2021 Fantasy Football Rankings: Top 10 breakout candidates


Last year, the likes of Justin Herbert, James Robinson, Mike Davis and others burst onto the scene and gave some lucky fantasy football managers one incredible season. Several NFL stars for the upcoming season are primed for their breakout years as well.

Breakout stars are usually players who are ‘sleepers,’ or guys who usually slip to the later rounds of fantasy drafts and end up having career years. Who will it be this year? Take a look at the 10 picks who could end up saving your fantasy season:

Preseason rankings: Quarterbacks | Running Backs | Wide Receivers | Tight Ends | Defense/Special Teams | Breakouts | Sleepers | Rookies

1. Antonio Gibson – RB, Washington Football Team

  • 2020 rushing stats: 170 attempts, 795 yards, 11 TDs
  • 2020 receiving stats: 36 catches, 247 yards 0 TDs
  • 2020 points: 165

Gibson will be a top-10 fantasy running back by the end of the season (NBC Sports Washington has him pegged for ninth). His role was slightly diminished by the carousel of RBs in Washington last season, such as J.D. McKissic and Peyton Barber. In 2021, he is cleared for takeoff.

Gibson will be Washington’s clear-cut RB1 this season, and with the improvements the team has made on offense (adding Ryan Fitzpatrick, Curtis Samuel and others), he will likely be racking up some serious fantasy value. Dozens of football pundits have already predicted the second-year man to take a big leap.

2. Darrell Henderson – RB, Los Angeles Rams

  • 2020 138 attempts, 624 yards, 5 TDs
  • 2020 receiving stats: 16 catches, 159 yards, 1 TD
  • 2020 points: 113

Cam Akers will miss the entire 2021 season due to a torn Achilles, thus making Henderson the heir apparent in Los Angeles. Henderson posted great numbers as an RB2 last year, putting up more than 750 scrimmage yards. With his role increasing, he will be a guy who you could probably snag in the fourth or fifth round with immense value.

3. Jerry Jeudy – WR, Denver Broncos

  • 2020 receiving stats: 52 catches, 856 yards, 3 TDs
  • 2020 points: 105

Jeudy came out of Alabama as one of the most athletic and dynamic receivers in his class. He was shipped off to a Denver team that struggled to find their footing at the QB position, thus diminishing his overall production. Drew Lock is the presumed starter in Week 1 with Teddy Bridgewater as a very solid backup option. Even with shaky QB play, Jeudy’s excellent route-running netted him the fourth-most receiving yards among rookies. He’s ready to shine.

4. Ja’Marr Chase – WR, Cincinnati Bengals

  • 2020 receiving stats: rookie
  • 2020 points: rookie

Chase is the only rookie to join this list, and he makes it for a few reasons. He has the electric speed of a running back, the leaping ability of Randy Moss, and the ability to catch 50-50 balls like Davante Adams. It’s no wonder why the Bengals chose him to catalyze their offense into life with the fifth overall pick in the draft. He’ll have former LSU teammate Joe Burrow throwing to him, so don’t discount the chemistry those two have. It wouldn’t be unheard of for Chase to snag double-digit touchdowns this year.

5. CeeDee Lamb – WR, Dallas Cowboys

  • 2020 receiving stats: 74 catches, 935 yards, 5 TDs
  • 2020 points: 137

Lamb almost, almost outshined Amari Cooper in Dallas last season. Cooper will still be WR1, but with Lamb returning for hopefully his first full year with a healthy Dak Prescott, his production will skyrocket. Lamb led all rookie WRs in the slot last season in receptions, yards and touchdowns. If he’s available after you’ve shored up your RB1 and WR1, draft him.

6. Darnell Mooney – WR, Chicago Bears

  • 2020 receiving stats: 61 catches, 631 yards, 4 TDs
  • 2020 points: 91

Justin Fields stepping up where Mitchell Trubisky largely failed will have a huge impact on Mooney’s 2021. He can make cuts on his routes that enable him to get three-plus yards of separation. Chicago will be hurling down the field a lot more this season than they did last year—enter Darnell Mooney. Most opposing secondaries will give most of their attention to Allen Robinson, as they should, so Mooney will have a bit more space to work with.

7. Jamison Crowder – WR, New York Jets

  • 2020 receiving stats: 59 catches, 699 yards, 6 TDs
  • 2020 points: 113

Yes, putting any member of the New York Jets on a list of potential stars is a bold prediction. But consider this: Zach Wilson is stepping in at the most important position, and the Jets made offseason moves to improve their offensive line. Give Wilson just the slightest bit of time to scan targets or rollout, and receivers have a chance to explode. New York drafted Alijah Vera-Tucker with the 14th pick in the draft—an obvious move to protect Wilson. With AVT and Mekhi Becton at the helm of the O-line and Wilson ready for his rookie season, receivers like Crowder could expand even further on their game. If Crowder can catch six TDs in a season in which the Jets might as well have been a D-II squad, he could easily grab 10+ touchdowns this season.

8. D’Andre Swift – RB, Detroit Lions

  • 2020 rushing stats: 114 attempts, 521 yards, 8 TDs
  • 2020 receiving stats: 46 catches, 357 yards, 2 TDs
  • 2020 points: 143

We caught a slight glimpse of Swift’s potential last season, at a time in which he split carries with Adrian Peterson and Kerryon Johnson. Swift enters 2021 as Detroit’s three-down back, raising his ceiling even further. His first step is lethal and he can cut through holes that are collapsing quickly, and with the Lions’ expected solid offensive line play, Swift has the potential to average 16+ points per week in your fantasy league.

9. Michael Pittman Jr. – WR, Indianapolis Colts

  • 2020 receiving stats: 40 catches, 503 yards 1 TDs
  • 2020 points: 58

Pittman showed us what he’s capable of with his first NFL touchdown last season, cutting across the middle and heading down the near sideline with such speed that he was uncatchable. Carson Wentz steps in at QB for Indy, protected by the best offensive lineman in league in Quentin Nelson. Wentz, despite his recent plunge, has the ability to bounce back this season and Pittman could become one of his favorite targets. Per NFL Network, 84% of Pittman’s yards came after Week 7 of last year. He kept getting better, and as he showed at USC, his ability to catch contested passes and pull down poorly thrown balls will enable him to improve his numbers this season.

10. Noah Fant – TE, Denver Broncos

  • 2020 receiving stats: 62 catches, 673 yards, 3 TDs
  • 2020 points: 87

You can’t spell ‘Amazing Fantasy Pickup’ without ‘Fant,’ right? Ok, lame joke. But still, Fant is poised to be a top-five tight end in 2021, given the fact he’ll likely feature more prominently in the Drew Lock-led offense, much like Jerry Jeudy. Fant runs a 4.5 40-yard dash, so he can get downfield quick. He also trailed just Darren Waller and Travis Kelce in yards after catch among tight ends last season, despite only having over half their targets. He was the 13th-best fantasy TE last season, but he could easily move up this year with the proper targets.

Preseason rankings: Quarterbacks | Running Backs | Wide Receivers | Tight Ends | Defense/Special Teams | Breakouts | Sleepers | Rookies

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