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2021 Fantasy Football: Top 10 Breakout Candidates - Second-Year Studs Will Shine

SI Fantasy analyst Michael Fabiano points out 10 players primed for breakout seasons.

UPDATED: September 1, 2021

Josh Allen. David Montgomery. Jonathan Taylor. Justin Jefferson. D.K. Metcalf.

That's right; the 2020 NFL campaign had its share of players who broke out in the stat sheets. Those statistical monsters became league winners for countless fantasy managers. Finding players who are in a great position to break out can be the difference between a good season and one that leads to a fantasy championship.

Fabiano's Top 10 Lists
Breakouts | SleepersDeep Sleepers | Busts | Rookies

With that in mind, here are 10 players whom I like to become next season's fantasy heroes.

Jalen Hurts, QB, Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles traded Carson Wentz to the Colts this offseason, which opens the door for Hurts to take over the top spot in Philadelphia. He started and finished three games as a rookie, averaging 79.3 rushing yards and more than 25 fantasy points. His skills as a runner make him a dangerous dual-threat, and mobile quarterbacks can be valuable assets in fantasy land. Hurts needs to improve as a passer, but he still has top 10 upside.

Joe Burrow, QB, Cincinnati Bengals

Burrow showed flashes of potential as a rookie, averaging more than 17 fantasy points per game before suffering a knee injury that knocked him out for the remainder of 2020. He was on pace to throw the football nearly 650 times before going down, however, and the Bengals drafted the top wideout in the 2021 class (and Burrow's former teammate) Ja'Marr Chase. If the offensive line holds up, Burrow should bust out.

Antonio Gibson, RB, Washington Football Team

Gibson is coming off a solid rookie campaign, posting a RB14 finish despite the fact that he missed two games. That could be defined as a breakout season, but Gibson has the skills to make a huge leap forward in the stat sheets. The coaching staff has talked about using him like Christian McCaffrey, so an increase in his 26 percent touch share could be on the horizon. In a best-case scenario, Gibson could be a top-10 fantasy back.

Najee Harris, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers

Harris is in a great position to become the best rookie in fantasy football this season. A three-down back at Alabama who rushed for nearly 1,500 yards and 26 touchdowns in 2020, Harris should earn a featured role in Pittsburgh right out of the gate. Coach Mike Tomlin has preferred to use one main runner for most of his time in the Steel City, so a season with 250-plus touches is certainly in the cards for Harris in his rookie season.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB, Kansas City Chiefs

Clyde Edwards-Helaire runs for the Chiefs.

Edwards-Helaire was considered a disappointment in this rookie campaign, as injuries and the addition of Le'Veon Bell cost him a chance at stardom. To his credit, CEH did average 21.3 touches and 15.9 fantasy points in his first six games before the Chiefs added Bell to the roster. Coach Andy Reid's offenses have often produced star running backs, and I don't see Darrel Williams or Jerick McKinnon as major threats.

CeeDee Lamb, WR, Dallas Cowboys

Lamb finished his rookie year ranked 22nd among wideouts based on fantasy points, but it could have been a much higher finish. In five games with Dak Prescott under center, he averaged 17.1 fantasy points and was on pace to nearly equal the production of Justin Jefferson. Don't be surprised if it's Lamb and not Amari Cooper, who leads Cowboys wideouts in 2021. He’ll be worth every bit of a top 40 overall selection.

Jerry Jeudy, WR, Denver Broncos

Jeudy had an uneven rookie season, finishing outside of the top 40 fantasy wideouts while averaging just 9.9 points per game. He did show flashes of potential, however, and the presence of the accurate Teddy Bridgewater under center could be good for Jeudy's stock this season. While the team does have a lot of offensive mouths to feed, I wouldn't be surprised if the Alabama product led this team in targets this season.

Tee Higgins, WR, Cincinnati Bengals

I had Ja'Marr Chase in this space initially, but Higgins now seems like the top Bengals wideout in fantasy land. He has a rapport with Joe Burrow from their time last season, and the team had 104 targets open when A.J. Green left town. Also remember that Burrow was on pace to throw the ball almost 650 times as a rookie. The game script is also in Higgins favor, so I wouldn't be shocked if he had a top 25 fantasy campaign.

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Brandon Aiyuk, WR, San Francisco 49ers

49ers Brandon Aiyuk

Aiyuk finished a ho-hum 35th in fantasy points among wideouts as a rookie, but he also averaged 20.8 points during a six-game stretch that opened the eyes of fantasy fans. A playmaker ranked tied for ninth among wideouts in broken tackles, Aiyuk is a good bet to finish in the top two in targets for the Niners. Regardless of whether it’s Jimmy Garoppolo or Trey Lance under center, he has the upside to be a solid No. 2 wideout.

Kyle Pitts, TE, Atlanta Falcons

I know, rookie tight ends typically don't put up great numbers. It's a trend that's been true for as long as there's been fantasy football. But Pitts is considered a generational talent who should see a ton of targets after the Falcons traded Julio Jones. In fact, I can see him catching north of 70 passes in his first NFL season. Pitts is a wide receiver in a tight end's body, and the sky's the limit for his success. He'll be a top-60 draft pick.



Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on Sports Illustrated and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA) Hall of Fame. Click here to read all his articles here on SI Fantasy. You can follow Michael on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram for your late-breaking fantasy news and the best analysis in the business!

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