawks DST can't be stopped
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(2:04 am ET) The Seahawks DST had another dominant performance Week 16 at Arizona, continuing a nine-week run that has made it once again arguably the top unit in Fantasy. During that stretch, it has averaged 16.2 Fantasy points, allowing 11.9 points on 231.3 yards.

It allowed only six points on 216 yards in Week 16, recording four sacks and one interception. Of the Seahawks' 33 sacks this season, 20 have come in their last five games.

Clearly, they had a favorable matchup in this one, but they also shut down the Eagles in Week 14. You don't have any reason to shy away from the Seahawks DST against St. Louis in Week 17.


Kenbrell Thompkins comes out of nowhere
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:58 am ET) After making only modest contributions since coming over from the Patriots in Week 6, Raiders wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins suddenly emerged as quarterback Derek Carr's favorite target Week 16 against Buffalo, catching five passes for 90 yards. He hadn't caught even one pass since Week 13, and his previous high in yardage was 47.

Of course, you should know how this goes by now. Fellow wide receivers James Jones and Andre Holmes have both had their stretches of Fantasy relevance this season, as has tight end Mychal Rivera. The Raiders have a multitude of viable receiving targets, but their roles aren't so clear, which makes the task of picking the most impactful from week to week next to impossible.

In other words, you'd need to play in an especially deep league to take a flier on Thompkins for the season's final week.


Latavius Murray trustworthy up to a point
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:51 am ET) If his 23 carries Week 14 against San Francisco didn't convince you, Latavius Murray's 23 carries Week 16 against Buffalo should make the message loud and clear: He is the Raiders' top running back, and they're putting more faith in him than they ever did Darren McFadden.

Granted, it hasn't translated to much production yet, but the 49ers and Bills are two of the toughest defenses against the run. Unfortunately, Denver, the Raiders' Week 17 opponent, is ranked even higher at both.

Can you trust Murray to get his carries? He's gotten them two of the last three weeks, so most likely, yes. And with 20-plus chances, there's always the chance he breaks a long one. But the matchup will make it difficult.

You'd like to start him given his ever-increasing role, but you shouldn't force him into your lineup if you have two (or maybe three) respectable running backs already.


One way or another, Fred Jackson gets his
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:44 am ET) Trailing early Week 16 at Oakland with their playoff hopes on the line, the Bills didn't stick with the running game for long, attempting only three runs in the second half. But in a way, that worked to running back Fred Jackson's advantage. He's such a good pass-catcher out of the backfield that he still topped 100 total yards, doing so for the first time since returning from a groin injury in Week 12.

Even with the return of C.J. Spiller from a long-term shoulder injury, Jackson still led the Bills in carries, but with only six for 10 yards. He also led the team in catches with nine for 93 yards. He had 10 catches just two weeks ago, so clearly, he's a PPR stud.

Is he worth starting in standard leagues as well? Well, he's also gotten 20 carries twice in five games since returning. He hasn't been as effective on the ground as through the air, but yards are yards, however he gets them.

Their matchup Week 17 at New England will probably force the Bills to go pass-heavy again, so unless you're stacked at running back, you can find a spot for Jackson in your lineup.


Desperation fuels Kyle Orton's performance
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:35 am ET) Bills quarterback Kyle Orton didn't have the most efficient day throwing the ball Week 16 at Oakland, but from a Fantasy perspective, it was a productive one. He threw for 329 yards and three touchdowns but also had two interceptions.

What's crazy, though, is that 196 of those yards came in the second half. The Bills were trailing a winnable game with their playoff hopes on the line, and their desperation showed. Unfortunately, that desperation also contributed to the second of Orton's interceptions.

The Bills have been eliminated, so no matter how much they're trailing Week 17 at New England, they probably won't be quite as desperate. You can expect more typical numbers from Orton -- maybe about 250 yards with one or two scores -- even if the matchup appears to be a favorable one, making him a player better left for two-quarterback leagues.


Kenny Britt clearly better with Shaun Hill
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:27 am ET) Rams wide receiver Kenny Britt caught a season-high nine passes on a season-high 11 targets Week 16 against the Giants, but his 103 receiving yards actually weren't a season high.

That's because he had 128, along with a touchdown, Week 11 against the Broncos.

That was Shaun Hill's first game back under center. Week 16, obviously, was his latest one. In the six games since Hill reclaimed the role, Britt has averaged 3.8 catches for 66.3 yards. In the nine games before then, he averaged 2.3 catches for 34.7 yards.

Britt has been especially good lately, averaging 73.3 yards in his last three games. Hill has also been fond of Stedman Bailey, but he doesn't seem to have a clear preference for one or the other.

Of course, the Rams passing attack isn't prolific enough to sustain both, so if you're going to target Britt or Bailey off the waiver wire, make sure it's in a deeper league. You wouldn't want to roll the dice on either in the season's final week if you can help it.


Andre Williams showing more ability
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:19 am ET) Carrying the load for the third straight game with Rashad Jennings sidelined by an ankle injury Week 16 at St. Louis, Giants rookie running back Andre Williams delivered his second 100-yard effort during that stretch, picking up 110 yards on 26 carries. Of course, just like in Week 14, it wasn't the steadiest performance. He had a 50-yard run in that one en route to a career-best 131 yards. He had a 45-yard run en route to his 110 yards in this one.

But that's true for most 100-yard rushing performances. The best backs break long runs occasionally, which makes up for all the 2- and 3-yard gains in between. It's easy to discount Williams' performance because of a long run here or a long run there because he's been so bad on a per-carry basis this season (take that 45-yard run away, and he averaged only 2.6 yards per carry -- oh noes!), but the fact is those long runs count, too. And he barreled over a couple of tacklers to complete it, which was nice to see.

Because Williams is short on receiving ability, his numbers don't look so great when he doesn't break a long run, but with all the carries he's getting now, his chances are better than not of breaking one. He's worth starting in standard leagues Week 17 against Philadelphia.


Rueben Randle not overshadowed for once
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:08 am ET) Since the emergence of rookie Odell Beckham in Week 9, and especially since his even bigger emergence in Week 12, wide receiver Rueben Randle has been an afterthought in the Giants passing game, averaging 2.3 catches for 31.8 yards in the four games leading up to Week 16 at St. Louis. But quarterback Eli Manning finally had enough yards to go around in that one, delivering Beckham his usual eight grabs for 148 yards and still finding Randle on six passes for 132 yards.

Randle even caught a touchdown pass, his first since Week 5. Of course, Beckham caught two and is now up to eight in his last five games, averaging 9.6 catches for 131.4 yards during that stretch.

You see the problem here, don't you? Manning was able to sustain both Beckham and Randle in this one, but that's only because he threw for a season-high 391 yards. If he regresses to a more modest total Week 17 against Philadelphia, we all know Randle is the one taking a back seat. Beckham has other-worldly talent, and Manning is smart enough to deliver him the ball as often as possible.

Of course, the Giants will probably have to throw a lot to keep pace with the Eagles, which bodes well for Randle, but you should still treat him as no more than a No. 3 wide receiver in Fantasy.


Odell Beckham making Eli Manning a stud
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(12:58 am ET) Giants rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham had another eight catches for 148 yards and two touchdowns Week 16 at St. Louis, which has become par for the course for him. It was his second straight game and third game in five with more than 140 receiving yards and multiple scores.

What you may not have noticed, though, is that quarterback Eli Manning has taken off during that same stretch. He had a season-high 391 yards and three touchdowns in Week 16, completing 25 of 32 passes. Over his last five games, he has averaged 297.2 yards with 11 touchdowns and two interceptions.

It stands to reason, of course. Beckham couldn't be putting up all those numbers without someone throwing him the ball. This may be one of those rare cases of the wide receiver making the quarterback as opposed to the other way around. Beckham is clearly a special talent, and Manning has made a point to deliver him the ball as often as possible.

It's reason enough to give Manning another chance Week 17 against Philadelphia if you've been suffering with Matthew Stafford or Colin Kaepernick and are somehow still alive in spite of it.


 
 
 
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