Fantasy Football: Breakout candidates at wide receiver for 2024

2T16Y6R Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Drake London (5) watches against the Detroit Lions during an NFL football game in Detroit, Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

• Year 2 Jaxon Smith-Njigba should be in for a big year: Seattle’s offensive coaching and scheme change this season could pay dividends for the 2023 first-round pick.

• Doubling down on Drake London: London makes the list for a second year in a row, having not delivered last season it’s clear that 2024 is the true breakout season for him.

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Estimated Reading Time: 13 minutes

Each NFL season, some players take their game to another level and significantly improve their fantasy production along the way. For the wide receiver position, targets and talent are the best recipe for success.


  • The wide receiver must not have exceeded 220 PPR fantasy points — i.e., not have finished as a WR1/high-end WR2 in any previous season.
  • A significant jump in overall fantasy finish or fantasy points per game is expected, not just an incremental improvement.
  • We’re looking for at least 220 PPR fantasy points/13.4 PPR points per game in 2024.
  • No rookies. Let’s make things more challenging than that. A list of rookies who will make a fantasy impact in Year 1 can be found here.
10 examples of players over the past five years who fit the above criteria before delivering a breakout season:
Player (Breakout Season) Pre-breakout Year Fantasy Points Pre-breakout Year Fantasy PPG Breakout Year Fantasy Points Breakout Year Fantasy PPG
Nico Collins (2023) 97.1 9.7 223.9 16.0
DeVonta Smith (2022) 185.6 10.9 256.6 15.0
Christian Kirk (2022) 206.5 12.2 243.9 14.2
Brandon Aiyuk (2022) 169.3 10.0 229.8 13.4
Deebo Samuel (2021) 80.7 11.5 338.0 21.2
Mike Williams (2021) 153.7 10.3 244.6 15.4
D.K. Metcalf (2020) 191.1 11.6 273.3 17.0
Diontae Johnson (2020) 161.1 9.8 223.8 14.8
Chris Godwin (2019) 185.2 11.4 274.1 19.6
D.J. Moore (2019) 161.3 9.8 232.5 15.4

Opportunity, much like the running back position, is key for wide receiver production, with targets being the most important factor. Here is the same list of breakout players from above with the targets, receptions and receiving yards from their breakout season so as to get an idea of what we’re looking for in 2024.

Player (Breakout Season) Breakout year targets Breakout year receptions Breakout year receiving yards
Nico Collins (2023) 109 80 1,297
DeVonta Smith (2022) 132 95 1,196
Christian Kirk (2022) 123 84 1,108
Brandon Aiyuk (2022) 112 78 1,015
Deebo Samuel (2021) 114 77 1,405
Mike Williams (2021) 122 76 1,146
D.K. Metcalf (2020) 124 83 1,303
Diontae Johnson (2020) 139 88 923
Chris Godwin (2019) 114 86 1,333
D.J. Moore (2019) 130 87 1,175

Drake London, Atlanta Falcons

2023 Fantasy Points 2023 PPR PPG 2023 Targets 2023 Receiving Yards
163.4 10.9 106 905

London is the lone player on this 2024 list who was also on the breakout list in 2023. After an underwhelming season, we’re doubling down on his breakout potential now that a proven and legitimate NFL starter is going to be under center. With Kirk Cousins signing in Atlanta, all of a sudden every Falcons offensive piece becomes more valuable for fantasy. A quarterback who can accurately and consistently get the ball to his top playmakers is crucial for the fantasy success of players on the other side of those throws.

London has been plagued by inaccurate passes and an ineffective offense. In 2022, he ranked outside of the top 100 qualifying wide receivers in catchable pass rate, and while that improved in 2023 (68th), the Falcons' offense did not, ranking 27th in touchdown drive percentage (15.8%) and 26th in overall scoring drive percentage (31.6%).

A new quarterback paired with a new coaching staff is just the recipe we’re looking for to allow London’s breakout season to come to fruition.

the Falcons' offense needs to deliver as expected

Between the addition of Cousins at quarterback and the subtraction of Arthur Smith as head coach, the Falcons seemingly fixed two of the issues that held back the stars of this offense in 2023 (and prior). If Raheem Morris, and specifically offensive coordinator Zac Robinson, can find the success that they had with the Los Angeles Rams over the past two seasons, then that will be one of the biggest keys to the fantasy success of all offensive players in Atlanta.

Robinson’s Rams in 2023 ranked in the top 10 in touchdown drive percentage (23.8%), overall scoring drive percentage (41.1%), offensive points scored (264) and successful play percentage (35.7%) — all areas where the Falcons were well below average. The personnel is in place for Robinson to deliver on that level of success, and if Kirk Cousins is healthy, then there’s full confidence in the team coming through this season.

A healthy Kirk Cousins under center

This should go without saying, but Atlanta’s success, and the success of its pass catchers, is tied very closely to the health and ability of their starting quarterback this season. Michael Penix Jr. has long-term potential in the NFL, but he was not drafted to start immediately, so it’ll be up to Cousins to steer the ship.

Over the past two seasons, Cousins ranks sixth among quarterbacks in adjusted completion rate (77.5%), 11th in passing grade (82.5) and eighth in PFF wins above replacement. This is a significant upgrade for London and company in Atlanta, and it should be enough to unlock the wideout's potential.

London ranks 15th in PFF receiving grade (86.1) since entering the league. But he ranks outside 26th at his position in receiving yards (1,771) and tied for 24th in receptions (141) among the same qualifying wide receivers, having never finished among the top 24 PPR wide receivers in fantasy. If all goes as expected this year, he should be more than capable of surpassing that threshold in 2024.

Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Seattle Seahawks

2023 Fantasy Points 2023 PPR PPG 2023 Targets 2023 Receiving Yards
145.4 9.1 90 628

Smith-Njigba appears primed for a big Year 2 after showcasing his talent and potential as a rookie in an offense that was unable to fully unleash him as the weapon he was drafted to be in 2023. Smith-Njigba commanded 90 targets across 17 games but had the sixth-lowest average depth of target (6.4) in the league. As a result, his yards per route run (1.32) ranked outside the top 50 at his position, as did his total receiving yards (628). It should be noted that he played the first few games of the season with a cast on his wrist.

Smith-Njigba as a draft prospect ranked in the 99th percentile since 2019 in separation rate on throws 10-plus yards downfield (53%) while posting a 96th-percentile career yards per route run (3.32) at Ohio State. Smith-Njigba’s profile and success coming out of college have to be taken into account when considering his breakout potential in the NFL, as he’ll be just 22 years old this season with a lot of meat left on the bone for the new Seattle coaching staff to unlock in Year 2.

Emerge as at least the team’s WR2

Tyler Lockett is likely the biggest barrier to Smith-Njigba taking on a larger role. However, Lockett's production dropped off quite a bit in Year 9, as he posted the lowest yardage total (894) of his career since 2017 despite playing all 17 games. His yards per route run figure (1.61) was also the lowest it’s been since 2017. He enters Year 10 at nearly 32 years old and on the downswing of his career.

The Seahawks have stated several times this offseason that they expect big things from Smith-Njigba in Year 2, and that he projects to be a significant part of their offense in 2024. This is important coming from a new coaching staff that was not a part of drafting Smith-Njigba in 2023. The fact that the coaches see how he can be utilized and understand that he’ll be key to the team’s offensive success is very encouraging heading into 2024.

Ryan Grubb to unlock JSN’s full potential

It’s still up to the coaching staff, specifically offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb, to utilize Smith-Njigba more efficiently. Staying on the field is going to be a crucial part of that when considering that D.K. Metcalf and Lockett are also more-than-capable NFL wide receivers. Grubb’s Washington Huskies spent a well-above-average rate for the FBS in 11 personnel over the past two seasons, utilizing players like Rome Odunze, Ja'Lynn Polk and Jalen McMillan all at once and finding success in doing so. Pete Carroll’s Seahawks were right around league average in that regard last season.

Grubb’s Huskies also ranked well above average in pass play rate last season (61.5%), something last year’s Seahawks also became known for, ranking seventh in that regard. More playing time combined with that high pass rate could help Smith-Njigba deliver on this Year 2 breakout.

Rashid Shaheed, New Orleans Saints

2023 Fantasy Points 2023 PPR PPG 2023 Targets 2023 Receiving Yards
136.1 9.7 71 719

Shaheed ranked 15th among wide receivers last season in average target depth (14.6). And, like Smith-Njigba, the potential to be utilized as more of an all-around wide receiver with a bigger role in 2024 is what makes him a breakout candidate.

Shaheed ranked tied for 21st in the NFL last year in 20-plus yard targets (21) but tied for 64th in targets below that 20-yard threshold (50). Considering the Saints’ lack of depth at the position outside of Chris Olave, Shaheed is the likely WR2 in this offense — a role that Michael Thomas held when healthy last year — giving Shaheed a chance to greatly exceed his career-high 71 targets.

Become more than just a deep threat

We got a glimpse of Shaheed doing just that as the team’s WR2 last season when Thomas was out of the lineup after Week 10. Shaheed went from 36% of his total targets being 20-plus yards downfield with Thomas in the lineup to just 17% of his targets being deep throws with Thomas out of the lineup. While those shorter throws are less valuable for fantasy, they’re also higher percentage completions to help with Shaheed’s overall PPR value. The deep throws are also not going away; we’re just expecting more to be added to Shaheed’s plate.

Saints quarterback Derek Carr ranked 10th last season in adjusted completion rate on throws less than 20 yards downfield (81.9%) but 16th in adjusted completion rate on throws 20-plus yards downfield (43.3%). Once Shaheed was further integrated into the offense when Thomas was out, those higher-percentage throws paid off, with Shaheed increasing his yards per route run (5.50, up from 4.50) and yards per reception (8.5, up from 6.4) on throws less than 20-yards downfield.

Keep the WR2 competition at bay

Cedrick Wilson, A.T. Perry, Juwan Johnson and Alvin Kamara will all be vying for significant target shares in 2024, and it’s up to Shaheed to ensure he’s the next man up in the pecking order. Kamara will likely prove most difficult to contend with, but luckily for Shaheed, he plays a different position, so that competition isn’t the same as another wide receiver coming in and taking over.

With Thomas out of the lineup in 2023, Shaheed greatly improved his target rate to 19.4% (up from 15.3%), which ranked second among the team’s wide receivers — behind only Olave. Klint Kubiak comes in as the new offensive coordinator, after serving as the passing game coordinator in San Francisco last season. Much like New Orleans, the 49ers were not a pass-heavy team, but their trademark was efficiency, and maintaining that 19.4% target rate in a similar offense would be a massive contributing factor to Shaheed’s 2024 breakout season.

Khalil Shakir, Buffalo Bills

2023 Fantasy Points 2023 PPR PPG 2023 Targets 2023 Receiving Yards
96.6 6.0 45 611

Shakir is the deepest breakout candidate to qualify for this list in 2024, considering he’s being drafted well outside the top 50 players at his position. He has a great shot to emerge as a top target earner in a high-end offense with an elite quarterback. Shakir became a regular in Buffalo’s offense in Week 7 last season, finishing second on the team to only Stefon Diggs in target rate (14.1%) and total targets (51). He also led the team in receiving yards (646) and yards per route run (1.78) and tied for the team lead in touchdowns (three) from that point on, including the playoffs.

Keeping that momentum going in Year 3 of his NFL career will be a challenge, but there are many reasons to be confident in him.

Average 75% (or more) route participation

Shakir was around a 72% clip once he became a regular in the Bills' offense last season, which led to 9.0 PPR points per game while contending with Diggs' volume. For Shakir to improve his fantasy production into double-digit points per game in 2024, he’ll have to continue being a regular in the lineup and average around 75% of routes run for the year.

The Bills brought in more target competition for the slot role that Shakir occupied last season, including Curtis Samuel, to join a slot-heavy tight end in Dalton Kincaid. If Shakir can maintain his role as the primary slot receiver in Buffalo, like he was for most of 2023, then that will be the first step toward breaking out in 2024.

Becoming slightly more than just a slot receiver

Shakir isn’t a big receiver, at 6-foot and 190 pounds, which is why he spends most of his time in the slot. But he is also capable and not a stranger to playing outside, as he did for some time in college at Boise State. Shakir spent the 2020 season playing primarily on the outside and racked up 3.24 yards per route run on more than 200 routes. Shakir’s college profile is an encouraging sign that he is more than just a one-year wonder and can carve out a larger role in Buffalo’s offense this season.

Shakir departed college with an 86th-percentile mark in career yards per route run (2.80) among prospects since 2019, doing so as more than just a slot-only wide receiver. Shakir also ranked in the 77th percentile in yards per route run when lined up wide (2.61) and the 81st percentile from the slot (3.01). While he has spent just 27.3% of his snaps out wide in the NFL, he'll need to stay on the field in different personnel packages as more than just a slot receiver to break out — which isn’t an impossible task, considering his ability.


Tank Dell, Houston Texans

Dell was already a tank last season, delivering 16.5 PPR points per game across 10 full appearances. It's tough to ask for much more production with added target competition in Year 2.

Jayden Reed, Green Bay Packers

Reed, much like Dell, already delivered 13.3 PPR points per game as a rookie and will potentially face healthier target competition if or when Christian Watson and Luke Musgrave are both back in the lineup as full-time options. Reed could potentially improve his fantasy totals, but we're not projecting for a significant-enough leap to call it a breakout.

Jameson Williams, Detroit Lions

Williams managed just 6.7 PPR points per game last year and barely played in his rookie season. The former 12th overall pick has tons of room to improve, but projecting a significant step forward is difficult because of his lack of any overly encouraging metrics in the NFL, paired with being on a run-heavy offense with already strong target competition in Amon-Ra St. Brown, Sam LaPorta and even Jahmyr Gibbs.

Demario Douglas, New England Patriots

Douglas was difficult to leave off the breakout list, but there are a lot of similar options in New England who we can make the case for this season. It's a similar to that of the Bills, but the Patriots lack an elite quarterback. The rookie quarterback situation and there being no clear alpha makes this group more of a crapshoot.

Josh Downs, Indianapolis Colts

Downs was close to being called a breakout for this year, but after diving in, his 9.3 PPR points per game last season was relatively close to his seasonal projection for this year. There aren't many underlying metrics pointing to a massive jump for him in 2024.


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