Mining for BreakoutsMonday, February 17, 2014
Finding true breakouts at the wide receiver position is difficult because so many players get snaps in this three-wide NFL that we often see good wideouts coming. Still, there are several players who are poised to make a hard push in 2014.
Marvin Jones almost does not deserve to be on this list. He finished as the 25th best fantasy wideout in 2013 despite only playing 555 snaps. His 10 touchdowns are unrepeatable, but there is no way new OC Hue Jackson gives Mohamed Sanu 200 more snaps than Jones again either. So, believe it or not, there is still room for fantasy growth for Jones.
Another surefire breakout option is Terrance Williams. Williams played an even 700 snaps and had a run of five touchdowns in six games in 2013. He lost steam as the year went on, however, and lost snaps to Miles Austin down the stretch.
Wearing thin down the stretch is nothing new for rookie wideouts, and Austin’s almost certain departure gives Williams the inside track on the No. 2 wide receiver role in Dallas, which should be a gold mine in 2014.
Former Lions OC Scott Linehan will be calling the plays in Big D this season. While Linehan was running the offense in Detroit, the Lions finished first in pass attempts twice out of six seasons and never finished lower than sixth. Expect the Cowboys to toss the ball around a lot this season, and Williams is sure to benefit from it.
Rueben Randle is also in line for an expanded role in 2014. Hakeem Nicks will not be back in New York this season unless the Jets panic sign him, so Randle will finally get his shot to be an every-down player.
The bump in snaps would have been enough to put Randle on this list, but the arrival of former Packers quarterbacks coach Ben McAdoo in New York pushes Randle’s breakout potential over the top.
McAdoo is a Mike McCarthy protégé and is likely to bring a West Coast offense to New York. Randle has the skill set to attack a defense vertically, but he is best utilized as a catch-and-run receiver. To say it better, Randle is a perfect fit for the WCO.
On the deeper side, second-year wideout Markus Wheaton looks poised for an explosion.
The Steelers are expected to let Emmanuel Sanders walk in free agency partly because of the faith they have in Wheaton, and he is the odds-on favorite to start opposite Antonio Brown. Sanders posted a solid 67-740-6 in that role last season, and it is not inconceivable Wheaton could use his superior playmaking ability to better those numbers.
Justin Hunter also could be in line for a second-year breakout. Nate Washington is always reportedly on the way out of Tennessee, but regardless of Washington’s status, Hunter showed enough to be given an expanded role. At the very least he should be given the lion’s share of Kenny Britt’s useless 300 snaps.
More important than his opportunity, however, is Hunter’s talent and ability to capitalize on the role in which I expect new HC Ken Whisenhunt to use him. Whisenhunt believes in the West Coast offense, but he also believes in stretching the defense vertically. He used Malcom Floyd in that capacity before he was injured last year, and he tried unsuccessfully to use Vincent Brown in the role after Floyd went down.
Hunter is a perfect fit for Whisenhunt’s deep threat role, and he also showed against the Raiders last season – a game in which five of his six catches were third-down conversions – that he had the tools to be a complete receiver. He should be given a big-time role in Tennessee’s new offense, and that should mean solid production from the talented young receiver.
Jordan Reed is the most obvious tight end breakout candidate. He was a draftnik darling last spring, has enough athleticism and playmaking ability that the Redskins used him on an end around last season, and was already well on his way to a breakout in 2013 before a concussion ended his season early.
The only real question surrounding Reed is how he will be used. New Redskins HC Jay Gruden did not force feed his tight ends in Cincinnati by any means, but Jermaine Gresham always finished near the top-10 in tight end receptions, and Reed is a more dangerous weapon than Gresham ever was.
It is also promising that former Redskins TE coach Sean McVay was promoted to offensive coordinator by Gruden. While Gruden will call plays, McVay will have some say in the game planning and surely has some affinity toward Reed.
Signs point to Reed breaking out in a big way in 2014. He should be the fifth tight end off the board next summer.
A couple deeper tight-end names fantasy players should become familiar with are Travis Kelce and Levine Toilolo.
Kelce was highly regarded coming out of last season’s draft and was expected to be an early contributor for the Chiefs. Kelce suffered a knee injury in the preseason, however, and was placed on injured reserve.
Now healthy, Kelce should quickly rise to the top of the Chiefs’ depth chart. No tight end on the roster has Kelce’s playmaking ability, and his blocking skill ensures he can be used all over the formation.
The bottom line is if Sean McGrath and Anthony Fasano can combine for a 50-500-5 season in the Chiefs’ offense, Kelce has the opportunity to put up solid TE1 numbers as the lead tight end in Kansas City.
The Falcons treated Toilolo’s rookie campaign as almost a redshirt season. He was the definition of raw talent when he came out of Stanford, and the presence of Tony Gonzalez meant Toilolo could sit back and learn.
With Gonzo now retired for good – maybe—the Falcons should give Toilolo a shot to show what he has learned. If he can develop at all as a route runner and occasional blocker, his 6’8” size should see him develop into a Kyle Rudolph like red-zone threat. Perhaps he will not be spectacular, but he could be a solid fantasy option.