These players are the 2019 version of 2018 breakouts


It's one of the questions I get asked most often during the offseason.

"Who is this year's ...?"

It's not a simple question to answer because no two scenarios are exactly alike. But there are obviously comparable players in similar situations. And if the people want comparisons, comparisons they shall have.

The process here was simple: I jotted down each of 2018's top breakout players and came up with a short list of players who fit a similar pedigree as they enter 2019. Below is analysis of each player who best fits the bill, as well as the other players who landed on the short list.

Note that this is not a prediction of players who will definitely break out this season. Again, it's simply the players positioned to do so as a product of landing in a similar situation to those players who exploded onto the fantasy scene last season.

This season's Patrick Mahomes: Baker Mayfield
Mahomes emerged as a fantasy star in his second NFL season.

Let's get this out of the way right away: No, I'm not predicting a 50-touchdown, MVP season for Mayfield. That said, if there is a young quarterback in this league who could vault into the fantasy elite, it's Mayfield. Fantasy's No. 10 QB from Week 9 on last season, Mayfield looks even better in 2019 with superstar Odell Beckham Jr. added to the fold. Similar to Mahomes, Mayfield might not do much damage with his legs, but he can overcome that with top-end passing production.

Other candidates: Lamar Jackson, Sam Darnold

This season's Baker Mayfield: Kyler Murray
Mayfield was a first-round quarterback who quickly joined the QB1 discussion.

Speaking of Mayfield, there's little (no?) doubt that Murray is the best candidate among rookie quarterbacks to enter the QB1 discussion. In fact, Murray's ninth-round ADP suggests that the masses expect exactly that. Murray is an excellent athlete (1,001 rushing yards at Oklahoma last season), and that's important here, as there have been only three top-10 and six top-14 rookie fantasy quarterbacks over the past decade and all did damage with their legs (including four-plus rushing touchdowns for each). Of course, Murray can sling it too, setting an FBS record by averaging 11.6 yards per pass attempt last season. Rookies are risky bets, but the Cardinals' Week 1 starter has elite upside and won't cost you more than a mid-round draft pick.

Other candidates: None

This season's Saquon Barkley: None
Barkley was an early-round running back who immediately provided RB1 production.

I'll say the same thing here that I said about Alvin Kamara in this piece last season: Don't plan on seeing a repeat performance (by him or someone new). Whereas Kamara built his terrific rookie campaign on elite and unsustainable efficiency, Barkley built his on workhorse-level volume and good efficiency. Though we can't reasonably project any current rookies to match Barkley, first-rounder Josh Jacobs is the most likely candidate to quickly join the RB1 ranks. Consider: From 2012 to 2018, 11 running backs were drafted in the first round and seven of them finished top-10 in fantasy points as a rookie. Jacobs is well positioned for feature back duties in Oakland right out of the gate and should be on your radar in the early fourth round.

Other candidates: None

This season's James Conner: Kerryon Johnson
Conner converted a second-year promotion into fantasy stardom.

Johnson already had the look of a 2019 breakout, but Theo Riddick's departure only helps his cause. Without Riddick, Johnson is ticketed for a boost in targets and could come close to doubling his rookie-season total of 32 receptions. Combine that with 200 to 230 carries and the 22-year-old will end up squarely in the RB1 mix. Johnson averaged 5.4 yards per carry and was fantasy's No. 14 running back prior to suffering a season-ending injury in Week 11 last season. Losing some carries to C.J. Anderson and/or Zach Zenner could limit Johnson's ceiling a bit, but a role similar to that of Kamara in New Orleans would obviously be enough to allow for a breakout campaign.

Other candidates: Derrius Guice, Ronald Jones, Rashaad Penny, Justin Jackson (if Melvin Gordon doesn't play)

This season's Kerryon Johnson: Miles Sanders
Speaking of Johnson, he was a Day 2 draft pick who played a limited role but was efficient enough to provide RB2 numbers as a rookie.

Whereas Johnson deferred snaps and touches to big back LeGarrette Blount and receiving specialist Riddick, Sanders is expected to do the same with big back Jordan Howard and receiving specialist Darren Sproles. Nonetheless, like Johnson, Sanders has a path to roughly half of the team's backfield snaps, which, with good efficiency, can allow for RB2 production. And good efficiency is certainly what is expected from the explosive Sanders, who was selected in the second round of April's draft. Sanders' role only figures to grow as the season progresses, and he's in terrific position in an Eagles offense with an elite line and that ranks sixth in touchdowns over the past two seasons.

Other candidates: David Montgomery (if he begins behind Mike Davis)

This season's JuJu Smith-Schuster: Chris Godwin
Smith-Schuster was a young wide receiver who broke into the WR1 conversation.

Smith-Schuster jumped from WR20 as a rookie to WR8 last season thanks in part to the departure of Martavis Bryant. Godwin, meanwhile, remained somewhat buried on Tampa Bay's depth chart a year longer than Smith-Schuster but still jumped from WR71 in 2017 to WR27 last season. With DeSean Jackson and Adam Humphries gone, Godwin is positioned for every-down duties for the first time in his pro career. The 2017 third-round pick is expected to trail only Mike Evans in targets in Tampa, and as shown by his 14 end zone targets last season (sixth most), he will also be an option near the goal line in Bruce Arians' wide-receiver-friendly offense. Godwin is expensive at his Round 4 ADP, but so was Smith-Schuster last season and that paid off in a big way.

Other candidates: James Washington, Anthony Miller, Courtland Sutton

This season's George Kittle: O.J. Howard
Kittle was a young, athletic tight end who joined the superstar ranks.

Injuries have limited Howard to 24 games in two NFL seasons, but the 2017 first-round pick has been highly efficient on 86 career targets. Howard has finished first among tight ends in both yards per target and yards per reception during both of his professional seasons. Despite the missed games, Howard was fantasy's No. 14 scoring tight end as a rookie and was sixth prior to last season's injury. His upside makes him well worth his sixth-round cost.

Other candidates: David Njoku, Mark Andrews

This season's Nick Chubb: Devin Singletary
Chubb was a Day 2 draft pick who was buried on the depth chart early but eventually emerged as a weekly fantasy starter.

Whereas Chubb was initially limited to only a handful of touches behind Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson Jr., Singletary might struggle to see the field behind 31-year-old LeSean McCoy, 36-year-old Frank Gore and perhaps TJ Yeldon. Of course, third-round pick Singletary is the future of this backfield, and it's possible he'll emerge as the most effective back on the roster. The super-elusive Florida Atlantic product could end up on a lot of waiver wires in September, but -- like Chubb -- will make for a logical end-of-bench stash.

Other candidates: Darrell Henderson, Damien Harris

This season's Phillip Lindsay: Darwin Thompson
Lindsay was an undrafted rookie back who quickly and improbably exploded onto the fantasy scene.

Though Lindsay was undrafted, I'm going to cheat here and also consider late-round picks. Thompson -- a sixth-round pick out of unheralded Utah State -- found himself in a terrific landing spot in Kansas City. Thompson touched the ball only 176 times in college but couldn't have been much better with his chances, scoring 16 touchdowns, averaging 18.3 yards after the catch and posting an elite elusiveness profile. The Chiefs are one of the league's top offenses, so if Thompson can overtake underwhelming Damien Williams and journeyman Carlos Hyde, he could quickly land in the RB2 mix. Thompson is a fine late-round flier.

Other candidates: Ryquell Armstead, Myles Gaskin, Bruce Anderson, Dexter Williams, Mike Weber

This season's Calvin Ridley: D.K. Metcalf
Ridley rode a barrage of explosive touchdowns to a top-25 fantasy campaign as a rookie.

It's rare to see a No. 3 wide receiver finish 22nd in fantasy points, but Ridley did just that with a 10-touchdown rookie campaign despite working behind Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu. Ridley's touchdown rate is far from sustainable (and thus we can't project something similar for anyone, let alone a rookie), but we can go hunting for situational targets who could consistently produce explosive plays (and touchdowns). Metcalf is an obvious choice: The second-round pick and super athlete is set up as a vertical threat for deep ball specialist Russell Wilson. Metcalf might not immediately slide in as an every-down player, but Seattle's depth chart is wide open behind Tyler Lockett. A half-dozen targets per game would sneak Metcalf onto the flex radar, assuming a few of those looks end up as downfield connections.

Other candidates: Andy Isabella, Mecole Hardman, N'Keal Harry, Parris Campbell

This season's DJ Moore: A.J. Brown
Moore started slow but eventually emerged as his team's No. 1 wide receiver and a fantasy starter.

Whereas Moore began his career behind Devin Funchess, Jarius Wright and Curtis Samuel, Brown will have his hands full finding consistent targets behind Corey Davis and Adam Humphries (not to mention TE Delanie Walker and RB Dion Lewis). The cream tends to rise, however, and no one should be shocked if second-round pick Brown eventually emerges as Marcus Mariota's top target. The Ole Miss product has good size, can play inside and out and is excellent with the ball in his hands. Brown is a great end-of-bench stash out of the gate.

Other candidates: Deebo Samuel, Marquise Brown, Terry McLaurin

This season's Tyler Boyd: Curtis Samuel
Early-round pick Boyd underwhelmed during his first two seasons in the league but broke out in a big way in Year 3.

In this same column one year ago, Boyd was listed as a candidate to be 2018's Nelson Agholor. That one paid off and then some. Choosing this season's version wasn't easy (perhaps John Ross makes more sense since his efficiency has been so brutal), but I'm going to roll with Samuel. The 2017 second-round pick has flashed at times, but he was limited to 19 touches in nine games as a rookie and required some touchdown luck (seven scores on 47 touches) just to manage a 49th-place finish in fantasy points last season. Injuries have been a problem (he's missed 10 games in two seasons), but Samuel is still young (turns 23 this month) and positioned for a full-time offensive role opposite DJ Moore. He's a fine mid-round target.

Other candidates: John Ross, Zay Jones, Trent Taylor

This season's Robert Woods: Sterling Shepard
Woods was a veteran wide receiver who finally broke through as a consistent fantasy starter.

Following an uneventful four years in Buffalo, Woods took a step forward in 12 games with the Rams in 2017 before leaping to a WR11 fantasy finish in 2018. Shepard is less experienced than Woods (three seasons under his belt), but the 25-year-old is entering a season as his team's No. 1 wide receiver for the first time in his career. Even with Odell Beckham Jr. in the mix for three-quarters of the 2018 season, Shepard hit career-best marks in receptions (66), receiving yards (872) and fantasy finish (30th). With OBJ out during the final month last season, we saw a preview of what's likely to come, with Shepard garnering more perimeter work, more targets downfield and additional goal-line looks. Shepard is a terrific mid-round value with WR2 upside.

Other candidates: Chris Conley, Geronimo Allison, Donte Moncrief, Albert Wilson

This season's Josh Allen: Daniel Jones
Allen struggled as a passer as a rookie but landed on the fantasy radar thanks to surprising rushing production.

Jones was a conservative but accurate passer during his time at Duke, and considering the Giants' relatively weak group of pass-catchers, the first-rounder is unlikely to shred defenses through the air as a rookie. Of course, Allen wasn't particularly effective through the air last season and still managed five top-five fantasy weeks. The reason? An 89-631-8 rushing line. Similar to Allen this time last year, Jones' rushing prowess isn't discussed much, but the rookie quarterback ran the ball 406 times for 1,323 yards and 17 touchdowns over the past three seasons. And that includes the yardage lost on 85 sacks. Jones might not see the field as early as Allen, but don't be surprised if his legs allow him to sneak onto the fantasy radar once he's finally called upon.
Other candidates: Trace McSorley