Every year, without fail, players who have had very little success in their professional careers emerge as fantasy studs. For some breakout stars (Stevan Ridley, Colin Kaepernick, C.J. Spiller), it’s a matter of opportunity. For others (Russell Wilson, Doug Martin, Alfred Morris), it’s being more pro-ready as rookies than everyone assumed.
Each one of those aforementioned players proved to be a huge, massive bargain for fantasy owners, who either nabbed them with a late-round pick or scooped them up off the waiver wire. Being fortunate enough — or attentive enough, if you prefer – to land one of those guys in 2012 gave you a giant leg up on the rest of your league. It didn’t guarantee you a title, but it spotted you quite an advantage.
So, naturally, fantasy owners everywhere want to know who are going to be the breakout players each season. Well, it’s not that easy. They’re breakout players for a reason: no one expected them to do too much. But there are some guys who fit the mold as potential breakout guys for 2013. Some of them are rookies who may be ready to produce right away, and others are guys who, for the first time, find themselves being counted on as a key contributor for their respective teams.
Don’t go into the draft banking on any of these sleepers to be a star this fall. But, even if they don’t hit stardom, they can provide you with great value in the later rounds.
Giovani Bernard, RB, Cincinnati Bengals
Bernard fits the breakout mold in two ways – he’s a rookie and he’s going to get an opportunity. Cincinnati finally got fed up with the plodding ways of BenJarvus Green-Ellis and made Bernard, a North Carolina product, the first running back taken in the 2013 draft. Because he played for the Heels, most fantasy owners haven’t seen much of Bernard, a la Martin. Bernard is stepping into a fantastic situation with the Bengals, who have young, promising weapons on offense with Andy Dalton, A.J. Green and fellow rookie Tyler Eifert. Out of the gate, Bernard may have to share the load with Green-Ellis, but I see Gio being the clear-cut lead back within a month. Dynamic open-field ability and solid receiving skills make him a threat for 1,000 total yards from scrimmage and a handful of touchdowns.
Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
If the Steelers never matched New England’s offer sheet, and Emmanuel Sanders was in a Patriots uniform, he’d be among the top 20 wide receivers taken in most drafts. Alas, Pittsburgh did match the offer sheet, and Sanders is back in the Steel City. In three seasons, all with the Steelers, Sanders has never hauled in more than 44 balls in a campaign. So what makes 2013 any different? Opportunity, my friends. With the departure of Mike Wallace and injuries to Heath Miller and Le’Veon Bell, Sanders is stepping into a starting role on a pass-happy offense and figures to be a target monster, along with Antonio Brown. As of right now, Sanders is being taken as the 39th wideout in ESPN drafts. That’s just plain silly. I’ve got Sanders down for a 1,000-yard season as Big Ben’s No. 2 weapon.
Ryan Broyles, WR, Detroit Lions
It may not be the case early on, but Ryan Broyles is going to get an opportunity to be Calvin Johnson’s sidekick. He was starting to fill that role through the middle of last season before an ACL tear, his second in two years, derailed a promising rookie season. The former Sooner runs crisp routes, has sure hands and can make a guy miss in the open field. Broyles is getting healthy – he played, albeit with the twos, in Thursday’s preseason game against New England (two grabs, 32 yards). Detroit has been taking it slow with Broyles, understandably so, and hasn’t let him practice three days in a row yet this preseason. It may take until the middle of the year, but I believe he’ll be the unquestioned No. 2 wideout with Matthew Stafford tossing him passes in an incredibly air-first offense – not to mention that Johnson guy attracting a little attention from opposing defenses. In redraft leagues, I may be a year early on Broyles, but in dynasty and keeper formats, this is a guy you need to get now.
Lamar Miller, RB, Miami Dolphins
I’m a huge, huge fan of Miller. Fellow LRQB writer Chad Scott is in that club, as well. I’ve targeted him in every league this season, and I got my hands on him in a couple dynasty/keeper leagues last season. When you watch him run, the talent is unquestionably there. More so than any guy going outside of the first two rounds this fall, Miller has the ability to be a top-10 guy at his position, aka the ability to be a star. When Miami let Reggie Bush walk, I figured it was Miller time (sorry, I had to). With Daniel Thomas as the only competition, I didn’t plan on there being a competition. Needless to say, I’ve been stunned and left scratching my head at the recent reports that there is indeed a battle between Thomas and Miller for the starting gig.
Is it coach-speak, with the Dolphins staff trying to keep Miller motivated and on his toes? Is Miami worried about Miller’s ability to be an every-down back, including receiving out of the backfield and pass protection? Has Thomas made huge improvements in his game? I don’t know. But I do know that Miller is an explosive runner who has the jets to take any carry to the crib, and he’s a C.J. Spiller look-alike with the rock in his hands – except he’s got 20 pounds on Spiller!
A week ago, Miller would’ve had no business being on this list, but the talk about him slipping into more of a timeshare has affected his ADP. In just seven days, he’s tumbled from the end of the third round to the middle of the fourth. Fantasy is a fickle, fickle mistress. I believe Miller is a No. 2 running back with enormous potential, but all potential means is he hasn’t done it yet. While it may have been a little scary to invest a third-round pick in a fairly unproven guy, it’s well worth the gamble in Round 4. If given the No. 1 job in South Beach, and I firmly believe he will end up being the Fins’ every-down back this season, Miller is going to be a top 15 running back.