Jimmy Garoppolo runs against the Jacksonville Jaguars during the fourth quarter at Levi's Stadium in SF.

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Fantasy Football Breakout Candidates

Who Might Be This Year's Deshaun Watson, Alvin Kamara?

Matt Citak
August 30, 2018 - 3:11 pm

The 2018 NFL season kicks off one week from Thursday, which means time is running out for you to prepare for your fantasy football drafts.

Over the last few weeks, we have taken a look at some players at each position who are in great shape to outperform their preseason rankings. 

You can find the positional sleeper picks here: QB | RB WR | TE 

In addition, you can find a breakdown of some of the best and worst offensive lines and the impact they might have over the offensive weapons on their respective teams here: o-line breakdown

There is no better feeling in fantasy football than drafting an underrated player who turns into a fantasy stud. Last year, we witnessed guys such as Deshaun Watson, Alvin Kamara and Kareem Hunt burst onto the fantasy scene. Who will be those breakout stars this season?

Today, I will be exploring some players with major breakout potential. Regardless of where they are being ranked or drafted before the season, these players have the potential to finish as one of the top fantasy performers at their respective position.

Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers

We all saw what Garoppolo was able to accomplish with the 49ers in limited action last season. The 26-year-old QB led San Francisco to a 5-0 record to close out the season (including wins over the playoff-bound Jaguars, Rams, and Titans), averaged over 300 yards passing per game, and looked every bit worth the second round pick the team dealt to the Patriots in order to land their franchise quarterback. 

Garoppolo averaged over 21 fantasy points per game in his final three outings last season, so just imagine what he can accomplish this year after a full offseason of work with head coach Kyle Shanahan. The 49ers get Pierre Garcon back after the veteran receiver missed the final eight games of 2017 with a neck injury, while fellow wideout Marquise Goodwin (who we'll get to in a bit) looks like a future star himself. San Francisco also added running back Jerick McKinnon this offseason, who will provide Garoppolo with another dangerous pass-catching option after the back racked up 51 receptions in 2017.

The 49ers appear to have one of the league's most interesting, up-and-coming offensive units. If Garoppolo can build on his strong 2017 performance, then he should be able to enter the ranks of the top quarterbacks in the NFL this season.

Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs

As a second-year quarterback with only one NFL game under his belt, Mahomes is expected to hit some bumps along the way this season. However there is a reason why Andy Reid and the Chiefs traded Alex Smith away after two consecutive Pro Bowl seasons, and that is because Mahomes' upside is immeasurable. 

In his last two seasons at Texas Tech, Mahomes threw for 9,705 yards, 77 touchdowns, and 25 interceptions. Obviously the level of talent on opposing defenses will be incredibly higher in the NFL, but the same can be said about his teammates on offense. Mahomes will have Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, and Travis Kelce to throw to, not to mention talented pass-catching back Kareem Hunt. Kansas City contains the NFL's most talented group of offensive weapons, and paired with the strength of Mahomes' arm (he threw a ball to Hill in the second preseason game that traveled over 68 yards in the air), the sky is the limit for this Chiefs offense.

The buzz around Mahomes is real. If you wait until the later rounds to snag a quarterback, don't hesitate to draft the soon-to-be 23-year-old. He has all the ingredients for a true breakout campaign.

Kenyan Drake, Miami Dolphins

While there are certainly some concerns surrounding Miami's offensive line, Drake looks poised to have a huge performance in 2018. Running behind a very shake line last season, the third-year back out of Alabama averaged 4.8 yards per carry on 133 rush attempts, most of which came after the Dolphins traded Jay Ajayi to Philadelphia. In fact, his 16-game pace from the time he took over as the team's lead back was 1,512 total yards from scrimmage and seven touchdowns.

Kenyan Drake runs the ball against the New England Patriots during the second half at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami.
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The addition of Frank Gore may take a few carries away from Drake each game, but it won't have a real impact on the 24-year-old's fantasy outlook. Drake is clearly the most talented player in the Dolphins' offense, and head coach Adam Gase knows he has to get the ball into his best playmaker's hands as often as possible. Signing Josh Sitton should help Miami up front, while the return of Ryan Tannehill will provide the whole offense with a boost. 

Selecting Drake isn't going to be the sexiest pick of your draft, but grabbing him as your second RB could end up pushing your team to a fantasy championship.

Royce Freeman, Denver Broncos

Saquon Barkley is receiving all of the preseason praise among rookie running backs, and it's well-deseved. But he is not the only rookie that should make a big impact on his team's running game this season. Freeman was drafted by a Denver Broncos team desperate to find a feature running back, especially with the departure of C.J. Anderson. The veteran back finished last season with 273 total touches, enough to help him rank 16th among running backs in non-PPR leagues. 

With Anderson now in Carolina, Freeman appears to be the frontrunner in the Broncos backfield to absorb most of those touches. The rookie averaged 6.0 ypc for Oregon last year, racking up 1,475 yards and 16 touchdowns on 244 carries. With Case Keenum now under center in Denver, opposing defenses will be forced to respect the Broncos' passing game, which should help open up the field for Freeman.

The 22-year-old has shined throughout the preseason, averaging 5.6 ypc and scoring three touchdowns. He looks to have beaten out Devontae Booker to be Denver's starting running back, which should not come as a surprise. Entering the NFL as a rookie third round pick, Freeman could be this year's Kamara/Hunt.

Chris Hogan, New England Patriots

Hogan was on his way to having a breakout year in 2017 before a shoulder injury forced him to miss seven games. In his second season with the Patriots, the 29-year-old racked up five receiving touchdowns within the first five games of the season, breaking his previous career-high of four touchdowns. Hogan was able to do this despite serving as New England's third best pass-catching option behind Rob Gronkowski and Brandin Cooks. 

Cooks is now a member of the Los Angeles Rams, while Tom Brady's longtime security blanket Danny Amendola is with the Dolphins. Julian Edelman is fully recovered from the torn ACL that made him a spectator for the entire 2017 season, but is suspended for the first four games of the year. All of this puts Hogan in an amazing position to thrive in the Patriots' offense, especially at the beginning of the season. Hogan and Gronkowski will be Brady's best receiving options for a third of the fantasy season. Even when Edelman returns, Hogan should continue to succeed as Brady's downfield option. 

When Cooks got hurt towards the beginning of Super Bowl LII, Hogan stepped up and caught six passes for 128 yards and a touchdown. Now with an opportunity to have a big role in the Patriots offense for an entire season, Hogan could end up being one of fantasy's biggest breakout stars this year.

Marquise Goodwin, San Francisco 49ers

Goodwin appeared to be Garoppolo's favorite target during the team's successful five-game stretch at the end of last year, finishing with at least 99 receiving yards or a touchdown in four of the five contests. With the regular season just a week away, the veteran receiver seems to have secured that title once again, even with the return of Pierre Garcon.

Marquise Goodwin runs the ball for a touchdown against the Los Angeles Rams during the first half at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
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If you projected Goodwin's stats from last year's five-game winning streak for a full season, he would have finished the year with 93 receptions and 1,229 yards. And that was without a full offseason to work with Garoppolo... All of the reports from 49ers training camp state the talented QB has continued to target Goodwin over Garcon, which makes the former the receiver you want to target in your fantasy draft. 

We already discussed the potential this 49ers offense has with Garoppolo under center. In order for the quarterback to take the next step in his development, he will need a wide receiver he can truly depend on each and every week. Goodwin is that guy. The pair represent two of the most exciting breakout candidates at their respective positions. 

Jordan Reed, Washington Redskins

Reed is no stranger to a breakout campaign. In 2015, the former third round pick finished as one of the league's top tight ends, racking up 87 receptions for 952 yards and 11 touchdowns in 14 games. However in the two seasons since, Reed has struggled with injuries, appearing in only 18 games while totaling 897 yards and eight touchdowns. While the talented tight end is still dealing with a toe injury, Redskins head coach Jay Gruden recently said he is on pace to be ready for the season opener next weekend.

Injuries will always be a concern when it comes to Reed, but when he's able to remain on the field, there is no denying his talent. When healthy, the 28-year-old is more than capable of performing like a top three tight end (as we saw in 2015). It should help Reed that new Redskins quarterback Alex Smith has a history of leaning on his tight ends in the passing game, evidenced by his rapport with Travis Kelce in Kansas City and Vernon Davis in San Francisco. 

Reed is being drafted outside the top 10 of tight ends, which will turn out to be one of the biggest jokes of the fantasy season if he can remain relatively healthy. While that may be a pretty big if, I'm giving Reed the benefit of the doubt and believe he will finish as one of the top tight ends this year.

Matt Citak is a Web Producer for WFAN Sports Radio. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewCitak.