Fantasy: 7 breakout candidates to target in 2019 (Updated)
Icon Sportswire / Getty

Get ready for your season with theScore's 2019 Fantasy Football Draft Kit and subscribe to push notifications in the NFL Fantasy News section.

With all 32 NFL teams back on the field, it's time to identify this year's fantasy breakout candidates.

Last year in this space, we led you to Patrick Mahomes, Tarik Cohen, Aaron Jones, Corey Davis, George Kittle, and Trey Burton, with the only real miss being Josh Doctson. So, you may want to commit the names below to memory come fantasy draft day.

Average draft position (ADP) data courtesy of Fantasy Football Calculator and is based on 12-team leagues with PPR scoring.

More from this series

Mitch Trubisky, QB, Bears

Andy Lyons / Getty Images Sport / Getty

It's almost impossible to follow up my Mahomes pick from 2018, which means you shouldn't expect Trubisky to finish as the top scoring fantasy quarterback. Securing a spot in the top seven is well within reach though, as long as the Bears' passer can stay healthy.

In his first campaign under head coach Matt Nagy, Trubisky was the QB15 despite missing two games due to injury. For anyone who believes his year-long fantasy performance was inflated by a six-touchdown outing in Week 4, just take a look at Trubisky's numbers from Week 6 to 11, where he averaged 23.3 fantasy points per contest - third best in the NFL.

The 24-year-old is far from a polished quarterback, but Nagy's arrival infused creativity into the offense and the Bears have surrounded the former second overall pick with a talented arsenal of skill position players. We're also discussing his fantasy outlook, not his Hall of Fame candidacy. For fantasy purposes, Trubisky checks a lot of boxes, including an underrated rushing ability, which resulted in 421 yards on the ground - fifth most among quarterbacks last season.

Pair Trubisky with another high-upside late-round option like Jameis Winston, Josh Allen, or Kyler Murray and consider yourself set at quarterback. If both players hit, you may even end up with a valuable asset to trade early in the season.

Star potential: ★★★★☆
ADP: 13th round (QB21)

Kerryon Johnson, RB, Lions

Michael Reaves / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Lions head coach Matt Patricia didn't make any friends in the fantasy community earlier in the offseason when he suggested the team would limit Johnson's workload in 2019. However, with the recent release of Theo Riddick, Johnson will receive the bulk of the passing-down work, lifting his potential ceiling into the top-10 fantasy backs.

Though some are worried the signing of veteran C.J. Anderson will cap Johnson's carries, remember, we thought the same thing a year ago when Anderson landed in Carolina as Christian McCaffrey's sidekick.

The talent gap will soon be obvious to everyone in Detroit. Johnson eclipsed 85 yards from scrimmage in six of his last eight appearances while averaging 5.4 yards per carry - the second-highest mark for rookie backs in 2018. His involvement as a pass-catcher increased as the year went on as well, leading to 17 receptions over his final four outings.

In Patricia's first campaign with the Lions, he ushered in a new run-heavy approach for the offense as the team cracked 400 carries for the first time since 2013. Hiring offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, who made the rushing attack the central focus in his previous NFL stops, is Patricia's form of doubling down. Detroit also drafted T.J. Hockenson in the first round, an outstanding tight end prospect with equally impressive tools as a receiver and blocker. His presence is a low-key boost to the run game.

Even with Riddick and LeGarrette Blount eating into his touches last season, Johnson was still the RB15 in fantasy through his first 10 games before a knee injury sent him to injured reserve. As long as he avoids another season-ending ailment, you can expect him to finish in that range once again.

Star potential: ★★★★★
ADP: 3rd round (RB14)

Rashaad Penny, RB, Seahawks

Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / Getty

By this point, we all know about Penny's disappointing rookie season. After being drafted 27th overall, Penny reported to the Seahawks out of shape and took a while to learn the playbook, allowing Chris Carson to secure the No. 1 role in camp. Penny's limited receiving chops caused him to fall even further down the depth chart, behind a more experienced pass-catcher in veteran Mike Davis.

Penny eventually owned up to his poor preparation and won back the coaching staff as the year went along. He made the most of his backup role by rattling off several long runs late in the season and posted a 12-carry, 108-yard, one-touchdown performance in Week 10.

The Seahawks led the NFL in RB carries with 451 last year - over 65 more than the next closest team - and should be near the top of the league in that category again. Davis leaving in free agency opens up 112 carries and 42 targets in the backfield, and although Carson will likely take on more of the targets, Penny will soak up the majority of those vacated carries, adding to the 85 attempts he had in 2018.

That kind of volume makes it possible for both Carson and Penny to be fantasy starters in the same offense, with Carson sporting the higher upside due to his receiving work. If Carson were sidelined with an injury, Penny would immediately vault into the RB1 conversation.

Star potential: ★★★★★
ADP: 7th round (RB32)

D.J. Moore, WR, Panthers

Brett Carlsen / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Moore was productive on limited touches in Year 1 with 788 receiving yards and 172 rushing yards on 55 receptions and 13 carries. Touchdowns and targets were the only things missing from Moore's debut season. The first-round pick found the end zone twice and saw just 82 passes thrown his way.

The official departure of former Panthers' No. 1 receiver Devin Funchess should help raise Moore's ceiling in both areas. After all, once the coaching staff began to reduce Funchess' snaps late in the season, Moore saw at least seven passes thrown his way in six of the last seven weeks. Over that span, he hauled in one of his two scores and was the WR27 in fantasy.

The concerns about Cam Newton's health can also be put to rest, solidifying Moore's fantasy stock. The star quarterback faded down the stretch due to a shoulder injury that ultimately cost him the final two games of the season, but his recovery has gone according to plan and Newton is all systems go for the regular season.

Moore is a lock to be a top-30 fantasy wideout and could challenge for WR2 status.

Star potential: ★★★★★
ADP: 5th round (WR26)

Dante Pettis, WR, 49ers

Robert Reiners / Getty Images Sport / Getty

After San Francisco came away with just slot receiver Deebo Samuel and long-term project Jalen Hurd in the NFL draft, Pettis' status as the 49ers' primary option was secured. Both rookies offer high-end upside, but neither profile as a true No. 1. That leaves Pettis to continue his development as the focal point of the 49ers' receiving corps alongside tight end George Kittle.

After posting 61 yards and a score in Week 1, Pettis sat out a big chunk of his first season due to injuries. But when he returned after the Niners' Week 11 bye, he was evidently ready to produce. Pettis averaged 85 yards per game over the next four outings, scoring four times during that span, which included the fantasy playoffs.

Overall, he played at least 70 percent of offensive snaps in six games and averaged 72 yards and almost a touchdown per contest in those appearances.

There are also several specific stats fantasy owners can hang their hats on from Pettis' 2018 campaign. He was near the top of the league in yards per reception, yards after the catch per reception, and average separation, while playing primarily with backup quarterbacks following Jimmy Garoppolo's season-ending ACL tear in Week 3.

With Garoppolo back, Pettis is poised to make a significant leap in his second season, potentially forcing his way into the WR2 ranks in fantasy.

Star potential: ★★★★★
ADP: 6th round (WR29)

Geronimo Allison, WR, Packers

Dylan Buell / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Now that Randall Cobb is gone, Allison will take over in the slot with sophomore Marquez Valdes-Scantling stepping into a starting role on the outside.

If you're debating whether Allison or Marquez Valdes-Scantling will be the Packers' most valuable fantasy receiver behind Davante Adams, let me remind you how Allison began the 2018 season.

As a starter in the opening month, Allison was the WR27 in fantasy with stat lines of 5-69-1, 6-64-0, 2-76-1, and 6-80-0, while posting the 20th-most air yards among wideouts across the league, according to

Unfortunately, a groin injury kept him out of the lineup for 11 of the next 12 games. Prior to that, he was on pace for 76 receptions, 1,156 yards, and eight touchdowns.

Allison may carry more risk than the other members on this list, however, he's also coming at a discount in the eighth round. Enjoy that reduced price while it lasts before other fantasy owners recognize his upside.

Star potential: ★★★★☆
ADP: 8th round (WR35)

O.J. Howard, TE, Buccaneers

Reinhold Matay / USA TODAY Sports

As a 24-year-old, Howard was well on his way to a breakout season in 2018 before foot and ankle issues held him out the last six weeks. He had recorded the sixth-most fantasy points among tight ends when he was placed on injured reserve after Week 11 and was on pace for a 904-yard, eight-touchdown campaign.

His sophomore performance earned him Pro Football Focus' second-highest all-around grade for a tight end in 2018, sandwiched between superstars George Kittle and Travis Kelce.

That came a year after his rookie campaign, which featured five games of 50-plus yards and six touchdowns. Howard's performance saw him join elite company as the 15th first-year tight end to average eight yards per target since 2000, according to Action Network's Ian Hartitz.

Everything points toward a Howard breakout. He recorded the second-best average depth of target among starting tight ends in each of the last two seasons, trailing only one man - Rob Gronkowski - while finishing a full yard better than the next closest qualifying player at his position. And his 11 percent target share last season should increase with Adam Humphries and DeSean Jackson playing in other cities.

Howard is locked into his own tier as my TE4 for 2019, behind the elite trio of Kelce, Kittle, and Zach Ertz. He's well ahead of guys like Evan Engram, Hunter Henry, and Jared Cook.

Star potential: ★★★★★
ADP: 5th round (TE4)

More from this series

Fantasy: 7 breakout candidates to target in 2019 (Updated)
  Got something to say? Leave a comment below!
Daily Newsletter
Get the latest trending sports news daily in your inbox