My favorite part of preparing for a new fantasy football season is identifying the players who are flying under the radar in drafts but will burst onto the scene with a breakout season. You know what I’m talking about. The players my league mates are paying little attention to but I just know they’re going to have a big year. And when I get it right—oh baby, does it feel so good. There are three wide receivers that fit into this category for 2019. We’ll identify them by analyzing their advanced stats, metrics and analytics profiles.
1. Christian Kirk, Arizona Cardinals
Christian Kirk is my favorite breakout wide receiver candidate of 2019. He is a perfect fit for new head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s air raid offense. The system is the complete contrary of the outdated offense Arizona was running a year ago. Kirk will benefit from the high-volume passing attack that creates space for wide receivers and targets the short areas of the field with quick passes. It’s conceivable that the Cardinals experience the largest increase in snaps per game we have ever seen for an offense from one year to the next. But it’s not just the system that makes Kirk such a great value for 2019. He himself is a quality player and he proved that in three seasons at Texas A&M with a 36.8-percent (73rd-percentile) College Dominator and 18.8 Breakout Age. Kirk transitioned well to the NFL game despite the anemic passing attack around him. He finished his rookie campaign with 43 receptions on 68 targets for 590 yards and three touchdowns with a 26.8-percent (No. 23) Dominator Rating. Kirk was fifth in Target Premium at +39.9 and his 89.6-percent True Catch Rate was 12th best.
Kirk is the most obvious breakout wide receiver on the fantasy landscape. He projects to lead the Cardinals in targets as the No. 1 option in a passing game that, with a new coach and quarterback, is in line for more volume and improved efficiency. A season of 120 targets and over 1,000 yards is well in his range of outcomes. Kirk’s current ADP in the ninth round provides great value for fantasy gamers looking for high upside outside of the top-100 selections.
2. Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Green Bay Packers
The Packers selected Marquez Valdes-Scantling in the fifth round of the 2018 draft. Due to injuries to both Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison, MVS found himself in a starting role for a good portion of his rookie season. He flashed at times with a couple impressive performances, but was largely inconsistent week-to-week. The rookie from UCF finished the season with 38 receptions on 72 targets for 581 yards and two touchdowns. No Packers rookie has had more receiving yards during the Aaron Rodgers era. His 15.3 yards per reception led the team and was 18th-best among wide receivers across the league.
The opportunity is open for Valdes-Scantling to compete for the No. 2 WR job behind Davante Adams. Cobb is now in Dallas and the team did not address the position in either free agency or the draft. MVS, Allison, Jake Kumerow, and Equanimeous St. Brown were left to battle for the WR2. MVS is the superior athlete among that group. At 6-4, 206-pounds, Valdes-Scantling ran a 4.37 40-yard dash, resulting in a 117.6 (97th-percentile) Speed Score. His lateral movement is impressive as well, as evidenced by his 11.02 (74th-percentile) Agility Score. The 24-year-old received rave reviews, including from his star quarterback, all spring. He is now the favorite to win the coveted No. 2 job heading into training camp. Rodgers has proven he can support multiple fantasy relevant pass-catchers with ease, so MVS is in prime position for a breakout campaign. With a 100-plus target season a real possibility, Valdes-Scantling provides the greatest upside of any player available in the double-digit rounds. With an FFPC ADP in the 17th round, the risk is minimal while the reward would be immense.
3. Dede Westbrook, Jacksonville Jaguars
Dede Westbrook is entering his third season in the NFL. He has experienced a mediocre start to his career, but as the clear WR1 with a an upgrade at quarterback, this former Oklahoma Sooner is in line for a breakout season. In his first 16 game season, Westbrook led the Jaguars in every major receiving category. He finished as PPR WR33 with 66 receptions (101 targets) for 717 yards and five touchdowns in 2018. Over his first two seasons , Westbrook has worked in the short and intermediate areas of the field as evidenced by his 10.9 yards per reception and 8.7 average target distance in 2018. He ran 73.9-percent of his routes from the slot last season, compared to just 3.3-percent as a rookie. That plays right into the strength of new quarterback Nick Foles. Foles targets receivers in the short middle of the field at a far greater rate than Blake Bortles. Volume and target quality will increase with Foles as well. With the Eagles in 2018, the Super Bowl LII MVP was fourth in True Completion Percentage (75.4-percent) and led the league in completion percentage under pressure. In comparison, Bortles was 33rd and 18th, respectively.
While Westbrook led the team with a 19.2-percent target share, Donté Moncrief was a close second with 17.1-percent. From Weeks 10-17, Westbrook’s target share increased to nearly 25-percent. That is more in line with what he will see in 2019. With Moncrief (89 targets) now in Pittsburgh, and an offense that is projected to attempt more passes, Westbrook will easily surpass his 101 targets from last season. His red zone production will benefit as well. Westbrook led the Jaguars with 13 red zone targets and was 14th in the league with a 26.5-percent red zone target share. An increase in offensive efficiency will provide plenty of opportunity to improve on his five touchdowns. Westbrook’s current ADP falls in the 12th round of 12 team leagues. The No. 1 pass-catching option in an improved offense available that late makes him a steal in fantasy drafts. Don’t sleep on his teammate Keelan Cole, either.