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Fantasy: Breakout candidates to target in 2023 (Updated)


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With the NFL season quickly approaching, it's time to revisit this season's fantasy breakout candidates.

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Trevor Lawrence, Jaguars

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There's no denying Lawrence made significant improvement in his sophomore year. A big part of that can be attributed to a head coaching change that brought in much more competent leadership under Doug Pederson.

Jacksonville's front office has also been smart about upgrading the talent around its young franchise quarterback, adding pass-catchers like Christian Kirk, Zay Jones, and Evan Engram prior to last season.

The result saw the former No. 1 pick go from 12.7 fantasy points per game (QB34) as a rookie to 17.9 fppg (QB12) in 2022. And the Jaguars weren't done there.

The team rolled the dice by trading for Calvin Ridley, a wideout who posted a 90-catch, 1,374-yard, nine-touchdown campaign three years ago before injuries and a suspension for violating the league's policy on gambling sidelined him for most of the last two seasons. That move already appears to be paying off as Ridley has been reinstated and highlighted by beat writers as a standout player in offseason practices.

Lawrence also provides enough rushing production to get him into the conversation with the top fantasy quarterbacks. The 23-year-old has the eighth-most rushing yards among QBs over the last two seasons combined and has seven rushing touchdowns during that time.

If you think Lawrence is overqualified for a breakout list, just know that this projection has him jumping from a low-end fantasy QB1 to a true difference-maker. Don't be surprised when he's mentioned as an MVP candidate by midseason - he's currently tied for the seventh-best odds to take home that honor.

Other breakout QB candidates:

  • Anthony Richardson, Colts - With fantasy managers getting more accurate predicting breakout quarterbacks in recent seasons, value-chasers are forced to take more risks in hopes of hitting on the next big thing. Richardson is one of the most athletic QBs to enter the league, pairing a massive arm with dangerous rushing skills in a 6-4, 244-pound frame. His accuracy and pocket awareness are also better than advertised. Joining a team coached by Shane Steichen, who was involved in the development of Jalen Hurts, doesn't guarantee success but should ease his transition to the pros. Richardson's numbers on the ground will provide a decent fantasy floor and a massive ceiling while he adapts to the NFL.
  • Tua Tagovailoa, Dolphins - Tagovailoa was in the midst of a breakout last season before concussion issues derailed his campaign. If you remove the Week 4 game where he left early, Tua averaged 19.7 fantasy points across 12 contests, which would have made him the QB6 on the year. With arguably the league's best receiver tandem and one of the NFL's most creative play-callers in Mike McDaniel, health is the only question mark for Tua moving forward.
  • Brock Purdy, 49ers - All signs are pointing toward Purdy returning from his elbow injury and starting in Week 1. And based on comments from several members of the organization, the seventh-rounder appears to be the locked-in starter when he's healthy. He might not be the most gifted quarterback, but Purdy proved he can be the latest passer to execute Kyle Shanahan's offense and produce solid fantasy stats. From Week 13 on, Purdy posted top-12 fantasy QB numbers, and the only thing holding back his hype train is offseason surgery. Fantasy managers should take advantage of the limited-time discount.

Alexander Mattison, Vikings

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Dalvin Cook's release has paved the way for Mattison to finally get his chance as a full-time starter in the Vikings' offense.

In the last five games where he started and Cook was sidelined, Mattison averaged 90.2 rushing yards, 42.4 receiving yards, 4.4 receptions, and one touchdown. His half PPR weekly fantasy finishes in those games were RB3, RB7, RB9, RB5, and RB13.

There are always doubts about whether a backup runner can hold up to a bigger workload over a longer period, but nothing in Mattison's profile suggests he can't handle lead back duties over a full season.

The Vikings are also lacking serious competition in the backfield, with Ty Chandler, Kene Nwangwu, and rookie DeWayne McBride looking like depth pieces. Minnesota could dip into the veteran free-agent pool, but it might take an injury to force it to add someone else.

That positions Mattison to be the unquestioned top option in Minnesota's backfield, making him a very intriguing fantasy RB2 with legitimate RB1 upside if he can pick up where he left off in his past starts.

Other breakout RB candidates:

  • Bijan Robinson, Falcons - Atlanta's rushing attack was a major bright spot last season behind an offensive line that graded out as a top-five unit by Pro Football Focus. The team finished third in Football Outsiders' offensive rush DVOA behind only the Eagles and Ravens. Now they're upgrading from overachiever Tyler Allgeier to one of the best running back prospects ever in Robinson, who will instantly become a household name as an elite fantasy back.
  • Jahmyr Gibbs, Lions - Gibbs was an exciting prospect with an exceptional pass-catching profile, but the Lions' decision to invest a top-12 pick shows the trust they have in him becoming a dynamic weapon in their offense. Gibbs and David Montgomery will form the new and improved version of what D'Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams were in Detroit last year. The rookie back has been starring in practice, and with few proven receivers outside of Amon-Ra St. Brown, Gibbs has an extremely high PPR fantasy ceiling.
  • James Cook, Bills - The steady drumbeat over the summer turned into near full-time usage in the preseason - and Cook has answered doubters at every turn. Concerns over the 23-year-old's workload around the goal line remain, due to the presence of Josh Allen, Damien Harris, and Latavius Murray. However, that's factored into his current ADP. As the clear lead back in one of the best offenses in the NFL, Cook has become a must-target fantasy asset in this year's drafts.

Jahan Dotson, Commanders

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Dotson missed a lot of time due to injury as a rookie, but in the eight games in which he played at least 70% of the snaps, he averaged just under four catches, 57 yards, and nearly a touchdown.

That put him on pace for 64 grabs, 963 yards, and 13 scores over a full season. While the red-zone projection is unlikely, it showcases his skill in that area of the field.

Beat writers also remarked on the growing chemistry Dotson and new starting quarterback Sam Howell displayed in offseason practices. We've seen that translate to the preseason - the wideout has caught seven passes for 106 yards and a score through two games.

With Terry McLaurin now nursing a toe injury that could impact him early in the season, the Commanders may need Dotson to step up even more in the opening month.

Even without McLaurin's injury, Dotson should've been valued closer to his star teammate in fantasy drafts. The second-year wideout was going off the board three rounds later, but that's likely to tighten up over the next couple weeks.

Other breakout WR candidates:

  • George Pickens, Steelers - Pickens is a polarizing fantasy asset, with some arguing his hype train got out of control due to highlight-reel catches and others viewing him as the next star receiver to come out of the Steelers' system. Both outlooks can be true. There's no doubt the casual fan can be overly impressed by a one-handed sideline catch, and considering Pickens was hauling in difficult grabs all the way back in OTAs, it's easy to see why his value was inflated early on. We also saw a first-year wideout who missed most of his last year in college with a torn ACL enter the NFL and put up top-40 fantasy numbers on a per-game basis over his last 14 contests with underwhelming quarterback play. If Kenny Pickett can take a step forward in Year 2, Pickens should have no problem improving on last year's 52-801-4 line.
  • Treylon Burks, Titans - Last year's first-round pick learned from his rookie mistakes and showed up this offseason in excellent condition with newfound confidence. The Titans' decision to sign free agent DeAndre Hopkins puts a limit on Burks' outlook for 2023, but it doesn't prevent him from breaking out due to the serious lack of receiving talent behind them. Hopkins will take pressure off his younger teammate and draw defensive attention away, allowing Burks to continue his development against easier coverages.
  • Elijah Moore, Browns - Moore appeared to be on track for fantasy stardom at the end of his rookie season. He averaged the seventh-most fantasy points at his position over his final six games before landing on injured reserve. Then, after a solid opening month last year - with at least 40 yards in every contest - his playing time dropped off, resulting in a trade demand and benching. Fortunately for him, the Browns gave him a fresh start this offseason, and he's been one of the most targeted players in practice. He's about to make the Jets regret moving on from him.

Dalton Kincaid, Bills

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The days of rookie tight ends being fantasy afterthoughts are over. Several first-year players have made an impact at the position over the last couple seasons.

As the lone tight end selected in the first round this year, Kincaid couldn't have asked for a better combination of draft capital and landing spot.

The 23-year-old provides the Bills with a flexible chess piece they can move around the formation and find mismatches with, including working as a big slot receiver.

Kincaid's training camp and preseason performances have backed up the hype, and he's earned a reputation for catching everything thrown his way.

Buffalo also has an undefined pecking order behind star wideout Stefon Diggs. It's not out of the question that the rookie tight end could earn more targets than current No. 2 receiver Gabe Davis and become Josh Allen's second favorite weapon.

Kincaid could be the next rookie tight end to become fantasy viable right out of the gate, so enjoy the discount while it lasts.

Other breakout TE candidates:

  • Sam LaPorta, Lions - There aren't many veteran tight end breakout candidates with enough juice to threaten the top 12 at the position this season. But this year's excellent class of rookies has multiple upside picks. LaPorta has already risen to the top of the depth chart in Detroit and could emerge as one of the top three targets in the offense early in the season while Jameson Williams is suspended. The athletic pass-catcher has been standing out in practice, especially around the red zone, and should be on your radar as a late-round fantasy selection.
  • Juwan Johnson, Saints - Johnson belongs on your list of late-round tight ends to target in 2023. After ending last year as the TE11 in half PPR thanks to seven touchdowns, Johnson's outlook was clouded by the arrival of Foster Moreau and the return of wideout Michael Thomas. However, all reports indicate Johnson has emerged as one of Derek Carr's favorite options in New Orleans, which positions the 26-year-old to potentially threaten for a spot among the top 10 tight ends.
  • Chig Okonkwo, Titans - Okonkwo quietly posted the 10th-most fantasy points among tight ends from Week 9 on as a rookie. While those weren't huge numbers on a per-game basis, it was a good sign for a first-year tight end. As we mentioned in the Burks section above, the Titans bringing in Hopkins puts a cap on Okonkwo's upside, but he still profiles as the No. 3 pass-catcher in their offense.

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