By Brad Berreman @bradberreman24 on June 2, 2014
Fantasy football owners face the challenge of finding breakout candidates to target on draft day every year, and every year there are popular players that underachieve and others that emerge without as much attention.
Here are 15 players I think will become elite fantasy options this year, with some context offered for league format where applicable.
Austin played just a shade over half of St. Louis' offensive snaps as a rookie last season, and there's no reason he shouldn't play a lot more this year. I like Austin as a significant asset in PPR leagues, with added value in leagues that count return yardage.
Hilton had a nice season last year, with 82 catches for 1,083 yards and five touchdowns. If his yards per catch average climbs closer to where it was in 2012 (17.2), a big season should follow in Hilton's third NFL campaign.
Hopkins had a productive rookie season in 2013, with 52 receptions for 802 yards and two touchdowns. If he can improve his consistency this year his production should rise, and if Andre Johnson is traded Hopkins would have terrific upside as Houston's No. 1 wide receiver.
Wright did not put up big yardage (1,079) or touchdown (two) totals in 2013, but his 94 receptions are worthy of attention. If the Titans throw the ball more this year, 100 catches are well within reach.
Smith had a solid season in 2013, setting career-highs in catches (65) and yards (1,128). If he takes another step forward this year, with a rebound in his touchdown total (seven in 2011; eight in 2012), a move into the top tier of fantasy wide receivers would come.
Gerhart finally gets a chance at a starting job after being Adrian Peterson's backup over his first four seasons, He is in line to surpass his career carry total (276) this season alone, and with a three-down role he could add 40-50 receptions as well.
Tannehill was sacked a league-high 58 times in 2013, and still threw for close to 4,000 yards (3,913) with 24 touchdowns. Improvements to the offensive line and the arrival of offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, who was the Philadelphia Eagles' quarterbacks coach last year, are both good news for Tannehill's chances to take a big step forward this year.
A leg injury that caused him to miss 10 games in 2013 delayed Cobb's full breakout by a year. The Packers want to take him off return duties, which further bolsters his fantasy upside if he can focus on becoming a more complete wide receiver.
The big question attached to Reed is health, as he missed the final six games of last season with a concussion. If he can stay healthy, he'll be a prominent part of Washington's offense.
Patterson showed his potential late last season, with six total touchdowns over the final five games. New Vikings' offensive coordinator Norv Turner knows how to deploy talented players, which means Patterson will have a significant role from the start this season and is in line for a breakout.
Floyd led the Cardinals in receiving yards (1,041), yards per catch (16.0) and receptions of 20-plus yards (17) last season, despite playing through ankle and shoulder injuries. It's easy to tab Floyd as a third-year wide receiver in line to emerge this year, but his upside is significant.
Ball will take over for the departed Knowshon Moreno's as Denver's No. 1 running back. He was productive when he got an opportunity as a rookie, with 52 carries for 337 yards and 15 receptions over the final six regular season games last year, so as a workhorse the FBS all-time leader in rushing touchdowns has tremendous fantasy upside in his second season.
Spiller played most of last season with an ankle injury, and still averaged 4.6 yards per carry. With better health, more playing time and presumably more carries this year, Spiller should easily exceed his 2012 production (1,244 rushing yards, 43 receptions and eight total touchdowns).
Despite not seeing significant work until Week 5, Lacy finished in the top-10 of the league in carries (284; fifth), rushing yards (1,178; eighth) and rushing touchdowns (11; third) on his way to Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. With a bigger role in store this year as a three-down workhorse, Lacy can put himself in the elite class of fantasy options regardless of position for many years to come.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis inexplicably had 50 more carries than Bernard last year, which is something new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson looks set to rectify. Bernard is also in line for an expanded role in the passing game after catching 56 passes as a rookie last year, which makes a low touchdown total (five rushing, three receiving in 2013) the only potential black mark on his fantasy resume.
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