With free agency and the draft still ahead, NFL rosters will undergo seismic changes over the next few months.
Before the shuffling begins, let's take an early look at the players positioned to break out when the 2019 season kicks off.
Kenneth Dixon, RB - A suspension and an ACL tear sidetracked Dixon’s career, costing him the end of his rookie year and the entirety of his sophomore campaign. Prior to that, Dixon was gaining steam as a potential fantasy sleeper, so it wasn’t surprising to see him get significant touches in Week 1, a trend that continued when he returned from injury in December. Dixon has the most complete skill set of any Ravens rusher and will challenge Gus Edwards for lead back duties in 2019.
Robert Foster, WR - Buying into Foster’s breakout potential isn’t hard after he cracked the 100-yard mark three times over his final seven games, resulting in WR2 fantasy numbers during the second half of the season. If the Bills fail to make a notable addition to their receiving corps, Foster will enter the year as their most dangerous pass-catcher, even with that small sample size headlining his resume.
John Ross, WR - With Joe Mixon and Tyler Boyd breaking out in 2018, the Bengals don’t have many players worth considering here. Ross would be the most likely option; however, there are signs that point toward him being a bust. Even with A.J. Green missing seven games, Ross only managed 21 receptions for 210 yards over his 13 appearances. And his seven touchdowns seem fluky at best. But with a new coaching staff, there’s still hope that he can bring a return on the first-round pick Cincinnati invested in him.
Baker Mayfield, QB - Nearly every Browns player excelled following the midseason coaching change, but Mayfield may have been the biggest beneficiary. The first pick from last year's draft had a clear connection with interim offensive coordinator and eventual head coach Freddie Kitchens, throwing multiple touchdown passes in six of his last eight outings and finishing as a top-10 fantasy quarterback during that stretch.
Courtland Sutton, WR - What began as a sort of redshirt season for Sutton, was quickly altered when the Broncos traded Demaryius Thomas. The move prematurely pushed Sutton into a more prominent role, and he struggled against top covermen. With Emmanuel Sanders recovering from a torn Achilles, Sutton will continue to be given every chance to develop into Denver's go-to target on the outside.
Keke Coutee, WR - Coutee's path to fantasy production is set with Will Fuller rehabbing from an ACL tear that could cause him to miss time or be limited early in the season. Much like Fuller, the challenge for Coutee will be staying on the field, after the latter battled injuries throughout his rookie campaign. When in the lineup, Coutee had game-breaking ability as a dynamic slot receiver and remains a nice complement to DeAndre Hopkins.
Deon Cain, WR - Perhaps the longest shot of all the names on this list, Cain may qualify more as a sleeper after missing his rookie season due to injury. The 6-foot-2, 202-pound wideout was generating a lot of buzz in training camp and reportedly pushing for playing time prior to going down. The Colts desperately need another playmaker for Andrew Luck, and assuming Cain's recovery is on track, they might already have the solution on their roster.
Dede Westbrook, WR - The Jaguars' quarterback situation will undoubtedly impact their passing attack, but Westbrook's skill set puts him in the best position to succeed regardless of who's under center. As a versatile receiver who can make plays from anywhere on the field, Westbrook should see his stats rise for the third straight season.
Damien Williams, RB - Williams' pursuit of the Chiefs' starting job will be one of the most interesting fantasy storylines to follow in the offseason. His performance late in the year earned him a two-year extension and a chance to emerge as the lead back and a borderline RB1 in fantasy. His 572 yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns over his final four games, including the playoffs, is extremely enticing for fantasy owners. Still, his outlook depends entirely on whether Kansas City adds another back in free agency or in the draft.
Mike Williams, WR - With 11 combined touchdowns, Williams finished as the WR20 in standard leagues and the WR32 in PPR formats. His 664 yards left a lot to be desired, but with Tyrell Williams expected to hit the free-agent market, Mike should see a bump in snaps and targets that will help lift his total in 2019.
Mike Gesicki, TE - The second-rounder didn't make a dent as a rookie, but there's plenty of reason to be optimistic about his long-term outlook. Gesicki was an excellent prospect who was poorly used by the previous regime. A year of gestation combined with a new coaching staff will have him poised to be a more regular contributor during his second season in South Beach.
Sony Michel, RB - One could argue Michel already broke out. After all, he had 981 yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns as a rookie. In the postseason, he generated 345 yards and six scores en route to a Lombardi Trophy. Building off that, Michel has the opportunity to attain RB1 numbers in fantasy as the Patriots continue to lean on their running game in Tom Brady’s final years.
Sam Darnold, QB - The fantasy quarterback landscape is deep, but if Darnold can continue the pace he set in December, he'll make himself relevant to owners as a streaming option. For Darnold to emerge as a weekly fantasy starter, the Jets will need to upgrade his weapons and new head coach Adam Gase will have to learn from the mistakes he made in Miami. Whether he makes the leap in 2019 or beyond, Darnold has the makings of a future fantasy star.
Jalen Richard, RB - It's unlikely Richard serves as a workhorse back in the NFL, but he has the skills to put up Chris Thompson- or James White-like numbers as a dynamic pass-catcher out of the backfield. Richard had 866 yards from scrimmage in 2018, including 607 receiving yards, and tied for the team lead in receptions with 68. With Marshawn Lynch and Doug Martin heading to free agency, Richard's slice of the backfield touches could grow.
James Washington, WR - Washington had a disappointing rookie season, never coming close to becoming a third pass-catching threat. It’s possible Antonio Brown is moved in the offseason, which would thrust Washington into a bigger role and give him a real chance to break out. If Brown sticks around, which seems increasingly possible, then Washington’s outlook would be capped behind Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Corey Davis, WR - We've been waiting for Davis’ breakout ever since he was drafted fifth overall in 2017. There's no doubt he contains the talent to be a top-flight NFL receiver, but we've only seen him attain greatness in brief moments due to Marcus Mariota's shortcomings and the Titans' subpar scheme. Perhaps a new offensive coordinator will be able to unlock Davis' fantasy value.