2024 Fantasy Football Breakout Candidates: New Scheme, New Production?

2024 Fantasy Football Breakout Candidates: New Scheme, New Production?

This article is part of our NFL Reactions series.

This is the second of four articles surveying the landscape for breakout players in 2024. The first edition focused on guys that were held back by injuries in the past but now have opportunities to make a leap with the benefit of better health. Below we'll look at a different group: players that may break out thanks to coaching/scheme changes. Some of them switched teams this offseason, while others will wear the same uniform but have a new head coach, offensive coordinator and/or quarterback.

As cautioned in the previous article, this isn't necessarily a Draft These Guys list. It's meant to be a broad survey of possibilities, giving readers a range of options and some context to help hone in on preferred breakout candidates before draft season. If you want my personal opinions, you can find them at the bottom of each write-up, where you'll see the player's early ADP and my conclusion on whether they're underpriced, overpriced or fairly priced.

I'll publish two more articles on breakout candidates in the coming weeks, with one looking at second-year pros like Jaxon Smith-Njigba and the final edition focusing on third-year pros like Zamir White. A lot of players technically fall into more than one of the four breakout categories, and in those cases I'll list them under whichever I find more relevant, e.g., you won't see JSN listed below even though he has a new coach/scheme, because in my mind the more important factor is his personal development between Year 1 and Year 2.

Without further ado, here's the list of breakout candidates based on offseason scheme changes...

The Candidates

A serviceable RB2 at various points in his career, Singletary has never quite been able to maintain it throughout a full season, instead flowing in and out of committees. His rookie year was actually his most productive on a per-game basis, and he's never had more than 1,099 total yards (or fewer than 956) in a single season. The biggest difference, year to year, has been whether his production was weighted toward the early part of the season, the middle or the end.

2024 could be different, after Singletary signed a three-year, $16.5 million contract to replace Saquon Barkley in a Giants backfield that has neither an experienced backup nor any other players drafted before the fifth round. Singletary hasn't missed a game since his 2019 rookie season and now finds himself in a situation that could allow for big-time volume from September through January. 

He won't be in a good offense, of course, but it also might not be as bad as other analysts are assuming. Brian Daboll put together a decent offense in 2022 with Barkley, Darius Slayton and Richie James as the top pass catchers, and last season's disaster was partially a product of O-line and QB injuries. The Giants subsequently signed two linemen (Jon Runyan, Jermaine Eluemunor) with 45-plus career starts, plus a third (Aaron Stinnie) that started 12 games for the Bucs last year. Add in rookie wideout Malik Nabers and you might have the makings of an offense that's simply subpar or mediocre rather than atrocious, be it with Daniel Jones (ACL) or Drew Lock under center.

Early ADP: Round 10 (112.9)   /  ADP Verdict: Very Underpriced

       

Swift is coming off his healthiest season, one in which he easily had career highs for carries (229) and rushing yards (1,049). The problems, for fantasy, were Jalen Hurts' dominance of goal-line rushes and Swift's disappearance from the passing game in the second half of the season. Swift had 16 receptions and three total TDs in 10 games after Week 6, ultimately finishing with the worst PPR scoring average (12.6) of his career.

Moving from Philadelphia to Chicago probably won't help the 25-year-old get more carries or rushing yards, but it might allow for a return to his Detroit production in terms of touchdowns and catches. Swift scored seven or more TDs in 14 or fewer games each of his three seasons with the Lions, also averaging at least 3.4 catches and 27.5 receiving yards every year. I wouldn't necessarily bet on him returning to that kind of receiving and scoring production, but it's at least a possibility in Chicago, whereas the Eagles offense was never going to provide those opportunities for any RB besides (maybe) a Barkley-level talent.

Early ADP: Round 7 (80.7)  /  ADP Verdict: Fairly Priced

      

Moss might be the most boring running back in the league. He's probably a bit smaller and faster than his 2020 Combine numbers — 4.65 40 at 223 pounds — which makes him slightly below average in terms of speed and a bit above average for size. Moss lacks a standout trait, but he's good at getting what's blocked and avoiding negative plays, plus he's a willing blocker and competent pass catcher.

On most NFL teams, he'd be a backup or a fantasy-RB3-type committee back. But now he's in Cincinnati, where Joe Mixon averaged at least 15.6 PPR points each of the past three seasons without being especially good at anything or ever averaging more than 4.1 yards per carry or 7.5 per reception. 

Mixon was once a much better athlete than Moss, but the version we saw in recent years was basically the same idea — his best trait was the lack of a glaring weakness. Second-year pro Chase Brown could complicate things, but there's another scenario where Moss slides right into Mixon's old workload in the range of 18-to-20 touches per game. You don't need to be all that good to put up strong RB2 numbers if you're piling up big-time volume in an offense with efficient passing.

Early ADP: Round 8 (94.8)  /  ADP Verdict: Slightly Underpriced

       

Edwards won't be in a new scheme this season. Even better, he's reuniting with Greg Roman, who rose to prominence in Baltimore when the Ravens benched Joe Flacco for Lamar Jackson after a Week 10 bye in 2018. A little-known rookie UDFA at the time, Edwards took 15 carries total before the QB change... and then averaged 17.4 carries for 93.4 yards per game over the final seven weeks. He then spent the next half-decade in committees, with last season bringing career highs for carries (198), rushing yards (810) and touchdowns (13) due in large part to other Baltimore running backs missing time with injuries.

Some might say that was Edwards' breakout season, but it didn't actually have much value for fantasy, especially in PPR formats where he reached 15 points just four times all year (all within a five-week span mid-season). While his chances of scoring 13 TDs again are poor, Edwards is looking at his best opportunity yet to actually enter a season as his team's lead back. That's partially because the Chargers have so little else in their backfield, and partially because he's reunited with Roman on a team that wants to establish balance after years of pass-happy shootouts.

And while pass catching will never be a strength, Edwards could triple last year's career high of 12 receptions simply by spending a lot of time on the field with Justin Herbert. That might not be ideal for the Chargers, but it's a definite possibility given that they otherwise seem to be counting on J.K. Dobbins to rebound from an Achilles' tear or sixth-round pick Kimani Vidal to make an instant impact. Edwards' competent blocking could lead to more pass snaps than he's ever taken before, and now he'll be with a QB who is more likely to dump the ball off than scramble when faced with pressure.

Early ADP: Round 10 (118.6)  /  ADP Verdict: Slightly Underpriced

      

London was one of the youngest players in the 2022 draft class and presumably is still improving with his 23rd birthday coming up in July. Even so, it would've been tough to forecast a breakout if the Falcons had stuck with Arthur Smith and his revolving door of quarterbacks. Fortunately, they fired Smith, hired Raheem Morris and signed QB Kirk Cousins.

Things remained promising from there, with Atlanta securing arguably the best backup-QB situation in the league (Taylor Heinicke and first-round pick Michael Penix) and signing a No. 2 receiver (Darnell Mooney) who can threaten defenses vertically but isn't likely to draw a ton of targets. London, Kyle Pitts and Bijan Robinson figure to combine for a huge portion of what should be at least a league-average passing offense under new coordinator Zac Robinson, formerly a Rams assistant.

Last year, London was targeted on 23.1 percent of his routes and caught 62.7 percent of those passes at a clip of 8.2 YPT while playing in an offense that completed 61.7 percent of passes for 7.1 YPA. His rookie-year numbers per-target were less impressive — essentially mimicking the overall efficiency of Atlanta's passing game overall — but that was while drawing targets on a whopping 27.5 percent of his routes. A new offense and new QB give him a good chance for his best per-target numbers yet, even if he returns to the rookie-season target rate (this part admittedly is more of an unknown). And that figures to happen while he runs far more routes, after averaging 25.0 per game in 2022 and 29.8 in 2023. 

It's hard to find a cleaner argument for a 2024 breakout; the only bad news for fantasy managers is that the high probability is reflected in London's second-round ADP.

Early ADP: Round 2 (20.6)  /  ADP Verdict: Slightly Underpriced

          

Eric Bieniemy and Sam Howell were godsends for Washington's overall pass volume but nightmares for the perimeter receivers, creating a strange offense with a ton of screen passes and other first-look targets for the RBs and TEs. Andy Reid's influence on Bieniemy was evident, just not necessarily in a good way. On top of that, Howell's affinity for holding the ball and scrambling around led to way too many high-difficulty short/intermediate throws and not enough shots downfield. Howell has some good traits, but the risk/reward section of his brain doesn't seem to work under pressure. He's the kind of QB that will risk an interception to force a six-yard pass to Logan Thomas on 2nd-and-20.

Stuck in this disaster, McLaurin drew targets on a career-low 20.0 percent of routes and averaged a personal worst of 12.0 PPR points per game. He's accustomed to poor QB play and poor coaching, but what happened last season was close to a worst-case scenario for both, with McLaurin only reaching 1,000 yards (and barely) because he played all 17 games and ran 659 routes (75 more than his previous career high).

The good news for McLaurin is that short-term pain may lead to long-term gain, with the Commanders now sporting new faces at head coach, offensive coordinator and quarterback. McLaurin's production has always lagged behind his talent, and even stuff like the target rate always seemed to be a little lower than it should've been under Bienemy and predecessor Scott Turner. 

It's possible McLaurin never rises above the WR3 type he's been so far for fantasy, but I'm not quite  ready to give up without seeing him in Washington's post-Ron Rivera landscape. The key thing to watch under Dan Quinn and Kliff Kingsbury, apart from Jayden Daniels' development, will be McLaurin's target rate per route. Should that go up toward 25 percent with the help of Kingsbury's frequent RPOs, there would still be upside for 2025 and beyond even if lack of route volume and/or rookie-QB struggles prevent the wideout from truly breaking out this season. On the other hand, it'll be time to give up on McLaurin for good if his peripherals look similar to those from the past few years.

Early ADP: Round 6 (63.8)  /  ADP Verdict: Underpriced

       

Brown averaged 85.3 yards through his first eight games of 2021 (six TDs) and 80.8 yards through his first six of 2022 (three TDs), before falling apart in the second half of the season both times while catching passes from backup quarterbacks. His own injuries have also been a big part of his story, but results have mostly been encouraging on the not-so-numerous occasions when we've seen a healthy Brown catching passes from a good QB in recent years. 

It makes sense that he's especially sensitive to the quality of QB play, given that he's never been much of a YAC guy and instead provides value by getting big-time separation on deep and intermediate routes. The Chiefs won't force him a huge number of targets the way the Ravens and Cardinals did at times, but Brown could have his best season yet even if he's only focusing on his strengths and not getting many of the cheap, easy targets that boost PPR scoring. 

The reason, of course, is Patrick Mahomes, whose trend of declining aDOTs may reverse now that Brown and fellow speed demon Xavier Worthy are in Kansas City. Rashee Rice's legal situation is the wild card, but that probably impacts the rookie more than Brown, as Worthy is more of a YAC threat and thus more likely to see the type of short passes that Rice thrived on last season.

Early ADP: Round 6 (64.4)  /  ADP Verdict: Fairly Priced

     

Arthur Smith + Russell Wilson isn't the ideal coach-QB duo for a tight end to put up big numbers. Wilson's stature makes throwing over the middle a challenge, and Smith's offenses typically rank among the most run-heavy in the league. On the other hand, every offense directed by Smith has sent more than one-fourth of its targets to tight ends, including a post-Delanie Walker 2020 Titans squad that finished fourth in TE target share (29.6 percent) with Jonnu Smith and Anthony Firkser combining for 80 catches, 835 yards and nine TDs.

Of course, much of the appeal here is based on who's gone rather than who's replacing them. OC Matt Canada and QB Kenny Pickett were the worst of the worst, reaching a level of stink that would be almost impossible to replicate. Getting away from them should help Freiermuth, who looks to be Option B in Pittsburgh's passing game after the team swapped out WR Diontae Johnson for third-round pick Roman Wilson. Playing with a 5-foot-11 quarterback might limit Freiermuth's seam targets, but he can do enough on out-breaking routes and crossers in Smith's offense to more than make up for it.

Early ADP: Round 12  (133.8)   /  ADP Verdict: Slightly Underpriced

        

Klint Kubiak will be Johnson's second offensive coordinator in the NFL, following a four-year run of hyper-conservative offenses under Pete Carmichael. The Saints probably won't go bombs away under Kubiak, but increased pass volume is one of the potential factors that could allow Johnson to continue building on his strong finish to 2023 (216 yards and three TDs over the final four weeks).

Other possibilities include Taysom Hill playing less, or at least taking fewer TE snaps, and Johnson becoming more of a priority due to Alvin Kamara's aging and the Saints' subpar WR depth. This isn't a high-likelihood breakout by any means, but I think Johnson has shown enough pass-catching talent to at least consider the possibility that he could put up much bigger numbers post-Carmichael. We should have a good idea by Week 2 or 3, so it's not like you'll be using a bench spot on Johnson beyond September unless he piles up targets from the jump.

Early ADP: Round 15 (169.7)   /  ADP Verdict: Fairly Priced

           

While he isn't likely to get many first-read targets in an offense with so much talent at wide receiver and running back, Okonkwo can make up for it by improving his route volume, red-zone chances and dump-off production. The switch from Mike Vrabel to Brian Callahan gives Okonkwo a chance to run nearly as many routes as in his first two seasons combined (524), though he'll probably be targeted on 16-19 percent of those routes rather than his 23.5 percent TPRR from 2022-23. Now, to be fair, a Will Levis breakout is needed for the math to work out on an Okonkwo breakout, which is part of why the 238-pound TE with 4.52 speed is going so late (or not at all) in fantasy drafts. 

Early ADP: Round 17 (199.5)  /  ADP Verdict: Underpriced

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jerry Donabedian
Jerry was a 2018 finalist for the FSWA's Player Notes Writer of the Year and DFS Writer of the Year awards. A Baltimore native, Jerry roots for the Ravens and watches "The Wire" in his spare time.
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