“Breakout” is a loosely employed term in fantasy that most often applies to players a prognosticator ranks well above the consensus average. In other words, what unheralded rookie or veteran is going to obliterate the widely perceived norm and profit massively for investors? Or, which player who didn’t turn many heads last season is poised to set the world on fire this season? Today’s topic: Running backs.
David Montgomery, Chicago Bears
Brad Evans: Yes, I fully realize you're sick and tired of the seemingly endless Monty hype delivered by yours truly, but as someone who always adheres to "practice what you preach," the emotional and financial investments are substantial. I'm all in, for good reason. Evidenced in his electric performance in Chicago's preseason opener, the rookie owns all the necessary skills. Balanced, versatile, decisive and extremely slippery — he's slated to earn a sizable opportunity share from the get-go, possibly topping 15-17 touches per game. Throw in a top-10 run-blocking line and unrelenting Bears defense, and he very well could wind up in the Round 1 conversation this time next year. You're not reaching, even in Round 3 of 12-team formats. Mark me down for at least 1,300 combined yards and 7-9 TDs.
Rashaad Penny, Seattle Seahawks
Dalton Del Don: Chris Carson is a good running back who can break tackles, but he lacks pedigree, invites contact and has a history of health issues. Penny , meanwhile, recorded the fifth-best Breakaway% last season despite playing way overweight as a rookie (he’s now in shape). Penny is an explosive back who should be plenty busy as a receiver, and all the Carson positivity during August just makes the draft price more reasonable for the back in Seattle with far more upside. Seattle projects to have a favorable run schedule, and even if Carson somehow stays healthy, Mike Davis’ departure frees up 146 touches on a team that led the NFL in rushing last season. Penny was drafted in the first round, finished in the 98th percentile in College Dominator and is primed for a breakout as a sophomore.
Damien Harris, New England Patriots
Liz Loza: Harris is a dependable north-south runner who can catch out of the backfield. There’s nothing extra about his playing style. He’s a perfect Patriot, in that his floor is high and his game is multiple. Showing well in his first preseason action (18 total touches for 103 scrimmage yards), Harris’ role figures to grow as the season wears on. Sure, he’s the backup to Sony Michel now, but the Pats didn’t spend a third-round pick on the ‘Bama product if they didn’t want to get him involved or, at the very least, insure Michel’s knee issues. Plus, he’s dirt cheap, being selected in the eleventh-round of twelve-team exercises… as opposed to Los Angeles Rams RB Darrell Henderson, another rookie backing up a stud with durability concerns, who is coming off boards four rounds sooner.
Tevin Coleman, San Francisco 49ers
Matt Harmon: While Coleman has a handful of Top 24 running back season on his resume, he has a shot to take his usability to the next level this season. What once looked like a crowded backfield in San Francisco seems to quickly be narrowing. The prize of the 2018 free-agent haul Jerick McKinnon, looks like he’ll be starting the year off in IR. That will leave Coleman as not just the primary early down runner, but the top pass-catching option. It’s a huge coup for Coleman to only have to split the work with the admittedly talented Matt Brieda. A two-way timeshare in this offense brings enough predictability to take the plunge. Kyle Shanahan’s offenses have averaged 1,827 rushing yards during his time as a play-caller. Someone is going to put up numbers in this scoring unit, especially with Jimmy Garoppolo back under center, and right now, the best bet is Coleman. He’s become a clear target in a draft range (Round 5) right as the appeal of the running back options begin to wither.
Alexander Mattison, Minnesota Vikings
Scott Pianowski: It’s no secret any longer, a bunch of your late-round picks need to be high-upside backs, guys with very simple, plausible paths to busting out. Mattison, the likely backup in Minnesota, fits the bill.
The Vikings have scaled back their offense over the last year, changing offensive coordinators and rededicating to the run. That should be to the benefit of Dalvin Cook, a fine second-round target, but it remains to be seen if he can stay healthy. Mattison has a chance to be a league-altering pick if Cook hits another pothole. (Other spec plays I like: Brian Hill — I have zero faith in Ito Smith — Justice Hill, Devin Singletary, and Darwin Thompson. And Matt Breida is the 49ers back I want to dance with.