Fantasy soccer sleepers, busts, breakouts for 2018

With the NFL preseason and fantasy drafts underway, our ESPN Fantasy Soccer specialists have up to date their prime sleepers, busts and breakout gamers for the 2018 marketing campaign as outlined right here:

Sleeper: a participant who will far surpass his common draft place (ADP) in customary ESPN leagues for the 2018 season.
Bust: a participant who is predicted to be a strong starter in customary ESPN leagues however will fail to reside as much as these expectations this season.
Breakout: a participant who will leap into or near the higher echelon of gamers at his place for the primary time due to a dramatic enhance in manufacturing in contrast together with his earlier seasons (or a rookie who will burst onto the scene).

Our panel consists of the next ESPN Fantasy writers and editors: Stephania Bell, Matthew Berry, Matt Bowen, Tom Carpenter, Mike Clay, Tristan H. Cockcroft, KC Joyner, Eric Karabell, Keith Lipscomb, Jim McCormick, Andre Snellings and Area Yates.

Every analyst named a sleeper and a bust for every of the main offensive positions, in addition to one breakout candidate. You could find their picks within the charts beneath, after which evaluation and perception on a number of gamers they felt most enthusiastic about in every class.


These are the gamers our panel believes will exceed their 2018 common draft place and supply worth for individuals who take an opportunity on them.

Rashaad Penny, RB, Seattle Seahawks

Seattle was among the finest dashing groups within the league through the first half of the last decade, with Marshawn Lynch as a perennial risk for at the very least 1,500 whole yards and double-digit touchdowns. The Seahawks have struggled on the bottom through the previous three seasons, however Penny is their most gifted operating again since Lynch. A primary-round decide with each power and burst, Penny averaged 7.Eight yards per carry in faculty final yr. The Seahawks have spoken of utilizing Penny as an every-down again in a heavy-rushing offensive system that lacks playmakers, which supplies him large upside. — Andre Snellings

Marcus Mariota, QB, Tennessee Titans

Final season was a catastrophe for Mariota from a statistical perspective; 23rd in fantasy factors per sport amongst quarterbacks, and he had extra turnovers than passing touchdowns. The place does the optimism come from? Time touring to a contemporary NFL offense certainly helps — particularly with an offensive coordinator from the Rams — as does the truth that he averaged the 15th-most fantasy factors on the place in his first two seasons. There isn’t just quite a lot of untapped potential with Mariota’s passing manufacturing. This gifted collegiate scrambler ranks 19th amongst QBs in dashing makes an attempt per sport since 2015, a price that would certainly rise in a extra progressive scheme. — Jim McCormick

Kalen Ballage, RB, Miami Dolphins

He is a 6-foot-2, 230-pound bruiser who ran a 4.46 40 on the mix and has flashed pass-catching capability (44 receptions in 2016). Already turning heads at coaching camp — simply google his title — I wrote about Ballage after interviewing him. And whereas I believe Kenyan Drake is an effective soccer participant, I’m not satisfied the Dolphins see him as a bell-cow operating again. Who is aware of how a lot Frank Gore has left within the tank, and given Ballage’s dimension, it’s totally simple to see him beginning off as a short-yardage/goal-line again and increasing his function even additional because the season goes on. — Matthew Berry

Alex Smith, QB, Washington Redskins

It wasn’t a fluke that Smith completed fourth in quarterback factors final season, as he completed tied for fourth in YPA (7.9), first in stretch vertical YPA (21.9 on passes thrown 20 or extra yards downfield), sixth in quarterback dashing yards (355) and tied for second in my dangerous resolution price (BDR) metric that measures how usually a passer makes a psychological error that results in a turnover alternative for the opposing crew (0.2 %). Washington ranks tied for second in vertical landing passes through the previous two seasons (29 scoring throws touring 11 or extra yards downfield), in order that they did not deliver Smith in to run a dink-and-dunk aerial assault. Add it up and Smith has good odds of being a QB1 once more this season. — KC Joyner

Jerick McKinnon, RB, San Francisco 49ers

Typically all a participant wants is a change of surroundings to appreciate his potential, and that’s exactly what McKinnon is getting. In his transfer from Minnesota to San Francisco, he will likely be placing all of his athletic abilities to make use of, not simply to run but additionally to catch. Actually, coach Kyle Shanahan has already stated McKinnon will line up as a wideout at occasions. Pace and explosiveness mixed with the chance to snag passes is the stuff of PPR goals. McKinnon will probably be undervalued on this season’s drafts primarily based on his current stats as a Viking, however the numbers he posts with the 49ers ought to showcase his first-round value. — Stephania Bell

O.J. Howard, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Whereas Cameron Brate put up the larger fantasy level whole final season, Howard’s function appeared to develop because the yr progressed. One might level to Ryan Fitzpatrick‘s temporary time filling in throughout Jameis Winston‘s accidents (three video games and parts of two others) for an evidence, however even after Winston’s return in Week 13, the pendulum appeared to have shifted in Howard’s path. In the course of the season’s second half, Howard performed extra snaps than Brate (264-259) and had extra PPR fantasy factors (48.5-45.7), regardless of enjoying two fewer video games. I believe it was a transparent signal that Howard’s future because the crew’s main pass-catcher is shut, and he is obtained sufficient ability to be a top-10 tight finish if these developments proceed. — Tristan H. Cockcroft

Rex Burkhead, RB, New England Patriots

On account of accidents and a busy depth chart, Burkhead did not play greater than 10 offensive performs in a sport for New England till Week 7 final season. From Week 7 on, nevertheless, Burkhead averaged 14.1 fantasy factors (PPR) on 21.Three snaps per sport. There are invaluable unclaimed touches in New England; the Patriots are tied atop the league (Saints) with 75 carries inside 5 yards of the objective line by their operating backs through the previous three seasons. If Burkhead, who proved harmful within the crimson zone final season, can declare a wholesome share of goal-to-go work, I believe there may be actual revenue potential. — Jim McCormick

Mitchell Trubisky, QB, Chicago Bears

The hopeful parallel for Trubisky is Jared Goff, who pivoted his profession after a forgettable rookie season to throw 28 touchdowns in 12 months 2 below the steerage of Sean McVay as his head coach. Trubisky, who managed simply seven touchdowns final season in 12 video games, now follows the lead of coach Matt Nagy, an exceptionally well-regarded offensive thoughts. Furthermore, the expertise stage was boosted considerably this offseason with the additions of — amongst others — Allen Robinson, Trey Burton and Taylor Gabriel. — Area Yates

Trey Burton, TE, Chicago Bears

The previous Eagle who tossed a landing go within the Tremendous Bowl must be one of many prime targets for second-year quarterback Trubisky, who ought to emerge now that he has higher weapons and training. Burton steps into a beautiful scenario with new coach Nagy, who got here from the Chiefs and made tight finish Travis Kelce a focus of the offense. The athletic Burton ought to simply prime 100 targets and discover his approach into the top zone at the very least six or seven occasions throughout his first season. — Eric Karabell

Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons

In 2016, Ryan accomplished 373 passes for 4,944 yards and 38 touchdowns in his second yr below offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. In 2017, Ryan’s numbers had been down throughout the board, despite the fact that his passing makes an attempt had been roughly related. There have been rising pains with a brand new OC, the Falcons led the NFL with 30 drops, and so they had a little bit of a Tremendous Bowl hangover. Nevertheless, Ryan’s profession numbers counsel that he is due for a bounce again, and with first-round vast receiver Calvin Ridley added to the combo, Ryan ought to be capable to play himself again into being a weekly fantasy starter. — Andre Snellings

Will Fuller V, WR, Houston Texans

You would be hard-pressed to discover a statistical suggestion that Fuller is primed to soar this yr, as his productive video games final season had outlying traits (seven touchdowns on 13 whole catches in a four-game stretch), and he posted a mean of 24 yards in his different six video games. A peaks-and-valleys participant in 2017, Fuller ought to evolve right into a steadier element of an offense that will likely be led by the wizardry of Deshaun Watson. This can be a guess on the expertise of Fuller, the blazing-fast 2016 first-round decide. — Area Yates

Michael Crabtree, WR, Baltimore Ravens

Final season was misplaced to damage, however Crabtree’s draft inventory — he’s going 32nd on common amongst receivers — bakes in damage threat with out a lot appreciation for his precise manufacturing sample. From 2015 to 2016, Crabtree ranked 16th in fantasy factors per sport on the place. The chance for elite utilization in Baltimore is clear; gamers who accounted for 59 % of the crew’s goal share are not on the roster, the best vacated price within the league. The Ravens even have 71.Three % of their air yards from final season vacated, per — Jim McCormick

Jimmy Graham, TE, Green Bay Packers

In 2016, Graham averaged a career-best 14.2 yards per reception with solely six touchdowns. Then he reversed the developments with a career-low 9.1 yards per reception however 10 touchdowns in 2017. Many consider Graham misplaced a step and have become a possession receiver, however Graham by no means had the chemistry with Russell Wilson that he displayed with Drew Brees. This season, Graham joins Aaron Rodgers in a pass-friendly system, filled with motivation to carry out with a non-guaranteed contract. Graham has performed at the very least 15 video games in eight of his previous 9 seasons, giving him each a excessive flooring and a excessive ceiling. — Andre Snellings

Brandin Cooks, WR, Los Angeles Rams

What does Cooks should do to get extra respect within the fantasy soccer neighborhood? He positioned 15th in vast receiver fantasy factors final season (221.2) and was solely six factors away from being within the prime 10 in that class. Cooks is now on an offense piloted by Jared Goff, who ranked third in YPA final season (8.0), sixth in stretch vertical YPA (15.2) and 12th in stretch vertical go share (12.7 % of his aerials traveled 20 or extra yards downfield). The downfield receiving function within the Rams offense might transfer Cooks again to low-tier WR1 standing and but he is nonetheless seen as a WR3 in most draft rooms. — KC Joyner


Which gamers are destined to fall in need of their draft-day expectations? Our panel suggests you avoid these gamers, who’re positive to disappoint.

Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks

If you modify for sport script, the Seahawks ranked because the league’s pass-heaviest offense in 2017. That allowed Wilson to publish a league-high 11 prime 10 fantasy weeks en path to pacing all quarterbacks in factors. After Seattle added run-heavy OC Brian Schottenheimer, changed Jimmy Graham with Ed Dickson and drafted Rashaad Penny within the first spherical, it is truthful to say the crew will likely be returning to a run-first scheme. That is positive to maintain Wilson’s go makes an attempt in test, which is able to make it exhausting to justify an early choice in fantasy drafts. Wilson nonetheless figures to supply QB1 numbers, however you will get related manufacturing with a later decide. — Mike Clay

Jimmy Graham, TE, Inexperienced Bay Packers

Whereas there may be little doubt that Graham ought to match higher throughout the Packers’ offense than that of the Seahawks, it’s unclear simply what number of targets will come his approach. The final two Inexperienced Bay tight ends (Jared Cook and Martellus Bennett) did not precisely gentle the fantasy world on hearth. Granted, Graham has proved himself to be a superior pass-catcher, however can he really nonetheless get separation? (Large receiver Jordy Nelson could not, and he was despatched to the West Coast.) Can he rise up within the air and beat out these round him to catch a basic Rodgers Hail Mary? Whereas his restoration from a ruptured patellar tendon (2015) has been spectacular, it is nonetheless truthful to assume this model of Jimmy Graham is not going to be Saints 2.0. — Stephania Bell

Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers

Presently going ninth amongst quarterbacks, Ben is my QB14, so not an enormous drop, however given how deep QB is, it is exhausting to select a real QB bust. However it’s value noting that he is performed all 16 video games simply thrice in a 14-year profession, and here is his end in whole fantasy factors the previous six seasons: 2017: QB10; 2016: QB 18; 2015: QB20; 2014: QB5; 2013: QB12; 2012: QB19. He is been a top-10 QB simply twice up to now six years and has crushed his present ADP of QB9 simply as soon as (2014). Whether or not it is a psychological factor, a bizarre coincidence or a sport plan to be extra conservative on the street, the very fact is that Ben is averaging fewer than 14 factors per street sport the previous 4 seasons. No Todd Haley this yr makes me a bit nervous as effectively. — Matthew Berry

Marshawn Lynch, RB, Oakland Raiders

He is now 32 years previous with greater than 2,350 profession carries on his legs and is coming off what was a disappointing return from retirement in 2017 (relative to what he price in fantasy drafts on the time). The Raiders deliberate accordingly, bringing in Doug Martin for depth whereas retaining each DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard, every of whom tallied at the very least 56 carries for a crew that performed a good portion of its offensive snaps from behind. Lynch ought to nonetheless contribute to fantasy groups, thanks largely to his probability of goal-line carries, however a timeshare is a chance, and his statistical ceiling might be the bottom it has been at any level in his profession. I can not make the case that he belongs within the sixth spherical, preferring to take an opportunity on a higher-upside operating again that early. — Tristan H. Cockcroft

Tyreek Hill, WR, Kansas City Chiefs

The longstanding fantasy admonition towards overvaluing the earlier season’s outlier performances instantly involves thoughts after I see that Hill is on the borderline of WR1/WR2 worth. Final season, he racked up six receptions that gained 50 or extra yards. Solely 5 different gamers have accomplished that through the previous ten seasons, and solely a type of gamers repeated the feat in consecutive seasons (DeSean Jackson in 2009 and 2010). Hill additionally benefited from defensive errors, as he scored 24.5 fantasy factors on protection errors that occurred on throws 30 or extra yards downfield, a complete that was the third highest in that class. Mix these with Hill having the fifth hardest matchup factors whole amongst vast receivers and adjusting to a first-time full-time beginning quarterback in Patrick Mahomes, and Hill must be thought of extra of a WR2/WR3 prospect in 2018.

Jarvis Landry, WR, Cleveland Browns

A fantastic level was raised on the ESPN Fantasy Soccer Summit. As a gaggle, we have ranked a pair of Browns vast receivers (Josh Gordon being the opposite) generously, but once we have a look at the crew as a complete, there’s not sufficient offensive power for each gamers to earn a season-ending fantasy level whole that’ll again it up. On uncooked expertise, each Landry and Gordon warrant these valuations, however Landry’s transfer to Cleveland worries me most due to the acute quantity fueling his fantasy numbers throughout his days in Miami. He is not a giant crimson zone risk, struggling to fill the landing column, and Tyrod Taylor is basically no higher a quarterback for Landry’s ability set than any he labored with in Miami. There is a draw back right here, and I concern it might be maybe a drop-off of 25 catches (or extra). — Tristan H. Cockcroft

Jay Ajayi, RB, Philadelphia Eagles

The previous Dolphins star averaged 5.Eight yards per rush for the Eagles after his midseason acquisition, however the Tremendous Bowl champs boast depth at this place and won’t be afraid to make use of it. Ajayi broke out in 2016 with greater than 1,200 dashing yards, however half of them got here in three explosive video games. The remainder of the time, fantasy managers had been pissed off. With persistent knee issues and fixed backfield competitors, Ajayi will wrestle to carry RB2 standing all season. — Eric Karabell

Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots

You possibly can learn Tristan H. Cockcroft’s tackle why Brady is overrated in fantasy this season right here.

Carlos Hyde, RB, Cleveland Browns

Hyde is one in all my favourite gamers within the league to observe, however he merely shouldn’t be coming off the board within the single-digit rounds of fantasy drafts. Hyde was well-positioned for high-end fantasy manufacturing because the leadman in Shanahan’s offense final season, however he is in a a lot worse scenario in Cleveland. Even when Hyde holds off second-round rookie Nick Chubb for early-down/goal-line duties (not a given), he’ll defer change-of-pace touches and definitely most passing-down work to Duke Johnson Jr. Hyde is coming off his least environment friendly professional season and is not more than committee duties in 2018. — Mike Clay


Who will be part of the ranks of the elite and show you how to win your league this season? Listed here are our skilled picks for 2018’s breakout stars.

Rashaad Penny, RB, Seattle Seahawks

From 2012 to 2017, eight operating backs had been chosen within the first spherical of the NFL draft. Six of these backs completed as top-10 fantasy backs as rookies. Plain and easy: When groups choose a operating again early, they plan to make use of him a ton. The Seahawks have made it clear they’re transferring again to a run-first offense, and 27th general decide Penny is a robust guess to steer the backfield throughout a lot of the 2018 season. Looming Chris Carson should not steal a lot work from the elusive Penny, who paced the nation in dashing whereas averaging 7.Eight YPC at San Diego State final season. — Mike Clay

Amari Cooper, WR, Oakland Raiders

To achieve the NFL, you want expertise and alternative. Nobody questions Cooper’s expertise. His focus generally, positive, however not his expertise. Nonetheless simply 24, Cooper has greater than 2,900 yards and 18 touchdowns and has averaged 14.Three yards per catch in three NFL seasons. Now, with Crabtree and others transferring alongside, there are greater than 160 targets obtainable. I am not a Jordy Nelson believer, so yeah, count on this offense to revolve round Cooper, who has averaged 18 fantasy factors per sport when he has had eight or extra targets. I am all-in on a giant bounce-back season from Amari Cooper. — Matthew Berry

Royce Freeman, RB, Denver Broncos

The third-round decide from Oregon won’t be the pass-catcher incumbent starter Devontae Booker has been, however then once more, we’ve got seen Booker’s act, and it isn’t particular. Freeman is large and quick and may push Booker apart for the early-downs and goal-line work, with the potential for at the very least 1,000 dashing yards. The offense lastly has a good quarterback, so don’t choose it off final season. There are myriad rookie operating backs to think about, and Freeman has shot to emerge immediately. — Eric Karabell

Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants

It is easy: If Barkley does all of the issues the Giants consider he can do, he would be the breakout participant in 2018. Rookies universally discover the going a little bit bit harder initially, struggling to adapt their ability set to the NFL … with the occasional exception of 1 place: operating again. Versus rookie vast receivers, who’ve to enhance route operating, or rookie quarterbacks, who must study to learn defenses, rookie operating backs are extra depending on a match between their type and that of their new offense, together with alternatives to the touch the ball. When you can run, catch and pass-protect, the alternatives go up. Barkley has all of this working in his favor. — Stephania Bell

Joe Mixon, RB, Cincinnati Bengals

Mixon had a disappointing rookie season however nonetheless led all Bengals backs in dashing yards and tied for the lead in touchdowns. This season, the Bengals have Mixon as their function every-down again. Cincinnati had one of many worst offensive traces within the NFL final season however has upgraded the unit this offseason. The scheme is extra vast open this season behind new offensive coordinator Invoice Lazor, so Mixon ought to have higher scoring alternatives. Now established and able to show the electrical operating capability he confirmed in faculty, Mixon has probability to interrupt out this yr. — Andre Snellings

Jerick McKinnon, RB, San Francisco 49ers

There are a number of methods to look at the joy surrounding McKinnon, however let’s begin together with his capability: He possesses unusual athletic abilities with terrific velocity and nifty open-field work. He is obtained the comfortable fingers to deal with an enormous passing sport load and can spring chunk performs with regularity. Now let’s get to the offensive match, as he takes over a presumptive beginning function in a Kyle Shanahan offense that’s primed to contain the again as a pass-catcher. In 2017, Carlos Hyde accrued 59 catches; he had by no means had a season with greater than 33 targets previous to Shanahan’s arrival, suggesting to me that 70-catch upside is on the radar for McKinnon. By the way in which, generally following the cash can let you know one thing you should know, and the 49ers made McKinnon one of many richest backs in soccer on an $Eight million per-season contract. He’ll be busy within the Bay Space. — Area Yates

Will Fuller V, WR, Houston Texans

The Houston fantasy hype prepare is operating at full velocity for Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins — and it must be going almost as quick for Fuller. Final season, Fuller out-paced Hopkins in vertical YPA (13.5 for Fuller, 9.Four for Hopkins), stretch vertical YPA (Fuller 16.6, Hopkins 11.3) and general YPA (Fuller 9.8, Hopkins 8.1). The Texans can’t need Hopkins to rack up near 200 targets once more this season, so sending extra quantity in Fuller’s path additionally would diversify their offense. Fantasy managers who need to partake within the Houston offense with out paying full worth to take action ought to strongly take into account taking Fuller a spherical or two sooner than his present WR4 ADP worth. — KC Joyner

Corey Davis, WR, Tennessee Titans

My zeal for Davis is partly tied to my appreciation for Mariota’s potential as a passer, whereas additionally recognizing the elevated utility and upside Davis can provide in new coordinator Matt LaFleur’s offense. Davis, like his quarterback, is a former elite prospect felled to this point by a mix of accidents and a task in an archaic offense. He could be discovered simply after Crabtree in drafts, and pairing the 2 as a mix of high-floor and high-ceiling investments is a enjoyable thought for managers to think about. — Jim McCormick