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Second Year NFL Players Set To Break Out In 2023: Fantasy Football Sleepers

Treylon Burks - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, Waiver Wire Pickups

New blood enters the NFL, and old legends enter the broadcast booth every year. But not every rookie hits in their first go.

Some never get much of a chance to play. Others are hampered by injury. Many are stuck on bad teams with poor quarterback play or other problems they cannot overcome. Some just need time to learn and adjust to the NFL.

But many of the newcomers who didn't make it as a rookie end up having big seasons in their second years in the league. If you can find the second-year breakouts at underpriced values in the draft or in trades, you will be in a good position to compete for a fantasy football championship. Here are 10 second-year wide receivers, running backs, and quarterbacks who Mitch Blatt predicts as likely second-year breakouts for dynasty, Superflex, and redraft fantasy leagues.

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Second-Year Breakout WRs

Treylon Burks, TEN

The 225-pound Burks was a great contested catch and yards-after-catch producer at Arkansas, where he went for 1,104 yards and 11 touchdowns in his junior season. After a slow start to the season, Burks suffered a bad case of turf toe in Week 4 and had to miss five weeks.

But when he came back, he showed what made him the No. 18 pick in the draft. He caught 15 passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns from Week 10 through Week 13, in which he suffered a concussion that kept him out two games. If he can remain healthy and if Tennessee's quarterback play is adequate, Burks will shine with his athleticism and speed.

Christian Watson, GB

His athleticism was never in question. Christian Watson ran a 4.36 40-yard dash and maxed out his athleticism numbers at the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine. It showed up on the field from the first play. He beat Vikings CB Patrick Peterson deep for what should have been a wide-open touchdown. Then he dropped the ball.

Drops remained a problem for Watson all season, but he started to get enough targets to produce top-10 WR numbers from Weeks 10-13. In those four games, he was targeted 26 times for 15 catches, 313 yards, and seven touchdowns. Even so, he left some meat on the bone; PFF says he dropped four passes.

Jordan Love's play as the quarterback is an X factor that could limit Watson's production, but Love looked good in the last couple of games he played.

Rashid Shaheed, NO

Shaheed was a great story last season. He joined the Saints as an undrafted free agent after being named an FCS (Division I Football Championship Series) All-American four times and setting the FCS record for kickoff return touchdowns during his career with Weber State.

Then in his first-ever NFL game, he took his first carry 44 yards for a touchdown in Week 6. In Week 11, he ran 21 routes, and he finished the season with 20 or more routes run in five of the last six games. In that span, he gained 376 yards, averaging 17.4 yards per reception, and scored one touchdown.

There might be a temptation to see the 180-pound kick and punt returner as somewhat of a gimmicky deep threat on an offense that also employs Taysom Hill. But he remains the WR3, with Tre'Quan Smith and A.T. Perry behind him and the injury-prone Michael Thomas ahead of him. It is highly unlikely that Shaheed will be challenged by players behind him and quite likely that he could move up to WR2.

Honorable Mentions: George Pickens, Jahan Dotson

Excluded because they already broke out: Garrett Wilson, Chris Olave, Drake London

Excluded because they won't break out: Skyy Moore, Alec Pierce, Romeo Doubs


Second-Year Breakout RBs

Brian Robinson Jr., WAS

Robinson was graded as one of the best rookie running backs in 2022, behind only some who already had breakout seasons. He became the Commanders' regular starter by Week 9 after having recovered from being the victim of a gunshot in the offseason. He had over 10 attempts in each of his last eight games, including 20 or more attempts in three of the final four.

From Week 12 on, in which he had his first (and only) 100-yard game, he averaged 87 yards per game and broke the 80-yard mark four times. While he gained 797 rushing yards on the season, he only scored two touchdowns. If the Commanders' offense improves with new quarterback Sam Howell and offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, Robinson should be able to score more touchdowns.

Jordan Mason, SF

Mason, an undrafted free agent who recorded 42 rushing attempts for 251 yards (nearly six per carry) over the last seven games of the season, is a sleeper pick. He's going as the RB136 in the National Fantasy Championships drafts behind such greats as the Lions' Mohamed Ibrahim, the Cowboys' Ronald Jones, the Chiefs' Melvin Gordon, and his former teammate, Trey Sermon. Sermon, who was cut in favor of Mason, doesn't even crack the top four in the Eagles' backfield.

Mason should be going higher, he was graded 92.3 by PFF. He is the 49ers' RB3, with the injury-plagued Christian McCaffrey and Elijah Mitchell ahead of him. Kyle Shanahan likes to run the ball, and he involves a lot of running backs. It would only take one injury to either CMC or Mitchell to pave the wave for Mason having steady work.

Excluded because they already broke out: Kenneth Walker III, Dameon Pierce, Isiah Pacheco, and Tyler Allgeier (and his fantasy value is declining).


Second-Year Breakout QBs

My potential second-year breakout quarterbacks are two middle-round draft picks who didn't get much time to play but showed promising signs when they did. Of course, you can find reasons for optimism in lots of young guys.

If they didn't play much, you can convince yourself that they only have room to grow. It could be just the opposite. But I would be more willing to take a gamble on someone like Sam Howell in Eric Bieniemy's offense or Desmond Ridder in the Arthur Smith/Bijan Robinson offense rather than Kenny Pickett, who we can confidently say will not be a top-12 QB in the Matt Canada offense.

Sam Howell, WAS

The Commanders' fifth-round draft pick looked like a fighter in his only start, a 26-6 win over the Cowboys in Week 18. He led Washington to a touchdown on his first drive. He hit Terry McLaurin with a perfect pass 55 yards in the air in the third quarter.

He ran through contact at the goal line to score six fantasy points. He finished with 11-of-19 of his passes completed for 168 yards, one touchdown, one interception, and 35 yards rushing on two carries. Week 18 was odd; Russell Wilson finished as the QB1, Davis Mills finished as the QB3, and Howell finished as the QB8 in his only start.

I'm not saying Howell will be a top-12 QB every week in 2023, but I would gamble on him in the 14th or 15th round.

Desmond Ridder, ATL

Ridder started four games, and he looked bad in the first two, road games against the Saints and Ravens. Then he looked good at home against the Cardinals and Bucs. He completed 67.8% of his passes in the final two games of the season, and he threw his first two touchdown passes against Tampa Bay. He finished the season with a 63.5% completion rate, two touchdowns, and zero interceptions. PFF says he only threw two "turnover-worthy" passes. Maybe he got better, or maybe he just likes playing in a dome.

Either way, he won't be a high-volume passer, but he could have touchdown upside in this dynamic Falcons offense. The Falcons are the most run-heavy team with former Titans coach Arthur Smith in charge, and they will be even more so now that they drafted Bijan Robinson with the ninth pick.

Already broke out: Brock Purdy

Won't break out: Malik Willis

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