Players in the National Football League are so dependent on opportunity – so many skilled players are just waiting for the chance to play and perform – so when it comes time to seek out breakthrough candidates in a given season, the place to start is with players that are finally getting a chance to start.
Mix in a few young players coming off injuries and a few changing teams and that provides a list of players that should provide unprecedented value for fantasy owners this season.
Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, San Francisco – In five-plus games with the 49ers, Jimmy G threw for 1,560 yards and seven touchdowns. It may be difficult to keep averaging more than 300 passing yards every game, but it would come as no surprise if Garoppolo goes for 4,000 yards and 25 touchdowns in his first season as a full-time starter.
Pat Mahomes, QB, Kansas City – The Chiefs cleared out Alex Smith so that the 10th pick in the 2017 Draft could take over and being at the helm of the Chiefs offence is a pretty nice spot to be. Mahomes, who threw for 5,052 yards and 41 touchdowns at Texas Tech in 2016, is in a position to put up big numbers as a starting quarterback in Andy Reid’s perennially productive offence.
Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota – He’s not coming in as a surprise, but the 2017 second-round pick put up 444 yards from scrimmage in four games as a rookie before getting injured. If he’s healthy to start the season, the versatile Cook could take off as a key component in a potent Vikings attack.
Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee – With DeMarco Murray out of the way, the role of primary runner in the Titans’ offence belongs to Henry, the third-year power back out of Alabama. He’ll share time with Dion Lewis but Henry is going to see a heavier workload this year.
Marlon Mack, RB, Indianapolis – Dealing with a hamstring injury suffered in the preseason, the second-year back does have an opportunity to take over as the Colts’ starting back after Frank Gore departed in the offseason. Mack had a respectable 583 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns as a rookie, and could see a big increase both in role and in the quality of the Indianapolis offence with a healthy Andrew Luck at quarterback.
Jerick McKinnon, RB, San Francisco – Through his first four seasons, the 26-year-old has been solid in a reserve role, but moving to the 49ers opens the door to a starting role for McKinnon. He may not be big enough to handle a heavy starter’s workload, but starting at the top of the depth chart is a great way to enjoy a breakthrough season.
Corey Davis, WR, Tennessee – The fifth pick in the 2017 Draft, Davis battled injuries as a rookie, but could very well be the best receiver on the Titans roster this year, which could lead to a huge increase in production in his second season. He was outrageously productive at Western Michigan, putting up 4,337 yards and 46 touchdowns in 39 games over his last three seasons.
Chris Hogan, WR, New England – While the 29-year-old wideout has been a useful contributor for the Patriots over the past couple of seasons, this could be a season when he takes on a more prominent role in the offence. With Julian Edelman suspended for the first four games of the season, Hogan figures to be a more trusted target for Tom Brady.
Geronimo Allison, WR, Green Bay – A 6-foot-3 target for Aaron Rodgers, the third-year receiver should have a chance to play in three-receiver sets for the Packers and while it’s fair to wonder how high the ceiling is for the undrafted receiver out of Illinois, it’s also possible that Rodgers could make him a productive option.
Will Fuller, WR, Houston – The burner out of Notre Dame missed time with injuries last year, but still scored seven touchdowns in 10 games. Give him a full season with DeShaun Watson at quarterback and Fuller could put together a nice season across from DeAndre Hopkins.
Josh Doctson, WR, Washington – The 22nd pick in the 2016 Draft missed most of his rookie season and showed some potential last year, but expectations are going to be increased for him this season, as the physical 6-foot-2 receiver ought be a prime red-zone target for Alex Smith.
David Njoku, TE, Cleveland – The 2017 first-rounder had a decent showing as a rookie, catching 32 passes for 386 yards and four touchdowns, but the Browns have clearly upgraded their quarterback situation this year, by signing Tyrod Taylor and drafting Baker Mayfield. That upgrade should lift the passing game across the board, but Njoku figures to be one of the main beneficiaries.
Trey Burton, TE, Chicago – Although he was battling for playing time in Philadelphia, the 26-year-old was a reliable receiver over the past couple of seasons and now he joins a Bears offence that likes to use the tight end, though they struggled to find a reliable alternative once Zach Miller suffered a career-ending injury. That opens the door for Burton to take a big step forward this year.
Scott Cullen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org