Sophomore Stars

Dominick Petrillo @envisionff

Sophomore Stars:

Second Year Breakout Candidates

Each season we see players who despite not having the best season a year prior make a move towards stardom. Sometimes it is players who have been in the league for many years. Most times though it is younger players who were just learning the pro game in their first or second season. Here, we are going to look at some players entering their sophomore seasons who have the potential to do something special. It might be a quarterback who got some surrounding help, or it might be a wide receiver who is going to take a step forward due to other options leaving. In either case, these are players who could really help you win in fantasy leagues by outperforming other more established players at the same positions.

The only caveat I will add is due to the unknown of what they would have been their rookie years, I will not be talking about players who were injured and missed much of last season. So, for all you Derrius Guice truthers? Sorry. He could be good this season if he comes back fully healthy, but we are strictly talking about players we already have a film on.


Josh Allen| Buffalo Bills| 2018: 169/320 2,074 yards 10 TD 12 Int. 52.8% 89 rushes 631 yards 8 TD

To be fair. Josh Allen was my QB one in the 2018 draft coming into the NFL. This said I thought it would be because of his arm and not his legs. While his arm is great his accuracy still leaves a lot to be desired but with the new weapons in Buffalo this season, he could improve on this quickly. With Zay Jones and Robert Foster returning, the additions of John Brown, Cole Beasley and Tyler Kroft in the pass game give him a receiving group which not good, but is much better than the flaming garbage of 2018. Along with these additions, the Bills also signed six new offensive linemen to compete and make the line better than last season when it allowed Allen and not LeSean McCoy to be the leading rusher for the team. Frank Gore and T.J. Yeldon have been brought in as free agents to help solidify the run game and if Rookie Devin Singletary can also provide some punch, the need of Josh Allen to scramble should help him improve his all-around game. Frank Gore and McCoy provide the oldest duo in the league at the RB position, but they can still be successful behind a hopefully improved line. They will also hopefully more Gore then McCoy, provide a mentor for Singletary as he finds his way in the NFL.

With the way the draft went, Buffalo was lucky to get Ed Oliver at the number nine pick. This will instantly give a bump to a defense which was already a top five positional unit last season. This should take even more pressure off the second-year starter and make him more comfortable finding his way. Josh Allen is not going to compete with Aaron Rodgers or Andrew Luck for the top QB spot for fantasy this season. But he is easily in the conversation to finish as a top eight QB at seasons end. Whether his passing improves, he continues to have to run, or a little of both, he could easily bring you top 10 return on a low draft pick.

Sam Darnold| NY Jets| 2018: 239/414 2,865 yards 17 TD 15 Int. 57.7% 44 rushes 138 yards 1 TD

The Jets are not good. They were not good last season in 2018 and they won’t be a whole lot better in 2019. Yes, they did get Le’Veon Bell to control the backfield but other than this the additions don’t amount to a whole lot on offense. The line is still going to struggle and by contrast, so is Mr. Bell. The addition of Jamison Crowder at slot will have some benefit and if Quincy Enunwa can stay healthy and Robby Anderson can continue his late-season form from 2018 the offensive could produce some goodness. The main cog of this success is Sam Darnold. While the line may not lead to a hugely successful season for Bell, his presence will none the less make it a lot easier for Darnold to have a good season in his sophomore campaign behind center. Crowder is a good enough receiver to help with the underneath game should Darnold be scrambling and second-year tight end Chris Herndon should also provide a security blanket as Darnold looks for Enunwa and Anderson to open up the pass game.

The Jets wanted to trade out of the number three draft pick in April. They made it clear and made it known. This didn’t happen and instead, they were forced to pick a player in Quinnen Williams who many had as the best in the draft. Not a bad consolation prize and one which will fit in nicely on the defensive line with Leonard Williams to provide pressure on opposing teams. The defense will be better, but it is still not great, and this will lead to the offense being forced to score and score often to stay in games. While this may be bad for your D/ST in fantasy scoring, it will be a good thing for Darnold who will be forced to throw. Whether it be to Bell, Herndon or the receivers mentioned earlier there should be plenty of throwing and much like the garbage man himself in Blake Bortles, this means a possible top 12 finish from Sam Darnold on a bad team. While his floor can be very low this season. Especially with Adam Gase as head coach. He also has a possible week winning outcome on certain weeks when the game script is not in the Jets favor. While the upside is not the height of Josh Allen or Baker Mayfield, you could do worse at starting QB than Darnold as your last round pick in drafts.

Baker Mayfield Cleveland Browns| 2018: 310/486 3,725 yards 27 TD 14 Int. 63.8% 39 rushes 131 yards

What more does Mayfield have to prove? Well, a lot. Yes, he broke the rookie TD record last season with 27 but he also threw 14 interceptions. A number and ratio which needs to get much better for him to remain successful. With this said the Browns gave him one of the best weapons in the entire NFL when they traded for Odell Beckham Jr. from the Giants in a move which solidly proved the Giants are tanking. Maybe. Maybe Gettleman is just this bad. I honestly don’t know which would be sadder. With Beckham and his BFF Jarvis Landry now on the same team, this not only will provide Baker Mayfield with quite possibly the best WR duo in the league, but it will also open up a great deal for Nick Chubb to do his magic and also help Mayfield explode this season. Add to this Kareem Hunt after his eight-game suspension and Cleveland has the talent and without Hugh Jackson, the coaching to finally get back to the top of the division under the direction of Mayfield. His stock is through the roof and it is not going to dissipate at all before the start of the season. He is currently going off the board in the fifth round and while this is very high for sure, if you want him this is where you will have to get him as a trade would likely cost you even more. Of all the QB’s with breakout potential this season, Mayfield has the highest floor as well as the highest ceiling.

Besides injury, there should be no way Mayfield finishes lower than QB eight for fantasy and with Patrick Mahomes bound for at least some regression in his stats, it is not out of the realm for Mayfield to be the QB one at the end of the season for fantasy.


Anthony Miller| Chicago Bears| 2018: 33 rec. 423 yards 7 TD 12.8 Y/C 54 Targets

33 receptions as a rookie is not great. Of course, it is not bad either. Recent WR classes have made us think wide receivers are supposed to come in and immediately excel in the league but this is rarely the case. The WR position is actually one of the harder positions to make an impact in year one. This is doubly hard when the offense you come into is trying to be a run-first offense with the likes of Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen in the backfield. This makes the 33 catches that much more impressive for Anthony Miller. Not only did he have 33 receptions but where he really impressed was his seven touchdowns. Of course, the touchdown % of over 20 is not going to be the norm but it still shows his ability to get in the end zone and in a lower volume offense of the Bears this will be key to fantasy impact. Coming into season two, not only should Miller take a step forward in the offense but with Allen Robinson now fully healthy and providing a true number one across from Miller, he should be able to raise his numbers into the realm of a WR three or higher. A production increase into the area of 65 catches for 850 yards and nine touchdowns is a highly attainable stat line as the combination of Mitch Trubisky with Robinson and Miller gel in their second season together within the Matt Nagy system.

D.J. Moore| Carolina Panthers| 2018: 55 rec. 788 yards 2 TD 14.4 Y/C 82 Targets

Despite having a pretty quiet season as a rookie D.J. Moore still finished with 55 receptions. With Devin Funchess now gone from the team, Moore should take over as the number one for Cam Newton meaning his rise to superstardom could be immediate. Both of his touchdowns last season came in the Game against the Lions in which he finished with nine receptions and 142 yards but moving forward he will be hyper-targeted meaning he will have more games with a TD than without. With his ability to stretch the field and Curtis Samuel and Christian McCaffrey manning the underneath, look for Moore to be a poor man’s version of Antonio Brown in this offense. He will not put up the numbers of Brown in the range of 110 catches for 1,400 yards and 15 TD but if you consistently want a WR who gets 90 for 1,100 and 10 than Moore could be your man.

Cam Newton is getting older and is going to have to learn to throw the ball sooner rather than later. If he does it this season or next, it is going to come soon. When it does, D.J. Moore should become a fixture in the top 12 fantasy receiver ranks In dynasty, get him now if you can. In redraft, he will finish as a WR too, but he has a ceiling of a mid-level WR one so getting him in the fourth-round as your second receiver makes great sense if you can do it.

James Washington| Pittsburgh Steelers| 2018: 16 rec. 217 yards 1 TD 13.6 Y/C 38 Targets

So, I have a math equation for you. What do you get when you take the Pittsburgh Steelers and subtract Antonio Brown? Well, the answer is pretty easy. You get a lot of fantasy points for the next man up in line at receiver. The Steelers and a lot of fantasy owners are hoping this player turns out to be James Washington. Yes, he only had 16 receptions in 2018 but this was behind Brown and JuJu smith-Shuster. Both of these players had over 100 receptions and double-digit touchdowns as the Steelers threw for more attempts than any other team in the league. The pass attempts are sure to go down this season but with the departure of Brown this opens up over 145 targets to be spread around. With JuJu moving into the number one receiver role for Ben Roethlisberger the vacated number two role should go to either Washington or Moncrief. Even if these two players split the role on paper, they are very different receivers which allow both of them to be significant contributors. While Moncrief will man the underneath routes it will fall to Washington to stretch the field to open up the run game for James Conner. More targets could find Moncrief as compared to Washington but the depth of target for Washington will allow his targets to lead to more fantasy points as long as he can catch them. Roethlisberger has a great track record throwing to downfield threats and with Washington, he has another one to throw to in spaces.

Washington is currently going off the board in drafts in the ninth round which is a little too high for the liking of most. If he falls a bit, it would be more palatable to take him. But as long as he does not go much higher it could still be a good investment. We have seen the ability for the Steelers to make two and even three WR’s fantasy relevant making it a safe bet they can do it again. And Washington just may be the guy this season in his sophomore season. If you are looking for a possible WR one ceiling, Washington will not be your guy. But if you are looking for someone with a high-end WR three possible outcome at a WR five price? James Washington could just be your guy. In this offense, a line of 65 receptions for 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns is not farfetched.


Kerryon Johnson| Detroit Lions| 2018: 118 rushes 641 yards 3 TD 32 rec. 213 yards 1 TD 39 Targets

If not for injury limiting him to 10 games Kerryon Johnson would have had a monster rookie season and not been eligible for this list. He was on pace for 215 rushes for 1,161 yards and nearly 60 receptions. All this was done with the ghost of LeGarrette Blount haunting the backfield with him in Detroit. With this said these numbers should be what is expected this season even with the addition of C.J. Anderson to back him up. Blount had 154 touches last season including the six games Johnson missed. This number will go down for Anderson as long as Johnson remains healthy and on the field. Anderson had a great finish to the 2018 season in leading the Rams to the Super Bowl, but the team did not resign him instead of re-signing Malcolm Brown after the Lions offered him an offer sheet. They then drafted Darrell Henderson in the third-round after moving up to get him. These moves show they were not impressed with what Anderson might bring in 2019 and neither am I. He will make a great backup to Johnson and also a player good enough to give him a breather from time to time, but he is not going to take over the backfield. Unlike with Blount, Matt Patricia does not have ties to C.J. Anderson where he feels he has to use him. Those ties now fall to Kerryon Johnson who was there last season and showed what he could do having the first 100-yard game on the Lions since Reggie Bush.

If you want to get Johnson it is going to cost, you. He is currently going in the fourth round just behind players like Marlon Mack and Devonta Freeman and he should have similar seasons to both of them. His ceiling though is higher than Mack especially as the pass-catching ability is there with Johnson. Don’t sleep on Johnson or the Detroit Lions offense this season. With Marvin Jones Jr. coming back healthy and another season of Kenny Golladay the offense could be pretty solid. Expect Kerryon Johnson to be a big part of this as he fights to become a 1,000-yard rusher in his second season while adding 50 to 60 receptions and 10 total touchdowns.

Ronald Jones Jr.| Tampa Bay Bucs| 2018: 23 rushes 44 yards 1 TD 7 rec. 33 yards 9 Targets

Quite simply Ronald Jones Jr. sucked last season. There are theories abound whether opportunity can outweigh talent. In Jones case, the answer was a clear no. So then why is he on this list? Well, for one he is still young as we know. Many players have flamed out in year one only to take a massive step forward in proceeding seasons. The other reason for optimism is the fact the Buccaneers did absolutely nothing to bolster the running back group in free agency or the draft. Unless you consider Andre Ellington and Kerryon Williams huge add to the team. This means Tampa Bay plans on letting it fly again with Jones and back mate Peyton Barber in 2019 and with the offense set to improve under Bruce Arians, especially for the run game, this means good things could abound for Jones. Due to injury and relative suckiness, Jones was limited to only four games in 2018 as the run game struggles to gain a foothold. This season should see more importance given to getting it going as unlike with Dirk Cutter, Bruce Arians is not fighting to save his job. He is fighting to make this team better all around. For this to happen Jones will need to be a big part of it and he should get the chance to prove he is better than 1.9 yards per carry. Sadly, he is not a passing down back meaning, unlike Kerryon Johnson he cannot be the bell cow back in Tampa. But he can be the first and second down back meaning he could see the majority of the work for the team.

We have seen in recent seasons a few backs who do not catch the ball can still be fantasy relevant. Just last year Jordan Howard finished as a top 20 RB behind 250 carries and if Jones gets this work, he could finish in the same general area this season. The best part about Jones is his current price in drafts. Currently, you can get him in the middle of the 13th round making him a starting RB you can get immediately before you draft a kicker of defense for your team. If he flames out yet again at this price you can easily drop him unlike Le’Veon Bell in 2018 who no one ever let, go because he was your first pick.  If Jones does improve in 2019, even to the level of an RB three for your team, this draft price is well worth it as he may be an important fill-in should one of your starters get hurt. And more than likely this will happen as it always does with the position. Don’t expect Jones Jr. to be a 1,000-yard rusher although it is possible. But instead, look for him to get you 700 to 800 yards rushing and five or six touchdowns. If this happens from your last pick you should be very happy with the choice.

Rashaad Penny| Seattle Seahawks| 2018: 85 rushes 419 yards 2 TD 9 rec. 75 yards 12 Targets

Chris Carson is the best running back on the Seahawks. Sorry to all of the Rashaad Penny truthers but this is a fact. Penny was wildly over-drafted in 2018 and could not even beat out Mike Davis for the RB two role in Seattle. Well, this season Mike Davis is in Chicago and the RB two role belongs to Penny alone. Despite not getting much usage last season when he was used, he ran the ball relatively well at 4.9 yards per carry on 85 attempts. If he can keep this efficiency to go along with the influx of attempts, he will inherit he could be a good RB three for your fantasy team and much like Mark Ingram in New Orleans still provide value behind a better back ahead of him.

The offense will take a hit with the retirement of Doug Baldwin and more will fall to the run game to make sure things in Seattle do not fall apart. The Seahawks were the leading rush team in the NFL in 2018 and this should not change this season as Carson and Penny will provide a lightning and thunder approach as Russell Wilson will count on them to keep him healthy. With Tyler Lockett and David Moore being the only known pass commodities on the roster and rookie D.J. Metcalf hopefully providing some down the field ability, Penny will need to really work on his receiving ability if he wants to make an even bigger impact which would allow him more chances in the rush game as well.

Although his receiving ability has been discussed thoroughly by many analysts the real issue this brings is his lack of Pass Block ability. This is the real issue as he will have to be removed on clear pass downs until and unless he can learn this skill. He doesn’t have to be an elite blocker like Ezekiel Elliott or Saquon Barkley, but he has to learn how not to be a revolving door either. If he can do this and he can stay healthy in 2019 he could see 200 touches in the offense. Currently going off the board at the beginning of the seventh round, a full three rounds lower than Chris Carson, the value is there. Even if you want to draft both of these players you will be guaranteed an RB one. As long as you can figure out which week to use which one. If you have more than one flex position this would be the best place to use Penny at the start of the season. If Carson continues to run with reckless abandon and gets injured Penny could easily finish as a top 12 RB in the run-heavy offense of Seattle.


Mike Gesicki| Miami Dolphins| 2018: 22 rec. 202 yards 9.2 Y/C 32 Targets

Mike Gesicki was widely considered the most athletic tight end in the draft of 2018 when coming out of Penn State. Even this athleticism could not overcome the terrible coaching of Adam Gase to provide a fantasy relevant season in year one. Well here comes year two. Adam Gase is gone thank god and Brian Flores is in. Gesicki, at 6’6, should finally get used the way he is meant to be used as a downfield target with the ability to get up and pull-down balls down the field. He is not Rob Gronkowski. No one is. But he should be used in the same manner as Gronkowski. If he can spread the field along with Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson this should open up the run game for Kenyon Drake and even if the Dolphins are trying to tank, it may be hard to.

Either way, Mike Gesicki has a realistic outcome of a top 12 tight end in 2019. His 22 receptions should go up significantly to at least 60 and finally being used the right way his yards per catch should raise from 9.2 into the range of 13. After a rookie season of such despair, 60 receptions for 780 yards and four or five touchdowns would be welcomed. Both by his dynasty owners and for those who punt the TE position and take him with your last pick of the draft while loading up on other positions.

Dallas Goedert| Philadelphia Eagles| 2018: 33 rec. 334yards 4 TD 10.1 Y/C 44 Targets

On the other side of the coin from Mike Gesicki is Dallas Goedert. Playing behind the elite Zach Ertz, Goedert was almost an afterthought for defenses and he used this to amass four touchdowns on 33 receptions for the Philadelphia Eagles. This shows the potential of Goedert. Much like Brent Celek and Zach Ertz or Zach Ertz and Trey Burton, these two could combine to provide a great one, two, tandem for the next three seasons until his contract comes due. At this point, they can either let him go or more likely re-sign him as the replacement for what at that time would be an aging Ertz.

Strictly speaking of the upcoming 2019 season, Ertz is still going to be the man. Coming off a season in which he broke the NFL record for receptions for a tight end Goedert will again have to play second fiddle to him. But this should be a good thing. With the defenses concentrating on Ertz along with Alshon Jeffrey and even the backfield of Jordan Howard and Miles Sanders, Goedert could sneakily be a top 15 TE for your fantasy team. The position is not what we would call a talented group for the most part and his talent mixed with massive opportunity makes him a likely candidate to beat out others like Jordan Reed or Justin Thomas to the top of the mediocre heap which permeates the position after the top few.

With Carson Wentz again healthy and more weapons in the offense, this season Goedert could find himself having a role not normally seen by second-string tight ends in the NFL. He could finish with 50 to 60 receptions, 800 yards, and five or six touchdowns. If Zach Ertz is hurt or suffers another concussion these numbers would rise drastically as the Eagles love using the position. No matter who is there.

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