Every season, fantasy leagues are won with players selected in the mid-to-late rounds. Oftentimes, these players break out after an increase in playing time or touches. Player development, opportunity and efficiency are some of the key ingredients when spotting players with breakout potential. Let’s have a look at some potential breakouts with low average draft positions (ADPs) throughout the month of June, per BestBall10s.
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Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals | 147.59 ADP
It's hard to expect a rookie to make the list, but Burrow is the perfect candidate to be a breakout fantasy star in his first NFL season. He is surrounded by loaded with weapons, and PFF's fantasy projections have Burrow slated to finish 11th among all quarterbacks in scoring with a total of 255.6 points (full-point PPR). Of those supporting players, none bring more star power to the table than longtime veteran A.J. Green, whose injuries in recent seasons are notable. However, a healthy campaign of quality play would certainly boost the intrigue surrounding Burrow and the Bengals.
Slot receiver Tyler Boyd is as consistent as they come. Boyd managed to register 24 explosive pass plays (15-plus yards) last season despite lackluster quarterback play. Meanwhile, John Ross is a major question mark. He has yet to live up to the lofty expectations his draft slot suggested, but he’s flashed some serious potential, ranking 17th in average depth of target (15.3) and eighth in yards per reception (18.1) last season.
The weaponry around Burrow should allow for a quick transition to fantasy relevance, and we haven’t yet mentioned the potential contributions from second-round pick Tee Higgins and running back Joe Mixon.
Gardner Minshew, Jacksonville Jaguars | 172.04 ADP
You typically shouldn't look into poor teams when building out your fantasy roster, but it could potentially be viewed as a positive in Minshew’s situation. The Jaguars aren't a strong team on paper, meaning they’re likely to spend a significant amount of time in negative game scripts. The more time a team spends in a negative game script, the more likely it is to abandon the running game in favor of airing it out.
If we exclude Weeks 11 and 12 of 2019 — when Nick Foles was re-inserted into the starting lineup — Minshew ranked seventh in the league among quarterbacks in snaps played when trailing by seven or more points. Minshew also earned 0.44 fantasy points per dropback, ranking 18th among quarterbacks.
His quick transition into the NFL was surprising, particularly for a late-round rookie. Minshew’s capable play and mobility keep him relevant on a team that is otherwise uninspiring.
Justin Jackson, Los Angeles Chargers | 159.38 ADP
Austin Ekeler is the hot name in the wake of Melvin Gordon’s departure, and it should be — he is electric. But while Ekeler is the far superior option in the Chargers' backfield, Jackson could provide solid late-round value. Jackson ranked second on the Chargers in missed tackles forced per attempt (0.28) and yards after contact per attempt (4.2) in 2019. The numbers come from a small sample size of only 29 attempts, but Jackson out-produced Ekeler and Gordon in both measures.
Gordon’s departure is a major positive for the Chargers' remaining running backs, as he saw 200-plus touches on the ground in three of his first five seasons (including postseason). Gordon’s 15 carries inside the five-yard line in 2019 ranked ninth in the league. Ekeler is likely to scoop up most of that work, though it’s possible head coach Anthony Lynn elects to substitute a larger running back in those situations, such as Jackson or fourth-round pick Joshua Kelley.
The Chargers' offensive line ranked average to below-average in most run-based statistics, though the unit could improve after adding Trai Turner and Bryan Bulaga. Plus, a mobile quarterback like Tyrod Taylor could play a part in an improved run game.
Damien Harris, New England Patriots | 193.09 ADP
It's difficult to pinpoint projections for the Patriots as they undergo a major transition on offense. Harris is an incredibly deep sleeper, as his ADP suggests. He has yet to make an impact in the NFL, with only four carries to his name.
The reason Harris makes the list is because of starting running back Sony Michel’s ineffectiveness. Michel’s 68.4 grade (29th) in 2019 leaves something to be desired, as well as his missed tackles forced per attempt (37th) and yards after contact per attempt (41st) figures.
Our projections aren’t particularly high on any Patriots running back, with Michel projected to finish as RB39 and Harris to end as RB68. The major issue for Harris and his remaining backfield mates is the lack of potential pass-game upside, as James White is firmly entrenched into that role.
Still, the Patriots may look elsewhere if Michel’s ineffectiveness continues. And if they elect to do so, Harris could be the beneficiary of a larger workload as a former third-round draft pick.
John Ross, Cincinnati Bengals | 197.47 ADP
Playing time and targets present the biggest challenge for Ross to cross into fantasy stardom in 2020. Competing for targets on a loaded offense — particularly at receiver — will surely cap his ceiling, though Ross has shown some serious game-breaking ability in spurts. In 2019, Ross had two 40-plus yard touchdowns on only 55 targets, ranking seventh in the league. His deep ability is evident, as he ranked 17th in average depth of target (15.27 yards) and sixth in yards per reception (18.07 yards).
Joe Burrow should do wonders for Ross compared to what the wideout dealt with in 2019 — Andy Dalton had a 68.3 grade and Ryan Finley had a 28.0 grade. A large target share probably isn’t in the cards for Ross in 2020, but his big-play ability should give him a chance to severely outplay his ADP, particularly in best ball formats, where the risk of his potential peaks and valleys is minimized.
Trent Taylor, San Francisco 49ers | 240.27 ADP
After missing the entire 2019 season due to injury, Taylor enters an interesting situation with the 49ers in 2020. What was once a crowded receiver room is now the opposite. The 49ers moved on from Marquise Goodwin (131 receiving snaps) and Emmanuel Sanders (275 receiving snaps) this offseason, opening up playing time for the remaining receivers. In addition, rookie sensation Deebo Samuel’s recent injury is set to sideline him for 12-16 weeks, opening the door for even more available snaps if his absence extends into the regular season.
Taylor does not offer many highlight-reel plays or big-play potential in general, but his sure-handedness is an advantage in PPR formats. In 2018, Taylor reeled in 86.7% of his catchable passes, which ranked second among the team’s receivers with 10 or more targets.
When targeting receivers aligned in the slot in 2019, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo registered an 85.6 grade, 10 touchdowns, 10.1 yards per attempt and a 118.3 passer rating. All of these figures bode well for Taylor, as he primarily operates out of the slot.
Our projections currently have Taylor slated for a WR92 finish, totaling 64.6 points, though an increased workload could push Taylor higher on that list.
Jonnu Smith, Tennessee Titans | 132.50 ADP
Smith is widely viewed as a potential breakout candidate, and deservedly so. PFF's Andrew Erickson highlighted Smith as a potential breakout candidate in 2020. When starting tight end Delanie Walker went down with an injury, Smith immediately stepped in, ultimately foreshadowing the end of Walker’s tenure with the team.
Among tight ends with 100-plus snaps in 2019, Smith’s 79.4 receiving grade ranked 10th. Smith’s dominance didn’t end at the catch point, either — he ranked ninth in yards after the catch, fifth in receiving yards after contact, third in missed tackles forced on receptions and third in yards after the catch per reception. With a total of only 44 targets, Smith truly ensured he reached peak performance in his efficiency metrics, ranking eighth in the league in yards per route run.
The numbers suggest that Smith already broke out in 2019, but his current ADP offers a strong chance to nab an ascending talent. Our projections have Smith in line for a TE17 finish, placing him between Dallas Goedert and Irv Smith Jr. Jonnu Smith is likely to take the next step in his development in 2020, even if the Titans are a potential regression candidate.
Blake Jarwin, Dallas Cowboys | 147.51 ADP
The Cowboys have once again moved on from veteran Jason Witten, leaving Jarwin as the next man up. Witten's 2019 workload is up for grabs — he saw 82 targets (ranked eighth) and caught 63 of them (also eighth). Jarwin is a far more athletic option than Witten, ranking 22nd in the league in missed tackles forced (three), 21st in explosive pass plays (nine) and ninth in aDOT (10.1 yards).
Similar to Jonnu Smith, Jarwin had solid 2019 efficiency metrics. But unlike Smith, they weren't otherworldly. Jarwin’s 1.82 yards per route run ranked ninth in the league last season.
Not many teams threw the ball more than the Cowboys did in 2019, as they ranked 10th in pass attempts and ninth in deep pass attempts (20-plus yards downfield). In addition, the Cowboys ranked second in explosive pass percentage (17.5%) and third in explosive plays passing (112). These are the types of offenses you want to target, especially when a quarterback like Dak Prescott routinely targets a position (tight end).
PFF's fantasy projections predict 117.5 fantasy points for Jarwin, which would rank him as TE19.