Like years past, the 2013 NFL season will continue to feature several Fantasy Football Breakout Players who are poised to take their on-field play to the next level. While there are still many other under-the-radar players who could rack up their first 1000 yard season in rushing/receiving, or possibly come out and throw for 3500 yards, these are five players who (in my mind) could take the next step and be huge fantasy football assets this coming season.
Ryan Tannehill - Quarterback - Dolphins
RG3, A. Luck and R. Wilson garnered most of the attention in the media and the fantasy football world, but Tannehill's 2012 rookie campaign really wasn't that bad considering he didn't have a lot to work with. His No. 1 receiver was B. Hartline, with no one else really coming close talent-wise, so Tannehill's 58.3 completion percentage was pretty solid. Fast forward to this year, he has plenty of toys in the toy chest.
The team signed the biggest free agent on the market in M. Wallace, upgraded their tight end position with Dustin Keller and brought in Brandon Gibson. Yeah the loss of Reggie Bush will sting, but all signs point to Lamar Miller being able to make the backfield transition a smooth one. It would have been icing on the cake if the 'Fins were able to pry away Branden Albert from the Chiefs. But with Wallace as the new No. 1, Hartline as the No. 2 (where he belongs) and Keller poised for a show-me year on a one-year contract, Tannehill should easily surpass his paltry 12 touchdown passes from a year ago.
D. Wilson - Running Back - Giants
There's no doubt that Wilson's rookie debut was a disappointment after being drafted by the Giants at the tail end of the first round in last year's draft. Outside of Weeks 14 and 17, in which Wilson tallied a total of 175 rushing yards and three total scores, his production was terrible. Yes his return skills were a major asset to the special teams, but most leagues don't count return yards. The coaching staff didn't trust him in pass protection and worried about his ball security, which led to a measly 71 total carries over the entire 2012 season.
All that could and should change in 2013. RBs coach Jerald Ingram said Wilson is showing improvement in pass protection. That's huge considering that was the one biggest reasons Wilson never developed last year. Another reason? Ahmad Bradshaw is gone. The former dual threat was simply too injury prone for the Giants' liking. And the fact that he is still looking for work makes that decision even more viable. Coming off a broken leg, Andre Brown is still expected to be in the mix for carries after signing his RFA tag, but the best he will be is the team's goal-line back. A job Wilson might have a chance at taking if he can prove he can handle it. All this makes for a huge season just waiting for Wilson in 2013.
Vick Ballard - Running Back - Colts
It's been awhile since the Colts have had a running back they can count on for more than a few carries a game. Not since the combo of Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes got Indy to a Super Bowl win over the Bears have the Colts been able to call anyone their "featured back." The team drafted Donald Brown to be the next big superstar, but his career has failed miserably.
Last year, the team went with a mish-mosh of players such as Brown, Delone Carter and Vick Ballard. Luckily, someone finally broke from the pack.
I had Carter pegged as the guy who would eventually find success, but Ballard is the one who made a surprising leap in his first year. He led the team in rushing attempts with 211, over 100 more than second-place Brown (108). He also led the team in rushing yards with 814. Brown wasn't even a close second with 417. What makes Ballard's 2012 season much more meaningful was he was playing along with fellow rookie Andrew Luck. Luck proved to be the real deal, which helped the running game by keeping defenses honest.
The Indianapolis Star already reported that the Colts believe Ballard can be their "workhorse" in 2013. And since the team bypassed running back to fix other holes in the draft, Ballard is primed for a big year. Lets face it, Brown is garbage. Those who are hoping he will finally come into his own after 4 years are fooling themselves. Carter is nothing more than a bruising short-yardage back, but health wasn't on his side last year.
With Bruce Arians' vertical passing attack now in Arizona, the Colts figure to use more of the run game with Pep Hamilton now in as offensive coordinator. If Ballard can stay healthy (he appeared in all 16 games last year), there is no reason he can't notch the first 1000-yard season of his career in 2013.
Chris Givens - Wide Receiver - Rams
As we have seen in the past, just because a player is drafted earlier than someone else at the same position by the same team, it doesn't necessarily mean that early player will be the better of the two. As a Brian Quick owner, I am hoping he will take the leap forward in his sophomore year. But I am afraid it's going to be Givens who will be the one who makes great strides in 2013.
While Danny Amendola dealt with various injuries, Givens was the one who picked up most of the slack. He led the team in receiving with 698 yards and tied for third with TE Lance Kendricks in receptions, behind Amendola and Brandon Gibson, with 42. Gibson is in Miami and Amendola is in New England, which means Givens takes over as the team's No. 1 receiver. Givens was initially nothing more than a field stretcher, but he eventually polished his route running and became a complete receiver. His greatest achievement was racking up 5 catches for 115 yards and a score against the Cardinals.
In the fantasy world, rookie Tavon Austin and Jared Cook will get a lot of love in redraft leagues this year, but Givens is the guy who should be the breakout star in the Rams offense. His current ADP is as the 47th overall receiver in PPR leagues, so owners could get him at a discount.
Josh Gordon - Wide Receiver - Browns
If Gordon had stayed in college instead of coming out for the supplemental draft last year, many believed he had enough talent to compete with guys like Cordarrelle Patterson and DeAndre Hopkins this year. Right after the Browns used a second-round supplemental pick on Gordon last summer, I immediately called Gordon one of my sleeper options for the 2012 season. While he was somewhat inconsistent, he still lived up to that billing with 805 receiving yards and 5 scores. There's no reason to think his second season can't be better.
The coaching staff got an overhaul in the offseason, with Norv Turner replacing Brad Childress as offensive coordinator. Both have never been able to live up to the standards that make a quality head coach, but Turner has the OC pedigree Childress wishes he had. Turner's hiring alone is a big reason I like Gordon to break out this year. Another is the gelling of the offense. Rob Chudzinski and the new Browns regime aren't handing Brandon Weeden the starting job. With the acquisition of Jason Campbell and Brian Hoyer, this will be a true competition. Weeden was a disappointment last year, but owners will want him to earn and keep the starting job since he already has the chemistry with Gordon locked down.
Between that chemistry and the game becoming "outrageously easy" to Gordon so far in OTAs, he'll be a perfect fit in Chudzinski's new vertical offense. His first 1000-yard season is not out of the question.