RBs and Pass Catchers that could take the jump to fantasy rock stardom
Written by: Zachary Dennison
My first fantasy article, I have always wanted to bring my fantasy knowledge and insight out to as many people as I can. I got some great advice from Kyle Borgognoni who is part of the great crew at the Fantasy Footballers, who told me the best way to join the community is to jump right in as a writer whether that's getting paid to do it or not and that’s what I did, I made a change in my life to get out of doing the same thing all day everyday. This year has been a crazy one already, 2021 has helped me see I don't want to be stuck working at a job I don't enjoy, I was selling used trucks for a business called Ryder Vehicle Sales in a place that I didn't want to live. I packed up my car and moved from upstate NY out west to Colorado. I've always wanted to work in pro sports and write about fantasy football, and I'm starting that dream out here in Denver and with the Fantasy Nerds (which is what all my friends already call me). I know not many of you who are coming here want to hear about my personal life and I promise this will be the most I probably talk about it other than a relatable or funny story here and there. Now enough about my personal life and get to what all of you came here to see and that's a fantasy football article.
These year two running backs are usually stepping into a breakout season, the potential these running backs showed in their rookie year could lead to a potential top 5 season. Now I’m not saying draft these guys in the top 5, but the 4 of these RBs could be drafted as low end RB1s and RB2s with potential to be league winners. RBs are getting tougher and tougher to figure out, with where the league is going, we are leaving the bell-cow back behind, guys are breaking down earlier and earlier in their careers now. The 1-2 punch is going to be what most teams want now, the Jags showed it after one year of bell-cow Robinson, they added Ettiene in the draft. Most teams have a 1-2 punch now, the only guy that has been consistently a bell cow of the RBs in the league that have been able to stay healthy is Derrick Henry, even McCaffery broke down last year after just two years as a bell cow back. We just have to be able to find the right guy out of the 1-2 punch, now a lot of the 1s are obvious, where these backfields have a 70-30 split, but more and more the RBs are getting split into 1st and 2nd down runners, 3rd down backs and red zone backs.
Antonio Gibson - a lot of RBs breakout in that 2nd year, Gibson has all the pass catching and rushing ability. Very explosive athlete, all the makings of a potential top 5 RB. Now he will have a regression in touchdowns since he scored 11 touchdowns on less than 200 touches, his work in the passing and run game will both go up in his 2nd year. The offense should open up with a pro QB that can throw downfield and with more weapons on offense. Big things could be coming from this team and from Gibson. He survived the draft too, with no early picks spent on RB he should be looking at a full workload this year. Now they did add Jarret Patterson as an UDFA who was a beast at Buffalo, the same college K.Mack came from. I don't see him taking too much field time from Gibson, just pay attention to the preseason to make sure Patterson doesn't take a specific role next to Gibson.
Cam Akers - One of the most talented backs coming out of college, was in a 3 headed timeshare till the end of the season, when he had the workhorse role he was a top 15 RB. They still have Henderson but this won't be a three headed backfield anymore and should be a more typical two back set. This offense with a QB that has as talented an arm as anyone in the league this offense should explode under Mcvay and Akers has a chance to be a big part of that. They still have a slightly crowded RB room with Akers and Henderson and they drafted a kid named Funk in the later rounds. Now do I think this is Akers backfield? Yes, do I think it could be a split backfield to start the season? Yes. This backfield and Sean McVay are a really tough cookie to figure out, but I don't think Henderson can stay healthy, he hasn't up to this point in his career and I do think Akers showed McVay he can handle a big workload at the end of last year.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire - This is the same argument a lot of people made last year and a big reason a lot of people drafted him so high. He’s going to fall in drafts this year but still has that same potential to be a top 5 running back in fantasy. I think people are forgetting this guy had 1100 yards from scrimmage last year and that Andy Reid almost never opens up the offense completely to rookie RBs. Coming into his 2nd year in this offense and some targets free’d up from Watkins leaving, C.E.H could have that breakout top 5 season everyone thought was coming last year. Has this been a great offseason for C.E.H they added pro-bowl offensive lineman after pro-bowl offensive lineman this offseason with Thuney and Brown. They didn't add any RBs in the draft, I don't consider McKinnon really at all when it comes to free agent RB signings. This is C.E.H backfield and I think a 2nd year in the Andy Reid offense, coming off a season where Mahomes got hurt/hit a little too much for the chiefs and I think they’re going to come out pounding the run early in the season. We saw games last year where C.E.H got 20+ carries and absolutely balled out for them. Being able to use him as a safety net in the passing game and pounding the run to keep Mahomes upright, he could have a league winner like season being drafted in the 2nd and 3rd round.
J.K. Dobbins - From week 8 in till the end of the season last year he was a top 10 back in fantasy and that’s while sharing the load with Ingram and Gus Edwards. Edwards may still be there but after a full year in the offense, no more Ingram and his overall talent he could make a big year two jump as well. The recent loss of Orlando Brown at left tackle makes me nervous and we’ll see what they do to replace him, but signing a veteran off the street is not going to replace a young pro-bowler. The reason J.K makes my list is because you can get him cheaper than C.E.H, Akers and Gibson. Adding a big offensive guard in the draft will help, hopefully they're able to add another veteran offensive lineman or two in the free agent market to help bolster this line. But the RB room is just a 1-2 punch now and that should bode well for the young gun here, Gus Edwards is not going to make this a 50/50 split. There are no bell cow backs in the league anymore, last year we were down to 4 backs that got 300+ touches. Dobbins is going to ball out and they didn't add any more backs in free agency, they actually drafted some big, physical wide receivers to help spread out this offense more. Dobbins could be a steal in your draft, really want him as my RB2 instead of my RB1 but either way you got a beast if you got this guy.
Jonathan Taylor - Jonathan Taylor another guy who everyone was hyped on last year could be the number 1 running back in fantasy this year. That’s right #1, he got way more work in the passing game last year than many expected and is an absolute freak of nature like a guy I have on my list below. As long as we don't see the colts running inferior backs out on the field instead of him like last year than we could see even bigger things from Taylor, and that is saying something since he finished as the number 4 RB in all of fantasy last year. Another guy I had on my list before the draft that gets to stay afterwards, the colts added no RBs in the draft and I’m hearing they are going to be aggressive to add some OL depth with some veteran FAs. Now this breakout won't happen if for some reason Frank Reich decides to do a 3 headed backfield the entire first half of the year like last year. But if he starts off as the undisputed #1 back and gets an increase in touches he could be the number one RB in all of fantasy next year.
Pass catchers breakouts come at all different times, could be as simple as getting more opportunities or a QB upgrade to getting a new offensive coordinator or head coach. These 4 players are being drafted all over the boards but all have potential to have top 5 seasons or even to be the number one player at their position. With how much of a passing league the NFL has become, there is nothing but room for WR to grow and all fit in an offense together, we are seeing more and more WR duos both pop into the top 25 in fantasy at their position. If we were just talking pass catchers, we’ve seen the chiefs top 2 options both be in the top 3 of their position even.
A.J. Brown - Over 100 targets freed up in offense, could put together a #1 fantasy season. He will cost a first round pick still but he’ll probably be the 6th wide receiver or later off the board with the potential to be the best one of the bunch. Being a physical specimen like his college teammate DK and with the targets freed up in that play action offense he could easily take that step forward. He has all the makings of a superstar in this league and this could be the year we finally see that, he needs to drop the ball less and refine the route running a little bit but all those can be fixed with a full offseason and some hard work. Wow we got out of the draft without the Titans drafting a WR in the first couple rounds, the AJ Brown WR1 SZN is upon us. I am fine drafting him right there with Diggs, Hill and Adams. Honestly if you wanted to draft him ahead of Adams with the Rodgers situation being unresolved still it’s tough to take him as the first WR in fantasy drafts. This guy is going to get a massive target share and he could very well see 130+ targets and for a guy who can take any of these slant routes 80 yards for a TD this could get crazy.
CeeDee Lamb - In the first 5 weeks of the season with a healthy Dak, Lamb was the number 11 wide receiver in fantasy. A full season from Dak in this offense could lead to a big year from Lamb. Being drafted in the middle rounds, Ceedee could prove to be a WR1 for you this year. Now I do know the stats on slot receivers in fantasy never really turning out to be true superstars, but Lamb isn’t like most slot guys, he’s explosive, can beat any safety downfield and is bigger and stronger than most slot corners. Now while I do think he should be drafted after Cooper, I feel he could breakout and if you get him as your WR2 or WR3 I think that is great value with a chance to pay off big. No pass catchers for the Cowboys in the draft and that’s good news for this man right here, I know, I keep hearing slot receivers can't be number one fantasy options. But I'm calling BS on that, in today's NFL we are getting more and more really athletic guys put there, today’s slot receiver is not just guys with good hands that are under 6’0 feet tall. We are getting some really athletic guys there and they’re able to make those contested catches or blow by the nickel corner, safety or line back that’s on them. This is going to come down to who is Daks favorite target, there are 3 guys there and if Lamb can become his security blanket there in PPR leagues he will very easily out-perform his ADP.
Terry McLaurin - Fitzmagic is a gunslinger to the #1 pass catchers on his teams and that’s no joke. Fitzpatrick loves him a WR1 and that man in Washington is F1 McLaurin, Terry McScorin, that bad dude. He is an absolute stud and he did it last year with respect to Alex Smith just absolutely nothing at QB. A big target increase from a guy that can hit his WR on wide open deep balls, Terry could be looking at a target share that rivals the best in the league. I can't tell you how many times I watched Terry running wide open downfield after beating his man and Haskins over throwing him or Alex Smith not being able to hit him that far downfield. He is being drafted around the 12th WR off the board and could end up being you're WR1 after the draft, but I would take that all day. Terry is going to be paying off big for some fantasy managers this year. Even though they added D.Brown at wide receiver in the draft I don’t think he is going to take away too many targets from McLaurin.
Irv Smith Jr - Kyle Rudolph is gone and let’s rejoice in Minnesota. With Jefferson and Theilen on the outside, Irv is a great athlete and runner after the catch in the middle. He has all the makings of a top TE in fantasy, with a run first offense he’ll be on the field a lot and could become one of Cousins favorite targets in the red zone and on third down. Watching him last year always had me wondering what he could be as the true 3rd option in this offense, with defenses being so focused on Thielen and Jefferson after his huge rookie year, Smith Jr could easily become overlooked by defenses and feast on the new opportunity. No real threats to his targets or his job were added in the draft and they added a young QB behind Cousins. With where the TE market is now, if you are one of those people like me that waits in till late in the draft to add you're starting TE, this is the guy for you. He will get later in drafts and easily could end up as a top 8 tight end, maybe even getting into the top 5. The number one TE is the only thing you can really write in with Kelce, after that everyone has question marks about either target share or injury history.
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