2014 Fantasy Football Breakout Sleepers
Through two years, Michael Floyd has been everything the Cardinals had thought he would be when he was selected as the 13th pick of the 2012 NFL draft. Heading into year-three, expectations are sky-high.
Although Larry Fitzgerald suited up for all 16 games in 2013, he was slowed by a nagging hamstring injury for half the year, which allowed Floyd to assume a more prominent role and increase his receptions by 20 and targets by 26 vs. his rookie campaign. Additionally, his catch-rate improved from 52-percent to 58-percent.
Even with Fitzgerald at full strength, Carson Palmer targeted Floyd 10 or more times in three games over the second-half of the season; which speaks to growing confidence in the Fighting Irish alum.
As is the case with many of our breakout candidates, Floyd will benefit from the consistency of being in a system (Bruce Arian's complex offense) for a second consecutive year. Furthering Floyd's case for increased production is his size. At 6-foot-3, Floyd has an ideal frame to be used in the red zone. On a team void of a imposing tight end, Floyd should expect an uptick on his 12 red zone targets in 2013.
No 2014 free-agent upgraded his fantasy value more than Emmanuel Sanders. Sanders replaces Eric Decker's role in the Broncos explosive offense; a position that averaged 130 targets, 86 receptions, 1,176 yards and 12 touchdowns the last two seasons.
As a Steelers outside receiver, Sanders career catch rate was 58-percent, a rate that figures to improve with Peyton Manning under center. In two years as Broncos quarterback, Manning has completed 68.5-percent of his passes (66-percent connection rate with Decker).
Sanders will benefit from facing softer coverage resulting from defenses having Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas and Wes Welker to deal with --a far cry from roaming the field with only Antonio Brown -- in a run-first offense.
"I'm finally entering a season where I'm in an offense that's going to sling it around," Sanders said. While the former Steelers receiver did post career highs in receiving output with 67 receptions and 740 yards in 2013, his new team passed for 1,427 more yards, lending proof that there will now be significantly more opportunities for Sanders to post big stat-lines and lots of fantasy points..
As Alshon Jeffery and Josh Gordon demonstrated last season, the old rule-of-thumb third-year wide receiver breakout rule can be accelerated if the talent is worthy and the offense recognizes the skill-set.
Kenny Stills plays in a pass-happy offense that puts max-pressure on defenses with Pro Bowlers Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham. Although he tired down the stretch as a rookie, Stills had a four-week stretch where he was on the receiving end of 12 catches (on 17 targets), 304 yards and four touchdowns from Brees; incredible output for a first-year receiver.
That kind of production surely got the attention of Sean Payton who spoke of Stills during OTAs, saying that the team needs to find ways to get Stills more different looks and touches; implying that he will be used as more than a deep threat.
With the loss of Darren Sproles and Lance Moore to free-agency, there are 108 receptions up for grabs, widely assumed to be picked up by Stills and rookie Brandin Cooks. The anticipated uptick in targets for the former Sooner equates to extreme value as a key piece to one of the premier offenses in the league.
Another tight end looking to make a similar leap as Jordan Reed, albeit in his third-year is San Diego Chargers 6-foot,6-inch, 240 pound Ladarius Green.
What strikes you first about Green is his blazing speed for a big man. He is a match-up nightmare for secondary's as evidenced by his league leading 22.1 yards per reception. With Antonio Gates still relevant as Phillip Rivers favorite target, Green was brought along slowly, capping his opportunities, but both were targeted equally in the playoffs lending some validity to the assumption that a transition to a featured role is near.
Furthering a case for Green is the presence of new offensive coordinator Frank Reich. Indications out of camp are that Reich along with Rivers will look to speed up the offense, with an emphasis on running the no-huddle and passing more. Rivers, who has many years of exploiting tight end mismatches with Gates, may find himself looking Green's way more given his speed and big-play ability, as defenses struggle to keep up with the fast-paced offense.
Those vying for a role opposite Keenan Allen as a compliment receiver are adequate at best, meaning the Chargers may find themselves employing multi tight end sets more often than not; allowing Green an opportunity to flourish even with Gates a continued cog in the offense.
Once a much-maligned position, tight end proves ever valuable year after year. Over the last five seasons, Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski and Julius Thomas have exploded in their second-year and were arguably fantasy MVP in each of their breakout campaigns. Jordan Reed's rookie year was equally as impressive and he looks poised to accomplish even more.
Reed's season was cut short with a concussion sustained early in Week 10. In the prior four weeks, Reed hauled in 27 balls on 37 targets from RG3, for 323 yards and two TDs. In a year where not much went right for the Redskins, RG3 clearly developed a connection with Reed.
Not too bad for a rookie tight end that was originally recruited as a quarterback. Reed transitioned to full-time tight end and even passed on his last year of eligibility, after an increase in production across his entire stat-line as a junior with the Florida Gators.
New head coach Jay Gruden brings from the Bengals a program that incorporates heavy-utilization of the tight end (Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert were targeted 125 times in 2013). Reed should flourish in this new system as defenses will be forced to focus on gunners Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson.
Fantasy owners may be a little gun-shy given the legitimate concussion concerns, but pre-camp ADP more than factors in the injury risk associated with Reed.Injury Status: Injured Reserve
Honorable mention for 2014 breakout candidates: Andre Ellington, Shane Vereen, Toby Gerhart, Tavon Austin, Cordarrelle Patterson, Rod Streater, Zach Ertz, Tyler Eifert.