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We're sticking with the same format from our updated sleepers column when it comes to breakouts. For our third version here, we're going with an All-Star squad based off the 24 players we highlighted in March and then in July before the start of training camp.
I actually like the majority of the players used in the first two columns, so narrowing the list down to 12 was tough. But these are 12 players I plan to target in all leagues whenever possible.
And you should follow suit because there's a lot of upside with these guys, especially depending on where you draft them. We define a breakout as someone who will go from good to great and all these players have the chance to be stars in 2014.
Cutler's preseason performance through two games makes me excited about his outlook this season. He has completed 73 percent of his passes for 160 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in limited work and he reaffirms our speculation for his success back in March. He was on his way toward a breakout season last year before he missed five games with ankle and groin injuries, but he was solid when healthy with 6 of 10 games (he was hurt early in the Week 7 game at Washington) with at least 20 Fantasy points. He opened the year with 20 or more points in five of six games, and if you combine his production with backup Josh McCown
they would have finished as the No. 3 Fantasy quarterback behind Peyton Manning
and Drew Brees
. You shouldn't expect him to be that good, but he could easily outperform his Average Draft Position of No. 83 overall as the No. 12 quarterback off the board.
The Bengals have said Bernard won't lose goal-line touches this season, so you don't have to worry about him coming off the field for Jeremy Hill
or possibly BenJarvus Green-Ellis
on a consistent basis when scoring is on the line. Cincinnati backed up that message in the second preseason game when Bernard scored from the 1-yard line against the Jets. He was productive last year as a rookie with 170 carries for 695 yards and five touchdowns and 56 catches for 514 yards and three touchdowns, and the Bengals plan to lean on him with close to 300 touches this year. We'll find out if he can hold up with that workload, but he's an easy choice in Round 2 at his ADP of No. 17 overall. New offensive coordinator Hue Jackson is more run-oriented than his predecessor in Jay Gruden, so look for Bernard to get plenty of chances to shine.
The appendectomy Ball suffered at the start of training camp has some Fantasy owners shying away from him on Draft Day. His ADP is down to No. 14 overall, but we like Ball as a first-round pick. The Broncos are going to use him in a featured role much like they leaned on Knowshon Moreno
last year when he had 241 carries for 1,038 yards and 10 touchdowns and 60 catches for 548 yards and three touchdowns, all of which made him the No. 5 running back in standard leagues. The key is really playing alongside Peyton Manning
. In 32 games as the starter for the Broncos in the regular season, Manning has helped Denver's running backs reach double digits in Fantasy points 23 times. The offensive line is improved with Ryan Clady
back and Orlando Franklin
moving to guard, which should beef up the interior. Ball has the chance for a top-five finish, just like Moreno, and we're thrilled to get him toward the back-end of Round 1.
I got the chance to spend time with Ellington this offseason as he worked out with noted trainer Tony Villani in South Florida, and I asked him to compare himself to another running back in the NFL. "I can name three guys right now," he said. "Chris Johnson
, Jamaal Charles
and LeSean McCoy
. They're real shifty, not big guys, but they make the biggest impact on the field. That's something I like to do." We hope Ellington can reside in that neighborhood. He's not quite at that level yet, but Ellington was good as a rookie in 2013 with the chance to be great this season. He was the No. 24 Fantasy running back in standard leagues in 2013 with 118 carries for 652 yards and three touchdowns and 39 catches for 371 yards and one touchdown. His workload will increase dramatically and this is an offense to get behind. I like Ellington as early as Round 3 and he should be a fun running back to watch this year.
I'm still expecting a quality season from Stevan Ridley
, but with every fumble for him and every lackluster carry for James White
in the preseason, Vereen looks better and better. Not that Vereen has done much this preseason with one carry for 7 yards and two catches for 21 yards, but he's easily New England's most versatile running back. His problem is health, having played only 26 games over three seasons, including just eight last year because of a broken wrist. But he showed his ability when active. In the eight games he appeared in he averaged 10.8 Fantasy points. If you project that over 16 games he would have been the No. 14 running back in standard leagues. That's also taking into account he was at less than 100 percent when he returned from the wrist injury in Week 11. He still managed 47 catches, and again, projecting that over 16 games, would give him 94 -- think about that in PPR formats. Vereen's ADP is No. 50 overall.
Gerhart is a good running back to target if you take receivers with your first two picks. His ADP is No. 41 overall, but he has top-15 upside based on his role in Jacksonville and his ability. The Jaguars have said Gerhart is their workhorse. We believe it based on the guys behind him -- Jordan Todman
, Denard Robinson
and Storm Johnson
. He'll be the type of running back who grinds his way to Fantasy success. Keep in mind that's what Jacksonville had last year with Maurice Jones-Drew
, who finished as the No. 20 Fantasy running back in standard leagues despite just one game with 100 rushing yards. Gerhart is ready to shine after spending the first four years of his career in Adrian Peterson
's shadow and we're excited to see how he does with this opportunity. He could play a similar role to Michael Turner when he left San Diego for Fantasy success in Atlanta back in 2008.
There's some talk in Arizona that Floyd is ready to take over as the No. 1 receiver for Larry Fitzgerald
. We're not ready to go that far yet, but the gap is closer than you think. Floyd actually had 87 more yards than Fitzgerald last season (1,041 to 954) on 17 fewer receptions (82 to 65). The difference was Fitzgerald scored five more touchdowns (10 to five), but it should be interesting to see how both receivers do this year. We like both as top-20 options and Floyd is entering his third season, which is typically when we've seen receivers have breakout campaigns. This could be a big year for the Arizona passing game with the team having a better grasp on Bruce Arians' system, as well as flaws in a defense that will be without Daryl Washington
, Karlos Dansby
and Darnell Dockett
. More passing will obviously help Floyd, who is a great value at his ADP at No. 63 overall.
Tate's ADP is on the rise after a solid preseason through two games, especially the second outing when he scored a touchdown against the Raiders. He is now being selected at No. 75 overall and we like his outlook for this season. After leaving the Seahawks, Tate should be in line for a career year just based on volume of work since Russell Wilson
attempted only 800 passes the past two years. By comparison, Matthew Stafford
had 634 attempts in 2013 alone and he's been in the top five in pass attempts the past three seasons. Tate has never had more than 98 targets in a season, which was last year, and he should be featured in this offense playing opposite Calvin Johnson
. The Lions have been craving a solid No. 2 receiver for some time, and their second-leading receiver the past three years has been Reggie Bush
once and Brandon Pettigrew
twice. There's a reason they gave Tate a five-year, $31 million contract. He should reward Fantasy owners this year.
Williams is similar to Tate in that he will play opposite a standout No. 1 receiver in a high-volume passing attack. We should see Williams get plenty of single coverage because of Dez Bryant
, and the Cowboys will likely be throwing a lot because of a bad defense and an aggressive play-caller in Scott Linehan. Williams gave us a taste of his potential last year with a four-game scoring streak against Denver, Washington, Philadelphia and Detroit. His role will expand this season as a full-time starter with Miles Austin
gone, and he has the potential to be this year's Alshon Jeffery
as a sophomore sensation with a mid- to late-round pick. His current ADP is No. 93 overall, which could be a steal based on his upside.
There's no denying the standout potential of Jimmy Graham
, Rob Gronkowski
and Julius Thomas
, but only three owners can draft them this season. After that, all the other owners are scrambling for the next-best tight end, which includes a solid group of veterans like Vernon Davis
, Jason Witten
and Greg Olsen
and up-and-comers like Pitta, Jordan Cameron
, Kyle Rudolph
, Zach Ertz
and Jordan Reed
. I like Pitta the best of this group because his quarterback relies on him and he should be featured in this offense. New coordinator Gary Kubiak loves tight ends and his teams in Houston targeted them more than any other since 2008. Pitta had a standout season in 2012 with 61 catches for 669 yards and seven touchdowns, making him No. 7 in Fantasy points in standard leagues. I think he improves this year and he's a steal at his ADP of No. 78 overall.
Reed is going to be considered an injury risk after suffering multiple concussions as a rookie last year, and he missed the final six games in 2013. If you want to pass on Reed because of that, go ahead. But you could be missing out on a standout option. When Reed was on the field in 2013, he had 45 catches for 499 yards and three touchdowns in only nine games. He should make a dramatic leap as a sophomore. Reed averaged 7.5 Fantasy points per game when he was healthy, and if you project that over 16 games he would have finished as the No. 7 Fantasy tight end in standard leagues with 121 points. While Gruden didn't have a featured tight end last year as the coordinator for the Bengals, he did target Jermaine Gresham
and Tyler Eifert
126 times, combining for 85 catches, 906 yards and six touchdowns. Combined they would have been the No. 9 Fantasy tight end, but Reed is a superior talent to both Bengals. He's a tight end to wait for at his ADP of No. 87 overall and he should finish as a top-10 option if he can avoid getting hurt.
Ertz is turning heads this preseason with his performance through two games when he had six catches for 86 yards and a touchdown on seven targets. So, understandably, his ADP is on the rise at No. 100 overall. He has the chance to be featured in Philadelphia this year with the Eagles needing to replace DeSean Jackson
and we saw flashes of his potential last year when he closed the season with 25 catches for 290 yards and five touchdowns over his final nine games, including a playoff loss to the Saints. If you project that over 16 games he would have finished with 44 catches for 516 yards and nine touchdowns for 115 Fantasy points. That would have made him the No. 9 tight end in standard leagues. His total stats were 36 catches for 469 yards and four touchdowns, but we're expecting a significant boost in production. Like Reed, Ertz is a tight end to wait for on Draft Day if you miss out on Graham, Gronkowski or Thomas.