Last season gave Fantasy Football players and NFL fans a whole host of tremendous rookie performances. Whether it was the rising star of Odell Beckham Jr. emerging as a WR1 after sitting out the first four weeks of the season with an injury, the Browns’ backfield of Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell teaming up to deliver solid, promising production, or Teddy Bridgewater looking like a future Pro Bowler down the stretch for the Vikings, there was much to be excited about for fans of nearly every team.
There were, however, some rookies who didn’t live up to billing during Year 1. That may have been because of injury, or perhaps it’s just because it takes some guys two to three years to put it all together in the pros. Below is a list of five breakout players who weren’t relevant last season, but are primed for major production in 2015.
Allen Robinson, Jacksonville – There has been a lot of buzz around Robinson heading into 2015, after the rookie caught 48 passes for 548yards in just 10 games last season for the lowly Jags. It bears mentioning that Jacksonville hasn’t had a 1,000-yard receiver since 2005, the longest drought of any NFL team. Could Robinson be the first in a decade? If given a 16-game slate to perform, and with new OC Greg Olson calling the plays, it’s within reach for Robinson if he can put it all together on the field. The second-round talent from Penn State had four games with 10 or more targets, and eight games with seven or more last season. Quarterback Blake Bortles likes Robinson, so expect more of the same in 2015. The targets and opportunity will be there, and with an ADP of 72, there is major value to score a Top-20 WR in the late sixth-round.
Eric Ebron, Detroit Lions – We didn’t see much from the 10th overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft in his first season. Ebron had a slow start to his career, finishing the year with just 25 catches for 248 yards and one score. Joe Lombardi, the new OC in Detroit, comes from New Orleans where he was the QB coach and is familiar with ways to utilize big, fast tight ends; he had a pretty good one down in the Big Easy. Ebron doesn’t even clock in among the Top 210 players drafted according to FantasyFootballCalculator.com, so there is absolutely no pressure to draft him. But if you’re a fan of streaming the TE position, or rolling the dice on a couple of players, Ebron, along with fellow second-year man Jace Amaro, and new Browns TE Rob Housler could provide some major upside at the position. I wouldn’t be surprised if Ebron finishes in the top-16 at the position, and shows some promise as a Dynasty League keeper.
Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons – Freeman wasn’t much to write home about last year, nor was the Falcons’ entire running game, finishing 24th overall with just over 93 YPG on the ground, and only 11 scores. Freeman played behind Steven Jackson (Free Agent, basically retired), Jacquizz Rodgers (now with the Chicago Bears), and Antone Smith for much of the year, and totaled just 473 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns. Freeman had the edge on rookie Tevin Coleman after OTAs and heading into camp, primarily because of his pass-catching abilities. Both suffered preseason hamstring injuries, but Freeman should still have the advantage regardless. Kyle Shanahan is the new OC in Atlanta for Dan Quinn’s first year, and Shanny II prefers one-cut runners who hit the hole hard and go. The Falcons O-Line was hit with a rash of injuries the last two seasons; four lineman (3 pre-season starters) were placed in season-ending IR by Week 7. If healthy, and thanks to the new zone blocking scheme, they should be much improved in 2015. The small Freeman may take a pounding, so this could be a committee before the end of the year. But until Coleman makes like another famous Tevin and asks Shanny “Can we talk… about my reps,” Freeman could be in line for a full workload. If he holds onto the RB1 spot, 1,300 yards (600 receiving) and seven TDs could be attainable for the Falcons back if the hammy issues do not linger.
Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders – The second-round pick out of Fresno State had his ups and downs for the lowly punchline Raiders last year. Coming off a 52-0 blowout against St. Louis, there was little hope for Oakland as they headed into a game against the rival 49ers on December 7 in Week 14. That may have been Carr’s signature game, as he led his surely downtrodden team to a 24-13 victory over the playoff hopeful Niners, shutting the door on their post-season hopes. He finished that game an efficient 22 of 28 for 254 yards and a season-high 9.07 yards-per-completion. He completed over 78 percent of his passes, and finished with three touchdowns and zero interceptions. His rating was a season-high 140.2, with a 91.2 QBR. The Raiders were 3-13 last season, and could get to six wins under new coach, Jack Del Rio. They have some interesting offensive weapons, including rookie sensation, Amari Cooper, newly signed Michael Crabtree, and breakout candidate Latavius Murray at RB. Carr has an ADP of 173 overall right now, meaning he’s being taken in Round 14. I think there will be some leagues where he goes undrafted, so there isn’t any pressure to pick him up in re-drafts. But if you want to try your luck streaming QBs, Carr will surely deliver at least a couple of Top-12 weeks, and could be a very interesting Dynasty League player, particularly for players holding Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Carson Palmer, or other aging stars.
Cody Latimer, Denver Broncos – Latimer had a deafeningly quiet 2014: two catches for 23 yards in just eight games of work. But opportunity knocks for the second-year player out of Indiana after a solid spring at OTAs, and a trip to Duke University for Peyton Manning’s workouts. We know that Denver will continue to look for balance between the run and the pass, and with C.J. Anderson entrenched as their RB1, they should be able to do so. But Peyton loves to throw, and new OC Dirk Koetter does, too. There will be plenty of targets to go around with Julius Thomas in Jacksonville, and Wes Welker no longer in the picture. Latimer should be the clear WR3 behind the all-world Demaryius Thomas, and Emmanuel Sanders. Those two were the only players on the roster with more than 50 targets (111, 101, respectively) in 2014, so you could easily make the case that someone needs to step up. Owen Daniels is a threat to take 40 plus targets away because of his ability to play off the line, but if he continues to improve and show his yards-after-catch speed and ability, Cody Latimer could be a really nice sleeper with an ADP of 139 (54th among WRs) who could deliver Top-30 scoring at the wide receiver position.