Finding the next wide receiver who is set for a huge fantasy football breakout campaign can be imperative to your team’s fantasy success. The position is stocked with young talent and finding the right mid-to-late round breakout candidate means you can spend more early capital on elite players at other positions. Overall talent is important, but focusing on opportunity and situation is just as imperative. Over the years, there has been plenty of intriguing-looking talent on paper — Jeff Janis and Corey Coleman come to mind — that has never transpired to anything but good Twitter fodder. We’ll dive in here to focus on the players who have the best potential breakout appeal in 2020 and who could end up being a difference maker as a mid-to-late-round draft pick for your team. Let’s get into some fantasy football breakouts.
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Last Year’s Fantasy Football Breakouts
Let’s start by focusing on some names that broke out last season. If you played fantasy football in 2019 and drafted DJ Chark, you got, by far, one of the best late-round wide receiver bargains in fantasy football. The Jaguars first-rounder from 2018 went from basic fantasy obscurity and the WR142 in 2018 to WR17 in 2019. One of the highest-rated wide receivers from the 2018 draft, Chark’s injury-plagued rookie season caused many to question his actual talent and led to teammate Dede Westbrook being overdrafted. Chark overcame the poor quarterback situation to post over 1,000 yards receiving in 2019 and led the Jags in targets and catches. He rewarded those who saw the opportunity that existed on a thin Jaguars receiving core for a player like Chark to prosper.
While taken much higher in drafts, Kenny Golladay was also a breakout star in 2019. Golladay was more of a mid-round selection in 2019 but moved from WR21 (2018) up to WR9 (2019) in year-end rankings. Golladay did have a talented receiver working alongside him in Marvin Jones, but those who recognized his great average depth of target, yards-per-reception rate and likelihood for increasing opportunity were rewarded with an even better season in 2019.
Those who stuck with DeVante Parker were also rewarded (finally) with a big year. He went from WR105 to WR11 last season after developing chemistry late with Ryan Fitzpatrick. Parker was also helped by injuries, as teammate Preston Williams was gaining momentum before suffering an ACL tear. Parker went on to grab 121 targets on the season and take advantage of Miami’s porous defense which led to plenty of garbage time situations.
While no two situations are the same, there are a lot of similarities we can key in on between these names. Detroit, Jacksonville and Miami were three of the worst teams in football last year, which also led to all three being in the top half of the league in passing play percentage by offense. Interestingly enough, none of the three had a top-level quarterback to work with either, although Gardner Minshew did show flashes of above-average play in 2019. Good quarterback play is important for any wide receiver, but the three players above are a good example of why situation (i.e. on a team with a poor defense), opportunity and talent may matter more.
A Note on Rookies
Before we get too much further, it’s worth making a note on rookie wide receivers and how they’ve performed lately in fantasy. The top rookies always make for intriguing breakout candidates and good media fodder, but they don’t always end up returning the best fantasy value — especially at the wide receiver position. The high-profile nature of the top rookie wide receiver draft picks often means their valuations get skewed and they end up going in drafts higher than they should, as everyone predictably wants a piece of the hot, new college stud.
Last year none of the rookies from the 2019 wide receiver class cracked the top 20 for full year rankings — A.J. Brown (WR21) and Terry McLaurin (WR23) put up good years but fell just short of that metric. The year before that, Calvin Ridley (WR22 in 2018) was the only rookie to crack the top 30. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be considering new players, just note that it’s rare to see a player come in and take a huge market share of targets right off the bat. Brown and McLaurin were actually quite good value picks last year in fantasy football (neither were first-round picks in the real NFL Draft, by the way) but still didn’t exceed 20% of their teams overall target share.
Awesemo’s Fantasy Football Breakouts: Top Wide Receivers
Despite working in an offense that averaged the second-fewest pass yards per game and ranked 26th in pass attempts per game, Johnson managed to grind out a respectable WR39 finish in fantasy circles last year. The season was really a lot better than even that ranking lets on, though, as the Steelers were absolutely putrid at quarterback after Ben Roethlisberger went down.
Between Week 2 and 17, Pittsburgh rotated between Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges at quarterback, with the duo posting just one game between them with more than 250 yards passing yards. The two also combined to post passer ratings of 71.5 and 82. The play was so bad at times that Pittsburgh often turned to Jaylen Samuels and the wildcat formation for multiple snaps most games down the stretch. Despite all of this, Johnson even managed to somehow prosper as a rookie in this hellscape, posting 59 catches for 680 yards and five touchdowns with a kick return TD thrown in for good measure.
A slick route runner with great hands and after-catch abilities, Johnson took an 18% market share of the targets in Pittsburgh last season, which led all Steelers receivers, and ended up outscoring JuJu Smith-Schuster — who went as high as WR3 in many drafts — on a per-game basis (10.2 to 9.4). Skill-wise, Johnson’s metrics don’t jump off the paper, but he’s a true film study when it comes to talent.
— BlitzburghVideos (@BlitzVideos) July 5, 2020
For 2020, Johnson should benefit from a more pass-centric offense this year with the return of Roethlisberger to full health. The Steelers offense guided both Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown to over 160 targets in 2018 when Roethlisberger played the entire year, leading to Brown ending as WR5 and Smith-Schuster ending the season as WR8 in PPR leagues. Even if Johnson falls 20 or 30 targets short of those past marks, his skill set should be enough to turn that increased opportunity into fantasy production that smashes his current ADP (117) out of the water.
He’s going around the WR40-42 mark in most drafts, but if his quarterback stays healthy and the Steelers offense returns to any semblance of its 2018 form, the ceiling is through the roof. He’s my No. 1 breakout candidate for 2020 and a great mid-round pick to build your wide receiver core around. Johnson is currently the #1 wide receiver on Awesemo’s fantasy football breakouts list.
More Fantasy Football Breakouts
Chark was one of the breakout players from last season that I mentioned above, but that shouldn’t stop him from being included here again. 2019 may have been a phenomenal season for the third-year player, and there’s still untapped potential here that could lift him even higher in 2020.
Working with Gardner Minshew last season, Chark posted a solid 20% market share of the targets in Jacksonville, and there’s little reason to think this number can’t climb significantly in 2020. The Jags added the interesting Laviska Shenault to their wide receiver corps at the draft, but he grades out as more of a threat to Westbrook and Chris Conley than Chark, whose athleticism and metrics grade out with the elites in the game:
6’3, 4.39 40m, 38.5” vert,
6’2, 4.34 40m, 40” vert,
— Geoff (@thefantasygrind) September 20, 2019
There’s also the Jay Gruden factor. The Jags lacked creativity on offense last year and brought in Gruden, who has already discussed Chark’s skill set glowingly with plans to use him in different ways, including more from the slot. It’s also worth noting that A.J. Green set career highs in yards and targets in 2012 and again in 2013 when working with Gruden as his offensive coordinator in Cincinnati.
This will also be the second year in a row, and first full season, that Chark gets to work with Minshew. While the consensus on Minshew’s talent is split, Chark and Minshew developed chemistry last year, and having him back for a full season as his quarterback should only help. Minshew also posted the third-best deep ball rating in the league according to Pro Football Focus, posting a 129.0 passer rating on balls thrown 20 yards or more downfield.
Finally, there’s the schedule. The Jaguars only have an average strength of schedule, but from a matchup perspective, there’s a glaring lack of shutdown corners that Chark will face. He’ll also get four games apiece against the Texans and Colts, who both play in domes and ranked in the bottom 10 of passing yards allowed last season. Working with Gruden and the underrated Minshew at quarterback, Chark should push for a bigger market share of targets in 2020 and, if his health cooperates, push for a much bigger encore to his 2019 breakout campaign. D.J Chark is currently the #2 wide receiver on Awesemo’s fantasy football breakouts list.
Campbell is coming off a lost season. The 59th overall pick from 2019 was just starting to get interesting midseason last year when a hand injury and broken foot ended his rookie campaign. As a result, the second-year player will be mostly forgotten about in fantasy football drafts this year as the new crop of early round wide receivers grab people’s attention. This should mean that you can pick up Campbell insanely cheap at the end of your drafts — much like Chark last season — and there’s plenty of reasons to think Campbell has a shot at emulating Chark’s breakout 2019 campaign.
Campbell’s metrics are off the charts (4.31 40, 40-inch vert, 205 pounds). He wasn’t vastly used as a rusher at Ohio State but did post two TDs and 9.1 yards per carry on 23 rush attempts. His skill set is scarily similar, and perhaps even better, than this year’s first wide receiver taken off the board, Henry Ruggs.
Yet, despite Campbell and Ruggs’ similarity, Campbell’s ADP remains far higher (Ruggs is going around WR50-55, Campbell is WR60-65). Going into the 2020 season, Campbell projects as the third wheel in an offense which should feature T.Y. Hilton moving around the formation and newly acquired Michael Pittman on the outside. Head coach Frank Reich has already discussed Campbell’s versatility and his desire to have him work from the slot this season. While we can’t project him to lead the team in targets, Campbell seems certain to have a role and it’s worth noting that the Colts let go of Eric Ebron in the offseason. Ebron took a 13% market share of the team’s targets in two seasons (average) with Indianapolis and also took most of his snaps from the slot.
Campbell’s speed also makes him a dual threat, and while his rookie season doesn’t have much for us to go off, it’s worth noting that in his last full game played (Week 9), he saw three carries (9.0 yards per). There’s also little doubt that if he does get used in the slot consistently he’s going to be a major problem for opposing nickel corners, especially when team’s top options are outside covering Hilton:
Logan Ryan is a great corner, but Parris Campbell's 4.31 speed makes it impossible for him to keep up. Just look at the separation Campbell creates over the middle in just five steps.
— Locked On Colts Podcast (@LockedOnColts) September 17, 2019
The best part about Campbell for fantasy purposes, though, is that he won’t cost you much, if anything at all. His current ADP is hovering in the 205-210 range at the moment, meaning he can likely be stolen at the end of redrafts. His upside also makes this valuation more than fair, as any injury to 30-year-old Hilton, who appeared in 10 games last year but was only healthy for six or seven of them, could land Campbell a far bigger target share than his current projections account for.
A schedule with a ton of dome games and a new quarterback in Philip Rivers, whose old team ended the year inside the top 10 in pass attempts in two of the last three seasons, are also things to consider here. Campbell’s a great bet to smash his current draft stock and end the year as one of 2020’s true breakout stars at wide receiver. Campbell is currently the #3 wide receiver on Awesemo’s fantasy football breakouts list.
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