Fantasy Football Sleepers, Breakouts and Busts
Fantasy Football is inconsistent and unpredictable. So much of a player’s success is based around the other 10 players on their team. What’s more is that if a coach does not involve said player in their game plan, chances are slim they will breakout, regardless of what is said at training camp or in the media.
A coach has to make a concerted effort to get a player involved to tap into their potential. Pair this with a lackluster offensive line or a below average signal caller, there are still no guarantees for volume or production.
Without further ado, here are my 2018 Sleepers, Breakouts and Bust:
A player that is expected to exceed their Average Draft Position (ADP) and become a consistent fantasy asset
PHILLIP RIVERS (ADP = 103: 8th ROUND)
Phillip Rivers and Kirk Cousins are the only 2 quarterbacks in the past 3 years to throw for 4,000 yards and 25+ touchdowns in each season. Rivers has done this in 9 of his past 10 seasons and has not missed a game since 2006. Rivers had (6) 300 Yard games last season, which was #1 in the NFL. Coming into the 2017 season, his ADP was QB 17, but finished the 2017 season as QB 8. He is currently being drafted 103 Overall in the 8th Round as QB 14. With Keenan Allen playing 49% of his snaps in the slot last season, this should open up the field for second year talent Mike Williams and allow this offense to shine once again in the passing game. The below chart shows River’s Completion Percentage based on Depth of Target, with the yellow line being the league average. Not really known for this accuracy, but the deeper the target, the better he gets. The sky is the limit for Chargers receivers this season.
AMARI COOPER (ADP = 36: 3rd ROUND)
You probably drafted Amari Cooper in the 1st or 2nd round of drafts last year and he rewarded you with a non-existent presence in your weekly lineup and one that eventually resorted to your bench. He finished as the 33rd Fantasy Wide Receiver last season and never lived up to his preseason hype. But this year may be different with the addition of head coach John Gruden. Under Jon Gruden from 2005 to 2007, Joey Galloway accounted for 34.5 percent of Tampa Bay’s receiving yards (third-highest rate in the NFL in that time frame). In 2008, under Jon Gruden, Antonio Bryant accounted for 32.9 percent of Tampa Bay’s receiving yards (eighth-highest rate that year). In Amari Cooper’s 13 career games with 10-plus targets, he has averaged 21.8 PPG. In Amari Cooper’s 22 career games with eight-plus targets, he has averaged 18.0 PPG. Last season, Michael Crabtree, Cordarrelle Patterson and Clive Walford combined for 42.2 percent of Oakland’s red zone targets. All three of them are no longer with the Raiders and he is currently going as WR15 in drafts.
COOPER KUPP (ADP = 91: 7th ROUND)
Jared Goff likes his slot receivers. In fact, Jared Goff led the league in 2017 by a wide margin with 75.5% of his passes to a slot receiver. Cooper Kupp lined up in the slot on 93.0% of his snaps last season, which was 3rd in the NFL.
Kupp only played 76% of the offenses snaps last season, but finished as WR28. He managed 94 targets (44th) on 62 catches (38th), while his 896 yards puts him in the Top 25 at the wide receiver position. What makes him more appealing are his Red Zone opportunities:
- 23 Targets (5th in NFL)
- 13 Receptions (6th in NFL)
- 117 Yards (3rd)
- 1% of Team’s Red Zone Targets (10th)
He will continue to be the go-to guy in the Red Zone on a high scoring Ram’s offense. He may operate as a WR2 by season’s end and could be a Top 75 player this year.
JACK DOYLE (ADP = 104: 8th ROUND)
The Indianapolis Colt’s new head Coach, Frank Reich has a track record of getting production out of the tight end position. Andrew Luck has never had a mainstay at tight end in his career, but that may be about to change this year with the addition of a Tight End friendly offense. Frank Reich’s last three stops as offensive coordinator:
- 2015 (LAC): 161 Targets to the Tight End (3rd)
- 2016 (PHI): 185 Targets to the Tight End (1st)
- 2017 (PHI): 165 Targets to the Tight End (2nd)
With the Eagle’s emergence of Zack Ertz as a Top 3 Tight End in 2017 and Trey Burton getting dealt this off-season to the tune of 4 years/$32 million to Chicago, Reich clearly has a focus on developing his Tight End group. He finished as TE7 last season and is currently going as the 11th Tight End off the board. This is great value for a guy who was pegged as a breakout star last season. He has Top 5 Tight End potential.
A player that will greatly exceed their Average Draft Position (ADP) and ascend to the Elite tier at their position.
KIRK COUSINS (ADP = 80: Late 6th Round)
Kirk Cousins finished as Fantasy QB 8 last season. He did this with a bad offensive line and an underachieving receiving core where only 1 WR (Jamison Crowder) exceeded 650 receiving yards on the season. Cousins is inheriting a legit deep threat in Stefon Diggs and a reliable 1200 yard receiver in Adam Thielen, which will be the best receiving core he has ever had in his career. These guys are well coached and know how to run routes, which should help with his already elite efficiency.
Over the past three years, Cousins has a 70.1% completion rate off play-action, which is 1st in the NFL among qualified QBs. Last season, all Vikings pass-catchers led the league in receptions (102) and yards (1,312) off of play-action passes. Kyle Rudolph is the only active tight end with 5 receiving TDs in the last 3 seasons and 7 TDs in the last 2 seasons. Since 2015, Kyle Rudolph’s 20 TDs are 2nd to only Rob Gronkowski’s 22 TDs and Rudolph has the fifth-most fantasy points among tight ends. Since 2015, new Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins ranks first in completions, third in completion percentage, third in passing yards and fifth in touchdown passes to the tight end position. While Minnesota’s offensive line ranked 3rd last season in QB pressures allowed and they come into 2018 as the 28th ranked front five, Cousins should still thrive in this system with the upgraded Receiving core and a true workhorse running back in Dalvin Cook. Kirk Cousins should finish as a Top 5 QB in 2018 and could even finish Top 3 with a healthy receiving core.
EVAN ENGRAM (ADP = 64: 5th Round)
In his last 5 seasons, Eli Manning has averaged at least 112 Targets per year just to the Tight End position. Evan Engram had 115 Targets in 2017. Head Coach Pat Shurmur’s Tight End groups have totaled at least 700 yards and 6 or more TDs In 3 of the last 4 seasons. Evan Engram finished as Fantasy TE 6 last season and 4th in fantasy points per game. He did this with 11 drops and a 55% catch rate. He ranked 15th in the NFL with 6 TDs in the Red Zone. He also had 46 yards (2nd), 5 TDs (6th) and totaled 30.8% of Total Team Targets inside the 10 yard line (12th). With Odell Beckham, Jr. back and healthy on the outside and Saquon Barkley as a threat in the backfield, the middle should be open for this athletic Tight End. Evan Engram should become a Top 3 Tight End in 2018 and may even outperform Rob Gronkowski.
A player that does not live up to their draft hype and Average Draft Position (ADP) and is a complete disappointment to their parents.
ALVIN KAMARA (ADP = 6: 1st Round)
Sean Payton has a successful track record of getting production out of the running back position since his inception as Head Coach in 2006. From 2007 to 2017, NINE of the top-30 running back seasons by fantasy points per snap (min. 350 snaps) have come from a Saints running back, while no other team makes the list more than twice. In the six games Alvin Kamara got 15 or more touches last season, he averaged 115.5 scrimmage yards. Despite ranking tied for 24th in total touches, Kamara led all running backs with 35 touches that gained 15-plus yards. Only one other running back had more than 25 (Todd Gurley). Of the 2,173 instances of a running back totaling at least 100 carries in a single season since the NFL merger (1970), Kamara ranks best in fantasy points per touch and second-best in yards per touch.
If you’re following along, his historic fantasy performance last season was a result of missed tackles and big plays all which occurred when he played a complimentary role to Mark Ingram. With Ingram suspended for the first 4 weeks, Kamara is the feature back coming into 2018. However, he is only projected for 15+ touches per week, which won’t result in elite fantasy production if his 45.5 rushing yards per game continues again this season. He is currently being drafted at his absolute ceiling and he is clearly due for regression after having one of the most efficient fantasy seasons ever. Bust alert.
KENYAN DRAKE (ADP = 34: 2nd Round)
After Jay Ajayi was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles prior to Week 9 last season, Kenyan Drake inherited the Miami backfield and never looked back. Last year, Drake averaged 5.21 yards per carry in the first three quarters, which was second best in the NFL. In the fourth quarter last season, Drake averaged 3.41 yards per carry, which was 27th among running backs. Drake had a 30-plus yard rush on 4.5 percent of his carries last season, which was the greatest rate (minimum 100 carries) in the past six years. From 2012 to 2016, there were eight running backs (minimum 100 carries) who had a rate of higher than 2.5 percent. Subtract Drake’s two biggest runs from last season and he averaged 0.42 fantasy points per carry. In 2017, Frank Gore averaged 0.44 fantasy points per carry. Last season, Drake converted 8.3 percent of his red zone carries into scores. That was half of the NFL average of 16.6 percent.
Drake’s 2017 fantasy success was largely predicated on big runs and big play ability. He is a versatile and electric playmaker, but it is doubtful he can duplicate his 2017 breakout season if his big play ability is held in check. He is currently being drafted in late round 2 as the 34th overall pick and RB 16, which is too expensive for a back with no track record or a full season under his belt. Miami’s offense is also terrible and not expected to be competitive this season, which could hurt his stock. I am staying away at this ADP.
DALVIN COOK (ADP = 13: 2nd Round)
The departure of future Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson to the New Orleans Saints in 2017 left a large hole in the Vikings backfield. In the 2017 NFL draft, Minnesota traded up to get Florida State Running Back Dalvin Cook with their 2nd round pick and were confident they had the successor to AP. Cook was a contributor right out of the gate and proved to be capable of workhorse volume, totalling 22 and 27 carries in his first 4 weeks of action. He even flashed his receiving skills in week 3 with 5 catches for 72 yards, while also racking up 27 carries for 97 yards and a TD with 22 fantasy points. The future was looking bright and then his season was derailed by a torn left ACL in week 4. Minnesota was forced to go with a running back committee of Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon.
Dalvin Cook has been the star of the preseason so far, getting rave reviews from coaches and analysts alike. He has proven to be agile and elusive throughout camp and is being drafted 13th overall as RB10. This is rather aggressive for a running back coming off a torn ACL not even 12 months ago. On top of that, the only running back to successfully come back from a torn ACL in less than 12 months was Adrian Peterson. Dalvin Cook is not Adrian Peterson neither in talent nor work ethic, as AP is an athletic freak of nature. I think Dalvin Cook is an excellent running and an elite talent, but not this season and not at 13th overall. I think we need to lessen our expectations and accept that he may not be back to 100% this season.
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