Fantasy Football: 3 Breakout Candidates for 2018
The term breakout is difficult to define in fantasy football. While it has an official meaning in the dictionary, the word is often used subjectively to describe players who could emerge in the NFL. For the sake of this article, consider a breakout candidate to be a player that improves on the statistical production set from a previous campaign. In other words, I ultimately expect the three names mentioned below to surface as more consistent and reliable options in 2018 than that of 2017.
For the Ballers’ list of Breakouts and Busts for the 2018 season, buy the Ultimate Draft Kit.
Even if his current ADP does not reflect it, Dalvin Cook has yet to officially breakout in the NFL or fantasy football. His name carries tremendous value based on pedigree and overall opportunity in Minnesota, but the 22-year-old has appeared in only four professional games to date. A factor working in Cook’s favor is his dominance on the gridiron in school, as he managed to break Warrick Dunn’s rushing record at Florida State with 4,464 yards on the ground over the span of merely three seasons. Sure, the level of competition is vastly different in the NFL compared to NCAAF. At the same time, Dalvin’s track record cannot be ignored as he enters his second professional campaign.
Before tearing his ACL in 2017, Cook ranked as the PPR RB9 overall from Weeks 1-4. It was quite a start for a running back who was criticized for his lack of athleticism coming out of college. During his time on the field as a rookie, Dalvin showcased his versatile skill set with 354 rushing yards and two touchdowns in addition to 11 receptions for 90 yards receiving. If Cook’s stats were to be extrapolated over an entire regular season, he would easily be in the RB1 conversation from a production and workload perspective. For a full look at his 2018 film, check out his Fantasy Football Film Study article.
The lone concern about investing in Cook at cost for 2018 is the fear of another knee injury. Fortunately, he has reportedly earned reps in OTAs and is expected to be ready for training camp as he approaches a full recovery from 2017. Remember, he also has three documented shoulder surgeries to his name dating back to his time before the NFL. Those who draft or trade for Dalvin will need to calculate his value with durability woes in mind, but there is virtually no argument to construct against his statistical upside in 2018.
With an electric skill set and collegiate resume chalk full of highlight reel plays, the Chicago Bears somehow managed to limit Tarik Cohen to merely 140 offensive touches as a rookie in 2017. In fact, he reached double-digit touches in a meager seven games last season with four of those performances coming in Chicago’s first four contests. Cohen’s lack of involvement and overall inconsistency can be credited to John Fox’s regime, but luckily for fantasy owners that are no longer a concern.
With a new coaching staff in town led by Matt Nagy, Cohen should witness his fantasy floor and ceiling rise simultaneously in 2018. As the former offensive coordinator of the Kansas City Chiefs, Nagy has already likened Cohen to that of Tyreek Hill. While the comparison is likely a hyperbole, it at least indicates how Chicago intends to utilize Tarik on offense as a chess piece moving forward.
Make no mistake, Jordan Howard is expected to remain the starting tailback for the Bears despite the consistent praise that Cohen has received this offseason. Often overlooked, Howard has earned a minimum of 250 rushing attempts and posted consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons over his first two years in the NFL. That kind of production is hard to find, let alone take off of the field. Howard also reached the 2,000-yard rushing plateau over his first 24 career games in the NFL. Consider that feat took Walter Payton 26 contests to accomplish, and it becomes clear that Howard is a unique talent. Cohen is obviously more versatile, but he could have a difficult time carving out early-down work in 2018 despite adding roughly 10 pounds of muscle to his frame this offseason.
Even with Howard in the picture, Tarik’s receiving ability is what places him in the breakout conversation among running backs in fantasy. The 53 receptions he recorded in 2017 should be his absolute floor under Nagy in 2018, especially since Chicago’s coaching staff has been vocal about using 22-year-old all over the formation on offense. At his current ADP, Cohen is an excellent selection in PPR formats to return value as an RB2 with upside. If a breakout campaign is truly on the horizon, then 1,000 all-purpose yards and close to 175 total offensive touches could very well be in reach.
Over the last eight weeks of his rookie season last year, Chris Godwin recorded at least 5 receptions or 68 yards receiving in four different contests. Even more noteworthy was his performance in a featured Week 17 role, as the Penn State product showcased his potential with 7 receptions for 111 yards and a touchdown on 12 targets against the New Orleans Saints.
After his impressive output down the stretch of 2017, Godwin has received praise from the Buccaneers front office and coaching staff. In fact, the team’s GM Jason Licht mentioned that the wide receiver has earned the right for a bigger role in 2018. Tampa Bay’s OC Todd Monken echoed that statement this offseason by making a case for Godwin to be a starter. Whether it be pure speculation or coach speak, the remarks are positive and consistent in the 22-year-old’s favor.
Unlike the other two players included in this article, Godwin faces an uphill battle for snaps. Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, O.J. Howard, Cameron Brate, Adam Humphries and possibly even Ronald Jones are threats for volume. That does not mean Godwin will fail to meet expectations in 2018, but it happens to make it that much easier to select him at a discount in hopes that he overachieves and breaks out as a sophomore. Godwin was also highlighted by fellow writer Ben Cummins in Depth Chart Diving for Hidden Fantasy Value: NFC Edition.
At the very least, fantasy owners should expect Godwin to surpass the 56 targets he saw as a rookie this upcoming season. His counting stats from a season ago are also within reach to surpass, as 34 receptions for 525 yards and a touchdown make for a low floor. Improving on a PPR WR71 finish from 2017 should also be a reasonable expectation for Godwin this upcoming campaign, especially if he establishes himself as the WR3 in Tampa Bay. Is he a lock to break out? No. However, Godwin is well worth a late-round flier in redraft leagues this summer. Even more, now could be the last opportunity to purchase shares at a reasonable rate in dynasty as lingering concerns around Jameis Winston’s future in Tampa Bay continue to circulate after a recent three-game suspension.