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10 lists of 10: Breakout candidates, sleepers, rookies and the best team names
1. Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans (current ADP: QB12): So you’re telling me that the most efficient red zone quarterback (since he entered the NFL), who added the most efficient red zone receiver (in terms of PPR points per game since 2012) and was QB7 before he got hurt last season (Weeks 1-15), isn’t being considered a fantasy starter? According to Tristan H. Cockcroft’s Consistency Ratings, Mariota is joined by the second-most-consistent TE over the past three seasons, and Rishard Matthews is back in the fold after breaking out (WR22) in his first season with the Titans. Did I mention that the Titans used two top-75 picks on receivers? Or that they have an elite offensive line?
2. Philip Rivers, Los Angeles Chargers (current ADP: QB17): I get there’s nothing sexy or interesting about Rivers, but the guy always stays healthy and was QB14 last season throwing to no one. As I mentioned in Love/Hate this year, I am a Keenan Allen believer this year. And Rivers’ career per-game numbers with Allen on the field are eye-popping. Over a 16-game stretch, you’d get 4,597 passing yards, 31 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Hunter Henry and Tyrell Williams emerged last season, plus Antonio Gates is back for another year and maybe they get something out of Mike Williams … a lot of toys for Rivers to play with.
3. Adrian Peterson, New Orleans Saints (current ADP: RB25): Well, he was going as RB31 a few days ago, but you spend 28 straight hours on TV talking a guy up apparently it helps his ADP. I get the “he’s old and an injury risk” concern, but come on. He doesn’t have to be his Hall of Fame self, he just needs to stay reasonably healthy. There are 247 non-Mark Ingram touches available from last season on a team that had 17 rushing touchdowns and the fourth-most rushing scores the past three seasons. He could fall into double-digit scores.
4. Doug Martin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (current ADP: RB37): Martin has looked good this preseason, we have certainly seen him do it before and I expect the Bucs’ offense to take a major step forward this season. Combine Martin with RB48 Jacquizz Rodgers and you have the starting RB on a good offense for a 12th and a 14th, according to ESPN ADP. I love the price and the upside.
5. Kareem Hunt, Kansas City Chiefs (current ADP: RB40): I expect his ADP to continually rise, and after the second preseason game that hype will continue. But I still don’t think he’ll get drafted inside the top 20, and I know the Chiefs love him. Hunt is a true three-down back I’ve written about a lot (and I’m not alone), and he has received good reviews in pass protection from Andy Reid. He’ll be involved from day one and this will be his job sooner than later.
6. Brandon Marshall, New York Giants (current ADP: WR 30): I could spit stats at you, like the fact that Marshall is the top-scoring fantasy receiver in the red zone since 2012 or that the Giants have dropped back to pass at the fourth-highest rate inside the red zone over the past two seasons. But after finishing as a top-three fantasy wideout in both his first year in Chicago and his first year with the Jets, I like Marshall’s chances at a top-20 finish this season while playing with the best QB of his career.
7. Martavis Bryant, Pittsburgh Steelers (current ADP: WR32): The upside is high. Like really high. Ben Roethlisberger led the NFL in deep touchdown passes last season, despite missing a pair of games, relying on 5-foot-10 Antonio Brown to stretch the field and with a trio of receivers in Markus Wheaton, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Sammie Coates combining to drop 10.4 percent of their targets (league WR average: 3.5 percent). Bryant has the physical tools to fill that role in a massive way and that’s not just me saying that, we’ve seen it. In 2014-15, Bryant ranked fourth in air yards per target and third in yards per reception. The receiver pool is deep this season and that means that you have no excuse to not draft Bryant as a starter, as your replacement-level player will be plenty productive to offset the risk taken.
8. Eric Decker, Tennessee Titans (current ADP: WR 38): Doubling down here … if I’m going to be right on Mariota, it will be because his connection with Decker is as good as the numbers suggest. Since 2012, Decker has been among the most consistent wideouts in the NFL and is averaging 82 catches, 1,116 yards, and 10.6 touchdowns per 16 games. That’s his average … not his ceiling. The combination of high floor and ceiling is impossible to match at this point in the draft. Sign me up.
9. Jack Doyle, Indianapolis Colts (current ADP: TE13): I’ve talked him up a ton this preseason. We got a glimpse of Doyle’s upside in Weeks 1-7 last season (when he was fourth among TEs in fantasy points) and with Dwayne Allen no longer eating up the red zone looks, Doyle has tons of potential with a quarterback and offensive coordinator that both love to utilize the tight end.
10. Austin Hooper, Atlanta Falcons (current ADP: TE20): As Matt Ryan got even more comfortable in Kyle Shanahan’s offense last season and Alex Mack helped solidify the offensive line, a funny thing happened. The Falcons started using the tight ends, as they accounted for 10 scores, twice as many as they tallied the previous two seasons combined. I’m not sure Hooper gets all of that action, but there’s no more Jacob Tamme, and after a Super Bowl in which Hooper scored a touchdown, he might not get to top 10, but he will easily beat his current ADP.