2018 NFL Predictions: 2nd-Year Players Set to Become Breakout Fantasy Stars

Jamaal Williams will compete with fellow second-year running back Aaron Jones for reps in Green Bay.Jamaal Williams will compete with fellow second-year running back Aaron Jones for reps in Green Bay.Jason Miller/Getty Images

Fantasy football drafters are not known for their patience. If an NFL player betrays them once, some managers will impede their own chances of success by holding a grudge.  

Gamers assign hopes and dreams to rookies every year. They have never proved their worth at the NFL level, but they have also never let anyone down. Those who falter inevitably fall in average draft position the following season.

For all the fear of sophomore slumps—looking at you, Evan Engram—drafters should emphasize second-year value picks poised to redeem an underwhelming arrival. In the cases highlighted below, limited opportunities and/or ill-fitting personnel derailed a debut. The circumstances have changed heading into 2018. 

Let’s also skip some of the more obvious names (Patrick Mahomes, Joe Mixon and Corey Davis) already drawing high praise and higher draft slots. While these guys aren’t necessarily sleepers either, there’s still room for profit potential.


Mitchell Trubisky, QB, Chicago Bears

Mitchell Trubisky now has the coaching staff and receivers to fare better in his sophomore campaign.Mitchell Trubisky now has the coaching staff and receivers to fare better in his sophomore campaign.Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Anyone who has read anything about Mitchell Trubisky has likely already seen the Jared Goff comparisons.

The highly drafted quarterback struggled in an archaic offense that offered him few opportunities to stretch the ball downfield. Sound familiar? 

Yet there’s hope for a second-half breakout despite last year’s No. 2 overall pick averaging a putrid 182.8 passing yards per game and 6.7 yards per attempt. With John Fox out as head coach, the Chicago Bears can join the 21st century under Matt Nagy, who helped Alex Smith finished fourth in fantasy scoring among quarterbacks as the Kansas City Chiefs’ offensive coordinator. 

Also like the Los Angeles Rams, the Bears revamped their pass-catching unit. They added Allen Robinson, who is returning from an ACL tear suffered at the start of last season. The 24-year-old already has a 1,400-yard, 14-touchdown campaign alongside Blake Bortles.

Trey Burton tallied 112 yards and three touchdowns in the two games Zach Ertz missed last season. He’ll now receive more snaps in an offense overseen by Nagy—who led Travis Kelce to stardom—and former New York Giants tight ends coach Kevin Gilbride, who steered Engram to immediate prominence.

Rookie wide receiver Anthony Miller is also a sleeper whose stock is going to soar throughout August. The 22nd quarterback off the board, per his consensus ADP, Trubisky is worth a late-round flier for drafters waiting out the deep position.


Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones, RBs, Green Bay Packers

Jones will serve a two-game suspension to start 2018.Jones will serve a two-game suspension to start 2018.Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty Images

Yes, this is cheating. An analyst is supposed to take a hardened stance between Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones and avoid the other at all costs.

But more gamers are competing in multiple leagues, especially because of the rising popularity in a best-ball format. Those drafters will want some exposure to both second-year running backs.

A zero-sum game makes this competition simultaneously maddening and appealing. Between Williams, Jones and Ty Montgomery, one back logged at least 80 percent of Green Bay’s snaps in 10 games. Packers head coach Mike McCarthy could disappoint everyone with a three-man committee, but it’s more likely one frequently lines up behind a returning Aaron Rodgers.

Montgomery was fantasy’s seventh-best running back through Week 3. Jones ranked 11th from Weeks 4 to 8, and Williams placed sixth in the closing nine weeks.

Those seeking upside should choose Jones, who averaged 5.5 yards per carry and had six runs of 20 yards or more. Yet he will serve a two-game suspension to start 2018, giving Williams a chance to lock down the spot.

While he averaged just 3.6 yards per rush and had one 20-yard run, Williams is a stout blocker who recorded Next Gen Stats‘ ninth-best efficiency rating. There’s a higher probability of his handling a high-volume role.

Per Packers Wire’s Zach Kruse, McCarthy spoke fondly of Williams at the start of training camp.

“He’s bigger, stronger. He looks good,” McCarthy said. “I feel pretty confident that when we’re talking about the season that he’s going to be one of the guys that’s taken the big second-year jump.”

Rank Williams higher, but don’t be afraid to take a later flier on Jones if he falls near the 10th round.


Chris Godwin, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Chris Godwin will reportedly start for the Buccaneers.Chris Godwin will reportedly start for the Buccaneers.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

According to the Tampa Bay Times‘ Rick Stroud, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers intend on starting Chris Godwin alongside Mike Evans at wideout. That’s huge news for someone often going undrafted with a WR76 ADP

Although he registered just 34 catches for 525 yards and a touchdown, Godwin flourished when given the opportunity. In five games in which he played more than half of Tampa Bay’s snaps, the newcomer caught 21 of 36 targets for 363 yards and the score. He closed 2017 with 209 yards in a pair of contests without DeSean Jackson

Now to slow the bandwagon a bit. Jackson isn’t going anywhere, but simply shifting to the slot. Fantasy Guru’s Graham Barfield noted the complications presented by this formation:

Those who only deem league-winning players worthy of a breakout label will look beyond Godwin. He still needs an injury to Jackson or Mike Evans to truly shine as a dependable weekly option.

Yet this is a player who will see the field more after striving in fleeting opportunities. There’s little risk to taking him at the end of a draft in case he fully supplants Jackson in both the depth chart and target hierarchy.


Snap counts courtesy of Pro Football Reference. Fantasy scoring and ADP data obtained from FantasyPros