The 2016 season is but a faint memory, and the 2017 season seems ages away. We've yet to go through the NFL combine, let alone the draft. Absent those distractions, this seems like a perfect time to consider which quarterbacks could have breakout campaigns.
Unlike the running back position, the QB position is generally quite stable. Scoring at the QB position tends to be more bunched up than at other positions, so breakout is a relative term. That said, here are three signal callers who could post better than expected performances in 2017.
Early Breakout Candidates: QB
Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles
Wentz started all 16 games as a rookie, something worth noting. It wasn't a great performance by any means. A 16:14 TD to interception ratio is nothing to write home about, nor is a QB rating of just 79.3. His 3,782 passing yards were just 18th-best, and his 5.7 adjusted yards per attempt (AYA, a measure of efficiency that accounts for yards, TDs, interceptions, and sacks) were 28th. Ouch.
So why the optimism? Wentz had the fifth-most pass attempts last year, so any improvement in effectiveness, combined with a similar volume, could really boost his numbers. On the same volume, a half-percentage point of improvement in his TD rate would produce about three more TDs. A similar improvement in his interception rate would cut about two interceptions. Improving his yards per attempt to seven would net over 450 additional passing yards. All three of those improvements would still leave him at below-league-average rates, so it's not like forecasting some amazing growth. But if he could hit those benchmarks, he'd be in the mix for the QB1 fantasy tier.
Wentz could mature enough just on his own to meet those improved numbers. As a first-year signal caller he has a lot of room for growth. He could also stand to get some help. So far this offseason, the Eagles have been linked with wide receivers DeSean Jackson, Torrey Smith, and Alshon Jeffery as free agent targets. Adding a WR through the draft is also a possibility. Whatever happens, it seems like the Eagles are looking to boost their receiving corps, and that could also boost his numbers.
I don't think Wentz will be an elite fantasy option, but I think he could be much better than he was last year, and given his likely cheap cost in fantasy drafts, he could be a boon to your roster as a second quarterback.
Blake Bortles, Jacksonville Jaguars
Bortles' 2016 season was widely considered a disaster, and it was from a real football point of view. For fantasy purposes however, he was still at top-10 performer. I think he could do as well - or better - in 2017. It's helpful to remember that despite having three seasons under his belt, Bortles is still just 24 years old. He was a very young prospect and still has time to grow as a QB.
What if Bortles isn't as bad as his 2016 performance? What if he isn't as good as his 2015 performance? What if the truth lies somewhere in the middle? If we average those two seasons we get 4,167 passing yards, 29 TDS, 17 interceptions, and 346 yards rushing. Those numbers would have been good for a QB5 finish this season.
Technically, that's not much of a breakout from this year's QB8 finish, but I think an improvement is the last thing most people expect from Bortles. Even a modest improvement, coupled with a low ADP could make him a great asset.
Bortles could have a better cast around him too. The Jaguars just jettisoned Julius Thomas, who added nothing as a receiver. In exchange they're getting tackle Brandon Albert. That upgrade to their offensive line could help Bortles. Bortles already has two quality WRs in Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns, but Marqise Lee started to emerge last year as well. Bortles could have one of the youngest and most productive receiving corps in the league. He has been largely dismissed as a fantasy starter, but it's too early to overlook these reasons for optimism.
Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco
Hold the phone, what? Bear with me. Obviously, a lot would have to go right for Kaepernick for him to be considered a breakout candidate. For starters, he needs a team. There's a chance that San Francisco keeps him, in which case he'd get to work with Kyle Shanahan. Not a bad thing at all. Kaepernick averaged over 21 points per game last season, and went over 19 points in eight of 11 games. Shanahan gets some credit for helping Kirk Cousins develop and he helped Matt Ryan win an MVP award. Perhaps he could help Kaepernick as well. If nothing else, Shanahan has overseen some high volume passing games, and given the state of the 49ers defense, that should continue. Finally, San Francisco has a ton of available cap space, and they could very well improve their receiving weapons in free agency.
Things obviously get dicier if Kaepernick leaves San Francisco, but there are a number of teams around the league that could use a QB, and there's a decent chance Kaepernick gets to compete for a starting job. We already know he can produce low-end starting QB numbers without elite receiving options, so I'm not too worried about where he'd end up. It's obviously a risk to pursue Kaepernick at this point in time, but keep an eye on him. If he ends up back in San Francisco, he could have a great season. If he ends up elsewhere, he could still produce starter-level numbers. If you can time it right, you'll be able to get him for next to nothing.