When it comes to the NFL Draft (and fantasy football), the reality is there is no such thing as a sure thing. We can go back years and years to find all of the busts who were picked in the first round. Even the “experts” get it wrong quite a bit.
There are however, plenty of guys that get the NFL and hit the ground running. Just last year we saw quite a few of those guys with AJ Brown, DK Metcalf and Terry McLaurin all eclipsing 900 yards in their rookie seasons.
As guys start to find their way in the league though, it becomes a little more apparent who is there to stay. While some guys don’t develop at all, other guys are physically and mentally developing into studs in this league and their 3rd year is usually where it will show. Some guys that took the league by storm in their 3rd year are Davante Adams, Tyler Boyd, and Adam Thielen just to name a few. Pretty good company right? Well I got 8 guys who I think will breakout in similar ways in 2020.
*For the sake of the definition of breakout, I will not include guys that are already studs (DJ Moore, DJ Chark, Michael Gallup, etc)*
Ronald Jones II
Ronald Jones was drafted with the 38th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Coming out of USC he was a MONSTER rushing for over 1500 yards and 20 TDs in his final season. When the Bucs drafted him, I don’t think anyone saw his rookie season playing out like it did. Jones finished the year with 44 yards on 23 carries in 9 games. It was a complete disaster. Dirk Koetter put Jones in the dog house and he never got out.
Last year under new head coach, Bruce Arians, Jones showed some promise racking up 724 yards and 7 TDs. His backmate Peyton Barber, who had 154 carries last year, is no longer with the team opening up a huge opportunity for Jones.
In 2019 Jones ranked 22nd in the league amongst RBs in yards per touch and yards created. He did all of that while ranking 32nd in opportunity share.
I know the Bucs drafted a RB in the 3rd of this past year’s draft, but this is Ronald Jones’s backfield and he will make sure you know that after this fantasy football season.
Christian Kirk is one of, if not the biggest beneficiary of Kliff Kingsbury’s air-raid offense. In 2019 Kirk saw a 98.5% snap share according to Player Profile, which was good for 2nd in the league amongst all wide outs. He saw 108 targets in an offense that didn’t really start to pick it up until the end of the year.
One area where he already excels is dominating the red zone. Last season Kirk saw 12 red zone targets and brought down 11 of those balls. Only five guys in the league finished with at least 12 red zone targets resulting in 1 or less TDs: Kirk, Aaron Jones, Russell Gage, Deebo Samuel, and Auden Tate. My point is, that number will go up, even with the addition of Deandre Hopkins.
Kirk has the ability to be the WR2 in one of the highest scoring offenses in the league. His dynasty value will never get better as he is being drafted as WR35 right now and that may turn into top 24 WR production for this year and years to come.
Miller jumped on to the scene a little bit in 2019 finishing up with 656 yards on 52 catches and 85 targets. As PlayerProfile shows, Miller has elite measurables, including ranking in the top 25% of the league in catch radius, agility, and burst.
Miller has shown flashes of brilliance and that is easy to see when watching him play. His numbers last year don’t jump out at you, but his ability to find space in the defense and the way he goes after the ball make it hard to think he will stay quiet for long.
You could have told most NFL fans that Chris Herndon fell off the face of the earth and they probably would have believed you. Herndon burst on to the scene in 2018 as fellow rookie Sam Darnold’s favorite target. He finished that season with 39 grabs for over 500 yards and 4 TDs.
Heading into his sophomore season Herndon was suspended for the first 4 games of the season. Once he came back though, him and Darnold would get that chemistry going again right? Wrong! Following the suspension, Herndon only played in 1 game due to injuries.
Now, heading into his 3rd year, it seems like it has all finally come together. Herndon finished 2018 as TE15 in only 14 games and there are definitely some reasons to believe he will drastically improve on that. His true catch rate was tops in the league for all TEs in 2018 and his yards per target, and yards per reception were both in the top 10 in the league amongst TEs. Herndon is being drafted LATE in all formats and you may find he is worth taking the flier on.
Russell Gage had an extremely quiet rookie season hauling in only 6 catches for 63 yards. The start of 2019 looked more like the same for Gage, but the trade of Mohamed Sanu to the Pats opened up an opportunity that Russell Gage seized by the balls. After not earning more than a 22% snap share in the first 7 games of the season, Gage started producing and saw a minimum of a 48% snap share in the 9 remaining games.
Between weeks 8 and 17 Gage saw 66 targets and racked up 45 catches for 402 yards. Between the departure of Sanu and TE Austin Hooper, the Falcons vacated the most targets in the league with 258 targets up for grabs. The addition of Hayden Hurst will take some of those targets, but Gage’s 2019 pace would have him at 118 targets through 16 games. With another year under his belt and all of those targets up for grabs, Russell Gage is a steal in any draft who may wind up being a league winner.
Only 3 teams vacated more carries this offseason than the Los Angeles Chargers. Melvin Gordon bolting for Denver (see what I did there), opened up the door for Austin Ekeler to assume the starting spot, and for Jackson to spotlight as a change of pace back.
We saw what he can do in limited work in 2019. During the first three games of the season as RB2 for the Chargers he compiled 18 carries for 142 yards and 6 catches on 8 targets albeit only for 13 yards. Those are solid numbers for a backup RB in his second season and he would have continued to shine had the injury bug not hit him.
Yes, the Chargers drafted Joshua Kelley in the 2020 NFL Draft, but this offseason is going to hurt rookies looking to push for backup jobs. Jackson has been with the team for 3 years now and I expect him to own this role as the change of pace back similar to Ekeler in 2018.
Jackson is an elite athlete at the RB position and he finished fourth amongst RBs in yards created per touch. With Phillip Rivers gone, I expect the Chargers to get everyone involved in the offense with Jackson being of the beneficiaries.
Guice has been one of the most controversial guys so far this year. I think we all know what kind of talent he has, but due to some backbreaking injuries, he hasn’t been able to stay on the field for more than a few games at a time. He has earned the “injury prone” label, which I think is a little unfair given the types of injuries he’s had. Hamstrings and backs are areas where injuries nag and keep coming back. ACLs and a Meniscus are not usually known for being re-injured after getting back to full strength.
With that out of the way, I think Guice stays healthy this year, and I think he goes for 1000+ yards plus. The
Redskins Washington no-names, will need Guice to be as effective as possible. A good running game will be the easiest way to pave a successful development plan for Dwayne Haskins. We know that Guile’s ability to run the football is up there with the best of them, and we also know that Guice is a great athlete with elite speed (finished in the top 20% in speed score and the 40 yard dash), especially when busting through holes and getting to the second level. Washington brings back a decent enough OL to allow for Guice to really showcase what we have been missing these last few years.
Yes I know, a QB usually doesn’t go on these lists, but I just feel like too many people are sleeping on the actual talent that Darnold possesses. There are very few QBs who have been set up less to succeed than Darnold in his first 2 season. His lack of weapons, abysmal OL, and brainless offensive coaches have led many people to believe that Darnold is already a bust. Well I’m here to tell you, THAT AINT IT!
PlayerProfiler had him as the 14th best passer in the league when passing out a clean pocket, which he did not see a lot of last year. According to PFF, the Jets had the 28th ranked OL in 2019, and that was their focus point during the offseason. Additions of Mekhi Becton, Connor McGovern, and Greg Van Roten should bolster Sam’s protection and allow him to make some of the plays he is capable of making. The additions of Denzel Mims and Breshad Perriman, alongside the return of Chris Herndon should allow Sam to have a chance at finishing as a QB1 this season. I’m not saying it’s going to happen, but there is a chance based on what I’ve seen in the past. If you can’t buy the stats, just watch the YouTube video below to see for yourself.