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2014 Draft Prep: Breakouts, 2.0

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, 2.0 | Busts, 2.0 | Draft Averages | Rankings | Draft Index

Apologies to Khiry Robinson and Tavon Austin, breakout candidates chewed up and spit out by the preseason machine. They've been replaced by Shane Vereen and Kelvin Benjamin, both of whom not only have had a stellar preseason, but also have potential for big, fat stats.

That's what we live for -- fat stats.

Remember that breakout players aren't just guys you'll look at in the first five rounds of your draft. Mid- and late-round picks also qualify, many of which are listed below. Arming yourself with some of these names will ease your concerns when you get toward the back half of your draft and have no idea who to pick. These players aren't just names to know, they are potential starters you could lean on from week to week. If you had a list like that last year with Josh Gordon, Keenan Allen and Giovani Bernard on it, you would have probably made a run at a title in your league.

Even though we've updated our breakouts, many still remain from our first version, complete with analysis that still applies even though it was written in late July. Consider the original breakout list a supplement to this list.

Colin Kaepernick, QB, 49ers

I'm sticking with Kaepernick despite the weak preseason start. The biggest problem with the Niners isn't him -- it's the O-line. Frankly, the coaching staff is too savvy to not work around the line if they can't fix it outright. It's been a staple of their team since Jim Harbaugh took over and it seems odd to think that all of a sudden it will be a weakness. When Kaepernick wasn't on his back this preseason, he was on point with most of his passes. It's clear from watching their formations and reviewing their offseason moves that the passing game is going to be a big point of emphasis for them. I'm counting on a career-high in passing yards and total touchdowns from Kaepernick in 2014.
I'd take him ahead of: Jay Cutler, Russell Wilson, Cam Newton

Montee Ball, RB, Broncos

Appendectomy what? Soon after Ball had emergency surgery he was back in Denver's preseason games. And they need him -- backup Ronnie Hillman had two starts to make a bid for touches and couldn't come up with a big game. Maybe if you're a fan of Hillman's you'll argue that he ran into tough defenses in Seattle and San Francisco, but the bottom line is that Hillman did zilch to suggest he could be the Broncos' lead tailback. So, Ball is back in the big boy spot next to Peyton Manning by default. That's a good spot to be in -- running backs have accumulated at least 12 touchdowns and over 1,800 total yards next to Peyton in each of his last five full seasons. Just ask Knowshon Moreno how it worked out for him working with Manning. Ball's in line for a slew of stats as defenses shy away from slowing him down since it'll mean Manning throwing over the top to any one of his receiving weapons.
I'd still take him ahead of: Marshawn Lynch, DeMarco Murray, Giovani Bernard, Le'Veon Bell

Toby Gerhart, RB, Jaguars

It's been a rough start for Gerhart as he's totaled 51 yards on 16 carries and an 8-yard catch through two preseason games, but he's a guy worth keeping faith in. Gerhart is easily Jacksonville's top back after auditions for Jordan Todman and Denard Robinson went nowhere. It might not be pretty -- we could see a lot of 17-carry, 60-yard days in our future -- but he should do enough catching passes and working the goal line to make up for it. I've referenced our research into Gerhart previously and still view him as a trustworthy No. 2 Fantasy running back.
I'd still gladly take him ahead of: C.J. Spiller, Ray Rice, Chris Johnson

Rashad Jennings, RB, Giants

So far this preseason the only bright spot for the Giants offense has been the run game. That could mean the team leans on its backs in the early going. When we called Jennings a breakout before, David Wilson was still in the picture for the ground game. Wilson's football career is over and his track career is beginning, eliminating one player from the workload. Andre Williams is a threat to steal touchdowns from Jennings, but it remains to be seen just how many overall touches he'll take away. Both Giants running backs are breakout candidates, but Jennings is the one you'll consider first in drafts. In PPR leagues he's safer as a No. 2 Fantasy rusher, but he can fill that role if you're needy for help in standard leagues.
I'd still take him ahead of: Ben Tate, Maurice Jones-Drew, Trent Richardson

Shane Vereen, RB, Patriots

Stevan Ridley might have looked like the best rushing option for the Patriots this preseason, but his track record of fumbles has either caught up to him or is about to catch up to him. In New England's third preseason game we noted Ridley on the field for 11 snaps with the starters while Vereen had 30. Vereen also won't tip the Patriots' game plan from play to play to opponents like Ridley has. So even though Vereen has a paltry 3.6 rushing average this preseason (Ridley has 3.9 on a dozen more carries) he's still the Patriots' best running back. Further evidence could be found in his receiving totals this preseason: seven catches for 78 yards and two touchdowns, both coming against the Panthers in their third exhibition game. Through three seasons, Vereen has 1,092 total yards and nine touchdowns. We think he'll combine for more than 1,092 yards in this upcoming season while delivering close to nine scores, if not nine on the button. Health is an issue -- he's played in just 21 games over the last two seasons -- but his potential to be a monster in the Patriots backfield cannot be ignored. He's on my breakout list for the second year in a row.
I'd take him ahead of: Lions running backs, Bills running backs, Ravens running backs

Doug Baldwin, WR, Seahawks

You're going to come to a point late in your draft where you're looking for low-risk breakout candidates. Baldwin's the one I turn to. When we last wrote about Baldwin, Sidney Rice was still on the active roster. He's since retired. Percy Harvin is still on the active roster and healthy, which is good for Baldwin since he'll command coverage and leave Baldwin in favorable situations. He caught over 70 pct. of his targets last season and postseason and looked just as good if not better than Golden Tate in 2013. If he can grab 70 of 100-to-110 targets he could be in line for a 1,000-yard season (his track record suggests he can do this.
I'd take him ahead of: Anquan Boldin, Riley Cooper, Kenny Stills

Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Panthers

Cam Newton could be in for a rough season, but we've seen quality receivers put up big numbers without their quarterback doing the same. One such guy is Steve Smith, who for years put up nice numbers with the likes of Jake Delhomme as his quarterback. Smith totaled over 1,100 yards from Newton in Cam's first two seasons as a result of a lot of targets and his game-breaking skills at the time. We can already tell that Benjamin is in line to lead the Panthers in targets this season -- everyone else in the Carolina offense is just pedestrian. And we can tell that Benjamin has taken well to the pro game and has shown off quite a catching radius to go with his long-stride running style and insane height (he's 6-foot-5). Because of the improvements we've seen from him along with Newton leaning on him, he's become my favorite rookie receiver. Don't rule out a 1,000-yard season from him.
I'd take him ahead of: Julian Edelman, Mike Wallace and any rookie receiver.

Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Vikings

The more we watch him, the more we fall in love. Patterson's incredible size/speed skill set and solid finish to last season combined with Norv Turner's arrival to blend some spice into what was a vanilla Vikings offense makes the second-year receiver a legit threat to topple 1,200 total yards and seven touchdowns. The Vikings will start the year with Matt Cassel under center and he seems to have a good connection with Patterson, as evidenced by their 53-yard touchdown at Kansas City in the third week of preseason action. This one's a no-brainer -- Patterson should be considered a No. 2 Fantasy receiver with No. 1 potential, which will make him a guy to target on Draft Day.
I'd take him ahead of: Keenan Allen, Michael Floyd, Roddy White

Rueben Randle, WR, Giants

With only three catches this preseason, Randle leads all starting Giants wideouts in yards per catch (17.7) and touchdowns (one). Of course, that shouldn't be the reason to take Randle. This is: He remains a playmaker in the Giants offense, one that should round into form soon after the first couple of games. The new scheme will yield easier routes to run and passes to catch, making him more efficient while also giving him a shot at breaking off long gains for touchdowns, which he did a decent amount of in 2013. Victor Cruz might be the top banana and will draw a lot of attention, opening up opportunities for Randle.
I'd take him ahead of: Brandin Cooks, Jeremy Maclin, Reggie Wayne

Terrance Williams, WR, Cowboys

This is a pretty simple equation: Bad Cowboys defense plus good Cowboys offense equals a lot of points per week. And if Dallas is going to average, say, 27.4 points per game like they did last year, then getting pieces of the offense is a good idea. Williams is quite affordable in drafts with a pick around 90th overall and should be able to do better than the 736 yards and five touchdowns he had as a rookie. He's third Fantasy receiver material with potential to be a Top 20 pass catcher.
I'd still take him ahead of: Eric Decker, Kendall Wright, Percy Harvin

Zach Ertz, TE, Eagles

Even with the Eagles offense showing some warts this preseason, there's a ton to like about Ertz. He's big, strong, fast and has some nice mitts to reel in passes from Nick Foles, whom he's spent time with this offseason developing chemistry. Through three preseason games, Ertz is second on the team in receiving with 110 yards on a second-best eight catches along with a score, the overwhelming majority of which came with the first-team offense. Interpret this as a sign that the targets are going to be there for him this season, especially in the red zone, where defenses can't match up well with him. And as I referenced earlier this offseason, Chip Kelly used tight ends more last year than all but one of his seasons as a college coach. Ertz isn't going to fade away or lose a lot of work to Brent Celek.
I'd take him ahead of: Kyle Rudolph, Greg Olsen, Jordan Reed

Ladarius Green, TE, Chargers

Green's preseason hasn't been filled with highlight reel receptions or big stats, but he's been working a good amount with the Chargers first-team offense. He's even tied with the team lead in receptions with five -- and the only starting receiver/tight end with at least three grabs. The thought here is that the Bolts have a stud wideout in Keenan Allen and a tried-and-true favorite in Malcom Floyd along with Antonio Gates. Green is their next best player and getting his 6-foot-6, 240-pound body on the field will cause all sorts of mismatch problems. Head coach Mike McCoy said he wished he used Green more last season and seems like he won't hesitate to go with Green this season.
I'd take him ahead of: Martellus Bennett, Eric Ebron, Antonio Gates

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Player News
Reggie Bush says he doesn't plan to retire
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(6:31 pm ET) Three days after being released by the Lions, RB Reggie Bush said he has no plans to retire. 

TMZ reporters confronted Bush outside a Beverly Hills restaurant and asked if Bush, who turns 30 on Monday, was going to quit football. Bush responded with, "No." 

Bush rushed for 297 yards and two touchdowns last season. 


Report: Cowboys to let DeMarco Murray test free agency
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(6:06 pm ET) The Cowboys will let RB DeMarco Murray test the free-agent market, according to a report from Fox Sports Southwest

Cowboys VP Stephen Jones said that negotiations with Murray's agents have been "slow". 

Jones said that Murray "is probably going to get some peace and see what's out in the market, and then we'll talk and see. I do believe deep down he'd love to stay in Dallas."

Murray rushed for 1,845 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. 


Report: Cowboys to use franchise tag on Dez Bryant
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(5:15 pm ET) The Cowboys will use the franchise tag on WR Dez Bryant on Monday, according to a report by Fox Sports Southwest

The team has been trying to negotiate a long-term contract with Bryant, a free-agent to be. If a deal can't be made by Monday's franchise tag deadline, the Cowboys will use the tag to keep Bryant a Cowboy. 

"I still think that (it) would be a stretch to think that we would have something done by Monday and beat the franchise-tag deadline," Cowboys VP Stephen Jones told Fox. "Looks like we're eyeing a franchise tag on Dez, but certainly won't stop us from working hard to get a long-term deal. ... We just don't want to lose his rights."

Bryant had 88 catches for 1,320 yards and 16 touchdowns last year. 


QB Josh McCown's contract with Browns worth $14 million
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(4:46 pm ET) Quarterback Josh McCown's deal with the Browns will pay $14 million over three years, a league source told CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora.

With incentives related to playing time and playoff berths, McCown could earn $20 million over the course of the deal.

McCown will earn $6.25 million in fully guaranteed money, with $5.25 million of it coming in the first year of the deal.


Report: Panthers won't re-sign Greg Hardy
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(3:18 pm ET) Panthers DE Greg Hardy is scheduled to become a free agent on March 10. He missed most of last season while appealing his conviction for domestic violence. 

Even though the charges were dropped on appeal, the Panthers have no intention of bringing Hardy back, multiple league sources told BlackandBlueReview.com's Bill Voth


Texans' Brian Cushing has had three offseason surgeries
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(3:15 pm ET) Texans LB Brian Cushing has had three surgeries since the end of the season. 

In a public appearance on Saturday, Cushing told the Houston Chronicle's John McClain that he's had surgery on his broken right wrist as well as arthroscopic procedures on his left knee and left ankle. 

"It’s not uncommon for stuff like that to happen," he said of the two arthroscopic surgeries. "It’s just little things here and there, the residual effects of two major surgeries and injuries, the wear and tear of playing throughout the season. There were still some things bothering me a little bit. Just went in there and had real good success in both areas."

Cushing has a cast on his wrist. “It’s coming along real well,” he said. “I’m going to start working out a little bit. From a pain standpoint, there’s really nothing going on there. I’m real happy about that. I’m real happy to get the cast off and start doing some physical therapy on it, and I don’t have to worry about it anymore."


Report: 49ers to release wide receiver Steve Johnson
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(11:34 am ET) The 49ers are expected to release wide receiver Steve Johnson, according to Dianna Marie Russini of NBC Washington D.C.

The move will reportedly save the team $5.5 million in cap space. Johnson had 35 catches for 435 yards and three touchdowns in 13 games last season.


Patriots running back Stevan Ridley: 'I have something to prove'
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Patriots running back Stevan Ridley is expected to become a free agent in the coming weeks and he is ready for the experience.

"I'm excited about it," Ridley told Sirius XM Radio Friday. "As a player coming into the league, you get there and your first contract you kind of have to establish yourself and see what you can do. Everybody is a good player if you get to make it to the NFL, but there is something to be said if you get to that second contract."

Ridley has rushed for 2,817 yards and 22 touchdowns in his first four seasons in the league with the Patriots.

"Where I'll be playing, and who I'll be playing for, is still unknown, but I know I've come in and done my job up to this point and now I have to put it in my agent's hands to get me on another team, or stay where I'm at, and make sure I’m in pads playing ball somewhere next year. I know if you think about it too much it will worry you sick."

Ridley has played in 20 of a possible 32 games the last two seasons, starting in just 11 of them.

"I take it personal to any team or anybody that says I can't be a very productive player on whatever team I land on," he said. "I've been playing ball my whole life, I'm going to come in and be a leader, and I'm going to be a guy that comes in and busts his butt in the weight room and busts his butt on the field. I'm a good teammate, I have fun with my guys, but when the lights come on Sundays, it's all business and I plan on going out there and making plays."


Patriots' Aaron Dobson doing well in rehab of hamstring injury
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Patriots wide receiver Aaron Dobson is still recovering from a hamstring injury that ended his season in 2014. Trainer Brett Fischer said Friday he thinks Dobson is going to turn heads when he heads back to Foxboro for training camp, according to the Boston Herald.

"He was talking about, 'When I go up there (to Foxboro) and they see me again, I want to make sure they know I'm in the best shape of my life.' He is really determined," Fischer said. "That is the underlying theme every day: 'Hey, I've got to be ready when April comes, be ready as far as the best shape of my life.' It's frustrating with two years of freaky-type stuff."

Dobson finished a disappointing 2014 season with three catches for 38 yards.

"He is doing great," Fischer said. "I'm really excited for him. He has put the time and effort into it, comes in early, gets all his work in and he is hungry. There are a few specific things we found, minor little things we're working on, that make his program a little bit unique to everybody else's. Nothing major."


Report: Should be a 'very active market' for Broncos' Julius Thomas
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Broncos tight end Julius Thomas turned down a five-year, $40 million contract for a reason. That's because it's believed he will have a "very active market" when the new league year begins on March 10, according to NFL.com's Ian Rapoport. 

Two teams that are expected to target Thomas in free agency are the Raiders and Jaguars, both of which need to upgrade considerably at their skill positions to help out their young quarterbacks. The expectation is for Broncos general manager John Elway to let Thomas test the waters in free agency to see what he's offered. 

The Falcons have also reportedly been interested, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's D. Orlando Ledbetter. 

Injuries slowed what was an otherwise fast start to his 2014 season. Thomas' season ended with 489 yards and 12 touchdowns. 


 
 
 
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