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2014 Draft Prep: Breakouts, 3.0

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Editor's note: FanDuel.com is hosting a one-week long $100,000 Fantasy Football contest for just Week 1. It's only $10 to join and first prize is $10,000. Starts Sunday, September 7th at 1 p.m. ET. Enter now

Sleepers 3.0 | Busts 3.0 | Draft Averages | Draft Prep Index

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.

All-Star breakouts

Jay Cutler, QB, Bears

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.

Giovani Bernard, RB, Bengals

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.

Montee Ball, RB, Broncos

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.

Andre Ellington, RB, Cardinals

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.

Shane Vereen, RB, Patriots

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.

Toby Gerhart, RB, Jaguars

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.

Michael Floyd, WR, Cardinals

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.

Golden Tate, WR, Lions

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.

Terrance Williams, WR, Cowboys

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.

Dennis Pitta, TE, Ravens

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.

Jordan Reed, TE, Redskins

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.

Zach Ertz, TE Eagles

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.

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Player News
Eagles' Chris Polk gets first-team reps in practice
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/17/2014) Eagles running back Chris Polk received first-team reps in practice on Wednesday, according to CSNPhilly.com.

Polk opened practice with the starters and ran a couple of plays. LeSean McCoy watched the plays from the sideline. Following practice, McCoy stressed that it wasn't a big deal. "We rotate all the time," he said. "[Running back coach Duce Staley] pulled me out. [Darren] Sproles wasn't in either." Polk is coming off a three touchdown performance in Week 15. It's possible he could find his way into more playing time given the practice situation. 


Seahawks without three offensive lineman on Wednesday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/17/2014) The Seahawks did not have three of their offensive linemen at practice on Wednesday, according to ESPN.

Max Unger, Russell Okung and J.R. Sweezy were all held out. Unger has missed the past four games due to an ankle and knee issue. He was able to practice last Friday, but did not play on Sunday. Okung is dealing with a bruised lung, but there's a chance he'll recover in time for Sunday's game. "[Okung is] going to have some stuff done [Thursday] that will let us know where he sits and all that," head coach Pete Carrol said. "He’s not out of the plan yet."

Sweezy is dealing with an ankle injury. His appearance on the injury report comes as somewhat of a surprise. 


Lions pick up CB Josh Thomas
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/17/2014) The Lions have claimed cornerback Josh Thomas on waivers, according to the New York Post

Thomas was cut by the Jets on Tuesday, but found a new job quickly. He's played in three games this season, registering two tackles. 


Seahawks' Marshawn Lynch sits out on Wednesday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/17/2014) Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch did not practice on Wednesday.

Lynch has been using Wednesday as a veteran's day all season, so the move isn't a big surprise. He's been battling a back injury throughout most of the season, but has been able to play through it. Lynch has 1133 rushing yards, with 10 touchdowns, this year. 


Texans' DeAndre Hopkins unable to practice on Wednesday
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/17/2014) Texans wideout DeAndre Hopkins did not practice on Wednesday.

Hopkins is dealing with an ankle injury, and was unable to go. Hopkins has played in all 14 games this season. He has 1167 yards on 69 receptions. Hopkins has caught six touchdowns. His status will likely be determined based on how much he is able to practice on Thursday and Friday. 


49ers WR Michael Crabtree misses practice Wednesday
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12/17/2014) 49ers wideout Michael Crabtree did not practice Wednesday due to a knee injury, reports CSNBayArea.com. Crabtree, who has not cleared 60 receiving yards since Week 11, isn't believed to be seriously hurt.

He's scheduled to play the Chargers on Saturday night. If Crabtree can't go, it could mean increased targets for fellow starter Anquan Boldin.


Raiders QB Derek Carr limited by thumb injury
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12/17/2014) Raiders quarterback Derek Carr was limited in Wednesday's practice with a thumb injury, but coach Tony Sparano isn't too concerned, reports CSNBayArea.com. Carr has thrown one or zero touchdown passes in four of his past five games entering Sunday's contest against Buffalo.

Report: Jay Cutler to be benched Week 16
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/17/2014) The Bears will bench starting quarterback Jay Cutler Week 16 against the Lions, according to ESPN.

The move comes as a big surprise given the seven-year, $126 million contract Cutler signed in January. Cutler has had a big problem with turnovers this season, throwing 18 interceptions and fumbling 12 times. The move could mark the end of Cutler's season as the starter, and puts his future in Chicago in jeopardy. 

The team will turn to Jimmy Clausen to replace Cutler.


Texans RB Arian Foster held out Wednesday
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12/17/2014) Texans running back Arian Foster did not practice Wednesday with what the team called a hip injury. Foster was listed on the injury report last week with a groin injury, then racked up 117 yards from scrimmage on 29 touches at Indy.

Foster, who might just be getting a veteran's rest day, is expected to start Sunday against the Ravens. Houston is a 5.5-point underdog at Caesars Palace Race and Sports Book.


Report: Bears to start Jimmy Clausen Week 16
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(12/17/2014) The Bears will start Jimmy Clausen Week 16 against the Lions, according to ESPN.

The move comes as a major surprise. While Jay Cutler has faced scrutiny for his body language and demeanor, the team handed him a seven-year, $126 million contract last season. The move seems to indicate that Cutler is done for the season, and puts his career with the Bears in jeopardy.

Clausen has seen time in three games this season, completing three passes in nine attempts. His last start came back in 2010, his rookie season. That year, Clausen threw for 1,558 yards, with three touchdowns against nine interceptions. 

The Lions are currently 7-point favorites, according to VegasInsider.com.


 
 
 
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