Fantasy Football Breakout Candidates 2022: Six High-Upside Players

As we get further into the NFL offseason, fantasy football analysis is beginning to heat up. With training camp just a few weeks away, I’m taking a look at the players who could be poised for breakout seasons. I’m including ADP from Underdog’s best ball drafts as we don’t have any real redraft data yet. However, these breakout candidates can be useful across any format. The following is a list of some of my favorite breakout candidates for the upcoming season – don’t leave your upcoming drafts without these players.

Fantasy points are always in 1/2 PPR scoring when referenced

QB Trey Lance, San Francisco 49ers

San Francisco 49ers

Current Underdog ADP: 88.7, QB11

With a current ADP as the 11th quarterback off the board in Underdog best ball drafts, Trey Lance is already being priced as a strong breakout candidate. Lance started just two games last season, and while that’s a small sample size, he averaged 19.72 fantasy points per game – that would have been the 12th-highest average of anyone last season. Lance completed just 57.7% of his passes last year, but offseason rehab on his injured finger has reportedly gone very well.

Lance only has one season of starting experience under his belt, and growing pains are to be expected for the former North Dakota State product. However, Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers are smart enough to accentuate his strengths and not ask him to do too much too early this season. With elite pass-catchers surrounding him, Lance can take advantage of the San Francisco scheme built on YAC production from Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, and George Kittle.

There’s a reason the 49ers made the aggressive trade up to acquire Lance – he’s the most naturally gifted quarterback that Shanahan has ever coached, and the high-end possibilities are mesmerizing with his athleticism and arm talent. As he progresses with mechanics, accuracy, and decision-making, Lance strikes me as a quarterback who will improve as next season progresses. His rushing production gives him tantalizing upside in the Shanahan offense.

RB Travis Etienne, Jacksonville Jaguars

Jacksonville Jaguars

Current Underdog ADP: 40.9, RB17

My Current Projection: 231.9 points, RB15

Unfortunately, Travis Etienne suffered a Lisfranc injury in the preseason last year and was unable to see the field in his would-be rookie season. However, his elite talent didn’t suddenly disappear overnight, and he averaged over 1,700 yards from scrimmage per season over his final three years at Clemson on top-notch efficiency. Etienne can be utilized across the formation as a running back and receiver akin to Deebo Samuel and Cordarelle Patterson. I currently have him ranked 12th in total receptions among running backs, and I can see that number rising even higher.

As a former first-round pick, Etienne will get every opportunity to make a massive impact this season. It helps his forecast that the Jaguars only added fifth-round rookie Snoop Conner to the backfield as James Conner is recovering from a late-season Achilles injury. Etienne will also benefit from the insertion of Doug Pederson as head coach, and the former Super Bowl winner should coax much better play out of Trevor Lawrence. The scars of last season shouldn’t keep you from drafting Jaguars players in fantasy football this year, and Etienne could be this year’s version of D’Andre Swift from last season.

RB J.K. Dobbins, Baltimore Ravens

Baltimore Ravens

Current Underdog ADP: 56.2, RB21

My Current Projection: 221.9 points, RB17

Last season was unfortunately lost to a season-ending ACL tear for J.K. Dobbins, but he should be ready to take on the starting workload by the start of the season, thanks to the injury happening in August 2021. Dobbins was poised for a breakout season last year, rushing alongside Lamar Jackson in Greg Roman’s dynamic offense after leading the team’s running backs with 805 rushing yards and nine touchdowns in 2020. Dobbins averaged over 6.0 yards per carry in 2020, and the Baltimore offensive line has arguably only gotten better since then.

It would be disingenuous of me to tell you Dobbins will be a top-level pass-catcher or the team’s every-down back – Gus Edwards will steal plenty of work, and Lamar Jackson should have a handful of his own rushing touchdowns. However, Dobbins could be near the top of the league in total touchdowns this season after rushing for nine as a part-time player in 2020. If we get positive reports about Dobbins’ health approaching the start of the season, I’ll be raising him in my rankings before the beginning of the season. Grab him now at his current ADP.

WR Courtland Sutton, Denver Broncos

Denver Broncos

Current Underdog ADP: 37, WR17

My Current Projection: 204.3 points, WR14

The arrival of Russell Wilson in Denver has fantasy managers everywhere buzzing over the potential of the Broncos’ skill position players, and Courtland Sutton has emerged as the highest-drafted receiver on the team. I’d advise not getting contrarian here – Sutton is the team’s WR1 and should be treated as such. Jerry Jeudy is a dynamic route-runner out of the slot, and Tim Patrick is a solid complementary piece, but Sutton will be the first read in the red zone and get the valuable downfield targets. Sutton has displayed elite deep threat traits throughout his career, but he’s never had the quarterback to turn that talent into production.

In 2019, Sutton caught 72 passes for 1,112 yards and six touchdowns from a slew of subpar quarterbacks in Joe Flacco, Drew Lock, and Brandon Allen. Wilson will be by far the best quarterback Sutton has ever played with. Sutton has alpha wide receiver traits with a 6’3”, 218-pound frame, 4.54 speed, and a 96th percentile 6.57-second 3-cone time. Even in the Broncos’ anemic offense last year, Sutton finished with 1,756 air yards, the seventh-most in the NFL. This year, his elite skill-set comes to fruition.

WR Allen Lazard, Green Bay Packers

Green Bay Packers

Current Underdog ADP: 89.7, WR43

My Current Projection: 187.1 points, WR28

The Packers rank third with 2,807 vacated air yards and fifth with 248 vacated targets this year after trading away Davante Adams and losing Marquez Valdes-Scantling. In a highly ambiguous situation, I’m surprised there aren’t more people excited about the potential of Allen Lazard as Rodgers’ top receiver. Don’t believe me that Lazard has that kind of upside? Take Aaron Rodgers’ word for it. “He’s been our dirty work guy for most of his career here,” Rodgers told the media. “Now he’s getting an opportunity to be a No. 1 receiver. I’m not worried about him at all stepping into that role.”

Lazard finished inside the top-24 wide receivers in four of his final five games last season and scored five touchdowns over that stretch. As a 6’5”, 227-pound wide receiver, Lazard is a contested-catch monster who also led all returning Green Bay receivers in aDOT last season. Rodgers’ passer rating was also the sixth-highest when targeting Lazard of any WB-WR connection last year. Even with Adams and MVS on the team last year, he finished as the WR45 in fantasy, which is essentially his current ADP. He should far outpace that finish this year.

TE Cole Kmet, Chicago Bears

Chicago Bears

Current Underdog ADP: 140.6, TE14

My Current Projection: 124.9 points, TE11

Cole Kmet’s breakout already sort of came last year when he finished 12th among tight ends with 612 receiving yards, but his zero touchdowns deflated his fantasy standing to the TE21. However, Kmet showed solid rapport with Justin Fields in the rookie’s debut season, and his main competition for targets at tight end, Jimmy Graham, is no longer on the team. Outside of Kmet and Darnell Mooney, the Bears have a very limited collection of pass-catchers, and Kmet should be a consistent part of the new coaching staff’s offense.

Kmet is a high-end athlete whose 8.92 Relative Athletic Score (RAS) was the third-highest among tight ends in his draft class. He’s also primed for positive touchdown regression after no touchdowns on his 12 red-zone targets last year – compare that to Graham’s three touchdowns on eight red-zone targets. Kmet ranked top-12 in target share (17.7%), targets (93), receptions (60), and yards (612) last year, and as Justin Fields takes a step forward this year, it should be to the benefit of Kmet. If you miss out on the top crop of tight ends this year, scoop up Kmet in the late rounds and reap the benefits of his excellent upside.

I've been writing about sports for Lineups since the beginning of 2020 and on my own website since 2018. In May 2021, I graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in sport management. I've been playing fantasy football for as long as I can remember and am now in far more leagues than any person should take part in. There are few things that give me as much joy and excitement as fantasy football, and I'm excited to share my input with you in your journey towards a championship.

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