Fantasy Football Breakouts 2016: The Next DeAndre Hopkins

On that chase for the next big fantasy football breakout? Aren’t we all. Welcome to The Next _____ series, where we’ll profile 2015’s season-winning leapers, examine what factors led to the statistical explosion, and what players project for similar jumps in 2016.

Side Note – Oftentimes, the term “breakout” is misconstrued, as if it only applies to late-round talent and cheap acquisitions. Quite the contrary. Picking the guys who outperform their cost and the talent picked around them always boosts your fantasy portfolio, whether the pick was in Round 3 or Round 14. Every year at least one or two third round WRs explode into the elite stratosphere, and nailing these guys can be crucial.

Breakout Label: High-end WR2 option, carrying a Round 3+ ADP, explodes and joins the elite WR1 conversation.

DeAndre Hopkins’ breakout profile: Anyone with a set of eyes could see the hands on DeAndre Hopkins in his first two years. Even as Andre Johnson’s second fiddle, Hopkins was flashing his insane body cortorting skills and ridiculous catch radius on a weekly basis in 2014; in fact, he led the NFL in catch percentage that season and his 76 catches, 1,201 yards and 6 TDs were highly serviceable WR3 numbers. They were also a sign of the elite stats to come.

With Andre officially gone, everyone expected volume to improve and Hopkins’ numbers to benefit as the true #1…but 192 targets, third most in the league, #blessed fantasy owners. In hindsight, this made sense: the Texans quickly realized their best/only chance at moving the ball anywhere was throwing the rock up and letting Hopkins go make a play. Finally, Hopkins’ insane skills were displayed on center stage, despite playing through a gaggle of quarterbacks, and the perfect marriage of talent and usage led to Elite WR1 numbers.

Favorite Bet for 2016:

Tie – Jarvis Landry (Miami Dolphins) and Sammy Watkins (Buffalo Bills) 

Though they are completely different in terms of size and playing style, both Jarvis Landry and Sammy Watkins are primed to ascend into the elite fantasy conversation in 2016. According to FantasyPros Expert Consenus PPR Rankings, these two clock in on the lower side of Low-End WR1s/High-End WR2s, as Landry is regarded as the WR17 and Watkins follows immediately after at WR18. For comparisons sake, I rank them at WR12 and WR14 respectively, ahead of guys like Brandin Cooks, TY Hilton, and Amari Cooper.

The case for Jarvis Landry:

After notching 84 catches as a rookie and 111 as a sophomore, Landry owns the NFL Record for most receptions in his first two seasons — yes, more than his LSU teammate Odell Beckham or any of the greats like Jerry Rice or Randy Moss. For 2016, every sign points to Landry’s reception total taking yet another spike upwards, and 130+ catches isn’t completely absurd. If just a handful of these catches happen to be in the end zone, as I expect they will, Landry will have no trouble ascending to the elite.

Anyone who’s watched head coach and offensive guru Adam Gase’s work in Denver and Chicago the past few years knows he loves a short to intermediate passing game that gets the balls into the receivers hands quickly and let’s them do the work; with his incredible hands, smooth route running, and insane ability after the catch, Jarvis Landry is tailor made for this system. Check out his tape below, specifically how dangerous he is once he has the rock:

Ultimate Jarvis Landry Highlights || Juice ||

Remember all those bubble screens and short crossing routes Demaryius Thomas used to take to the house? Landry will be peppered with those looks, and clearly he’s got the wiggle and tackle breaking skills to do similar damage.  Reports thus far suggest Landry’s fit has been as perfect as expected, and that the volume has been monumental:

 “That one receiver Tannehill looks to, by the way, is seemingly always Jarvis Landry…The Dolphins pass offense also has to stop acting like they all drafted receiver Jarvis Landry in a fantasy league they intend to win.

Show up to any Miami practice the past two weeks and Landry is more often than not the star. He catches football after football in team drills. Tannehill and Landry clearly have a connection and chemistry going on.

‘One day I tried to script every play to where he [Landry] wasn’t in the progression,’ Gase said. ‘And somehow the ball gets to him. The guy is like a magnet. It really is, I’ve never seen anything like it.

‘He does his job right and the coverage seems to take Ryan there a lot of times. I’d be more concerned if I was like, ‘Why are you forcing this throw?’ but that’s not what’s happening. It’s just that he’s in the right place at the right time and the ball ends up going to him. I don’t know, the guy’s got some kind of thing going on where the ball wants to find him.'”

Not only is Landry’s sky-high volume set to somehow improve, but the quality of those looks is reportedly set for a boost as well. For one, Landry will be freed up a bit from his slot-exclusive role and moved around the formation a bit more to create greater mismatches, ala Odell Beckham.

When speaking to MMQB, Landry stated:

“I’m excited for the opportunity to get moved around, to be with an offensive-minded coach that understands the concept of moving me around [and how that] allows me to do what I do best—which is play freely… I don’t want to have limits. Who wants limits? Who wants to have somebody implement limits? For me, it’s about being able to show my range and versatility: inside, outside. “

Part of Landry showing his “range and versatility” will involve proving he’s more than just a short-yardage slot guy; Landry has lacked for “big plays” and TDs in his young career, averaging only 10.5 yards per reception in 2015 which ranked 105 among wideouts, while he only caught five and four TDs in his first two seasons. Gase is reportedly intent on helping Landry improve his big play total and red zone efficiency in 2016, and a more fleixible role should help achieve this.

A known workout rat, Landry is also putting in his part. This offseason, Landry worked out twice a week with Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham, two similarly sized guys who are utilized in a variety of roles and routes:

“It’s some good stuff in there…A lot of footwork drills. We get some one-on-one in there against corners like Xavier Rhodes and guys like that. It’s really just getting a feel for playing outside receiver. Being a shorter guy, I kind of look to AB for that motivation.”

Molding his game after one of the best ever certainly isn’t a bad way for Landry to prepare for an expanded role.

Though Hopkins rode increased quantity of looks to his breakout, Landry will capitalize on the improved quality of his already high volume. Gase’s system is tailor-made for Landry’s skillset, and an offseason focused on improving his outside game should help Landry improve his low YPR and TD totals. Only modest boosts would propel Jarvis into the Top 10 WRs; dramatic increases would net him a Top Five finish. Going in the late third even in PPR formats, Landry will bring titles as the next elite WR at a WR2 price.

Projection: 125 catches, 1,500 yards & 9 TDs

The case for Sammy Watkins:

Leading into Week 6, Sammy Watkins was having a fairly dreadful season. He was completely shut out in Week 1, then put up a strong 6 catch, 60 yard, 1 TD line in Week 2, after which he left Week 3 before half time with a calf injury that sidelined him for the next two contests.

Perhaps without warrant, Watkins nonetheless publicly demanded more targets leading into his Week 6 return against Cincinnati.

When I have one-on-one coverage, go to me. I don’t care what’s going on over there. I don’t care if he’s open. When I get one on one, just target me…Everybody looks at you getting zero catches, zero yards but when you look on film 90 percent of the time you’re open…I understand that these guys are young and they need some time to trust me. Once we get that trust, it’ll be different. But for me, I need the ball at least 10 times — I need 10 targets — and I’ll be fine with however many yards I get…a guy you go up in the draft to take as your No. 1 receiver, you would love those 15 targets that Julio gets, those 20 targets that Odell gets. Of course I’d have 100 yards every game and a TD, if I’m getting 20 targets.”

Watkins later returned to the “trust” issue, noting his quarterbacks were scared to make a mistake, leaving them hesitant throw it up and let him make the contested grab even if coverage appeared tight. This would be important.

In the first half of Week 6 –Watkins’ first game back following his demands — the former Clemson standout started the game on fire. He was targeted five times and hauled in four of these looks for 48 yards and a TD. Perhaps he had a point, after all. Unfortunately, this was only a sign of the future, as yet another nagging injury came to bite him; Watkins left the game before halftime with a sprained ankle that put him on crutches and ultimately sidelined him for Week 7 and through the Week 8 bye.

Fast forward to Week 9, and the magic starts to happen:

Extrapolate these numbers, and you get 86 catches, 1,600 yards, and 16 TDs. Unsurprisingly, then, Watkins ranked 4th among WRs in fantasy points over this period, averaging over 20 PPR points per contest. Just look at the stat lines:

Really, only two dud performances among some tremendous week-winners and overall consistent WR1 production. This was no fluke either, as both the targets and even more importantly the QB trust / rapport were fully on display; the Taylor – to – Watkins chemistry was downright dangerous. As you see frequently in his Top 100 video, Watkins will just throw his arm up and Tyrod will drop it right where he wants to. Whether double coverage or not, the trust was established, and Watkins was making the plays:

#96: Sammy Watkins (WR, Bills) | Top 100 NFL Players of 2016

The damage these two could do in a full season if their end-of-year chemistry carries over is downright dangerous. Given how legitimate Tyrod has looked this 2016 preseason even without Sammy, I have no doubt it will.

Consider this: Watkins ranked second in the league in fantasy points per target with 2.28. When you extrapolate the 8.66 targets per game he averaged after Week 9 over a full season, you get 138.7 targets for the year — entirely reasonable. Watkins would’ve score 316 PPR fantasy points if he maintained his efficiency, which is also very possible given how his connection with Taylor seemed to only improve every week. He would’ve finished as the #6 WR in 2015 with these numbers, one point behind Odell and 12 points ahead of Allen Robinson.

Of course, injury risk has to be factored in, as Watkins has had plenty of nagging tissue and ankle injuries in his young career, and is coming off of foot surgery. On the flip side, one could counter that Watkins was dealing with the ankle issues throughout his end of season explosion, and we may not have yet seen a fully healthy Tyrod / Watkins connection yet…downright frightening upside.

Just like Hopkins, his dread-locked Clemson brother, Watkins is primed for a year three explosion. Sammy will similarly ride a season-long boost in volume to a high-end WR1 finish, and finally be the elite receiver the Bills traded a bounty to move up and acquire.

Projection: 90 catches, 1400 yards & 10 TDs

Other names to consider:

Unlike the previous later round breakouts,  spouting off a bunch of established names like Mike Evans, TY Hilton, and  Brandin Cooks would be counter intuitive and discredit my belief in the above two. Instead, I’ll look at two other guys who are going even later than Watkins and Landry, but could also provide WR1 stats when all’s said and done:

Julian Edelman (New England Patriots) – This guy was a model of PPR consistency when on the field last season, scoring 16 or more PPR points in seven of eight full regular season games. Though Gronk creates the mismatches and big plays, the offense runs through Edelman and the short passing game, creating one of the highest PPR floors out there.

Yet, few also acknowledge Edelman’s occasional week swinging ceiling. He scored above 20 points in three of his eight games, including 32 and 27 point efforts (25% of his contests). With Brady in revenge mode, Edelman could put some of his highest reception and yardage marks up yet. Yes, his red zone usage might be minimal with two 6’6″ beasts alongside him yet those two will also open up space for Edelman’s quicks underneath, so this could ultimately be a non issue.

People are clearly concerned with his preseason foot scare, otherwise his WR20 expert consensus ranking and fourth round ADP make absolutely no sense. Yes, there’s some injury risk to stomach, but by all accounts Edelman is 100% and tearing up practices. When he’s on the field, you’re almost guaranteed 16+ points.

Doug Baldwin (Seattle Seahawks) – I mentioned Sammy Watkins was second in fantasy points per target. The man he trailed? Doug Baldwin, who was #1 with an absurd 2.62 points per look. He rode this efficiency to 14 TDs and a Top 10 WR finish in all fantasy formats, yet still is ranked as the consensus WR25 and is falling to the end of Round 4. Clearly, the Rotosphere is skeptical on Baldwin.

Here’s why they shouldn’t be.

The vast majority of Baldwin’s fantasy production came from Weeks 10-17, where he only trailed Antonio Brown in fantasy points scored among WRs and set records for scoring 12 TDs in an eight-week span. Most argue this torrid pace is unsustainable, especially considering Baldwin’s career lack of production beforehand. All fair points. While some regression should be expected, his 2016 numbers will more closely resemble this insane finish than any of the other historic stats because the offensive scheme and his usage in it will be highly similar.

Week 10 was conveniently right after the Seahawks bye, in which they spent the off-week installing a new offense in light of Marshawn Lynch’s injury and ineffectiveness concerns. Here, the offensive keys were turned over to Wilson and the quick-strike passing game, which played to Baldwin’s strengths out of the slot. Here’s how he responded:

Anyone arguing “he hadn’t done anything before” is overlooking the fact that Baldwin had never played in a pass-first system or been used as extensively in his career until this point. Head coach Pete Carroll has already come out and said this offense will continue building off Russell Wilson and the passing game:

Carroll said to expect more of the same in 2016, the first season since 2010 without running back Marshawn Lynch as the focal point of the offense.

“Our rhythm throughout camp, we stayed connected to what we did in the second half of the year,’’ Carroll said. “We went in determined to do that, and right from the get-go when we got back here on the field we were at it with tempo and timing and all that and stood strong throughout the whole camp.”

This tempo and timing has already been on display in two preseason games, as the Seahawks are taking to the air earlier and more often than ever before. Wilson’s already hit Baldwin on some nice timing routes where the ball was released before he had even broken.  I’ll take the #1 option in an explosive attack with a strong signal caller any day of the week, especially to end Round 4. Baldwin is one of the biggest values in fantasy right now, and no one should be surprised if he puts up WR1 numbers in 2016.

Agree or disagree? Who’s your next DeAndre Hopkins? Comment below or tweet us at @RotoStreetJ.


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