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CeeDee Lamb, Kyle Pitts Among Top Breakout Candidates

These 10 players could reach an elite fantasy level in 2022.

Jalen Hurts. Najee Harris. Ja’Marr Chase. Deebo Samuel.

Fantasy managers who drafted these players last season know very well how vital it can be to land someone who outplays his draft position and becomes an elite performer. The ability to find these “breakouts” can be the difference between winning and losing in your fantasy leagues and let’s be honest. Nobody wants to be a fantasy loser.

In my opinion, a breakout player is different than a “sleeper” in that their numbers are good enough to rank them among the “No. 1s” (or within points of that level) at their position for the first time in their career. For example, Samuel finished third in points in his third NFL season. He had never finished higher than 30th in previous campaigns, so Samuel was the epitome of what I define a true breakout player in fantasy leagues.

With that in mind, here’s a list of 10 players to target in drafts who I believe are on the cusp of their best statistical season both for their respective teams and fantasy fans.

Note: I've included the round range I'd feel comfortable taking each player.

Sleepers | Busts

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

CeeDee Lamb, WR, Cowboys
Lamb has been good in his first two seasons in the NFL, but he’s never been elite, with finishes of WR22 and WR19. I see him posting career bests this season though, as the Cowboys will lean on him as their top receiving threat after trading Amari Cooper. Cooper’s absence opens up a 16% target share in a pass attack that will also start the season without Michael Gallup. I expect Lamb to become a top-10 fantasy wideout.

Draft range: Early to mid-second

Kyle Pitts, TE, Falcons
Pitts is a different kind of breakout candidate. Yes, he finished fifth in fantasy points at the position last season, but he wasn’t all that reliable on a weekly basis and found the end zone just once. With a season of NFL experience under his belt, however, I see Pitts making a move into the truly elite level at his position, alongside the likes of Travis Kelce and Mark Andrews. He could come off the board as early as Round 3 in drafts.

Draft range: Late third or fourth

Travis Etienne, RB, Jaguars
Etienne missed his entire rookie season with an injured foot, but he told me in a recent interview that he’s doing “everything on the field” and will be good to go for OTAs. With James Robinson’s status for the start of the season in question due to an Achilles injury, the Clemson product will have every chance to earn a prominent role in the offense. A dual fantasy threat, Etienne also has a great rapport with Trevor Lawrence.

Draft range: Late fourth or fifth

J.K. Dobbins, RB, Ravens
Dobbins is a versatile stats machine who led all running backs with 6.0 yards per rush as a rookie. He did miss all of last season with an ACL tear, but he’ll be in a good position to lead the Ravens’ run-based offense in carries heading into Year 3. It might not be a true featured role with Gus Edwards (knee) also in the mix, but Dobbins will get more than enough touches to emerge as a potential top-15 fantasy runner.

Draft range: Late fourth or fifth

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Michael Pittman Jr., WR, Colts
Pittman posted over 1,000 yards and finished as the WR17 last season, but I think he can be even better in 2022. The Colts brought in veteran quarterback Matt Ryan, an upgrade over Carson Wentz, and his main competition for targets will be the unreliable Parris Campbell and rookie Alec Pierce. Coming off a season where he saw a near 26% target share, I see Pittman making a move into the next tier of fantasy’s top receivers.

Draft range: Fifth or sixth

Rashod Bateman, WR, Ravens
Bateman has been one of the biggest winners of the offseason in fantasy land. When the Ravens traded Marquise Brown to the Cardinals, it opened up a near 25% target share in the passing game. I see Bateman, a first-round pick in the 2021 NFL draft, absorbing most of those targets. He doesn’t have much competition for targets among Baltimore wide receivers either, so Bateman is in a great position to bust out in 2022.

Draft range: Late seventh or eighth

Connor Orr and Michael Fabiano both like Darnell Mooney to have a breakout season.

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Darnell Mooney, WR, Bears
Mooney is coming off a productive 2021 season, finishing 23rd in fantasy points with over 1,000 receiving yards. While the Bears did add several wideouts in the offseason, none of them appear to be real threats to Mooney’s spot as the top option in the pass attack for Justin Fields. The quarterback also threw the ball to Mooney on nearly 27% of his passes in his first six games as the Bears starter, so he’s clearly a favorite option.

Draft range: Late sixth or seventh

Jerry Jeudy, WR, Broncos
Jeudy has yet to reach the expectations of fantasy fans, as injuries and questionable quarterback play has held him back in his first two seasons. The Broncos remedied the latter issue, however, trading for Russell Wilson in a blockbuster deal. All indications are that head coach Nathanial Hackett will “let Russ cook,” which is great news for Jeudy and Courtland Sutton. I prefer Jeudy among, but both players should produce.

Draft range: Early to mid-sixth

Gabriel Davis, WR, Bills
Davis is a hot name in fantasy football, especially after his monster performance in the 2021 postseason against the Chiefs. The offseason has been a positive one for him in terms of player movement, too, as the Bills added a slot man in Jamison Crowder and didn’t draft a wideout until Round 5 (Khalil Shakir). That leaves Davis as the No. 2 receiver opposite Stefon Diggs in what should remain an explosive Buffalo pass attack.

Draft range: Late seventh or eighth

Derek Carr, QB, Raiders
Fantasy managers who like to wait on drafting a quarterback should be targeting Carr in 2022 drafts. He has never been a top-10 fantasy quarterback, but he’s been close (QB14 last season). That was without stud Davante Adams, who the Raiders added this offseason. With his old college pal, Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow in the mix and an offensive-minded head coach in Josh McDaniels, Carr should produce career bests.

Draft range: Late 10th or 11th

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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!