Friday - May 14, 2021

Home / Commentary / BREAKOUT PLAYERS: Part 1 – NFC North


In my 20 plus years of playing fantasy football, one major element for success has remained a constant throughout, finding the next breakout star.  Last season produced quite possibly the best breakout performance in the history of fantasy football, with the out of this world play from Kansas City Chiefs quarterback and reigning NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes.  Now, for many, Patrick’s success came out of nowhere, catching so called experts completely off guard.  But, for those that took the time research the greatness that lied in front of him, the writing was in bold permanent black ink all over the walls.

It began with the Chiefs epic leap in the 2017 draft, when they traded their 2017 3rd round pick and a 2018 1st round pick to move up seventeen spots from #27 to #10 to take the Texas Tech signal caller.  Mahomes rise to fantasy stardom had to wait nearly an entire football calendar year before he earned the opportunity to show fantasy owners just how valuable he could and would become. The first glimpse of what was to come, came for Mahomes in week 17 of his rookie year.  The Chiefs had locked up the 4th seed going into the playoffs and decided to give starting quarterback Alex Smith the week off before heading into their wild-card game the next weekend.  Giving Mahomes the opportunity he had waited all season for and he didn’t hesitate to take full advantage.

Mahomes played incredible that New Year’s Eve day against a hated division rival in the Denver Broncos, making tight window throws all over the field.  Throws that many ten-year veterans don’t even attempt their entire careers. Midway through the 4th quarter Head Coach Andy Reid had seen enough and pulled his young quarterback with a two touchdown lead. After miscues from his defense and offense on subsequent possessions, Reid quickly had seen his two touchdown lead disappear.  He turned back to Mahomes and asked him to get back out there and go win the game that he started — and he did just that.

Patrick orchestrated an 11-play 61-yard drive that ended with a game winning field goal.  The legend of Mahomes began right then. It would be nearly another eight months before we would see Mahomes again. But, when we did finally see him again, this time he would be the unquestioned leader of the Kansas Chiefs, as they purposefully traded long time veteran Alex Smith to the Washington Redskins to make way for the new kid on the block, Patrick Mahomes.

It didn’t take long to convince me.  After Mahomes peeked my interest in week 17 of 2017, I became a true believer in week 2 of the 2018 pre-season, when just before halftime I watched Patrick uncork what turned out to be a 69 yard TD pass to Tyreek Hill.  The most impressive part of the throw for me was seeing his flawless drop back mechanics as he setup to launch. The ball was estimated to have traveled an astonishing 68 yards in the air. It was truly incredible to see live.  This sealed the deal for me, as I moved him into my Top-10 quarterback’s, slotting him comfortably in position #7.  Ahead of more proven and polished vets that had been fantasy relevant for years.

After taking the temperature on Mahomes from league mates, I was sure I could get him late in our draft and indeed I did.  As I watched quarterback after quarterback come off the board, I waited patiently for Mahomes to fall to me, which he eventually did in round 13.  The impact was immediate, as I started him week 1 and he rewarded my good faith in him by tuning up the Los Angeles Chargers with 4 TD passes.  The rest as they say, “is history”.

In my first official article for fantasy football purposes, I will begin with an 8-part series.  It will feature my predictions on potential breakout players for the 2019 season based mainly on PPR formats.  I will choose two players from each team per week from the 8 NFL divisions.  This week I will start my journey inside the NFC North.  I hope everyone gains some useable perspectives as I have gained so much from others over the years.  As always pay it forward…



Aaron Jones RB

What’s not like about a young RB that has opportunity in front of him?  I say not much at all.  Here is a player that has the total 3-down package and is in a traditionally fantasy friendly offense.  He proved last year after a short suspension that a player with far less potential like Jamaal Williams would not stand in his way.  After the Packers week 7 bye, it was clear that they noticed this too.

Jones firmly supplanted himself as the lead dog in Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers led offense down the stretch in 2018.  Rodgers indeed noticed as well, as the team made him a focal point of the offense the last 7 games to the tune of 17 touches per game.  If there is anything that could possibly derail the upside Jones has this season, it would be new Head Coach Matt LaFleur and the chance that he decides to lean heavily on his passing game with all those shiny toys to play with.  But, I don’t think this will be the case as I expect Jones to pick up right where he left off last season and reward faithful owners with a Top-10 season.

Jace Sternberger TE

It’s not often that I will rank a rookie TE as a potential breakout star.  However, in this article there will be two of them from the “Black and Blue” division.  What obviously stands out the most about Sternberger at first glance is his impressive size, at 6’4 and 250lbs, he meets the criteria most teams look for in a pass catching TE who can line up in-line or flex out like a WR.  This versatility is what makes him a favorable match-up week-in week-out when covered by linebackers and safeties.  There is no doubt that Aaron Rodgers will be looking to exploit these attributes.

For me, the real reason Sternberger has a chance to be a breakout star in his rookie campaign is two-fold.  First, he showed natural ability to be a red zone threat with his 10 TD receptions in his junior year at Texas A&M.  This stat surely was an attention grabber for the Green Bay scouting group as well.  The second part of the equation is Rodgers propensity historically to throw to his TE’s.  He has made guys like Jermichael Finley and Jared Cook household names over his career and Jace could be in-line to be the next one of this group.



Dalvin Cook RB

This shouldn’t be a shocker to most, as many in the fantasy world that I’ve come across have Dalvin solidified as the next great Vikings RB and budding fantasy superstar.  But, should this really be the case with a player that has not shown a consistent ability to stay healthy in his first two seasons as a pro?  Normally, I’m an owner that tends to stay away from players like this.  However, there is just something about Cook that makes me want to risk it all.

If I had to bet, I would wager that Cook finishes as a Top-5 RB this season.  He is the lead back in an offense that towards the end of the year last season, refocused their attention to the running game.  Due to Head Coach Mike Zimmer’s firing of then OC John DeFilippo because he felt they were passing way too much.  Without trying to contradict myself here, the aspect of Cook’s game that has me all-in is what he brings to this offense in the passing game.  He has the rare talent to catch a ball 5 yards past scrimmage and take it to the house anywhere on the field.

Kirk Cousins QB

Another big bold prediction I know, but, hear me out.  Cousins has been a solid quarterback since taking over as the starter in Washington in 2015 finishing as a Top-12 quarterback in all four of the seasons since.  Consistency is something us fantasy players seek to find week-in and week-out and Cousins has provided that.  But, nothing more than that though I’m here to tell you this will change in 2019 because the Vikings will finish Top 5 in offense and scoring in 2019.

I have always felt that Cousins folds at the worst times, and for the most part, the games he plays poorly in tend to be late in the season in outdoor cold venues.  This will change dramatically in 2019.  Four of the last six games the Vikings play this year will be played indoors including three of the last four at home; the other two games will be on the West Coast against the Seahawks and Chargers.  Realistically, that Seahawks game in Week 13 is the only one that potentially has a chance to be played in bad weather.  This all adds up to a great sign for Cousins and for those that pull the trigger on him in drafts.

About Justin Smithey

The common man with uncommon fantasy takes. California raised, Texas approved. Avid reader, golfer, gambler, and father.