Let's get this out of the way: A breakout player is someone expected to have one of the best years of his career. Huge numbers. Tons of touchdowns.
Usually these are players you know -- the players you don't know are more like sleepers. And, these are the players who could help make you the champion of your league.
Jalen Hurts just had a breakout year. So did Justin Fields. Josh Jacobs just had a breakout year, as did Tony Pollard and Rhamondre Stevenson. CeeDee Lamb, A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, T.J. Hockenson and David Njoku all had breakout years in 2022.
And just because they did doesn't preclude any of them from being breakout candidates again in 2023. Guys can still get better, can't they?
These are the guys who I think are set up for greatness like they've never experienced before, and guys who will help you hoist your league's trophy.
Trevor Lawrence, QB, Jaguars
Pretty much the most obvious breakout quarterback this season, Lawrence's third year will see him work with his deepest receiving corps and best offensive line yet. His production in 2022 spiked in his last seven games when he averaged 22.6 Fantasy points per game -- and that includes just one passing touchdown in his final three matchups. There's plenty more where that came from as the Jaguars' addition of Calvin Ridley seems to be paying off for them in training camp. And here's maybe the best part: The Jaguars' 58.2% pass rate in 2022 was the second-lowest of any team coached by Doug Pederson in six seasons, meaning Lawrence should throw close to, if not over, 60% of the time this season.
Current career-best numbers: 4,113 pass yards, 25 pass TDs, 8 interceptions; 291 rush yards, 5 rush TDs (20.3 Fantasy points per game)
Breakout Projection: 4,475 pass yards, 33 pass TDs, 9 interceptions; 264 rush yards, 4 rush TDs (24.1 Fantasy points per game)
I'd draft him: As the eighth QB off the board (Round 1 in Superflex/two-QB, Round 6 in one-QB)
Tony Pollard, RB, Cowboys
Dallas' offseason moves included signing Ronald Jones, drafting passing-down back Deuce Vaughn and hanging onto Rico Dowdle and Malik Davis while letting Ezekiel Elliott fly to Foxboro. In other words, Pollard has a highway as wide and as long as I-30 to being the main runner in the Cowboys' offense. That would mean exceeding the 14.5 touches per game he had last year as well as building on the seven touches he had inside the 5-yard line -- touches that were reserved for Elliott (he had 19!). Pollard has recovered from a broken fibula and has regularly looked the part of a lead back in camp this summer. It's worth adding that in the 10 seasons since 2013, a Cowboys running back has had at least 250 touches nine times.
Current career-best numbers: 39 catches, 1,378 total yards and 12 TDs (15.6 PPR per game)
Breakout Projection: 55 catches, 1,558 total yards and 14 TDs in 15 games (19.6 PPR per game)
I'd draft him: As soon as 10th overall regardless of format
Rachaad White, RB, Buccaneers
This is the least exciting breakout candidate in 2023, but a breakout nonetheless. White should easily post career-highs, but the hunch is that 2023 will be the best year of his career because it will be the only year he'll have a quality opportunity. That's because he's somehow found himself as the Bucs' primary running back atop a depth chart of mediocrity (no offense, Sean Tucker!) and in an offense that has a serviceable offensive line and also is extremely likely to be much more balanced with Baker Mayfield under center instead of Tom Brady, who pioneered Tampa Bay to a league-leading 66.7% pass rate in 2022. White won't outrun many defenders but he plays physical, gives good effort and is better than average in the passing game. It wouldn't be a surprise to see White get as many as 17 touches per game, boosted by Mayfield's career-long tendency to target running backs about 20% of the time. You're counting on volume and touchdown opportunities to carry White to mild No. 2 RB status.
Current career-best numbers: 50 catches, 771 total yards and 3 TDs (8.2 PPR per game)
Breakout Projection: 56 catches, 1,220 total yards and 7 TDs in 16 games (13.4 PPR per game)
I'd draft him: As soon as 50th overall regardless of format.
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James Cook, RB, Bills
Earlier this summer, Josh Allen told SiriusXM NFL Radio that Cook is "going to take a large portion of the carries and in the pass game, he's going to be kind of a dual threat guy for us." That should be enough right there to trust the second-year back. His rise to prominence in Buffalo's offense meshes with the drafting of Dalton Kincaid: Get players who can extend plays after the catch and beat heavy-zone defenses. And it's been a while since the Bills have been a great spot for Fantasy running backs mainly because Allen takes so much rushing work himself. But at the bare minimum, the leading Bills RB in total touches has posted at least 194 of them each of the past three years. Cook averaged 0.95 Fantasy points per touch in PPR last season -- if he uses 194 touches as a minimum and Cook ups his Fantasy average to 1.1 points per touch, then he'll score a couple more points than Alvin Kamara did in 15 games last season. Kamara was a no-brainer No. 2 Fantasy RB and Cook should be viewed exactly the same way.
Current career-best numbers: 21 catches, 687 total yards and 3 TDs (6.6 PPR per game)
Breakout Projection: 47 catches, 1,158 total yards and 5 TDs (11.3 PPR per game)
I'd draft him: As soon as 55th overall in PPR, closer to 65th overall in non-PPR.
Garrett Wilson, WR, Jets
Wilson's unique talent to separate on a dime and speed away from DBs makes him the second-year receiver with the most upside. Getting a healthy Aaron Rodgers at quarterback doesn't hurt either. As a rookie, Wilson averaged over 17 PPR points per game when he wasn't catching passes from Zach Wilson. And even when Zach Wilson played, Garrett Wilson caught 61% of his targets at 13.9 yards per catch. The 23-year-old is a terrific route-runner with amazing footwork and great hands -- pairing him with Rodgers should net some unreal numbers. Here are two fun stats: One, 34 of Wilson's 147 targets last year -- 23% -- were deemed uncatchable. That shouldn't be as high with Rodgers. Two, of the 17 wide receivers with at least 100 targets from Rodgers in a season, only four failed to get at least 950 yards, and only five failed to get at least seven scores. I'd be mortified if Wilson got just 950 yards and seven scores from Rodgers -- he should do much better.
Current career-best numbers: 83 catches, 1,107 total yards and 4 TDs (12.7 PPR per game)
Breakout Projection: 93 catches, 1,330 total yards and 8 TDs, 1 fumble lost (16.0 PPR per game)
I'd draft him: As soon as 18th overall regardless of format.
Christian Watson, WR, Packers
In Watson's last eight games last season, he averaged 17.2 PPR points. That's amazing, and honestly, it's hard to imagine him being that good, but the totality of his skill set combined with Jordan Love actually playing great football in camp and the preseason makes that number a realistic ceiling for Watson. What's more likely is he'll mix in some spike weeks (like the four games with 21-plus PPR last year) with some modest totals, making him a consistent enough Fantasy wideout. Once Watson's playing time was locked in for those final eight games, he had a 22.7% target share, 6.5 targets per game, a 59.6% catch rate with a touchdown scored once every 4.4 catches. Love's accuracy isn't Aaron Rodgers' accuracy, but Watson should see more targets and probably with a shorter Average Depth of Target to help raise his catch rate. Tack on what is projected to be a favorable schedule and Watson has the exact kind of profile as the other top-tier second-year receivers like Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave.
Current career-best numbers: 41 catches, 691 total yards and 9 total TDs (11.7 PPR per game for the entire 2022 season)
Breakout Projection: 82 catches, 1,255 total yards and 9 TDs, 1 fumble lost (15.3 PPR per game)
I'd draft him: As soon as 31st overall regardless of format.
George Pickens, WR, Steelers
We've become so conditioned to Diontae Johnson being the high-volume receiver in Pittsburgh that we're blinded to anyone else even coming close. That changes this year with Pickens. You may have seen his training camp highlight catch over a teammate, but those plays happened multiple times during his rookie season when he led all Steelers in touchdowns (four), explosive play rate (21.6%) and ADOT (10.39). That highlight also overshadows the real work he's made as a receiver, flashing much more polish and more variety in his routes both in camp and in preseason games. He's been the talk of Steelers Nation, as has second-year quarterback Kenny Pickett. If the Steelers are embracing their passing game, and if they want to be more explosive like they've been saying, then expect Pickens to be heavily involved. Johnson, by the way, ranked 84th out of 85 qualifying receivers in explosive play rate last year and ranked poorly in the category each of the past four years.
Current career-best numbers: 52 catches, 825 total yards and 5 total TDs (9.8 PPR per game)
Breakout Projection: 73 catches, 1,036 total yards and 7 TDs (12.9 PPR per game)
I'd draft him: As soon as 70th overall regardless of format.
Skyy Moore, WR, Chiefs
I have no 2022 stats of Moore's to back up a breakout campaign. All I can say is that he's a shifty slot receiver who by all accounts has become much more comfortable in an Andy Reid offense piloted by this generation's best thrower in Patrick Mahomes. That's a pretty good start. Here's more: Mahomes finished in the top 10 among all NFL passers in targets to his slot receivers last year but was top five in yards gained (1,190) and touchdowns scored (seven). He was also in those exact same ranges in 2021, 2020 and 2018 as well as top five in yards and touchdowns in his injury-shortened 2019. Obviously the slot receiver is a primary target for Mahomes. Moore indeed lined up in the slot 48.1% of the time in 2022, second behind Mecole Hardman and higher than JuJu Smith-Schuster -- two dudes who are no longer on the Chiefs. Moore's in a terrific spot to rack up catches and put up some good numbers (and maybe pick up some deep targets too).
Current career-best numbers: 22 catches, 274 total yards and no TDs
Breakout Projection: 66 catches, 805 total yards and 7 TDs (11.1 PPR per game)
I'd draft him: As soon as 96th overall regardless of format.
Kyle Pitts, TE, Falcons
Stats can't always show you what film can, and the film has shown over the past two years that Pitts can get open. Take last year when Pitts averaged 3.0 targets of 11-plus Air Yards per game and saw uncatchable targets on 53% of those plays. That's not on Pitts, that was on Marcus Mariota, who had one of the highest off-target throw rates last season. Moving from Mariota to second-year passer Desmond Ridder isn't a major upgrade, but at the very least Ridder completed 63.5% of his throws last year thanks to his short-area accuracy. Pitts, meanwhile, ranked among the top-10 tight ends in targets per game (5.9) and had a target per route run rate of 28%, so massive that it was 22nd-best among all tight ends and wide receivers. Assuming there's nothing holding him back to start the season (Pitts played limited reps with the starters in their second preseason game), the athletic tight end can be solid if Ridder has average accuracy, and outstanding if Ridder can take a step forward in his game. An easy projected schedule further helps Pitts' cause.
Current career-best numbers: 68 catches, 1,026 total yards and 1 TD (9.9 PPR per game)
Breakout Projection: 71 catches, 947 yards and 6 TDs in 15 games (13.4 PPR per game)
I'd draft him: As soon as 70th overall regardless of format.