Fantasy Football: 6 breakout candidates for 2023 NFL season

By 4for4 Justin Edwards and Ryan Noonan

Special to Yahoo Sports

This piece takes four positional fantasy football breakout articles by and highlights names ready to exceed expectations compared to their Yahoo ADP.

You can read the full articles on 4for4: Quarterbacks | Running Backs | Receivers | Tight Ends

Anthony Richardson, Colts

The theme of rushing quarterbacks is big again this season, which brings us to Anthony Richardson, the player with the biggest boom-or-bust potential you’re going to find anywhere on the draft board. The Indianapolis Colts did a complete 18src at the quarterback position after running out statuesque, past-their-prime options in Philip Rivers, Carson Wentz, Nick Foles and Matt Ryan (among others) over the last handful of years. They spent the fourth overall pick of the 2src23 NFL Draft on one of the most athletic players we’ve ever seen come into the league, let alone at the quarterback position.

Despite completing less than 55% of his passes over his one-and-a-half college seasons, the Colts pushed their chips in on Richardson’s rushing and play-making abilities.

In his 2src22 season as a Florida Gator, Richardson ran for 713 yards on 97 carries, earning 3.56 yards after contact per attempt and leading the QB draft class by breaking 39 tackles. As a reference point, Justin Fields led all NFL quarterbacks with 38 broken tackles over 15 games last season. Since 2src18, there have been seven rookies drafted who started at least 1src games and ran 5src times throughout their initial season. That sample of players scored 15.9 fantasy points per game, with the aforementioned Fields (1src.57 PPG) scoring the fewest and Justin Herbert scoring the most (22.19 PPG).

That wide swath of outcomes perfectly describes the extensive range of possibilities for Richardson in 2src23.

Where Richardson may lack in on-target accuracy at this stage of his career, he makes up for it in a crucial aspect that most incoming rookies lack right out of the gate; avoiding sacks. Despite his sixth-highest ranking in dropback pressure rate among 33 draft-eligible quarterbacks in 2src22, he was sacked only 13 times, the seventh-lowest mark. His ability to extend plays will be well-received by big-bodied outside receivers Michael Pittman Jr. and Alec Pierce, as well as fellow rookie Josh Downs, who figures to be a deep-target slot option after finishing second in the FBS by converting 64.7% of his 2src22 deep targets (2src yards) into receptions.

Richardson has plenty of roads to come up short as a real-life and fantasy asset during his rookie season, but he’s already been named the team’s starter and is going in the 13th round (122.7 ADP). His upside to catapult into the top-tier of fantasy quarterbacks will come by finishing among the league leaders in rushing at the position. — Edwards

Alexander Mattison, Vikings

Possibly the most obvious breakout candidate ahead of the 2src23 season, Alexander Mattison figures to fill most of the Dalvin Cook role, which has historically produced very high running back touch shares. With the release of Cook, the Vikings are missing the third-highest touch percentage (74%) and the sixth-highest touch percentage from within the five-yard line (6src%) from last season, not to mention a whopping 56 targets. An outlier season this was not, as the trailing three seasons saw Cook average 23.8 opportunities (carries-plus-targets) per game, regularly among the most lofty marks in the league.

Our current ranking of RB13 takes into account that Mattison is probably not the same level player as Cook in his prime, but his 61.src Yahoo ADP is discounting his talent too far.

Per Connor Allen’s look into Mattison’s fantasy value in a post-Cook world, the incumbent back had outperformed Cook in EPA per carry last season and lapped Cook in broken tackle rate at 8.1% to Cook’s 4.5%. Over the past two seasons, Cook has 28 broken tackles. Mattison has just eight fewer broken tackles despite carrying the ball 3src5 fewer times. In six career starts (two in 2src2src, four in 2src21), Mattison has four games with at least 19.9 half-PPR fantasy points. The typical byline for an RB1 week is somewhere around the 15.src range, and the overall RB1 last year (Austin Ekeler) averaged 18.8 points per game (PPG).

Even if he were to concede more of a touch share than Cook did — which is admittedly feasible — the talent behind him on an otherwise talented offense consists of Kene Nwangwu (29 career RB opportunities), Ty Chandler (six opportunities in his rookie season, but did look solid in Week 1 of the preseason) and DeWayne McBride (seventh-round rookie). The possibility Mattison outkicks his ADP through a healthy season is gigantic. — Edwards

David Montgomery, Lions

David Montgomery projects to — at the very least — fill the Jamaal Williams role in Detroit, a role that saw the former Lions goal-line weapon score an astounding 14 touchdowns from within the opponents’ five-yard line last season, on his way to 17 rushing touchdowns in total. Though we can figure on some natural touchdown regression in that category — particularly when we factor in the fact that Amon-Ra St. Brown was tackled inside the five-yard line seven times — the early-down role behind one of the league’s best offensive lines will still produce plenty of opportunities for scores.

The Lions spent the 12th-overall selection on Jahmyr Gibbs during the NFL Draft, so they will want to use him extensively, but there’s no reason to believe both members of this backfield cannot co-exist. Gibbs’ inclusion in the backfield puts a hard cap on Montgomery’s target share, but the former Bears back had target totals of 51 and 4src over the last two seasons on offenses that were historically averse to passing the ball. You don’t have to squint too hard to see Montgomery returning top-2src value as an eighth-round pick (74.4 ADP). — Edwards

Christian Watson, Packers

Christian Watson has his detractors, but I love his role on this Packers offense and how he was used down the stretch. He battled injuries last season along with the trust of his veteran quarterback, but from Week 1src on, Watson showed the profile of a true WR1 in fantasy, posting 17.2 fantasy points per game with a 27% target share. The 41% air yards share over that stretch helped him flash the big-play ability I think we’ll see more of in Year 2.

Watson will likely show some touchdown regression in his sophomore season, but I’m buying any player who can earn targets at a 27% clip as a rookie while also showcasing a 2.48 yards-per-route-run (YPRR) along the way. Green Bay’s entire pass-catching corps is made up of first- and second-year players, so Watson will get every opportunity to be Jordan Love‘s primary weapon. Even in what projects to be a run-first offense, Watson’s stranglehold on a massive target share appears to be repeatable. — Noonan

Nico Collins, Texans

I’m really surprised to see Nico Collins is still going outside of the top 6src at wide receiver on Yahoo. My WR44, Collins is set up to be the clear top pass-catching option for the Texans this season, and the competition behind him lacks the upside to challenge him for the top spot on the high-value target pecking order. His 35.3% end zone target share ranked 13th in the league last season, and with Brandin Cooks in Dallas, there’s a path to a significant spike in playing time this season.

Collins only ran a route on 68.4% of Houston’s passing attempts last season, earning a target on 25% of those routes, which is an encouraging sign. If he can push his route participation up to 75-8src%, while maintaining his target and air yards share north of 3src%, he’ll way outperform his current draft slot of 131.src overall. — Noonan

Sam LaPorta, Lions

Sticking with the theme of young players who have paths of exceeding their current ADP (131.7), rookie Sam LaPorta should find himself with early playing time. Lions beat writer Tim Twentyman has already surmised that the tight end will have a “big role” in the offense starting in Week 1 after watching him take first-team reps “since Day 1.” Head coach Dan Campbell has been singing his praise since spring and beat reporter Colton Pouncy called LaPorta the “most talented TE on the roster,” continuing that he’s “passing every test.”

Offseason hype pieces aside, there are plenty of reasons to believe the Lions’ No. 1 TE would equate to fantasy goodness. For a team that set a tight end touchdown record despite trading away T.J. Hockenson halfway through the season, fantasy managers are expectedly excited for the rookie’s fantasy prospects. The nine touchdowns Detroit tight ends scored after the Hockenson trade led the entire NFL, notably scoring above the Chiefs (seven) and 49ers (seven), two teams with superstar options at the position. — Edwards

The full versions of these positional articles originally ran on 4for4: QBs | RBs | WRs | TEs


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