Next up in SI Fantasy’s look ahead to 2019 are our early predictions for next season’s breakout players. Remember, breakout players come in all shapes and sizes. Some are established veterans, some are rookies, and some are in between the two. The one trait they all share is that in their breakout season they reach a new level from which they will never turn back. Here are five players who will reach that new level in 2019.
Aaron Jones, RB, Packers
When the Jones breakout arrives next season, it won’t be coming from out of nowhere. He had 133 carries for 728 yards, 26 receptions for 206 yards, and nine touchdowns this year, while spending just half the season as Green Bay’s primary back. No matter who takes over as the head coach in Green Bay next season, there shouldn’t be any restraints on Jones. Over a seven-game stretch in the middle of the season, he had 532 rushing yards, 19 catches, 165 receiving yards and eight of his nine scores. That comes out to 18.17 points per game in half-PPR leagues. That would have ranked ninth among backs in 2018, behind Todd Gurley, Saquon Barkley, Melvin Gordon, Alvin Kamara, Christian McCaffrey, Kareem Hunt, Ezekiel Elliott and James Conner. Jones will be an RB1, without question, in 2019.
BELLER: 2018 Fantasy Football MVPs
Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, 49ers
Garoppolo’s 2019 season ended in September when he tore his ACL in San Francisco’s third game. If there’s any silver lining, it’s that the injury happened so early in the season, meaning Garoppolo should not only be ready for Week 1, but should be able to participate in most, if not all, of training camp. It was just three games, but Garoppolo appeared on his way to a potential breakout campaign this year, throwing for 718 yards, 8.07 yards per attempt and five touchdowns before tearing his ACL. While he spent most of the rest of the season beginning his rehab, George Kittle turned into one of the best tight ends in the league, and Matt Breida showed that he can be a do-it-all back. Also in Garoppolo’s stead, Nick Mullens looked like an above-average quarterback, throwing for 2,277 yards, 8.31 YPA, 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in eight games. With all due respect to Mullens, Garoppolo is the better, more talented quarterback, and the fact that Mullens played so well is a testament, at least in part, to Kyle Shanahan. The Niners have a good start at wide receiver with Dante Pettis and Marquise Goodwin, but they should be active in that market in the offeseason. Put Garoppolo back in the middle of this offense, give him another year under Shanahan, and add a healthy Jerick McKinnon and another pass-catcher to the mix, and San Francisco could be 2019’s breakout offense. Garoppolo will be the player whose fantasy stock improves most dramatically.
O.J. Howard, TE, Buccaneers
Howard had to deal with a revolving door at quarterback in Tampa all season, and while the team was productive through the air all season—the Buccaneers ranked third in the league in passing offense—the see-saw from Ryan Fitzpatrick, to Jameis Winston, to Fitzpatrick, and back again had to be at least a little unsettling every one of the team’s skill players. The second-year tight end suffered season-ending ankle and foot injuries in Week 11, fittingly the final game in which the Buccaneers made a quarterback change. Still, he had a quietly great year, ending the season with 34 catches for 565 yards and five touchdowns in 10 games. That comes out to a 16-game pace of 54.4 receptions, 904 yards and eight touchdowns. In recent years, we’ve seen Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz and George Kittle break out and rise to the top of the tight end position. Howard has the tools to join them, and with Bruce Arians taking hold of the reins in Tampa in 2019, this offense could be among the most explosive in the league.
BELLER: 2018 Fantasy Football LVPs
Derrius Guice, RB, Redskins
Like Garoppolo, Guice’s 2018 season ended before it really began. The talented back out of LSU was supposed to be Washington’s starter in his first year in the league, but a torn ACL suffered in Washington’s first preseason game cost him his entire rookie season. He’ll enter 2019 expected to be the workhorse in Washington, and while the team may need to figure out something new under center with Alex Smith trying to work his way back from a gruesome leg injury, Guice will be one of the few mid-round backs capable of jumping into the RB1 class in 2019. Guice was the 59th player selected in the 2018 draft after an excellent three-year career in Baton Rouge. In his final two seasons at LSU, he ran for 2,638 yards and 26 touchdowns, and showed enough in the passing game to make him a credible threat through the air at the pro level. Washington’s offense should be blank slate heading into 2019, and that only makes Guice more attractive from a fantasy standpoint. The one sure thing in D.C. should be that Guice is at the center of their offensive plans.
Kenny Golladay, WR, Lions
Golladay enjoyed a mini-breakout in 2018, catching 70 passes for 1,063 yards and five touchdowns. He ranked 21st among receivers in total points and 25th in points per game in half-PPR leagues, making him a solid WR2 no matter how we judge such matters. Golladay turned 25 years old in November, and next season will be his third in the league. Those are age and experience levels at which we often see receivers reach a new level. Golladay will also be freed from the slow, plodding Jim Bob Cooter offense, with the Lions going in a new direction at offensive coordinator. Golladay entered this season as the de facto No. 3 receiver in Detroit, behind both Golden Tate and Marvin Jones. The Lions traded Tate about halfway through the season, and Golladay passed Jones on the depth chart by his own doing. He’ll be the unquestioned No. 1 receiver for the Lions when the team opens its 2019 offseason activities, and nothing it does over the next eight months will change that. Golladay got eight targets in nine games this season. He had at least 100 yards or a touchdown in six of those games, totaling 52 receptions for 836 yards and four scores in those nine contests. That’s a preview of what’s to come from him in 2019.