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.
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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.

Cam Akers, RB, Los Angeles Rams

It took a little longer than we hoped, but the Rams did showcase Akers in the second half of his rookie season. He averaged 21.7 touches and 16.3 fantasy points over his final seven games (including the playoffs), proving he has the tools to be a fantasy star. The Rams added Matthew Stafford, who will keep defenses honest, and Malcolm Brown is no longer on the roster. All this should equate to a breakout season for Akers in 2021.

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-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.

J.K. Dobbins, RB, Baltimore Ravens

Dobbins is a versatile stats machine who led all running backs with a 6.0 yards per rush average as a rookie. The offseason release of Mark Ingram creates a projected starting role for Ohio State, and he’s in a good spot to lead the Ravens' run-based offense in carries. It might not be a true featured role with Gus Edwards on the roster, but Dobbins will get more than enough touches to emerge into a potential top 15 fantasy runner.

Terry McLaurin, WR, Washington Football Team

McLaurin posted 87 catches for 1,118 yards last season, which some would suggest is a breakout campaign. He scored just four touchdowns, though, and his 14.5 points-per-game average ranked just 20th among wideouts. I think he'll make a move to a more elite level of receivers with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center and Curtis Samuel to help draw defenses. I think McLaurin could push for low-end No. 1 fantasy totals in 2021.

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.

Ja’Marr Chase, WR, Cincinnati Bengals

Chase enters a dream scenario to become this season's version of Jefferson. He will be reunited with his former college quarterback, Joe Burrow, so there's an already built-in rapport. The Bengals also had 104 targets open when A.J. Green left for the Cardinals, and Burrow was on pace to throw the ball almost 650 times as a rookie. The game script is also in Chase's favor, so I wouldn't be shocked if he had a top 25 fantasy campaign.

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.

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 fantasy upside.

Irv Smith Jr., TE, Minnesota Vikings

Smith Jr. didn't put up big numbers overall last season, but he ranked fourth in fantasy points among tight ends over the final four weeks. Often, such a late-season run can indicate a potential breakout the following year. The former Alabama standout is now the unquestioned tight end in Minnesota, too, as the Vikings parted ways with Kyle Rudolph in the offseason. Smith Jr. could push for top 10 numbers at the position.

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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!