2022 Fantasy Football Breakout Candidates


One of the key player types to look out for in fantasy football drafts is the breakout. If you can get an ascending talent before his value spikes, you can get a prime return on your draft investment. 


Whether the breakout year comes from a veteran who finally finds the right situation or a second- or third-year player who figures it out, they happen every year. In 2021, Cordarrelle Patterson came out of nowhere to finish the season as the RB9 in PPR, enjoying a career season with his new role in Atlanta. Meanwhile, in Cincinnati Joe Burrow emerged as one of the best passers in the NFL.

Entering the 2022 campaign, there are plenty of players that I am very excited about. This season could be the one where these players truly arrive. Let’s take a look at my favorite breakout candidates for 2022.

Justin Fields, QB, Chicago Bears

Justin Fields had a bit of a roller coaster rookie season in the NFL in 2021. He dealt with injuries and being in and out of the lineup, which is difficult for a rookie quarterback. But Fields showed serious signs of stardom last year, especially in Week 14 against the Packers — where he threw for 224 yards and a pair of scores while adding 74 rushing yards on nine carries — as well as Week 8 against San Francisco. Fields rushed for at least 35 yards in six of his seven starts last season, which is always enticing for fantasy purposes. Fields finished as a top-12 fantasy quarterback in four of his last five games, showing that upside. Meanwhile, just like he did in college, Fields showed his ability to make plays deep down the field, sporting the league’s 13th-best adjusted completion percentage on deep passes (44.2%). I definitely don’t love Chicago’s pass-catchers, but the offensive playcalling should be much more creative in 2022. Finally, Fields did get a bit unlucky last year, too. According to FTN’s expected fantasy points tool, Fields’ expected passing touchdown number was 14, yet he only threw seven.

Courtland Sutton, WR, Denver Broncos

There is obviously a lot of excitement surrounding the Broncos offense with Russell Wilson now in town. Last year, we saw Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy both underwhelm, despite how talented both wide receivers are. Sutton also struggled with some volume, as he didn’t make a difference when playing alongside Jeudy. In fact, he averaged just 3.8 targets and 19.1 receiving yards in the 10 contests that Jeudy also played. However, I expect the passing volume to increase for Denver this season, and Sutton should mesh extremely well with his new quarterback. Sutton projects to be the deep target in this offense, and we know Wilson has been one of the league’s premiere deep ball passers. Over his last two fully healthy seasons (2019-2020), 14.3% of Wilson’s pass attempts have traveled 20 yards or more down the field, while he’s been among the league leaders in end zone throws. Meanwhile, using FTN Fantasy’s passing direction stats, you will find that 13.4% of Wilsons’ pass attempts last year were to the deep left part of the field, the highest rate among all qualified quarterbacks. Meanwhile, 14.3% of Sutton’s targets last year came from that area of the field, which ranked 10th in football. It would not at all surprise me to see Wilson and Sutton develop a similar rapport to the one Wilson and Tyler Lockett demonstrated for years in Seattle. And while the Seahawks rarely let Russ cook, expect Denver to give him a chef’s hat along with his helmet. 

Javonte Williams, RB, Denver Broncos

Perhaps the most obvious breakout candidate this season, Javonte Williams is coming off a successful rookie campaign where he did exactly what he did in college — break tackles at a star rate. Williams forced 53 missed tackles this past season, good for the fifth most in all of football. However, that number is even more impressive when you consider that he was essentially in a full 50/50 split with Melvin Gordon and the four running backs with more missed tackles forced finished the season with 25, 14, 129 and 104 more rushing attempts than Williams. Williams broke a tackle every 6.5 rush attempts, the best rate in all of football. In other words, he is a stud, and all that held him back last year was volume. Williams and Gordon split work and Williams ultimately averaged just under 12 carries per game. But in the one game Gordon missed last year, Denver used Williams as an every-down back, as he recorded 23 carries and six receptions in a game against the Chiefs, recording 178 total yards and a touchdown. Already seeing a boost with the addition of Russell Wilson, Williams would become a top-10 overall player in fantasy leagues if Gordon is playing elsewhere in 2022.


D’Andre Swift, Detroit Lions

Entering his third season, it feels like D’Andre Swift is truly about to transform into one of the best running backs in all of football. Through two seasons, the Lions have used Swift in a role reminiscent of fantasy starts like Alvin Kamara or Aaron Jones, giving him 8-12 carries and about five receptions per game. Last year, Swift averaged 11.6 carries and 4.7 receptions per game — before his Thanksgiving Day injury, he was the RB5 in all of fantasy football, averaging 18.5 PPR points per game. He split work with Jamaal Williams early, but during the first half of the season, Swift was playing most of the snaps, sporting a snap rate of at least 70% in seven straight games for that Thanksgiving game. The Lions’ offense is quietly trending upward, and Swift should still contend for the league lead in targets among running backs, especially with Jared Goff under center. In 2021, nearly 16% of Goff’s pass attempts were behind the line of scrimmage, while 50.8% of his attempts were of the short variety, the eighth-highest rate in the league. And in the running game, Swift is playing behind one of the best offensive lines in all of football. While unlikely to see massive volume, Swift gets high-value touches (receptions and goal line carries), so he can easily breakout on 12-13 carries and 4-6 receptions per game this season.

Kadarius Toney, WR, New York Giants

Kadarius Toney has now dealt with injuries during his college career and to start his NFL career. He played 10 games in 2021, missing time due to quad, ankle, oblique and shoulder injuries. But when he was on the field, Toney was electric, showcasing the ability to win against goth man and zone coverages, while displaying tremendous after-the-catch ability, which is exactly what we saw during his time at Florida. Toney’s 2.14 yards per route run ranked 11th among all qualified receivers last season, and when he was the main option in the Giants passing game, he was stellar. In Weeks 4 and 5, when the Giants were without Kenny Golladay and Sterling Shepard, Toney sported target shares of 25% and 35%, hauling in 16 balls for 267 yards. Of course, the Giants have three very capable wideouts when healthy, but regardless of health, Toney will be on the field a lot, especially with Brian Daboll now calling the shots. During his time with Buffalo, Daboll’s offenses ran three-wide sets as much as any team in football. Over the last two years, the Bills have run three-wide 71% of the time, the highest rate in football. Toney will be on the field a ton, while his usage will be better. Daboll also used a lot of pre-snap motion, which will be a nice change of pace for the Giants, who were bottom-five in such motion last year. Going from Jason Garrett’s archaic offense to Daboll’s creative one is very exciting for Toney.

Gabriel Davis, WR, Buffalo Bills

Any time Gabriel Davis has been on the field for the Buffalo Bills, he’s produced. And now he’s about to be on the field a lot more.

Davis was unbelievable during Buffalo’s postseason run, finding the end zone five times, including his astonishing 8-catch, 201-yard, four-touchdown game against the Chiefs. In 2020, Davis averaged 2.21 fantasy points per target (11th) — last year, that number dropped a bit but was still at 2.0 points per target (22nd). A huge reason behind Davis’ insane efficiency has been his touchdowns, as he’s scored 13 regular season touchdowns on just 70 career receptions. That type of touchdown rate obviously isn’t sustainable, but it has shown that quarterback Josh Allen has looked Davis’ way when Buffalo gets in close. In fact, Davis’ 12 end zone targets were the eight -most in all of football, while a whopping 19.7% of his targets came in the end zone. As a result, he averaged an absurd 3.60 fantasy points per touch, the third-most in the league at wideout. And during his rookie campaign, Davis saw 11 end zone looks, still good for 16th in football. Buffalo did add Jamison Crowder and will likely look at receiver during the draft. However, the Crowder signing was to replace Cole Beasley in the slot, and with Emmanuel Sanders gone as well, Davis should be close to a full-time player for one of the elite offenses in football. Through two seasons in the NFL, Davis has yet to become a full-time player, logging 47.6% and 73% of the offensive snaps. That changes in his third NFL season.

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